Thursday, September 14, 2017

What should be my next step to becoming a better programmer?

What's your next step?

I'm guessing, but if you’re like most programmers, you’re already too involved in technical details, You may have mastered Python, Java, Ruby, C++, or a dozen other languages and platforms, but your ability to deal with other people is less than adequate.

Studies of programmers at work show that typical programmers spend 70% of the time dealing with other people. (Agile programmers may spend even more time). [See, The Psychology of Computer Programming]

- Do you ever misunderstand what you've been asked to do?

- Are you ever misunderstood when explaining what you're trying to do?

- Do you ever have fruitless arguments with your boss? With your coworkers?

- Do you ever have trouble dealing with people who are not as smart as you?

- Do you sometimes have trouble dealing with feedback about your performance?

If so, and you want to improve, perhaps you should devote some time to developing your People Skills.

At the very least, you'll learn how to solve "people problems" more efficiently, thus leaving you more time, in a better mood, to do the technical work of programming.


Next step? Take a look at this bargain bundle:



Sunday, September 10, 2017

False Urgency


What should I do with a client or boss who insists that a certain task is urgent, but it turns out to be likely a false alarm?

In your mind, subtract 10% from this persons trust account, then watch for the second occurrence. It might be a one-time mistake or it might be a person who thinks every little thing is "urgent."

If it happens again, tell him or her that you charge double (or triple) for urgent tasks. If he or she isn’t willing to pay, then find another client.

If you're an employee and this is your boss, you obviously can't charge them with money, so you have to find another way to make them pay. My favorite way was simply to ignore them and proceed at my normal pace, in priority order. I never got fired for doing that, particularly when it became evident to everyone that the urgency was false.


This is just one of the ways you have to train your clients and your managers if you want to be a successful employee, contractor, or consultant.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Must There Always Be Inferior Code?

Some people claim that when you learn high software standards you will never again develop in inferior ways. Is this true?

I think you can arrive at a meaningful answer by using an analogy:

Some people claim that when you learn high medical standards, a doctor or nurse will never again treat a patient in inferior ways. Is that true?

Seen in this light, the answer is obvious. Most doctors and nurses will not treat patients in inferior ways—unless it's an emergency, like an explosion or a fire in which many people need saving in a hurry. If that happens, the doctor or nurse will return to those patients when the emergency has calmed down. Same in software.

But there do exist a few medical professionals who don’t live up to such high standards. They are, after all, human beings. Yet in spite of their inferior practices, some of their patients do get better. Why? Because humans have built-in healing mechanisms—but software does not.

Software with sick code doesn’t heal itself. Those programmers who develop in inferior ways will eventually produce troublesome code. But the key word is "eventually."

The inferior programmer may not be around any longer when the code's trouble makes itself known, so some inferior programmers can get away with hacky ways for an entire career.

It’s a good manager's job to recognize these inferior programmers and replace them and their code before the true costs of their inferior work become evident.

Some managers overuse the tactic of forcing programmers to code in a hurry, as if there's always an emergency. Just as in medicine, emergency treatment of code tends to produce inferior results. Managers who care only about the short-term will not do anything about their inferior programmers, but they, too, may move out before the consequences of their inferior management become apparent.


That’s why inferior programming practices persist. And, as long as programmers and managers are human, inferior practices will always persist. But they don't have to persist in your world. It's up to you. \

Code in haste, debug forever.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Why is reading or writing something different from doing something?

First consider reading. Reading is (usually) a solitary activity, with no feedback. Without feedback, there's no check on what you believe you're learning.

Now, writing. Unless you put your writing in the hands of someone (or perhaps some computer analysis app), there's also no feedback, so there's no check on whether you wrote sense or nonsense.

When you do something, you interact with the real world, and the world responds in some way. With the world's feedback, you have the possibility of learning, confirming, or disconfirming something. That's why we strongly favor experiential learning over, say, lecturing or passive reading or writing.

If you want to teach somebody something, don't just send them to a book, or, even worse, tell them what you want them to know. Instead, figure out a way to have them experience the situation in which the learning applies.

After they've had the experience, you then might want to send them to a book where they can read about what they experienced.  Alternatively, you might ask them to write about their learning and have you read what they wrote.

You can try this out:

Step 1. Write a sentence or two about what would happen if you tried to move your desk six inches (15 cm) to the left or right.

Step 2. When you finish writing, get up and move your desk six inches (15 cm) to the left or right.

Step 3. What did you learn in steps one and two?



For a far more thorough answer to this question, see my four-volume series on Experiential Learning 



Then do some of the experiential exercises you find there.



Wednesday, August 30, 2017

How Does One Manage an Incompetent Manager?

How Does One Manage an Incompetent Manager?

The questioner does not say whether the manager's is their boss or employee, but I'll answer assuming they're the employee. If they're the boss, they should manage the same way they would manage any of their employees who is not competent to do the job they're paid for.

This is not just one question because there are quite a few different breeds of incompetent managers. To take just two examples, some are incompetent because they don’t interact with their employees at all, while others micromanage with a vengeance. It seems clear that you’d want to handle each situation in its own unique way.

If your manager is invisible, leaving you alone, just be thankful and go about your business. Believe me, you’re lucky.

For me, the first step in managing a micro-manager is to leave. Find another job, with different manager. A better one.

As for other managerial symptoms of incompetence, you can try working with the manager as one person to another, but realize that this amounts to taking on a second job. If you’re not a a trained psychologist, you might be better just leaving this one alone.

But if you decide you have the skills to manage your manager, do it the way a competent manager would. That is, concentrate on the question, “How is this manager interfering with the work we are being paid to do?” If their incompetence isn’t interfering in a significant way, maybe offer a bit of feedback, but only once, and then get on with your paying job.

In many cases, someone you perceive as incompetent can be a lot easier to live with than to fix. They may not even be as incompetent as you believe.

But if you're seeking advice on a particular pattern of incompetence, write me a note or comment. I will try to help you with specific actions to take.

Oh, and by the way, if you’re neither this manager’s boss or employee, then it’s none of your business, so just leave it alone. There are more incompetent managers in the world than you can possibly cure.

Here's a couple of books you might find helpful:







Sunday, August 27, 2017

Am I Boring, and What Can I Do About It?

I was asked, "Am I boring, and what can I do about it?"

The questioner explained, "Everything I have to say seems boring or unimportant. When I talk about my feelings it seems like I'm complaining or too complicated for others to understand. I don't feel like talking to anyone anymore. What should I do?"

I’ve heard this complaint many times, and much of the time, the person’s problem is not talking, but listening.

I advised him to devote some attention to what the others are saying to him and around him. Often they are trying to tell him why they seem bored, but he's not paying attention (which is a common symptom of “boring” people).

So I had him work on his listening for while and see what happened. He discovered some startling changes.

If you think you're boring people, maybe you’ll want to read


p.s. BTW, his question itself seems like he's complaining, and it may be too complicated for others to understand. As an exercise in learning to be less boring, try rewriting it so it’s not complaining and far less complicated.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Basic skills of a good programmer?

Many outstanding programmers were asked, "What are the basic skills required to be a good programmer?" Lots of good and useful answers were given to this question, such as, test before coding, use a particular tool, or use Agile methods.



For me, though, with more than 60 years of programming experience, the one thing that made me a better programmer was my ability and willingness to examine myself critically and do something about my shortcomings. And, after 60 years, I'm still doing that. You could say it's incremental development applied to myself.

I also examine my strengths (long-comings?) because I know that my greatest strengths can quickly become my greatest weaknesses.

For instance, one of my great strengths as a programmer was speed. If something had to be done quickly, I was the guy to do it. But the weakness in my speed was my tendency to omit the last few hours of testing that would make the project rock solid. I had to learn the importance of taking the time to do a precision job.

Many programmers do examine themselves critically, but then they work to improve their greatest strengths, to the exclusion of their weaknesses. That practice takes them a certain distance, but the nature of computers is to limit your ability, by highlighting your greatest weaknesses. 

A computer is like a mirror of your mind that brightly reflects all your poorest thinking. To become a better programmer, you have to look in that mirror with clear eyes and see what it's telling you about yourself.

Armed with that information about yourself, you can then select the most useful external things to work on. Those things will be different for you than for anyone else, because your shortcomings and strengths will be unique to you, so advice from others will often miss the mark.

Good programmers make good use of their best tools, and you are your best tool, so sharpen yourself.


See, for example,