Tips On Answering the Question: How Good Are You?

Software engineering is often about learning. It’s pretty rare that we solve the same problem with the same technology stack over and over again. This isn’t a factory, after all! Instead, we solve the same problems with new technologies, or new problems with the same technology, or both. As a result, we’re always learning: new techniques, new libraries, new languages, new frameworks.

Which leads to the inevitable question: How good are you at….?

The answer to this falls into one of four categories:

  • Totally lost
  • Can make it happen, but it ain’t pretty
  • Can do it properly
  • Can do it properly and quickly

We use various words and metrics, like “fluent” or “I get by,” but they mean the same thing. In the end, what our teammates and managers care about is best expressed like this:

“How much can I trust this guy to do it? Am I going to have to reserve some time for someone to help him? To clean up after him? Or is this just going to be a drag on the rest of the team?”

That’s it. So when someone next asks, “just how good are you?” Answer the question they really care about.

Image: Ask the Answerman – Superhero by Bigstock

Comments

  1. BY Mike says:

    OK, I am asking: “Just how good are you?”

    • BY Catherine Powell says:

      Ha! Like most people, I’m all over the spectrum. It depends on which technology and/or which problem we’re discussing. I’m certainly far better at Ruby and the Rails framework, for example, then I am with the django framework – and those are both web technologies!

      • BY Mike says:

        True that expertise/competence varies depending on task but do employers want to hear an honest answer like “That depends what I am doing.”

  2. BY I write code says:

    Well, maybe you should answer a question with a question.

    The right answer/question will pretty much get you fired: “How much are you paying?”

    A safer answer/question is probably: “How good would you like me to be?”

    Except *their* truthful answer then is, “Good enough to cover for the eleven slackers on the team”, … even though they all make more money than you do and will somehow take the credit.

    Maybe better just not to ask, or answer.

  3. BY Wizgod says:

    Better yet ask the incompetent moron interviewing you how much are they paying them to essetially provide nothing more than a gopher position with no more importance than the idiot providing the supposed job.

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