Becoming a Professional Programmer


1. Deliver when you commit

It is extremely bad for your reputation to fail to meet up to your words; if you can’t deliver, please say no or find an alternative way out. How would you feel if an artisan disappoints you for no good reason? I bet you’ll probably never do business with them again.

So before you commit to anything (boring bug fixing, dreary testing or documentation), please make sure you’ll deliver or else do not commit.

2. Stay up to date

Do you know design patterns? Development methodologies? The latest fad in software development? Don’t neglect learning else you’ll wake up one day and realize that you are writing COBOL (OK, this is an exaggeration but you sure do get the hint). Staying up to date is your responsibility and no one else’s.

Dedicate time to make sure you know your field very well, ideally it should be time off work and gains should be measurable. While you are at it, please remember not to burn out, create time for fun things too.

Some employers actually make this easy by training employees or providing libraries – if you are lucky enough to have this, please take full advantage of this :); otherwise, there are tons of free stuff on the Internet that you can leverage – blogs, newsletters etc.

3. Be responsible

You must unconditionally know HOW and WHY your code works; and when testers find a bug, accept it as your doing graciouslyThis also applies to inherited code – no one wants to know if the code is spaghetti (with some onions and meat included) or written in Japanese. Once you inherit the code, it automatically becomes your code and it’s up to you to know how it works, what it does and how to fix/extend it.

If you are stuck with such bad code, why not try cleaning it up slowly? Every time you open the file, just make a tiny improvement (please no new bugs).

4. Know the domain

Most developers feel that users are not ‘smart’ enough to understand the intricacies of software development. Software development is complex but so are financial accounting, quantum physics , economics and a whole slew of other fields.

Imagine two developers working on a financial accounting product, the first writes software based on the requirements alone while the second makes a conscious effort to learn more about financial accounting. Who do you think will write better software and communicate more lucidly? Who will understand the problems, issues and challenges better?

Admittedly, it is more work trying to understand accounting (or any other field) but in the long run, it’ll pay off because you’ll write code in the problem domain. This also gives you the chance to contribute meaningfully to the project, proffer advice and analyze the competition. Who knows, it could open the door to new opportunities.

5. Work consciously

Most times we do things because we are accustomed to having things work that way – in coding, code design or requirements gathering. Ideally, we should always be thinking of our work – it should not just be the same ol’ thing all the time.

There are things to try, new (and probably better/more efficient) ways to write code and arcane language features to explore. Always keep asking these questions – why am I doing this? What am I doing now? Is there a better way to do this? It applies to everything – coding, design, maintenance and even meetings! Yes, meetings! :)

Did you enjoy this piece? Maybe you’ll also like becoming a better programmer and 5 things I learnt from Code Complete 2.

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