Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Programmer Character Traits


The last post listed eight programmer character traits. I’d written about these some thirty years ago. There still seems to be a need to elaborate them, and this seems to be the right time and place.

The positive character traits are Persistence, Problem-Solving, Planning, and Play. It is doubtful that any person completely lacking in any one of these could become a capable programmer.

On Persistence: I have always maintained that the most important muscle used in programming is the one we sit upon. Knowing when to persevere and when to seek help is what gets the job done.

On Problem-Solving: Sometimes we solve problems just for fun, sometimes it can be an obsession. Either way, it must be appropriate to the situation. It is possible to have too much fun finding too clever a solution.

On Planning: Although necessary, it should not expand to use the resources necessary for implementation. Here, too little is as dangerous as too much. The problem is that many people with programming skills may have even better planning skills, which demand to be exercised.

On Play: The freedom of play must not turn into anarchy. Fear of trying cannot keep a good programmer down. But the joy of experimentation must have some boundaries or else the problem at hand is just a game.

The negative character traits are Pride, Pedantry, Perfectionism, and Prejudice. Few of us are completely free of these, but anyone who is ruled by any one of them will never be a good programmer.

On Pride: It keeps us from asking questions. Pride prizes the clever above the practical. Pride is our personal spotlight. If we shine it outwards, it blinds the rest of the world to the fact that we are in the dark. If we shine it on ourselves, we are blinded to what is out there in the dark, the reality beyond our brilliant little circle.

On Pedantry: A pedant is best described as one who cannot learn, not as one who knows. Pedantry is usually seen as forcing your answers upon others. It also can be hiding answers with a knowing nod of the head. Whether concealing or denying doubts about yourself, the result is the same: ignorance.

On Perfectionism: It is the infinite regress of unreachable excellence. Making a program “better” can be a never-ending process, a process that none of us can afford. While we all desire improvement, the action we take must fit our limited resources.

On Prejudice: This is all the assumptions that must be removed before we can see reality. The more that is hidden about a program, the less it will be understood. Assuming that Jones cannot write good code or that Smith never makes a mistake, are obvious prejudices. Prejudgment is the enemy of thought.

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