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I'm a junior/grad software developer. With most interview questions, I can answer and have a reasonable idea of whether I gave a good answer or not. With this question, I know I'm not giving a disastrous answer, but I can't help feeling like I'm missing something.

When I'm asked this question I try and convey a couple of things:

  • I want to become a better developer
  • I want to stay in development (not go into management etc.) as it is the technical side of things that interests me

My honest answer to this question is very short: I want to do the same thing as I'm doing now, but be better at it. But I can't help feeling like this answer is missing something.

I'm not the sort of person who has my entire life mapped out ahead of me. Some of my friends knew their career plans back when we were picking GCSEs (age 16 exams) and chose their GCSEs, A-levels and university degrees based on that career path. I've always approached it from the other way around: keep doing the stuff you like doing. So I chose GCSEs out of the subjects I liked, A-levels out of the GCSEs I liked, a degree out of the A-level I liked best and finally a career out of the parts of my degree that I liked best.

So my personal answer would just be "I like coding. I want to keep coding." I'm quite early in my career, so the answer to "where do you see yourself in X years?" is simply "as a developer" for X≤5 and "no idea!" for X>5.

Do I have to have a plan? Does it matter if I don't? I'm actually quite happy not planning out the next ten years (or even five) of my career, but I can't think of a way to say that in a positive way.

Is there a hidden question within the question that I'm meant to be answering? I've read this answer to a similar question. Mostly, it tells me some things to avoid saying that I already wasn't saying. But I'm also not sure if "get better at this" counts as "having ambition"? Honestly, coding is my passion and becoming awesome at it really is my ambition. But I'm not sure if that's good enough?

I think I'm covered in terms of "things to avoid saying". But is there anything I should add to my answer? What do I need to get across that I'm not already?

And finally, should my answer change depending on X? I've been asked "1 year" and "10 years", as well as more middling values. (In actual fact, those were in the same interview, which is one reason why I think I might be answering wrong: I was asked "Where do you see yourself in a year's time?", gave the above answer and got countered with, "Well, okay, how about in ten years' time?")

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    My answer would have been "i'd want to be a team lead" - Your answer might be closer to "I want to be a senior developer and a key member of the team, hopefully the toughest and smartest one on the team. I'd get the toughest, highest priority issues. I'd be the one you'd rely on to figure out what the problem is, how to fix it and get it fixed. Hopefully,it will be many more years before I get my first heart attack :)" – Vietnhi Phuvan Jul 20 '14 at 23:23
  • As a developer who wants to keep on developing rather than moving into a management track, "architect" is an excellent word to incorporate into your answer. – Carson63000 Jul 21 '14 at 0:14
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    possible duplicate of How to handle the "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" question – enderland Jul 22 '14 at 18:35
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    @enderland I've already linked and explained how the answer to that question doesn't answer my question. – starsplusplus Jul 22 '14 at 20:17
  • As for the two "opinion-based" VTCs, can anyone explain why? I feel like the crux of my question is not opinion-based at all, so perhaps I'm expressing it badly. If someone could comment instead of just anonymously voting to close I'd be happy to tweak it to better express what I'm getting at. – starsplusplus Jul 22 '14 at 20:20
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I gave up asking this question because people who don't think that way do a terrible job of answering it, and sometimes get flustered and blow the rest of the interview (or maybe I just think they're flustered and give them more credit than they deserve, either way I get less useful information afterwards) and people who do think this way will tell me their ten-year plan whether I ask them or not.

Some sample plans:

  • I'd like to be a professor of Computer Science. I know I need a solid grounding in industry and I don't want to put in time learning outdated techniques or working on Enterprise (boring) problems. Your company is fast paced and modern and a good 5 years or so here will give me the practical background I need to go into graduate work and then be a kick ass prof. I can't promise you'll have me for life, but I'll work harder than any of your other developers because I want to soak up all you have to offer me before I'm too old for grad school
  • I'd like to make at least $X a year so I can support a wife and children. I think at the moment I'd prefer to stay on a technical track, but if the road to high salaries requires leading a team and managing people, I'll learn how to do it. I have my eye on a house already, so I'm very motivated to become your new star.
  • I've had a taste of making software and it's so much fun, it's what I want to focus on right now. I know a lot of people move into management, or training, but at the moment those things don't appeal to me. I want to keep learning more languages and platforms, keep up to date on techniques and process, and just keep growing and getting better. I don't ever want to coast.
  • I want to live and work all over the world. Your company has offices in Europe and Asia, and I'm hoping in a few years, after I've proved my worth, that I'll be able to transfer to another location so I can keep one thing constant (my employer) while changing everything else. I thrive on change and I believe a company as big as this can make that kind of change possible for me in working life.
  • I want to train people, write courses, write books, and generally create things that last longer than software. I know I have to develop powerful technical skills to do that, and I see this job as a great way to get that good. I know your company also needs trainers and writers, so I see that as a possible career path for me within the company.

There are also terrible answers like

  • I see myself in your job actually (to someone 20+ years older than you)
  • In 6 months I should be ready to launch my startup, I've been working on the idea part time but I need some savings before I leap
  • I'm the next Steve Jobs, actually, but nobody believes me. They will soon though, they really will
  • I want to own a coffee shop, and never program again, but I need to program for another 3 years and 7 months before I have the investment I need

Most people under 30 don't appear to have thought about it before and say that they think they'll be doing the same sorts of things they're doing now, but they'll be better at it. They're generally wrong, of course - most people move into something unexpected and different after less than ten years. I no longer hold it against candidates if they don't have a ten year plan, but some interviewers clearly do. I suggest you read other people's plans, and see what parts echo and resonate with you. Then try to find a way that your answer proves this company is everything you ever wanted - and edit out anything that suggests it's a mere tool or stepping stone. Something like:

In ten years I want to be [half a sentence, not a single word.] To get there I'll need [specific skills and experience] that I know I can get with this company. I think I would be able to [something else you know employees there do] and [a third thing] as part of that path. I'm really excited about this opportunity specifically because it fits so well into my plans.

It's fine if those plans are "write code every day and be great at it." Just don't make that your entire answer. Get a little excited, spin a bit of a dream, and show the interviewer how this particular job is key to your reaching that dream.

  • Your "most people under 30" paragraph is the crux of the problem that I'm having. I don't see any point in planning ten years ahead because I know that things are likely to change on the way there. So I know the general direction I want to head over the next year or two and in a year's time I'll correct the bearing depending on what parts of the course sailed so far that I enjoyed, and so on and so on. I guess what I'm saying is that I'm a journey person more than a destination person? – starsplusplus Jul 20 '14 at 23:38
  • That's not a bad answer. But you at least know what general direction you're currently planning - to stay in software development and to be an individual contributor rather than a manager. You can build a reasonable answer that doesn't give the "deer in the headlights" look even if you don't have a spreadsheet and a detailed ten year plan. – Kate Gregory Jul 20 '14 at 23:41
  • Yes, actually, reading this answer (especially the end of it) and writing the comment above helped me get some things clearer in my head. I just tried answering the question out loud and it sounded much better than before. Thanks :) – starsplusplus Jul 20 '14 at 23:48
  • Okay, I've gotta ask: Have people actually given you those terrible answers, or did you make them up for this? – Izkata Jul 23 '14 at 3:49
  • @Izkata yes I have had the "I want to be you" answer from someone who knows just who I am, in fact I've had it more than once. It's flattering if the timescale is accurate and offensive if it's not. The other three I have been told by people I was not interviewing, but who were interviewing (eg at a user group meeting.) I don't know if they gave them as answers in an interview. The coffee shop guy really did keep an accurate countdown at all times. – Kate Gregory Jul 23 '14 at 11:24
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Well, if you don't have an answer to, "Where do you see yourself in 10 years?" you can pretend the question is "what will impact the course you take over the next 10 years?" You could say something like, "I'm not sure exactly where I'll be, but for the past 10 years I've been slowly zeroing in closer and closer to where I want to be so I'd say it's not too far from this kind of work. I'm not looking to leave for management and won't be switching fields. The thing that brought me here is my interest in designing, building and deploying systems. I'd certainly like to be much more competent or specialized in those areas, but I see myself as a developer of some form or another for life. Making things is my passion."

Also, if you have an audience with a sense of humor (you probably don't), you could totally throw in, "I really just want to become the best developer I can. I saw a very inspirational talk by Steve Ballmer, available on YouTube, and he had a quote that really hit home with me. It goes, 'Developers, developers, developers, developers, developers, developers, developers, developers, developers, developers, developers, developers, developers, developers.'"

  • +1 for addressing the "journey rather than destination" part of the question. – starsplusplus Jul 22 '14 at 20:23
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Details, what details can you give! What kinds of areas within coding are you planning on gaining expertise? Are there specific platforms you want to learn? Are there trends within programming that you consider important? The key here is to give some details so that the "better" can be imagined in terms of specific areas, tools, etc. Imagine if I walked into a therapist's office and said, "I want to be a better person," and didn't elaborate on any details of what I meant by better as there are more than a few ways one could interpret this, e.g. lose weight, get in shape, stop smoking, etc.

For example, how well do you know design patterns? How well do you know of code generation tools? How well do you know of continuous integration and unit tests? What kinds of areas do you think may be useful for you to study in the next few years? Do you plan on working on mentoring junior developers in a few years? Do you see yourself taking on any non-coding specialties in the next few years in terms of skills for your profession?

The other point is to consider what occupational title would take after being a developer. Do you want to be an architect? Do you want to be someone that trains other programmers? Those are at least a couple of possible roles you could take in the future and the question is whether or not you see these.

You don't need to have 101 details but having a few talking points may well be useful to have further discussion as well as an idea of what kinds of areas could there be a good overlap in the case where say you want to learn about continuous integration and the company already has a tool for that for you to learn and use better than how it is currently being used.


There is something to be said for how you answer this question more than so than the specific words as things can change and so what you thought may have been useful may not be a few years later. However, consider the question of whether or not have you pondered where you want to be? What kinds of things you want to be doing? If you do know that you'd like to work in a specific area or with a specific technology then telling the company this could look good. If you're relatively new to the field you could mention that you'd like to get more familiar with the advanced features of your IDE for a relatively simple example.

There is also something to be said for how broad software development can be. Some people may enjoy front-end work, some may want to do back-end, some may enjoy looking at things from a high level, some may want to be low level, some like fixing bugs, some want to experimental R & D, etc. Consider there are more than a few different areas where by saying that you'd like to work in this or that area you may come across as someone that really wants to work in a field that the company could use someone that wants to stay in that area. In a sense, I'd argue that most companies are fishing in asking the question where some of my points above are what they want to see. Don't forget that saying, "I'd like to become more familiar with design patterns," has both the property of naming something specific in design patterns yet still be vague about what you would do with them.

  • Regarding job titles - I'm really quite early in my career. My last job title was graduate developer and my next (I'm currently hunting) will be either "graduate developer" or "junior developer" so in 5 years I'd be happy just with "developer" rather than considering anything else like architecture. Your points about giving details are good, but I guess my hesitance with that would be - is that actually what they're asking? It feels like I'd be giving a low-level answer to a high-level question. – starsplusplus Jul 20 '14 at 22:35
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Actually the most valuable thing I learned in College was how to answer this question correctly.

"Where do you see yourself in ten years?"

"Working for you guys, of course!"

If you are not answering this question exactly as above, then that is what you are missing. There is no other correct answer.

If they ask you to elaborate...

"OK... doing what for us, specifically?"

"I will probably doing exactly what your are hiring me to do now, but I'll be even better at it then and work even harder."

  • I've considered that answer, but it seems a bit presumptuous when they haven't even given me an offer yet. I don't think I could get away with that - not in the UK, at least. – starsplusplus Jul 22 '14 at 18:24
  • Jolly best of luck to you! – Code Whisperer Jul 22 '14 at 18:26

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