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In an interview I was trying to make a statement that school A I had attended focused more on skills applicable to the job, than school B that I am currently attending. The interviewer had attended school B and I think got offended. When I said my previous school had a large focus on web development the interviewer replied "I think that has more to do with how web development is popular these days and is easy to learn, and since it's a low hanging fruit that's why your first college taught it" He also mentioned how there are lots of resources available for web technology. I got the sense he was mad.

What would the appropriate response have been? I just moved on. In interviews should one try to be as neutral as possible and never say "this is better than the other" or "x does more of something than y does"? Playing politics is a weakness of mine.

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    Reminder: the purpose of comments is to improve the post they're attached to, such as by asking clarifying questions or suggesting additional information that could be added. Some of the comments here could be the starts of good answers, but they shouldn't stay as comments. Next time I see this post I intend to clean up those comments; I hope some of them will have turned into answers by then. Thanks all. – Monica Cellio Apr 10 '14 at 21:29
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In an interview I was trying to make a statement that school A I had attended focused more on skills applicable to the job, than school B that I am currently attending.

In reading the above line I would wonder, "Why are you going to school B?" If the other school focused on the skills for the job then what is going on here? This to my mind is where you may be shooting yourself in the foot as one could be left going, "So why are you doing what you are doing and how does this fit with this position you want to hold?" There is the potential to come off as someone that isn't going to stay in the job that long which could be a turn off in some cases.

Notice that you don't state what you said but rather a summary of it.

What would the appropriate response have been?

Consider what point were you trying to make to say that, "This school I attended before prepared me well for this job and I'm now going to this school," that I'm not sure I see where that is going. You don't really state this anywhere what point were you trying to make. What was the interviewer supposed to know after the statement that makes you look like a better candidate for the position?

In interviews should one try to be as neutral as possible and never say "this is better than the other" or "x does more of something than y does"?

No because this could be worse actually. There are times where you may be asked why you chose to use technology X and this is where the key point is how well can you support your position. Someone may look at my resume and ask, "Why did you use C# instead of VB.Net when getting into ASP.Net?" which can be answered in a way that isn't bad mouthing VB.Net. "The programmers were versed in C-like syntax and decided to use what they believed would have less of a learning curve," would likely be my answer which is honest about why it was chosen. There is something to be said for how you explain why you have the position you have as chances are you will have to make design choices where comparing things is done and explaining why a choice is right is a necessary skill. "Because I said so!" doesn't often work well with other developers in my experience.

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As a general rule, focus on positives in interviews.

It's one thing to say "I was lucky to take a number of courses on Technology X at College A"-- that's making a purely positive statement. It conveys the information that you care about (your exposure to X) without having to set up a scenario where something else has to explicitly suffer in comparison. When you set up a comparison where accepting that A is good requires someone to accept that B is bad at something invites someone to make a counterargument that B isn't bad so A must not be good which is an emotional, not a logical response.

Similarly, if you're comparing two technologies, answers that focus on positives generally come off better. Saying "I'd use Java for that functionality because the lack of direct memory access helps us avoid buffer overflow vulnerabilities" is generally better than saying "I'd avoid C because of the potential for buffer overflow errors when we use pointers". Both statements may be saying basically be saying the same thing. But the latter invites people to defend whatever it is you're putting down. An interviewer that likes C, for example, might point out that you could use smart pointers in C which is true but invites more of an argument that pits you against the interviewer rather than being a pleasant discussion of benefits.

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Hopefully in any interview you're not asked to provide unsubstantiated or non-professional opinions on anything, so don't offer them. You offered a professional opinion on the best way to prepare a web developer is to teach more skills focused on that area. This boss disagreed.

Your boss probably was being defensive about his school, but he did offer a professional opinion shared by many that a university should provide a theoretical foundation for software development and not focus "too" much on specific skills. I believe many feel there were too many "Java" schools out there. It is difficult to know what languages or frameworks will be popular over the next few years. It is also difficult to research and redesign the courses ever year or so.

Don't get distracted by the emotions. Both of you were guilty of this. You should have asked what other areas should be the focus for this position. Hopefully he would explain why this would help rather than how schools are catering to students with easier subject matter. He should research this defense a little better instead of relying on business buzzwords like low-hanging fruit.

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