Essential Technical Interview Questions – Part 1

“Can you tell me some technical things you know nothing about, or some technical subjects you know but are weak in?”

Recently some co-workers were burned, and how, by a “SharePoint expert.”  It was slowly revealed over time that the guy had no business calling himself an expert on any technology, including SharePoint.  There has been a rash of “SharePoint experts” and “BizTalk experts” in the Microsoft space over the past few years, because of the demand – but with this particular guy, SharePoint was incidental.  Over time, it was easy to see that this guy would have called himself an “expert” of any technology.

I think the simple question above would have had him squirming.

Nowhere more than in Information Technology (IT) is someone paid for exactly what they know.  And nowhere more than in IT (or so we’d like to think) does your knowledge become outdated so quickly.

So, in the IT profession, saying “I don’t know” is sometimes considered a weakness.  With maturity and understanding, though, one quickly realizes that no one person could be an “expert” across the entire IT domain – it is way too broad.  What follows from that: someone who never says “I don’t know” is a self-delusional buffoon or a charlatan.  Or, to put it another way – admit it when you don’t know something, or risk all credibility (even for subjects you do actually know something about).

It is also interesting to note here that in IT someone is paid for knowledge, not for wisdom – and to no one’s surprise, IT (especially software development) is littered with the lack of wisdom and the conflation of “can” and “should” – but this topic is for another day…

Note that this question is not the same as “tell me your weaknesses.”  This question is pointed at technical subjects only.  You would be looking for answers like “database indexing” or “network security” or “the Java development stack” or “that Inversion of Control thing.”  Anything, so long as it is technical in nature.  But like the “tell me your weaknesses” question, this question can act as a Rorschach test of sorts – how does the interviewee dance around the question?  Does he or she appear to be forthcoming?  Does he or she talk about personal growth in these areas?  Does he or she recite some sort of canned and/or elusive answer?

Question: Tell me about your weaknesses.

Canned, Elusive Answer: Well, some people say I work too hard, and that my social life is lacking because of it.  (Does anyone even try this one anymore?)

Question: Can you tell me some technical things you know nothing about, or some technical subjects you know but are weak in?

Canned, Elusive Answer: You know, I really haven’t programmed in COBOL in years and years.  (Really?  I haven’t rocked the abacus in decades, either!  We have so much in common!)

3 thoughts on “Essential Technical Interview Questions – Part 1”

  1. Good to see you blogging Gary! This post reminds me of the various “non programming programmer” articles that have been written of late.

  2. It feels good to get these things off your chest regardless if the result of such venting is anything worth logging. I feel the same pain, brother. Too many people in the field with something to prove driven by the fear of looking incompetent to their bosses, but worse of all, their peers. We must embrace ignorance to achieve enlightenment. The only way to the truth is through “I don’t know.”

    The gospel of Robb

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