What divides elite programmers from the rest? Is it simply natural ability, or are there personality traits and skills that everyone can learn to help them enter the top tier of digital talent?
Actually, it's a bit of both. If you have zero talent, you won't cut it as an elite programmer. But even great coders can struggle if they don't work on their skill profile. So let's discover the 5 characteristics that make coders stand out from the crowd.
1. They aren't paralyzed by risks
The best programmers aren't afraid to break things. In fact, they embrace risk when working with codebases, knowing that progress isn't possible unless you try things that could - inevitably - make things worse before they get better.
Sure, you want to add functionality without damaging what already exists. But that's only applicable in a perfect world, and whenever you add or change modules you're bound to encounter some problems. The trick is to use those problems to find solutions which improve what already worked, while achieving your project goals.
So don't feel paralyzed by the fear of ruining code. In fact, it might sometimes help to deliberately break your code and work from there. That way, you can identify issues with user experience and general functionality that might have been missed. Breaking down systems can often be the best way to achieve coding breakthroughs. Just taking the safe option might work for a while, but the best programmers always take risks.
2. They know how to work as a team
Programmers aren't always known in the wider world for their personality and soft skills. However, in complex work environments the best coding talents are often those who interact effectively with those around them.
Why is that? Soft skills help you understand what each project requires. Good listeners can take on board specific parameters and goals, making it easier to tailor code to meet the needs of bosses or external clients. And by listening well, you can also ask relevant questions to refine project briefs. That way, it's possible to go beyond the goals set by managers who may not have in-depth coding knowledge.
Even if you're a programmer first and foremost, you can develop soft skills into your professional personality. Boot camps and courses can help, alongside reading the right experts and adopting practices like self-reflection and meditation. Just don't discount working on your personality. It's something that all elite coders have time for.
3. They always know their limitations and take action accordingly
Another key characteristic of a successful programmer is their ability to visualize what they don't know and where they need to improve their knowledge base.
All of us have our limitations. It could be integrating graphics, understanding new coding languages, or using AI. But not all of us are willing to admit our shortcomings. And most of us stick to what we know, rather than developing our weaknesses aggressively.
However, that's never the case with an elite programmer. Their personality is built around constant improvement, learning new skills and seeking to understand gaps in their knowledge. They set aside time for training and learning (and may even enlist in annual boot camps to refresh their skills).
This might sound taxing for busy coding professionals, but there are shortcuts. For instance, applying the Feynman technique works well.
Devised by physicist Richard Feynman, this technique advises that coders imagine having to teach a room full of students about a specific point of knowledge. If you can't teach that point with authority and depth, it's time to return to the books for some additional training.
4. They are always willing to edit, and edit again
Have you ever written an essay only to find it returned with red marks and criticisms across every paragraph? If so, you probably weren't thinking like an elite programmer when you submitted your text, and you almost certainly didn't spend enough time editing your essay to refine its contents.
The best programmers have a thorough personality which seeks to achieve efficient, effective results every time. This means editing code, and then re-editing it to identify areas of improvement and redundancy. It also means spending a little more time on every task to ensure quality control, which is why the best programmer won't usually be the fastest worker.
Fortunately, there is a method to apply which can turn shoddy writers into super-efficient coding masters.
Firstly, write a draft version of your code to act as "proof of concept." This lets you get a feel for the task and understand whether you have found the right approach.
Secondly, return to the code and find a way to make your approach work. It doesn't have to be ultra-efficient at this stage. Just iron out any obvious errors and get the code functioning, however clumsily.
Finally, edit your working code to refine it and create a finished result. By flowing from proof of concept to finished code, you can usually achieve better results than throwing ideas at a project, editing haphazardly, and complaining when managers or clients return with critiques.
5. They love to code
The final aspect of top tier coding is the willingness to code at every opportunity. Coding is like writing, playing sports, or painting. The more you practise, the better you get. Constantly practising is also a great way to encounter new techniques and tools, helping you maintain a relevant skill set.
That's why sites like Github have such a huge user base (56 million and counting). They let coders share their projects, and bring users together to share expertise. Hackathons are another popular method of refining programming skills, and sites like Major League Hacking have developed a huge following.
So if you have time away from professional work, get involved. Every programmer can benefit from a little extra-curricular practise, and communities are always happy to help.
Develop your programming skills with intensive bootcamps
Are you thinking about switching careers to programming or web development? If you have these five characteristics it's probably a sound move. And as we've seen, most key coder skills can be developed with a bit of application.
The best way to build your programmer skills is via online courses and Ironhack's professional level bootcamps. Learn the core skills every coder needs and turn your personality into a career-changing asset with our educational tools.