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How to respond to questions where you don't know the answer

Recorded – watch the full episode on YouTube.

When you get asked a question that you just don't know, you just can't answer, like “what's your experience with Core Haptics?” or something else you just don't know. What's your approach to handling that kind of question?

Sean Allen: I mean, I'm just straight up honest with them. I'll be like, “I don't know, I've never touched that.” And I do feel like honestly is the best way to go, because again, you're not going to trick these interviewers. They've done hundreds of interviewers, they're going to be able to tell when you're blowing smoke, right? Like you're not going to trick them, right, so I'm just straight up honest. And I don't just say I don't know, like I try to provide what I would do to fix that problem.

Like we talked about earlier in the conversation, like plugging your holes as a developer. Like I would say, okay, for example, if somebody asked me testing, you know what, throughout my career, I just haven't had experience in testing, and I would kind of justify, if you will, why. And then I'd say, but you know, I do recognize that's a place I need to improve, here's what I would do to improve it. I would study this, I would build some practice projects. I would lay out the path of how I would fix that problem, if I didn't know the answer at the time.

“I’m just straight up honest. And I don't just say I don't know, like I try to provide what I would do to fix that problem.”

Paul Hudson: I think, honestly, an answer folks should just keep in their back pocket is, “I don't know, but I'd love to find out more.”

Because that's the essence of programing. I mean, of all Apple's APIs, and I touch so many of them, I maybe know one in 10, maybe. I don't know. Right? But I would love to know more, I mean, I'm totally psyched to try things out in Vision or Core ML, or Create ML, or drag and drop, SwiftUI, and so on. Whatever is the cool new thing, I want to poke it. I want to press it. I want to try it out. And have fun with it, and enjoy it.

Showing that tenacity to learn, that keenness, I still want to keep pushing at it, I still want to keep on breaking things and fixing them, and then breaking them again, and then re-fixing them again. That never gets old. No matter what framework you're using, what language you're using, what platform you are, what company you're applying for, I am keen to learn, and push, and try, is a skill that never gets old, quite frankly, is it?

“They like you, they really want you, now you have the leverage. Other times, you have like no leverage, so I guess it would depend on that key factor there. But it is very, very valuable, if you can see their code base before.”

Sean Allen: Yeah, and like you kind of just illustrated, even better than saying, I don't know, here's how I would fix it, if you have an example of here's how I've fixed it in the past. You know, like, I didn't know SpriteKit in the past, so I went ahead and built this game, and then talk about that.

So giving a specific example of how you fixed the problem, to show that you've done it before, because like you said, at the end of the day, we're never going to know every single framework. But if you've proven that you can pick up a framework and learn it, you can pretty much learn any of them.

Paul Hudson: Would you ask the interviewer to show you their code before working for them?

Sean Allen: It depends on how much leverage I felt I had. That's a negotiation tactic, right? Like if you feel like they really want you, and you know, because sometimes that is the case. They like you, they really want you, now you have the leverage. Other times, you have like no leverage, so I guess it would depend on that key factor there. But it is very, very valuable if you can see their codebase before.

This transcript was recorded as part of Swiftly Speaking. You can watch the full original episode on YouTube, or subscribe to the audio version on Apple Podcasts.

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