12

I was recently asked "How do you keep current with emerging trends, tools, and technologies in the software industry?" during an interview for a programming position.

I read blogs and am involved with different forums and communities. I also subscribe to all frameworks and technologies I use, so I receive an email whenever there is a new version/ changes. This keeps me abreast with the technologies I work in, not whats 'hot and new and out there' and not in general about the software industry. So, I want to ensure whenever I answer I am not blabbering and what I do to keep abreast is generally acceptable.

What is the interviewer hoping to find out with such a question, and how can I craft an appropriate answer?

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

  • These are tough questions as they tend to devolve into polls. However, I could see this possibly being reopened if we edit the question to require an explanation of why that answer is the best and also make sure the existing answers provide a good why/how explanation as per Good Subjective, Bad Subjective. If someone makes these edits, please feel free to flag it/vote to reopen. – jmort253 Jun 24 '13 at 0:15
18

What is the interviewer hoping to find out with such a question?

  • Whether you will be able to help their business by taking advantage of new technologies to deliver better features or reduce costs.
  • Are you interested in software development beyond showing up for work 9 to 5 and doing what you're told? Increasingly, it seems, employers are seeing a correlation between job performance and interest in computing outside of core working hours, or at least they want to see some evidence of "passion" for the job.

Having asked this question at interview in the past, it's never been a question that has decided whether to offer a job one way or another. For me, it's mostly been about helping to form an overall impression of how interested the candidate actually is in what they do.

what is an appropriate answer?

Essentially two possibilities here

  1. You do keep abreast: say what you do, and give enough details to show that you really do do it. Your comment below your question seemed perfect to me, but what a candidate actually says will obviously be quite personal!
  2. You don't keep abreast: trickier, obviously. The best policy here would be to start keeping abreast, e.g. by reading blogs, online magazines, etc, so that you can mention at least something, and avoid looking like someone who couldn't care less.
  • I think I am just amazed at the stupidity of the question. If I am not being hired to propose solutions and if a job specifically asks for expertise in something, say Java 1.6, what purpose does this question serve ? So what if I dont write/think a single line of code out of 9 to 5 ? I can think brilliantly between 9 to 5, aint that enough ? Another point is, lets say I keep myself posted and the interviewer asks me my opinion on a new feature (which I have only heard about) and all I can say is, I heard that feature is coming. But what it is and how effective it is, I aint got a clue. – happybuddha Jun 26 '13 at 3:02
  • I can't remember whether it was me or a colleague who asked the question when we used it in interviews, but I agree it isn't a particularly good question :). My main reason for saying that is that it doesn't have much discriminatory power. For positions where an ability to research into new and upcoming technologies and make proposals is required, I agree it makes more sense. Re employers interest in activity outside of work, I have met brilliant programmers who worked 9 to 5, leaving on the dot. But I see quite a few job ads now which mention github accounts, programming outside work etc. – TooTone Jun 26 '13 at 7:36
  • 1
    @happybuddha, have you thought about what you assume in the question? The question is intentionally vague to see where someone goes in answering it. Do they answer just one part of it or try to give a comprehensive answer? That is another part of asking this question. Some people may get too caught up in the details. – JB King Jul 4 '13 at 18:46
10

In the software industry, things change fast. Having a developer who is at least aware of current technology or the direction technology is going is much more valuable than one that only focuses on what they know, and is never willing to look outside their own skill set to learn new things.

A programmer who claims N years experience could easily be one with only 1 years experience, repeated N times, and this sort of question is one way to identify that.

I think the only bad answer to such a question is "Nothing". To me, that would signify that you are stuck in whatever time period you learned in, and that you aren't the kind of person who works to improve your programming abilities at all.

An appropriate answer is anything at all to indicate you try to keep your skill set updated, or at very least are aware of changes in the technology world. Some easy examples I usually give are MSDN, online programmer communities (StackOverflow, HackerNews, some other forums, etc), technology blogs, Google tech news, etc.

The question isn't really about what you use to stay current; it's more about the fact you make an attempt to stay current in the first place.

  • Re 'The question [is] more about the fact you make an attempt to stay current in the first place.', agreed. Re 'I think the only bad answer to such a question is "Nothing"', agreed, but as no-one gives this answer it makes me wonder about the value of the question. – TooTone Jun 26 '13 at 8:48
  • @TooTone If you struggle to come up with an answer to that question, or if the only thing you can think of is very outdated sources, then that might be a red flag. – Rachel Jun 26 '13 at 13:45
4

I’d recommend that job candidates respond using the Rule of 3. That is, state three different ways that you keep up with the industry. To make your answer even more credible, explain why this is effective for you. The person interviewing you would want to know that you are passionate about the industry. Someone who loves their job is willing to put in extra effort. Furthermore, staying abreast of industry trends is helpful in assessing new customer and market opportunities.

Here is an example of how you might answer this question:

I keep up with my industry in 3 main ways: subscribing to industry newsletters, attending monthly meetings, and following thought leaders on Twitter. My usual newsletter is an excellent industry newsletter that summarizes news, stats and trends in my industry every morning. Monthly meetings not only opens up new ideas, but also creates opportunities to forge new connections. Lastly, my Twitter feed is a real-time view on what top industry leaders are currently reading.

1

You...answered your own question with your first comment.

You said that you read blogs and forum communities. that's an excellent start. Begin reading Ars Technica, Tech Crunch, and maybe Slashdot and you should be set.

The important thing companies want to find out is if you're the kind of person who will go out of your way to better your own knowledge. Your assets brought to the company are your skills and your knowledge. They want to see someone who is trying to develop those skills and knowledge. Plus, it shows a passion for the work and the industry. People don't go home at the end of the day and continue doing stuff related to their job if they hate the material (excessive workloads requiring working at home not included).

  • 1
    Hi Acolyte, the question got an edit because the original text was more of a poll, which is considered not a constructive question for SE. Would you be able to update your answer to address the other half of the question, which is why interviews ask such a question in the first place? – Rachel Jun 25 '13 at 14:22
  • @Rachel... "The important thing companies want to find out is if you're the kind of person who will go out of your way to better your own knowledge. Your assets brought to the company are your skills and your knowledge. They want to see someone who is trying to develop those skills and knowledge. Plus, it shows a passion for the work and the industry. " – acolyte Jun 25 '13 at 14:29
  • Ahhh I'm sorry, I don't know how I missed that. I just read the first part and though it was like a bunch of the other answers here that only addressed the "how" and not the "why". Perhaps you can put a line break before that paragraph? – Rachel Jun 25 '13 at 14:32
  • @Rachel fair enough, haha. – acolyte Jun 25 '13 at 15:17
1

The question is intended to consider the question of what kind of responsibility does one take as someone that works in the software industry. Does one read blogs, books, attend conferences, read tech news sites, etc.? The key point here is to see if you'll do things on your own without being prompted by the employer. Some people will come to work and do their job but not really follow-up on it in their own time and have a serious commitment to maintaining skills and looking at emerging trends.

Crafting an appropriate answer boils down to stating what you do that keeps you in the loop with new technology things within the field in a sense. There are tons of tech news sites one could follow, more than a few blogs, and if you think about it almost no one could follow all the news within technology so there is something to be said for the choices made to look at this set of sites and limit the time spent as I'm sure some people could try to study Google or Apple 24/7 and still not cover all the nuances of what the company is doing because there are so many different people working on various projects within those companies. Thus, my suggestion for the key points in an appropriate answer are: 1) Show enthusiasm for what you do here and 2) Communicate the concise list to the interviewer. Part of this is about what do you do, part of this is about how well can you communicate that. The latter may well be what the interviewer is going to read into your answer.

  • it can cause a great deal of trouble as it can implode whereas if you're honest about what you do and that realistically no one can know all of the latest and greatest unless you're Jon Skeet. > Exactly ! And someone voted to close this question ! I am not sure if Mr.Skeet is known to the HRs of the industry :) – happybuddha Jun 23 '13 at 1:56
  • You can get a pretty broad knowledge of what's up and coming in your field and related fields by following the right people on Twitter and reading the links that they post. – Amy Blankenship Jun 23 '13 at 16:47
  • 1
    Hi JB, what is the interviewer trying to find out with such a question? What's the goal? Please see the updated question as it was edited and reopened. Thank you! :) – jmort253 Jun 25 '13 at 14:32
-1

First, you read lots of science fiction. This tells you what to expect in, say, 30 years. Consider the number of Star Trek 'predictions' that arrived in the lifetimes of most of the kids watching the show. Scriptwriters 'just make this stuff up' as dramatic devices, often recognizing a need far in advance of the technology portfolio required to carry it out.

Second, you pay attention to trade magazines in various industries. These could include electronics, nanotechnology, biotechnology, science, and other topics relating to engineering. In doing so, you read about things 'you've never heard of'. Some of these will eventually percolate into the computing environment - lithium-ion batteries, OLED screens, and MEMS accelerometers all made the current generation of smart phones possible.

Third, from time to time you 'go play with something' that seems to be showing up a lot on the employment boards: examples might include JavaScript/JQuery, xCode, FPGAs, or no-SQL databases. You may not get anywhere with any it, but you at least went through the process of installing the toolchain and development platform. Most hardware is cheap, so it might cost you $30 to get a Arduino, for example.

If you actually do these things, then you can bring the interviewer up to speed on some 'neat stuff'. This is even more persuasive if you have websites show them for reference. One or two of those, and they'll either be happy or overwhelmed.

As an interviewer, what I'm (personally) looking for is someone that isn't going to get blindsided. In the late 1980s/mid-1990s I was reading in the media of thousands of mainframe programmers let go because their skills were 'obsolete'. My BS detector was buzzing off the wall - programmers are programmers. They learn languages. If you couldn't keep a programming job in a company that was transitioning, you couldn't keep a job as a programmer of any kind. Something else was going on.

I hang out with a C++ meetup group where we talk about C-related programming issues. If I have a job interview and I get asked a question about something I've never heard of, I go home and look it up - if it's useful I add it to my toolkit. I review various job posting boards looking at what's in demand at present, good examples are JavaScript, JQuery, and various JavaScript development platforms and libraries. Sometimes I see some product or language I'm not familiar with, I go find out what it does and why people are interested in it. These activities keep me in touch with 'hot' items in the software development area.

  • 1
    Sci-fi and Arduino are irrelevant (nobody needs a 30-year-horizon clairvoyant, and firms that need embedded systems hire programmers and engineers with requisite skills). Emerging technologies come with new releases of mainstream tools and new revisions of major standards... (which means trade magazines are necessary but not sufficient) Computer Science journals and papers provide raw material for what will become the cutting edge in 3-4 years, but unless one is ready to spend a whole lot of time sifting through the chaff, they aren't helpful for practitioners. – Deer Hunter Jun 23 '13 at 12:33
  • 2
    @Deer Hunter - the question wasn't what one's current skills are, it is 'How do you keep abreast of changes in technology'. A lot of people I know root around in various technology domains simply because they're interested in those topics. When one can see something emerging before other people are aware of it, one can start working in tools that go with it. In such circumstances, it is often possible to see how problems are solved that others would consider unapproachable. – Meredith Poor Jun 23 '13 at 20:53
  • I think your final paragraph has some value. But it is buried under a wall of text that is not really relevant to the question. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jun 25 '13 at 13:20
  • 1
    The summary of this post is: Immerse yourself in new technologies and dream about them. Of the times I've really learned something and came close to mastering it, it was when I got so buried in what it was I was learning that I daydreamed about what I was learning when I was away from the material. I can relate heavily to this, especially the third paragraph. – jmort253 Jun 25 '13 at 14:27
  • 1
    This answer is far better than the response it has received. Where the others emphasize how to be sufficiently up to date in your field to say the right thing and land the job, they are essentially telling you how to appear to have passion. This answer addresses the root of passion itself in dreaming, experimentation, and play. Anyone who is genuinely at play in their field is not going to struggle at all with a "How do you keep abreast?" question because their fundamental answer will be "Well, how could I possibly not?" – Jonathan Van Matre Mar 10 '14 at 16:46

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.