Ten Tips for Young Programmers

pieterhpieterh wrote on 25 Oct 2015 16:02


Writing code is like doing magic. Just say the right words, and amazing stuff happens. Or, horrible things happen. Becoming a great programmer isn't easy. It takes time. For young coders, I'm going to give ten tips to help you along that path.

1. Take Your Time

It takes years to get good at coding, so be patient. Your first projects will be weak, no matter how smart you are. If you're coding every day you'll be decent after five years, and good after ten. And after twenty years you may become great.

2. Write Code, Write Code

There's a myth that superb coders are born. Yes, you need talent, yet above all you need practice. Code every spare minute. You need to practice for years, alone and with others. It won't make you rich, it will make you better. Coding is like playing music. Play the same tune a hundred times, and each time you will learn something new.

3. Develop Your Strengths

Discover what you are good at: everyone is different. Maybe it's problem solving. Maybe it's teaching others. Maybe it's long, deep focus on difficult concepts. The best sign you're good at something is you enjoy doing it. Over time you'll become better at other aspects of coding.

4. Learn to Work With Others

Alone, you'll always be mediocre. Only when you work with others can you really shine. Learn to let others compensate for your weaknesses. Look for teams that need you and that can challenge you. Join open source projects. Learn open source culture. Learn from others, and especially their mistakes.

5. Use Science, not Magic

Most of the software industry is plain wrong. Learn to recognize and reject magical arguments. Science is about solving real problems with wild, irresponsible answers, and harsh error correction. Don't follow fashion. Take the next most urgent problem. Write a minimal plausible solution. Test that, and keep it only if it seems to work.

6. Trust Your Instincts

We're born with good instincts for working with others. Education and work beat these out of us. Most of all we learn to accept discomfort and pain. Learn to trust your instincts. If something you're doing seems wrong, fix it. Even if it takes a decade: write it down, understand it, and fix it.

7. Work With What You Have

Work with the problems, tools, and people you have at hand. Focus on getting it right, minimal, and modest. Don't wait for tomorrow's technology to arrive. Don't try to invent the future. Just get to work making real solutions to real problems. The future will invent itself.

8. Embrace Criticism

Lose your ego. When someone criticizes your work it can hurt. Yet it's far worse to be ignored. Ask people for critiques. Make your work public and open source, when you can. Now and then you'll hit a troll who really tries to hurt you. It's never personal. Learn to shrug that off.

9. Keep Your Costs Low

Cheap is important. Learn to use Linux, and a cheap or second-hand PC. Learn the command line. Stick with small languages like C, instead of massive languages like C++. Learning a larger language does not make you a better programmer.

10. Publish Your Work

Put your code out there, using your real name. Become a contributor to open source projects. If they don't want you, find projects that do. Build up your public profile, e.g. on GitHub. It's your future resume.


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