How to be a Great Programmer

Will Code HTML for food
Photo Credit: Internet Annoyance Day

There are only three things you need in order to be a great programmer.

Before I list these, let me give you some background. I went to a hospital in Secaucus, New Jersey a few weeks ago for a sleep study; I have been waking up in the middle of the night and well, that’s not important. What I want to write is that I noticed that I had to repeat certain details, like my insurance ID, on different screens. Whoever wrote the software did not bother to carry the information over from the admitting page to the billing page. I asked the receptionist about this and she complained that it’s been like this for the past 30 years.

Every ten years or so, another company would be hired to update the hospital program and every time it would be abysmally horrid in the manner that it kept patient’s data. I’ve been programming since 1975 and I know what happened here. The hospital, without a clue as to what it really needed, gave out specs to a software company and that company put together a group of programmers (also clueless as to what was really needed) to fill out the order. When I asked her if any programmer ever came to interview her as to how to best design the system, she told me that no one, not even the hospital’s administration ever asked her for input.

So rule number one: talk to the people who are really going to use the program. When talking to company officials, administrators, IT personnel, just nod your head as if you are listening – then go talk to the secretary or warehouse worker who’s fingers will actually be punching in the data.

You have all read that great programming requires inspiration which brings us to:

Rule number two: many programs in order to work efficiently require a certain amount of creativity. To foster creativity one needs to be cheerful. Cheerfulness fosters creativity. So put yourself into a happy mood. Watch a few youtube videos on cat antics, scarf down a few donuts, chew on a Snickers bar, and paste a happy smile on your face. Programming is an art. Loosen yourself.

Great programming also should be as error-free as possible, which brings us to:

Rule number three: once you have written your code, you will need to debug it. You will need to be attentive to details and think critically and carefully, not creatively. For this you should be grumpy. Professor Forgas, of the University of New South Wales, tells us that the grumpier we are, the more likely we are to get problems sorted out and make less errors. Watch a youtube video of children being whipped in Bangladesh, drink a bitter cup of coffee, better yet, spill it on your lap, put yourself into a foul and gloomy mood. Programming is a science. Focus.

This all assumes you already know a programming language and how to fashion an if-then clause.

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