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I'm having a practical test for a job oportunity tomorrow. The job involves mainly, although not only, software development, which is what the test will be about.

I was told I would be given a problem to solve, and they would evaluate the way in which I solved it, also it was up to me to choose what plattform or programming language I was most comfortable with.

My concern with this is that the technologies I feel most comfortable with might be at least somewhat outdated by now, and I don't feel I have enough experience with newer/better options to do an okay job.

So I can't decide between playing safe and try to do a good job, although probably not very exciting for them, with the tools I know I know, or risking a somewhat likely hit and miss with something fresh.

What would be the best approach here?

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What is the culture of the company? Do they want new and exciting, with the exciting part including a good chance of not working, or do they want something rock-solid? – jamesqf Feb 10 at 5:52
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Welcome back to the site user1676874. I've edited a new title into your post which more closely matches your actual question. Feel free to edit it again if you feel that it's incorrect or can be improved further. – Lilienthal Feb 10 at 10:24
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"it was up to me to choose what plattform or programming language I was most comfortable with." so it's a no brainer decision... they didn't ask you to choose the decision that you think would be better at solving the problem. They explicitly told you to go with what you are comfortable with so that they can actually judge your real level of software development skills. – Bakuriu Feb 10 at 11:58
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I think this question would be better with specifics. If the question is "Should I use FORTRAN or maybe something newer?" then the odds are "newer" is the right answer... but if it's "Should I use SQL Server or Teradata", then "comfortable" is probably fine. – Joe Feb 10 at 16:17
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Let's just say there's a reason they use older tech in the space shuttles. It's tried, and tested. If something goes wrong with newer tech they don't know how to fix it, same thing applies to this situation, go with what you know. – Ryan J Feb 10 at 18:05
up vote 96 down vote accepted

Short answer: Just go with what you're comfortable with.

It's by far the least risky just to ask to be tested in your favourite (even if slightly outdated) language than to go for the latest and greatest and bomb it. If you show you are a competent developer, then most IT Managers are aware that in many cases you can adapt to new technologies with a minimum of fuss.

If you are really worried, just tell them the truth: That you can do the later stuff, but you feel more competent in this language, and could easily expand the skillset later. Remember, they're not asking for a particular technology set. They are asking for how well you can manage a programming task, irrespective of the language. If they really wanted competency in a given language, that's what they'd be testing you on.

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+1 this is pretty spot on – Kilisi Feb 10 at 6:06
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Also, as a side-note, the newest technologies are often not yet ready for production code. Always wanting to use the latest language/framework/tech is a bad habit IMO, unless it's for a side project. – Kevin Feb 10 at 13:12
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"most IT Managers are aware...you can adapt to new technologies" - Stack Exchange parallel universe edition. – Gusdor Feb 10 at 15:28
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@Gusdor How about "most IT Managers you'd actually want to work for are aware..." – corsiKa Feb 10 at 16:01
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@corsiKa I'd say "a few IT Managers are willing for you to adapt to new technologies on their dime". However, the fact that a hiring manager invites you to choose which platform and language you'd like to use for a programming test is a sign that this employer might be one of the those few. – Carson63000 Feb 11 at 0:55

Play safe but explain your choice.

As it is not a software development company and even if it was one, it is better to have a small minus than make a crippling mistake while showing off.

Explaining your choice may even give a better impression as you understand that your technology is deprecated and you have the wish and will to improve on newer technologies that you are currently learning.

More than a developer that can make things work, you will appear as one in constant progression.

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Keep in mind that most software failures don't have anything to do with a lack of command over the chosen language. They have to do with writing the wrong thing in the chosen language.

The test will probably go after your ability to nail down the requirements without specifically saying so. Don't be afraid to ask for clarification of the problem. The more nitpicky you are with clarifying questions, the better they should like it.

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It sounds like they want you to solve problems and demonstrate problem-solving capabilities, not which language is the latest and coolest. (which is a really good thing).

If this is the case then writing it in an really obsolete language (VB6?) would be just as good. If they wanted to know your abilities in a specific language because they were a software company that used a particular one, then they would definitely have asked you to code in that language (or at least show you know something of that language).

There's a possible case here that if you were to use a super-cool language they might reject you for chasing new techs rather than doing the job they want, or that the interviewer may not understand the new stuff anyway which would only confuse matters.

Its also worth, in these cases, using the more verbose language for the task. eg, if you were asked to create a web service you could do it in C# writing a wsdl, running it through svcutil to generate code, implementing your interfaces and attribute-decorated methods, and writing a service program to run it self-hosted. Which would demonstrate you know all the bits you need to know. Or you could write it in PHP which would be 1 line of code constructing a soap server passing the wsdl in. That demonstrates only that the PHP devs know how to do it.

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First, do it with the one you're most comfortable with and then try the other one. If you're satisfied with the results, submit both with some comparison and contrasts. You may prefer one over the other for this particular application.

If you're not comfortable at all with the new language, don't submit or say anything about it at all. Don't even think about bluffing your way through this. People get nervous at interviews, so you want to focus on things you know the most about and are the most comfortable with.

This will be a good learning exercise regardless.

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For this I would use the technology that you are most comfortable with due to your statement:

I was told I would be given a problem to solve, and they would evaluate the way in which I solved it,

i.e. They are trying to work out how you approach a problem and how you go about solving the problem. They are not that interested in the technology.

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