Computer programming is one of those disciplines that requires constant learning. Technology is advancing at a rapid rate, so much so that sometimes even the biggest experts find it challenging to keep up sometimes. Continual improvement is the only way to stay ahead of the curve, or at least keep pace with it.
It’s not enough to learn some fundamentals, write a few lines of code, call yourself a programmer and start applying for jobs. If your goal is to become an expert coder, then you need to prepare for a lifetime of refreshing your old skills and learning new ones. If that doesn’t sound like fun, then you’re probably in the wrong industry.
So what’s the best way to improve your coding skills? It all boils down to the words of the wise Dory the Fish (well, almost)
‘Just keep coding, just keep coding, just keep coding…’
The best, most important and easiest way to improve your programming skills is to WRITE CODE. Lots of it. As much as you can, and as often as you can. It’s as simple as that.
Or is it?
Sure, there’s plenty of other ways to improve too. But they all end up back at the same place; writing code! Here’s our guide to developing your coding skills, no matter what language or what kind of programming you’re into.
We can’t stress this enough. You will absolutely, definitely get better at coding if you practice writing code. Actually typing out lines of code helps you to notice errors in design, error handling, threading and more. And by noticing them, you can learn how to prevent them in future. Tackle both small and big programs; the former will improve your fundamental programming skills and teach you about productivity, but the latter will do wonders for your problem solving abilities (which is what’s at the heart of coding, after all is said and done). Start simple, but don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. And when you solve one problem, start again and find another, better solution!
Read other people’s code. Read your own code. Read tutorials and check out libraries. Find code examples on the web (GitHub, for a start) and read them. This will help you understand how code works, but will also tune you into the multiple approaches that can be used to build a particular program. And when you’ve read the code, find ways to improve on it by going back to #1 on this list. We told you everything comes back to writing code! Every programmer will have a different way of solving every problem, and while all may work, some may work better than others. Reading and then analysing other’s responses will vastly improve how you write your own code.
Work on Code (Projects)
Open source projects provide a fantastic opportunity to improve your coding skills. You get to meet like-minded coders and potential mentors (in the virtual sense at least), work with them on projects that have an actual purpose in the real world, and gain an insight into how the industry works – not to mention valuable hands-on experience. Sign up to open source mailing lists or join communities like GitHub and get started. As a bonus, you’ll also develop soft skills like good communication, project management, time management and team work – all of which employers are searching for in the ‘perfect developer’ candidate.
As well as reading and improving on other people’s code, review your own periodically and make further improvements. It’s also worth having your code reviewed by someone more experienced than you. Preferably someone who doesn’t mince their words! People of similar skill levels can also provide valuable insights too however, and yes – you should offer to return the favour. Treat all feedback – even criticisms you might think too harsh – as learning opportunities, and use it to… you guessed it, write better code and thus improve your coding skills!
Learn More Code
Your primary goal should be to master your first chosen language. And that will take time. But after that, it’s always important to expand your skill set piece by piece. Some experts advise to stick with the tried and test cornerstone languages like Java or the C family, while others will advocate new languages that show signs of sticking around for a long time (think Python, Ruby and Go). There are advantages and disadvantages to each; the former have established libraries and communities but can be complex. The latter are simple and easy to learn, but are not yet as ubiquitous and mature as their predecessors. One solution is to find a balance by mastering one ‘old’ and one ‘new’ language, but this all depends on your specific interests and goals.
But most importantly, remember to ‘just keep coding, just keep coding…’