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I was recently asked in an interview describe your experience with learning a new technology/programming language/framework.

How do I answer this besides It was a programming language. It had to be learned. So I learned it. Like any other programming language. By writing programs.

Obviously, the interviewer wouldn't be looking for these kind of answers. Any tips?

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    You probably didn't write random strings until something worked. Did you use a book? Multiple books? An on-line tutorial? A class? Personally, I like books and alternate between reading and programming. – Patricia Shanahan Jun 19 '17 at 21:21
  • The interviewer would probably be more interested in your learning style, using the VARK model. So do you go straight to videos, or books, or jump in and do it. – PeteCon Jun 19 '17 at 21:34
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    They are asking for your experience not how you did it – Neuromancer Jun 20 '17 at 7:22
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If you answered me just as you did in the question, I would learn many things about you.

  • you prefer just diving in and writing code to reading books, taking courses, or being led through a tutorial
  • you literally cannot imagine any other way of learning, to the extent that you feel your preferred method doesn't even need to be an answer. How else could it be done?
  • you take on things that "have to be done" and just do them, with minimal fanfare or support. You will probably take a similar attitude to tasks other than learning. That's great. You will probably also not offer support to coworkers who have to do something, expecting them to just do it. That's not great.

If you had taken the time to answer the question, explaining your preferred learning approach along with how long it takes, I would learn only good things about you. By not answering, or answering the way you did in the question, you show me some not-so-good things about yourself as well. And in an interview, you need to be prepared to show good things about yourself every time you open your mouth.

I am not saying pretend to care about and accommodate different working styles, or learning styles, but maybe don't volunteer how rigid and non-empathetic you are. Don't suggest it's a ridiculous question because "how else would you do it?" Instead, answer it. Talk about your process. Let them know you're a quick and self-directed learner who is willing to put in the work to gain the abilities and skills you need. Show them this about you.

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As Neuromancer said in the comments, the bit that jumped out to me that they said "Describe your experience…". I think a question like this serves a couple of purposes.

It's a nice open question that, especially early on in an interview,

  • is applicable to every candidate: no matter your background or level, if you've a developer you will have to have done this
  • can put you at ease: there are no wrong answers, and it gives you a chance to talk about something that you're definitely knowledgeable in
  • can widen out the conversation: provides openings for further follow-up questions, so can help a discussion flow more naturally
  • can overall highlight your communication skills: how easily are you able to explain concepts in a tool or language?
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The interviewer is gauging your willingness and capacity to learn new technologies and languages on the job to measure how fast you will be brought up to speed and your long term value to the company.

Learning Curve

In most (if not all) software/technology settings, no two software will look the same. They'll be designed with different (if not mixed) conventions, patterns, architectures, and languages, including domain-specific-languages. As a result, when exposed to the software, you will be exposed to a learning curve. This question gauges your ability and willingness to learn the technologies or languages compared to other candidates. Candidates who answer this question well (i.e. with enthusiasm, perseverance, or a capacity for learning quickly) depict a realizable edge against other candidates. (Assuming they're not lying) said candidates will take less time to be brought up to speed by current teams, thereby increasing the overall efficiency and investment value once the candidate begins submitting features and bug-fixes.

Long Term Value

Similarly, it's also a gauge at your long term value to The Company. As a Developer, it's important for you to be capable of learning new technologies, languages, libraries, etc. This enables The Company and yourself to leverage new technologies rapidly. Without this capacity, the software may grow stale and lose competitiveness against competing products who leverage new technologies.

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Are you willing to ask for help?

They are looking, in general, to see HOW you approach a new technology and, more specifically, how you minimize your learning time.

So, you want to show two things:

  1. You want to learn as fast as possible so that you are productive as quickly as possible,

  2. That are you are not too proud to ask for help to speed up the process (i.e. that you are not one of those that MUST learn it all by themselves, even if it takes weeks).

Sample Response

Being productive as quickly as possible, while maintaining a path to mastery is my goal. Therefore, I research, I code or exercise the new technology myself and reach out to experts for advice - either online or event better, within my circle of coworkers. That way, I can be productive quickly without sacrificing my ultimate goal of mastery.

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They are looking for technical breadth, i.e.:

  • Work with file system I/O
  • TCP/IP streams, if applies
  • Structures
  • As applies, OOP capabilities
  • String functions (substrings, concatenations)
  • Math functions
  • Related source code management tools
  • User interface (GUI or Web)
  • Database access
  • As applies, reporting
  • As applies, promoting your code from development to production
  • Libraries related to your project
  • Most importantly, using debugging tools and online resources when you don't have all the answers

The above list applies to most languages. It'd be pretty useless to hire you if you still had severe deficiencies with any of the above.

  • I have no idea why someone downvoted this, it's a very good answer. – lebowski Jun 20 '17 at 15:26
  • It is very specific to programming languages. The question covered "a new technology/programming language/framework" and therefore is unlikely to be looking specifically for programming language issues. – Patricia Shanahan Jun 20 '17 at 16:55

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