“Oh, you’re a programmer? What language do you use?”
For decades, this question made plenty of sense. You may have a grandfather or an aunt who made a career of coding in one language for one computer. They may have written in FORTRAN, COBOL, Pascal, or even BASIC until the day they retired. There is still a need for people to specialize in legacy systems, but most modern developers deal with technology stacks rather than individual languages.
As processors continue to shrink in both size and price, computers continue to show up in more and more places, while ever-increasing connectivity demands that each of these devices communicate with a growing number of services. Computers, phones, kitchen appliances, wearable tech, RFID tags, the list goes on – all have something to say and someone to tell it to. Even websites, exclusively viewed on desktop computers 20 years ago, now have to interface with a growing number of devices and third party services. As the variety of devices grow, so too does variety of ways to program them.
Perhaps a more fitting question today is, “what sort of environment do you work in?”
This is a more open-ended question, but it allows for a more accurate answer that probably includes a framework, an architecture, a deployment platform, several markup languages, one or more scripting languages (possibly with extended libraries that can loosely be described as languages in themselves), and a language for server-side logic. Of course, employers will also want to know what programming paradigms you are familiar with, what third party services you have experience implementing, what content management systems you’ve used, and how many years of experience you have with some made up acronym, just to keep you honest.
You might have all of the skills they currently use, and none of the skills they are migrating to or from. The best bet for modern developers is to keep learning new tricks, network with as many other professionals as possible, keep an online portfolio, and by all means say no when your friend asks that dreaded follow-up question, “Will you build a website for my business idea?”