productivity

How to become a better programmer/developer?

developer

From time to time I receive emails with questions “How to become better/awesome developer?”, “Should I go to college?”, “what’s the secret formula to become ultimate programmer?”. Instead of answering the same questions over, and over again – providing only partial response each time – I decided to write this blog post.

Should I go to college?

College lecture

It’s a very hard question. Especially from perspective of person who went to 3 Universities (and graduated from all of them). Thus, instead of telling you whether you should or should not go to College, I will tell you what are the benefits of going to College.

First, and foremost – the opportunity to connect with other people. Better the school is – better connections you can make. This is the real value of going to Harvard or Stanford instead of Community College. Not outstanding professors who owns secret formula that they are sharing only with their students. Of course professors at top Universities are usually better than at non-top Universities, but they do not have recipe to teach you something without your own initiative. Did you know that Stanford, and MIT publish some of their classes online, for FREE? Why you do not just study these classes instead going to college? You can, but this is like watching the moon landing from home instead of being in the space craft. This is also the reason why top schools accept only ~2% of candidates. They want to have only the smartest people to hangout together, and then have successful careers. This makes school prestigious.

The second benefit is being forced to learn things that have steep learning curve, are not very fun at the beginning, but are definitely worth to know while being developer. Most of them are actually very exciting when you connect all pieces together.

Information, knowledge, wisdom

Check out my other blog post: 10 things you should learn at University.

When you will have opportunity to choose classes to attend – first choose professors, then subjects. From my experience – when I wasn’t interested in some topic, but professor was good – I liked the class, and I learned a lot. On the other hand – when I was very interested in some topic, but professor wasn’t great – I always regretted, because I probably could have learnt more by myself.

Before making your decision, get familiar with opinion of people who recommend you to go to College (e.g., Joel Spolsky), or with those who definitely tells you to do not (e.g., DHH). You should also take into consideration path of those who went to College, and drop (e.g., Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg). Be aware that educational system has its issues that are amazingly explained by Sir Ken Robinson in the most watched TED talk ever Do schools kill creativity?, and Peter Thiel in one of interviews. Remember that university education is not life insurance policy. It may work exactly opposite.

I do not remember who said that, but I agree:

The best programmers learnt Computer Science at School, and programming by themselves.

What language should I learn?

Programming Languages

Most of experienced programmers will tell you: “whichever is your favorite, because you can do cool stuff in C#, but also in Ada, e.g., by writing Software for Boeing 787”. And they are right! But I feel sorry for those beginners who will try to start with Ada, because it is very likely that at the time when they will be getting their first program to compile, those who had chosen C# would already have full CRUD application with Database deployed on Azure.

My answer for this question is: learn C# and JavaScript.

Why C#? “C# is a better Java”, and those two (C# and Java) are currently the most popular compiled programming languages. Thus, there are a lot of code samples, tutorials, and community support.

Why JavaScript? Because it is the most popular programming language that allows you to write programs for the most popular platform: web browser.

Extra credit: learn also C/C++ to learn pointers, and how memory allocation works. I would even recommend you to try to write some assembly: to understand how variables are stored in the processor registers, and memory. Then spend 7 weeks with this book: Seven languages in seven weeks. Hint: after you learn first programming language, learning each next will be getting easier. There is also a great, GREAT book that will help you to understand how computers work: The Elements of Computing Systems.

You may hear from more experienced programmers that you shouldn’t try just learn another language, but to build something. Unfortunately, the difference between you and them is usually number of the languages you both know. You: 1 or 2, them: more than 5. Because of that, they are able to pick up language basics in one night, and start building something right a way. They already know how to use common programming constructs – such as loops, functions, classes – and how to use them efficiently. For you: it would be much harder.

It’s good to be proficient in one language, and know how to use a few other. I think it was Albert Einstein who said:

Know everything about something, and something about everything.

How to get a job when I do not have any industry experience?

first interview

Create something. Whatever. Really! That’s the most popular advice from experienced programmers. While it’s true, the problem is that it is much easier to say and understand, when you already have done that. For somebody who is really entering the market for the first time – it is not that obvious. So, here, I will tell you what to do: Create a website that will allow you to browse, add, edit and delete books. Then add possibility to login, and roles for admins (who can do everything) and standard users (who can only browse books). Once you have this, create a mobile app that will allow you to browse these books like the website, and later on, also edit/delete when you are logged in as admin. You can get books from your website by creating API that will return data in JSON format.

What technology to use? You can do it in ASP.NET MVC using MSSQL Database (with Entity Framework). You can also use Node.js with Express Framework, and MongoDB database. On top of that you can use some SPA Framework like AngularJS, ReactJS, or Aurelia, to make your app more cool. For mobile app – Windows Phone is the easiest for beginner. You can also try iOS or Android if you want to. The best move would be of course to implement it for all 3 platforms. You can create native apps in C#, Objective-C/Swift, and Java, or you can use Xamarin (C#) or Apache Cordova (HTML/CSS/JavaScript).

BTW: You can learn all technologies mentioned above at Pluralsight. I really recommend you to get an account there. You can check popular courses list as a tip what it currently hot and worth to learn.

When your app is ready, publish it on github, and deploy to Azure or AWS, or Google Cloud, or to all of these platforms. Use FREE trials if you do not want to pay, or even better – figure out how to do not spend too much money when using Cloud.

Are you done? I hope you didn’t do it exactly how I said, or you did multiple versions of slightly different applications using different tools. Great! Now, you can show it to your future employer, and tell him that you are already capable to deliver software from your first day at work. You can put it in your resume, in ‘projects’ section, and describe it: “I created a website for book collection management with user authentication, and authorization. Additionally I created companion mobile apps for 3 most popular mobile platforms (iOS, Android and Windows Phone) that communicates with database through RESTful API”. If you will have thing, when you graduate from Collage, you will already beat 95% of other students, and – I am assuring you – this will give you your first job for 99%. From then – you will figure things out!

If you want to work for some of the top, tech companies like Microsoft, Google, or Facebook, I recommend you to learn a lot about algorithms. Take as many algorithms classes as possible at school, read books (1, 2, 3), and practice, practice, practice. These companies don’t care whether you can program in Java, even if you are applying for Java Programmer position. What they care about is whether you are smart, and can get things done. I really recommend to check out Sean Lee’s talk How to Get a Job at the Big 4 – Amazon, Facebook, Google & Microsoft – it’s not only about getting job at particular companies, but it’s also a great career advice.

How can I improve my coding skills?

coding

Write code. A lot! Really. Write code everyday. You can create some simple applications, like todo list, or shopping list app, or personal finances calculator. I know all of these exists, but you are going to learn by reinventing the wheel. If you want to create something more complex – go for it! Look at this women who built 180 websites in 180 days. The good way to practice programming is to compete in programming contests.

Read books to learn from more experienced programmers, and to discover what we know about programming today. If you want some reading recommendations check list of my favorite books, or all books I have read.

Check out podcast Be a better Developer in 6 months by Scott Hanselman, and article by Peter Norvig (Director of Research at Google) – Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years.

You can also take a look at Google’s Technical Development Guide – recommendations and resources that will help you to become developer from Google.

Get Involved!

get involved

There is an amazing, free Pluralsight production by Scott Hanselman and Rob ConneryGet Involved! Check this out. Then start a blog, create twitter and github accounts, subscribe to some podcasts (e.g., Hanselminutes, .NET Rocks, This Developer’s life, StackOverflow podcast), and go to some conference for developers, local meetup, or Code Camp. Pro tip: when you want to learn something – submit proposal for local meetup, student Computer Science group, or conference about the topic that you are interested in, and would like to dive in. This will give you motivation to learn.

Remember about soft skills

soft skills

What many developers underestimate is the value of soft skills. Please read Dale Carnegie’s How to win Friends and influence people, and Chad Fowler’s The Passionate Programmer. Maybe at the very beginning of your career it doesn’t matter that much, but at some point you will notice how important is communication, and ability to interact with people.

Summary

I know you would like to be an awesome coder tomorrow, but this takes time. Be patient, work hard, and after some time you will realize that you are a good programmer. However, remember to maintain and improve your skills everyday, like athletes do with everyday training.

Good luck!

Wolf of Wall Street


Communication in Agile environment

open-space

Agile teams usually works in the Open Spaces. This makes communication easier, but it also introduces a problem: it is easier to interrupt your coworker. We all know what interruption means for programmer:

programmer-interrupted

Some people (e.g., DHH or Joel Spolsky) argue that working in Open Space is not good idea at all. They even wrote about that in their books:

DHH - Remote

Smart and Gets Things Done - Joel Spolsky's Concise Guide to Finding the Best Technical Talent

Here are three tips that can help you to fix this issue:

  1. When you want to ask somebody about something, send an email, or instant message instead of talking to him (even, and especially, when he sits next to you).
  2. Keep headphones on all the time when you working. Even if you are not listening to anything. This will make others to hesitate more before talking to you.
  3. Convince everybody from your team to apply tip 1 and 2.

I recommend you to check Michal Sliwon’s blog entry: Asynchronous communication at work, where you can find even more tips. It is also worth to read books Remote, and Smart and Gets Things Done (you can find them on my favorite books list). Both are against working in Open Spaces. First – is favoring working remotely. Second – private offices. Nevertheless, it is surprising how many ideas from these books – applied in remote work, and private office environments – can also works in Open Spaces.

Are you working in Open Space? What are you doing to be productive?


Basecamp books: Getting Real, Rework and Remote

Getting Real: The Smarter, Faster, Easier Way to Build a Successful Web ApplicationRework (David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried)Remote: Office Not Required (David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried)

Recently I read 3 books written by founders of Basecamp (formerly 37 Signals): David Heinemeier Hansson (creator of Ruby on Rails framework) and Jason Fried:

Getting Real was written almost 10 years ago, and it talks about the same things as most recent Remote. So you can skip it. However Rework, and Remote are definitely worth to read. They present the new(?) approach for work, and productivity.

Rework focuses on pragmatic ways to improve your (and your company) productivity.

Remote presents how remote working can be applied in your company. All Basecamp employees are remote workers.

Of course authors present ideas that works for them, and may not necessary work for you. However, I am sure you will appreciate more than one of their advises.

This is one of my favorites quotes from Remote:

remote - quote

As a teaser you can watch Jason Fried’s Ted talk: Why work doesn’t happen at work. I also recommend David’s talk: Unlearn Your MBA (from Stanford University).

Both Rework, and Remote goes to my favorite books list.


Applying Pomodoro Technique

Pomidoro

Piotr Rabiniak asked question about Pomodoro Technique at .NET Developers Poland facebook group. Lot of people replied, that they are using it. So do I. Usually using my Pomidoro Windows 8 app. I don’t use Pomodoro Technique everyday, but there are two main scenarios, when I find it extremely useful:

  1. At work, when I have many interesting things to check out (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, etc.). After first Pomodoro, I am in the flow, focused on work. Then I continue and after 4-6 pomodoros lot of things are done.
  2. At home (after work), when I want to play with some new technology or do some programming. There is also a lot of distractions, but this time it is worse. After I check all tweets, facebook, news, recent developers conferences, it is 10pm. Then I work till midnight or 1am, and do not have time to rest before the next day. For that, I created a rule: I can spend 4 pomodoros after work. No more, no less. It helps a lot! I come back home, eat dinner, start 4 pomodoros around 8pm, and at 10pm I am done. Additionally, even if it wasn’t enough to accomplish everything I wanted, my excitement level for next day is higher.

For me, Pomodoro Technique is not a way for living, but sometimes is extremely helpful. The magic happens, because it is only 25 minutes. It is not a lot, but it is enough to get into the flow. And after that you can have a 5 minutes break. In my case, the hardest thing is start working. After I dive in…everything is easy 🙂

There are many Pomodoro apps. I use one on my iPhone and my Pomidoro app for Windows 8.