Assessing Learning Aptitude in Software Engineers

Assessing Learning Aptitude in Software Engineers

Aptitude for Learning

A software engineerís context changes extremely rapidly. New technologies and frameworks are introduced continually. Developers must devote significant time and energy to learning activities just to stay relevant. Because the pace of change is so rapid, engineers who are learn quickly are better equipped to leverage the changing context.

Unfortunately, it is not enough that an engineer is motivated to learn and possesses a growth-mindset. They must also have an aptitude for learning that allows them to absorb information rapidly. Engineers who have difficulty learning quickly find their skills becoming irrelevant.

I once worked with an engineer who was motivated and loved to learn. Unfortunately, his learning style was rather slow and plodding. When asked to focus on a particular technology for long periods of time, he was able to learn the details of that technology extremely well. His depth of knowledge allowed him to leverage little known features of the technology in ways that were quite valuable.

Once, after working in a well-known framework for a number of years, he discovered a little-known feature that was extremely useful in helping support customers who encountered a specific type of issue. His depth of knowledge was such, that when he published his solution to a public forum, the owners of the framework quickly patched their technology, as they realized this little-known feature could be potentially exploited as a significant security vulnerability.

However, while this developer had spent many years becoming very productive in this particular framework, the technology context had changed drastically. His knowledge became obsolete. While he valiantly attempted to get up-to-speed on the new technologies, the landscape was changing too fast for him to catch up. He had the motivation and desire, but unfortunately didnít possess the aptitude, and subsequently ended up moving out of software engineering into a role that was a better fit for his skills and competencies.

Sample Interview Questions to Assess Aptitude for Learning

Tell me about a time when you were asked to code something in a technology that you were unfamiliar with? Mostly trying to discover a candidateís learning style, and how they approach learning new things.

Tell me about the technology you have learned about most recently. What are the benefits and drawbacks? Why did you choose to learn about this technology? How recently did you research this technology? This set of questions is designed to see how deep a candidate goes into learning a particular topic, as well as if they understand the high-level concepts and use cases.

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