Am I Un-Interviewable?

Syntax error.

That was the first communication I ever got from a computer.

I was fiddling with an Apple II Plus and I had read a smattering of the Applesoft BASIC programming manual and was getting impatient and typed something random.

** SYNTAX ERROR was the response, along with a beep.

Syntax errors flew like swarms of locusts over the next few hours until I realized this machine had a very limited vocabulary and there was no secret mode to unlock that would improve its comprehension.

I think I took too long to learn that first basic lesson. Nowadays I suspect it affected my karma as a programmer.

Today I work with way too many different languages to remember syntax for all of them at the same time. Java, Scala, C, C++, C#, Perl, Python and Objective-C are all swimming in my head at different days or nights of the week.

Why?

Several reasons, probably.

I never lost my curiosity and I love trying new things. That’s probably number one.

I stand firmly and passionately in the philosophical camp that maintains There’s More Than One Way To Do it. I believe in having as many tools as possible at one’s disposal.

I work during the day as a developer in corporate America, but I’m an aspiring indie game dev at night. Plus, my role at my day job has evolved over time.

So every time I switch projects or assignments, I often have this spaced-out moment when I have to go back and look at code and refresh on syntax.

I wonder every now and then how well I’d do the next time I go for a job interview and have to write code on a whiteboard.

I’ll tell you right now, the odds are pretty high it’ll be some melange of two or three languages that wouldn’t compile on any platform in existence.

Not on this planet, anyway. There’s probably some compiler a few light-years away in some alien data center that would read it, compile it, link it to an alien runtime library and laugh hysterically afterward.

And then pass it along to all its friends on their social media network, so all of them could have a laugh too.

In the meantime, though, I imagine myself standing in front of a panel of disapproving interviewers who will accept nothing less than perfect syntax, written in their preferred language, using their favorite whiteboard marker color. They might even try to critique my code formatting and count the number of implied white space characters preceding each line of scribbled, invalid syntax.

I really wouldn’t be surprised if this happens to me at some point. I’ve been through crazier things at the job I have right now.

Maybe I should have read the whole BASIC manual first before laying a finger on that Apple II.

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