I was reading an old blog post http://www.kalzumeus.com/2011/10/28/dont-call-yourself-a-programmer/ and came across this line:

“Anyone describing themselves as either a Java programmer or .NET programmer has already lost.”

The point he was making, and continued to make after this line, is that programming languages don’t matter. It’s an old blog post or I would have added a comment. My comment would be that I tried this in an interview and didn’t get the job. I told the prospective employer that I was fluent in C++, worked in C# daily, dabbled in JavaScript/HTML5/CSS, and have touched numerous other languages. I then told them that I could program in whatever language they wanted because it is a programmers ability to design and implement software that is their skill. Which language they use to accomplish that is a minor issue.

Well, I think that I didn’t get the job because it paid half of what I was making at the time, and they were looking for someone in their 20’s who could follow instructions and maybe work 16 hours a day. I also am not very good at job interviews and don’t really feel comfortable talking to people when I want something from them.

I’m really torn on the idea of language being moot. Yes, I can program in just about any modern language. But give me a copy of Microsoft Visual Studio, I can churn out a C++ program or a C# Windows app in no time at all. Give me a terrible text editor, no source level debugger, and an interactive web page to build in JavaScript/HTML5/CSS, and I’ll be there a while. Cut me off from Google and I’ll be stuck. Sure, in a few weeks or a month, I’ll be a JS mad-man writing code like it was second nature. But it’s hard to convince someone in an interview to give up those few weeks or months. Add in the fact that if you are a Windows C++ programmer and they are hiring for web development, and you have little chance of getting the job. Not only is the language different, but so is the domain. Now add to that the fact that I have been working in the field of bioinformatics for 15 years and they supply fancy websites for a variety of non-biotech companies, and the deal is sealed: no job.

So language does matter. It doesn’t matter if you have the job and it doesn’t matter if you are doing work for free. It does matter if you are in an interview and they are looking for the best person for the job that day, not a few weeks down the road.

Oh, and the “don’t be a programmer” headline? Calling myself a programmer is good when I’m in a room full of surf board sculptors but is not a good idea in an interview. “Software Engineer” is a better description. I’m really a “Software Designer” because I write the code, plan the user interface, design the flow of work, etc…, and even write a little documentation. If you writes software, Don’t be a programmer. Be more.

P.S. I took the interview as practice. I knew I could not take a 50% pay cut and that the commute was terrible. But to be fair, I would have considered their offer had they made one. I had not made up my mind completely before having the interview; that would have been unethical.