I encountered this post on my weekend reading. 91 Surefire Ways to Become an Event Greater Developer contain a comprehensive guide linking to all sort of blog posts providing insights on improving your skills as a developer.

While the list is very long and sometimes debatable it does have some interesting pointers. If you do nothing else, delve into item #8: Learn Programming by Not Programming referring to the following post by Jeff Atwood.

The topic in question is why some developers outperform their peers regardless of their accumulated experience:

But the dirty little secret of the software development industry is that this is also true even for people who can program: there’s a vast divide between good developers and mediocre developers.

A mediocre developer can program his or her heart out for four years, but that won’t magically transform them into a good developer. And the good developers always seem to have a natural knack for the stuff from the very beginning.

The answer lies in the quotes taken from Bill Gates remarks:

“The nature of these jobs is not just closing your door and doing coding, and it’s easy to get that fact out. The greatest missing skill is somebody who’s both good at understanding the engineering and who has good relationships with the hard-core engineers, and bridges that to working with the customers and the marketing and things like that.”

Eric Sink makes the distinction even clearer in You Need Developers, Not Programmers drawing a distinction between Programmers who are only excited about writing code and basically only care about doing that, and Developers who contribute to the software product in many ways.

The Great Programmer\Hacker Stereotype

You all know that guy (hell, most of us were that guy when we just started out, I know I was) – he has great technical skills, likes writing code and can spend hours within his IDE writing code that’ll make most of us scratch our head. Yet, he views the world only in one dimension – code. Business? that’s for the managers to figure out. Sales\Marketing? annoyances for others to take care of. Documentation? but the code is so obvious…Builds? Deployment? Configuration? …

Passion for code is a great quality. But as a specialist its all too easily digging yourself deeper and deeper into a skill you’ve already proven yourself to be capable at when you’d be better of using the time to cultivate other skills that are part of the process of making software – rendering yourself obsolete over time…

The great hacker is a one trick pony – he writes great code but that’s about it…
Most of these guys end up working alone as consultants or freelancers where they don t have to care about that other stuff, or they end up as programmers at some big firms where there’s more room for specialists doing specific jobs (Architects to architecture, PMs do project management, Programmers code…).
On the other hand, those who truly like making software, open up to the other aspects of software development.
When that change in mindset happens, that’s when you can truly grow exponentially…

So what do I do?

Ok, I guess you got the point… But how do you get started?  Here are my own 5 cents on the topic…

Read, Read and Read Some More…

We’re in an industry that is moving forward at a fast pace. Technology becomes obsolete every year and a half or so and as developers we have to constantly struggle to keep up. Books are not only great to help you keep up but also to expand your knowledge to other fields.
There are plenty of interesting books and blogs about, well, pretty much everything.
Here are some recommendations to get you started:

The Inmates Are
Running the Asylum

The Pragmatic Programmer

Made to Stick

Crossing the Chasm

The Innovator’s Dilemma

Eric Sink on the
Business of Software


(most of it is
available online here)

Oh and one word about programming books: the best ones are timeless, transcending choice of language, IDE and platform.
I try to stay away from them thick, heavy, language\platform specific references – most of them go out of date after a year or so anyway and most of the information there could be easily obtained elsewhere (online – Google, the product’s docs, blogs…)

Most programming big are just a waste of your time (and money…)

Contribute to an Open Source Project

Back in the days of Delphi I was involved in Project JEDI dedicated to exposing different APIs (especially the Win32 API) to Delphi developers.
I learned a lot working with the JEDI code base, documentation, samples and other team members.
Later when it was time to get drafted to the Israeli Army (we all have to do it at 18 here) the experience, credit and code samples help me land a (very) exclusive position as a programmer. Who knows where I’d be today if I didn’t qualify and had to serve as a combatant…

Contributing to an open source project is a great way to gain experience, learn and get better.
There are no job interviews to pass, degree requirements or commitment to working hours or schedule required – you can just join in and start submitting patches or contribute in ways other than code (submit bugs, docs, support, …).

You can learn a lot just from studying the code and interacting with your peers…

Contributing to open source shows dedication and passion – its a walking talking resume.

Get a mentor

Find yourself a mentor or mentors who can teach you about different aspects of the business. I’ve had several at SAP and talking with them proved to be an invaluable asset (If you’re reading, thanks! :))

It doesn’t have to be official mentoring which is part of the person’s goals or job description. Many of your peers are experts in their field and they’ll be happy to show you around if you just show some interest…

Become a Mentor

Great developer are eager to learn… and teach. Can you pass you passion and knowledge to others?

You can also…

  • Open a blog about your experience, opinions, etc.
  • Start answering questions at stackoverflow.com and collect achievements

Land an Internship

Try getting an internship in a different role. When I was in SAP they had a special program allowing employees to apply for a ~6 month position somewhere within the company. The reason behind it was to get employees familiar with different aspects of the company. Maybe product management, marketing or sales in not really your first choice of profession but why not try it for a couple of month without the risk of going through a career change? How cool is that? I’m sure many large corporations has something similar and even if not, it can’t hurt if you come up with such an interesting offer to your boss…

Own a Product Area

Get ownership on some part of the product your team is working on. Weather a specific component or a vertical (like Security) you should be in charge of getting it done – from getting the definition done with the product\sales\business team, through UX, development, QA, etc…
There’s nothing better than learning about the process of software development through experiencing the entire cycle…

Innovate

Start something new. When working on Duet we’ve had many issues getting the thing deployed. So I made a tool for (myself mainly) our QA and RIG (regional implementation group – the guys who work with customers) to help diagnose problems. This later became the official Duet Support Tool and got its own dedicated development time. Is your product, development environment perfect? I’m sure not… find a need a feel the gap…

Why? If by owning a product area you learned about the entire development cycle, here you’ll learn about defining and “selling” to the team…

Bonus Reading…

Another link worth visiting is the one about the Metrosexual Developer. Funny and true… ;)

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9 Comments to “99 Ways to Become a Better Developer”

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