It takes more than mastering a programming language to become a great coder – we wish it was that easy! Knowing the ins and outs of syntax and functions is just the first step on the path to programming greatness, and too often wannabe web developers stop there. In our opinion, technical skills is just one of three important sets of tools needed to get to the top of the game. If that’s your goal, here’s a brief introduction to the other stuff you’ll need to know.
Of course, technical skill is at the core of all code and programming-related jobs, and learning a programming language or two is a pretty good place to start! Many new coders make the mistake of choosing the newest language with the most buzz. Don’t do this! Start with one that has been around for a while, has a large community and a solid future. Java is always a good choice, or Python for beginners (it may be new but it’s fast becoming a gold standard in the industry). And remember, the best way to become proficient is to code, code code.
Once you’ve gained a thorough understanding of your language(s) of choice, tackle some more challenging technical skills. It’s important to master the minefield that is debugging. Sadly, nobody has ever built a program that worked perfectly right from the get go. You’ll spend a large chunk of your time as a professional programmer weeding out tiny problems to get your code working, so you may as well start now! Also important is version control; learn to use systems that record changes to a file or set of files over time so you can recall specific versions later.
It doesn’t matter how many programming languages you can write in; if you don’t have problem solving skills, you won’t get very far in the industry. Practice is key; just find a problem and chip away at finding the solution, using any and every approach you can think of until one of them works. Having some background knowledge of computer science also helps. If you find yourself thinking ‘this can’t be done’, then you’re on the wrong career path.
As well as problem solving, there are several ‘thinking’ skills needed to be a great coder. It can be easy to lose sight of the big picture, so always try to view things from business or end user perspective. Immerse yourself in the end product and its function before you start building. You also need to develop an analytical approach to thinking (although this is often innate in many programmers); you’ll need to understand a problem from every angle to create a solution that works. And finally, you’ll need to
Programmers can’t get away with fitting the ‘computer nerd’ stereotype any longer. By nature, programming requires a lot of collaboration with others – especially if you work for a larger company with a dedicated development team. And the higher up the career ladder you progress, the more important it is to communicate effectively (especially if you end up as the head of a development team). This applies to emails, meetings and everything in between.
You don’t need to be a charismatic crowd pleaser, but you will occasionally need to be a people person. Rarely will you work alone as a coder, and most of the time you’ll be working to strict deadlines. So updating the non-technical stakeholders on a given project will be daily task; that means explaining turnaround times and the intricacies of a project in plain old English. Furthermore, when working with clients you’ll need to know when to stick to your guns and when to compromise on certain things. Like everything else, these skills only come with time and practice.
If you’re confident in your technical, thinking and communication skills, you’re already a well-rounded computer programmer. But there’s always more ways to improve! Everything we’ve discussed above is worthless if you don’t have a passion for what you’re doing. A coder who fails to express enthusiasm about technology, problem solving or building solutions isn’t a very attractive prospect for employers. So if you’re just in the game to make money, it’s probably not for you.
Creativity is also important – believe it or not there is actually a creative side to programming. To come up with workable solutions to problems, you’ll need to know how to think outside the box. Persistence and patience are also good habits to fall into – it takes time and effort to reach that eureka moment in complex projects. A hint (but only a hint) of laziness is sometimes necessary too. It spurs coders on to find faster, more efficient ways of doing things.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of what it takes to become a great programmer, but it’s certainly a start. Happy coding!