The Secrets to Becoming a Great Programmer

-March 24, 2013

During the darkest hours of the design process when deadlines have passed, bugs are running rampant and the light at the end of tunnel is a dimly lit memory, the search for great programmers begins. These fabled wizards of industry can turn a dying program into a thriving reconfigurable and bug-free product at the drop of a hat. Design teams lucky enough to have one of these magicians on staff hardly understand the pain of delivering a product late, over budget or bug-ridden. Lurking in the back of the minds of engineers familiar with these individuals is a burning question: “What are the secrets to becoming a great programmer?”. It is a question that is best answered by examining the characteristics and traits of great programmers. Only then can an engineer emulate these behaviors in the hopes of one day becoming a great programmer.

Great Programmers …..

Write structured, maintainable code
The success or failure of any program is tightly coupled to how well it is structured. A poorly structured program will quickly descend into chaos as requirements change and features are added. Great programmers are masters at developing highly structured code that is adaptable to the changing needs of the customer. They also recognize that despite their expertise of C language constructs, writing clever, cryptic code is often not maintainable by other developers and therefore they focus on keeping things simple and easy to understand by everyone.

Recognize and reuse design patterns
Development cycles are getting shorter and shorter, budgets are tighter than ever and products are expected to include a plethora of advanced and standard features. Starting from scratch and reinventing the wheel with each new development cycle is not an option. Upgrading to new and more powerful microcontrollers cannot cause delays in the schedule or budget overruns. A great programmer is able to look at the problem or product at hand and recognize solutions that already exist and pull those patterns into the design in order to shave time and money from the development cycle. After all, who wants to reinvent something that has already been done?

Document their code in a clear manner
Documenting code so that it can later be understood by a maintenance engineer is in itself a work of art. Making sure that the right information is provided, that it is clear, understandable and up to date can be an enormous undertaking. It often requires skills beyond programming such as an understanding of the English language to properly convey clear meaning to the program. Great programmers document as they go and as they make changes to the code. They don’t rely on having time at the end to go back and comment their code.

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