Technology is a fast-paced world, and as such programming is a constantly evolving discipline. At the same time, skilled programmers are still highly sought after and the demand for them is not likely to slow down anytime soon. However, as with any other career, the best in their field are those who appreciate that there is always more to learn. Aside from the amazing job/career opportunities, another main factor that must motivate all experts in the Infotech industry is dynamism and passion for the job.
It is not enough to have a command of the most in-demand programming languages, developing supporting skills that would improve your personal and professional development is equally necessary.
Here are some strategies to adopt to become a better programmer:
MASTER THE BASICS AND FILL IN THE GAPS
In every industry or job role, a solid understanding of basic concepts is very essential to becoming an expert. A lot of can people can drive cars, but most do not understand the engineering behind it. The two categories of basics programmers must master are:
Engineering Basics i.e the underlying structures, processes, and frameworks for effective programming.
Language/Framework Basics i.e fundamentals in certain languages that are being used in certain contexts. It helps you design and executes the best solutions in the best manner possible.
It is a good idea to identify the gaps in your knowledge of the basics of writing and understanding code on the screen and return to your resources materials to fill them in. Even if you are considered a professional programmer, always review your basics.
DEVELOP SOFT SKILLS
This might seem like an irony because programming is a technical skill and we lay heavy emphasis on improving hard skills. However one of the stereotypes associated with programmers is that they are socially awkward. Whether this is true or not is debatable, but the fact remains that improving soft skills such as communication, interpersonal relationships, collaboration, teamwork, empathy, humor, etc is also crucial to professional development. An easy way to approach this is attending and getting involved in forums and groups, taking courses on soft-skill development, and perhaps even something as mundane as being comfortable talking to strangers.
DRAFT, WRITE AND REWRITE
Simply put, write code three (3) times. Writing code can be compared to writing a novel. The first time you write, it’s a draft, not a finished work. Think of it as a proof of concept or a possible solution. The second time is to make sure it works, i.e it solves the problem. The third time is to be satisfied it works exactly as you intended it to.
PERFORM UNIT TESTING
A clear line of distinction between a ‘good’ programmer and a ‘better’ programmer is the latter desires to know how and what is happening (when the code is being executed). Using unit testing to design your code ensures every component functions as it is intended to. Steve Sanderson, a web developer with Microsoft says, “don’t approach unit testing only as a way to find bugs. Just because components work independently does not mean they are compatible”. It might be a bit time-consuming but unit testing ultimately results in a better code.
REVIEW YOUR CODE
Be your first critic. Try to analyze and do an unbiased review of your own work. Also, make a habit of partnering with other programmers/team members to review each other’s works. Be open to constructive criticism and take advantage of your reviewer’s experience to create something better than you could have done on your own.
LEARN MORE BY HELPING OTHERS
Most people tend to only seek help and rarely offer it in return. However, an effective way of learning while offering value is to teach. If you understand a complex problem enough to explain it to someone else, you’re more likely to retain that knowledge and also apply it in a meaningful way. This theory is even backed by science. So, improve your skills either through formal coaching or informal mentoring of beginners or other teammates.
As with any other skill, practicing by writing more codes makes you become better at what you do. Programming is fundamentally a problem-solving exercise. Try to solve a new problem, fail, and try again. The more cases you encounter, the more context you would have for how to solve each subsequent problem. One way to help you with this is by taking side/pet projects. Not only is doing this an indicator of passion and drive, but it also teaches you to add value, pushes you to take action, improves focus, and makes you more empathic.
Constant learning is at the heart of development. Actively seek out new knowledge and ideas, and find ways to apply the knowledge in your work every day. Read from websites, publications, blog articles, books, etc.
On a final note, it takes great dedication and passion to become truly good at anything. This holds true for programming too. Some programmers may have certain talents or advantages over their fellows but no one becomes an expert by accident. You must be willing, eager even, to invest a lot of time and energy into constantly improving yourself. A clear vision and focused effort will take you far above where mere talent or innate abilities would.