Frank Mitchell

Never ask a wizard if he can use a lightning rod

I’ve spent a lot of time on both sides of the technical interview fence, and one of the questions that comes up time and again is this:

“On a scale from 1 to 10, how familiar are you with a lightning rod?”

Of course, no one says, “lightning rod.” They ask about C++, or Java, or Rails, or Cocoa, or whatever the current language or framework they’re using happens to be.

Given that engineers are notoriously bad at estimating things, and that any answer you’re going to get is so full of subjectivity that it’s useless, I’ve started using the following response when asked, “Regarding [insert a language or framework here], would you rate yourself as a beginner, intermediate, or expert user?”

I am a wizard.

When I graduated from wizard school I knew more about lightning rods than the other students, thus I was an expert. When I started work I knew less about lightning rods than my colleges, thus I was a beginner. After working for several years, I knew more than some, but less than others, thus I was of indeterminate knowledge.

I am the only person worth measuring myself against, so instead of confining myself to your little box, I will tell you instead of the spells I have cast and the magic I have compiled. Then you may judge my knowledge against whatever standard you see fit.

I have spent enough time with lightning rods to long for reflection and multiple dispatch, and have woven meta spells that faked them.

I have learned of the virulent nature of const, and have been bitten by the many headed beast the compiler invokes when no one’s watching.

I have laughed at the myth of reusable magic, yet have seen children reuse spells in less complicated environments with better results.

I have lamented the publication of Magical Patterns, knowing that only a handful of the greatest wizards understood the ideas behind them.

I have tamed a dragon, watched monsters eat their young, and been dazzled by the terse beauty inherent in simple incantations.

I am a wizard, and while lightning rods are a part of my craft, they are not the whole of it. The things I can do for you lie not in that parlor trick realm but in the far deeper realm of computational wizardry.