I’ve worked with a lot of programmers over the years — some of them super amazing, and some distinctly lackluster. As I’ve had the pleasure of working with some very skilled individuals recently, I spent some time thinking about what I admire in them. What makes a good programmer so good, and a bad programmer so bad? Or, to mangle English a little bit, what makes a good programmer good?
Based on my experiences, being a great programmer has nothing to do with age, education, or how much money you make. It’s all in how you act and, more deeply, how you think. I’ve noticed a consistent set of habits in the programmers I admire. More than knowledge of their chosen language, deep understanding of data structures and algorithms, or even more than years of on-the-job experience — the way they communicate, the way they conduct themselves, and the way they approach programming speak volumes as to their amazing level of skill.
Certainly there’s more to being a good programmer than anyone can enumerate, and I wouldn’t judge any programmer solely based on the presence (or lack) of these practices. But I do know wisdom when I see it, and when I see a programmer expressing these traits, I think, “This person really knows what they’re doing.”