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How to Recognize a Good Programmer 529

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the looking-beyond-the-resume dept.
KDan writes to share an article he has written about what some of the key factors in recognizing a good programmer. "It's not as easy as it sounds. CV experience is only of limited use here, because great programmers don't always have the 'official' experience to demonstrate that they're great. In fact, a lot of that CV experience can be misleading. Yet there are a number of subtle cues that you can get, even from the CV, to figure out whether someone's a great programmer."
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How to Recognize a Good Programmer

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:22PM (#22004202)

    #include <stdio.h>
    int main(void)
    {
    /* duh, have to get the vars before... */
    if (firstName == "Theo" && LastName == "de Raadt")
    {
    printf("Excellent programmer\n");
    }
    else
    {
    printf("Hmmm... better look further.\n");
    }
    printf ("f1r57 pr0st!\n");
    return 0;
    }
  • Sweet! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by happyemoticon (543015) on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:22PM (#22004216) Homepage
    Now I know exactly how to manipulate my resume to look like a good programmer.
  • by yagu (721525) * <yayagu.gmail@com> on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:22PM (#22004222) Journal

    It's easier than you think:

    1. Find a good programmer and learn his (or her) name.
    2. Get to know him (or her).
    3. Take him (or her) out to coffee a few times.
    4. Engage in as many social activities with this good programmer as possible.

    After sufficient interactions like these with a good programmer you really should be able to recognize him (or her).

    (Appropriate apologies to Steve Martin for shameless borrowing of his "How to get a million dollars, and not pay taxes" routine.

    • by TopShelf (92521)
      Or easier yet... name tags.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Roger W Moore (538166)
      ...and if you can achieve point 4 then they aren't really a good programmer.
  • by El Cabri (13930) on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:24PM (#22004260) Journal
    How to recognize someone who would give good advice about how to recognize a good programmer ? I think the C.V. can be misleading : the " official " experience at hiring programmers does not necessarily mean the the person would be apt at giving good advice about hiring programmers.
  • Programmers should have to take and pass the BigInt code writing test that I had to take in AP Computer Science class. BTW, I failed it.
    • Re:BigInt (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:38PM (#22004588)
      How can I find programmers who don't squander their days reading Slashdot.

      • Re:BigInt (Score:5, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:48PM (#22004734)
        How can I find programmers who don't squander their days reading Slashdot.

        Easy...If they can finish any of these.. don't hire them...

        a) I for one welcome our new programming _________

        b) In Soviet Russia the programmers ____ ___

        c)
        1. Hire programmer
        2. ?????
        3. ______

        or make a comment about Macs/PS3/Windows and if you get modded/spelling or grammar corrected.. the same applies.
      • It shouldn't be an issue. All good programmers read Slashdot. :-)
    • by Bugmaster (227959)
      What was it, out of curiosity ? I took an AP Programming class, but it was a looooong time ago, and I don't recall any BigInt questions.
  • Useless article (Score:5, Insightful)

    by naoursla (99850) on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:28PM (#22004336) Homepage Journal
    I would be much more interested in an article that tells programmers how to recognize good business people. I don't want to waste five years of my life implementing some POS idea by Joe Random MBA that is never going to make a dime. I am extremely hesitant to go work for any startup unless I personally know the people starting it and know that they have a track record of making good business decisions. From my experience, many business people feel the same way about technical people.

    And what is this about startups failing because the business people hire crappy programmers. Has anyone considered that maybe selling pet food over the internet is simply less efficient that the distribution system build by companies like Wal-Mart?
    • Re:Useless article (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MightyMartian (840721) on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:33PM (#22004460) Journal
      It's much easier to blame the programmers than to look at any inherent problems in the business model.

      My definition of a good programmer isn't the worlds most talented codemonkey, but rather the guy that can set the boundaries of the project firmly and manage the expectations of client/boss. Most of the programming nightmares I've seen have nothing to do with programming skills, but mainly because the project went all over the place due to a lack of explicit boundaries.

      When people start going "Yeah, that's neat, but if you can put that widget in there, maybe you can put this other widget that Bob in Accounting thought up yesterday afternoon" you know the project is in trouble.
      • Indeed (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sterno (16320)
        I started reading the article but when I got to this bit I realized they had nothing useful to say:

        what killed most of the startups in the e-commerce business back in the 90s, it was bad programmers. A lot of those companies were started by business guys who thought the way startups worked was that you had some clever idea and then hired programmers to implement it.

        Ummm, if you start a business thinking that simply hiring programmers to implement your clever idea would make a successful business, you've al
    • by gmack (197796)
      I don't think it matters.. business people are a paycheque and not a way to make real money if the buisness tanks you had a steady income for however long your employment was. Your better off taking whatever day job you can find and work on your own stuff in your free time.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bkr1_2k (237627)
      Honestly, the best way is to read the business plan for yourself. Take a couple of classes in business, specifically something along the lines of how to get venture funding for a startup, and "business plan writing" classes.

      Once you've done that you'll be a lot further along at being able to tell for sure if someone is worth working for/with. Of course that assumes they're willing to let you look at these things. But even if you can't actually look at them, it will give you a lot of insight into good que
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by I8TheWorm (645702) *
      The Paul Graham quote did fail to mention some of the genius Harvard-MBA-type decisions like with drkoop.com, which had no revenue stream. They really did fit the 1) make a website, 2) ???, 3) profit! model. We bought some of their servers for ten cents on the dollar when I was still in Austin.

  • by HTH NE1 (675604) on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:31PM (#22004400)

    CV experience is only of limited use here, because great programmers don't always have the 'official' experience to demonstrate that they're great. In fact, a lot of that CV experience can be misleading. Yet there are a number of subtle cues that you can get, even from the CV, to figure out whether someone's a great programmer.
    You mean the hours I put in playing CastleVania isn't necessarily a reliable metric to determine how great a programmer I am?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by RailGunner (554645) *
      No, only Simon's Quest counts - since 80% of the clues in that game are misleading or outright false, only Simon's Quest prepares you to deal with management-speak that is 80% misleading or outright falsehoods.
       
    • by jandrese (485)
      I'm still trying to figure out what the hell CV is in this context. It appears to be some sort of resume or something. acronymfinder.com was of no help for a change.
      • by LMacG (118321)
        Curriculum Vitae. Commonly used term in the UK, possibly other non-US English locations.
  • by alta (1263) on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:36PM (#22004524) Homepage Journal
    They obviously can't find a good sysadmin that can project future load on their servers and scale accordingly ;)

    Or maybe they can, and the sysadmin can just blame the evil bean counters.
  • by bigdavex (155746)
    If being a good programmer includes knowing what a CV is, then I'm screwed.

    Ah, it's the same as a résumé. I'm good now. Thank you, wikipedia.
  • I think this guy's take on things is totally right on. (Disclaimer: I suppose that's because I get top marks on his scoring system)
  • by get quad (917331) on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:37PM (#22004560)
    After 15 years in IT, I've noticed that programmers as a lot typically cannot spell even the most basic 3-syllable words, so when you find a coder who actually spells properly get out your checkbook. Like it or not, being able to spell is a significant indication of character, especially the propensity for paying attention to detail (a trait you certainly want in a professional coder).
    • by SirGarlon (845873) on Friday January 11, 2008 @05:27PM (#22005400)

      As one of the elite few programmers who does know how to spell, thank you for noticing. I would say "take it as a good sign" rather than "get out your checkbook" but I'm just the cautious type I suppose.

      However - I can spell, and my brother can't. I believe this has more to do with the teaching methods in our respective elementary schools than with our inherent attention to detail. His school used an experimental method that I think failed him utterly - at a time before national standards were yet fashionable.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by tgv (254536)
        I'm not particularly fond of the spelling/grammar wars, but ... Although your spelling is fine, punctuation and grammar are lacking. Here is a rewrite:

        - As one of the elite few programmers who does ...
        "Elite few programmers" is ungrammatical and superfluous (an elite is a small group by definition); "Who does" refers to a single person, but the phrase and context make clear that you are speaking about programmers in general, so "As one of the few programmers who do know how to spell" is better.
        - Add "I" bef
    • by codepunk (167897) on Friday January 11, 2008 @05:33PM (#22005502)
      Perhaps because we spend our entire life typing shit like this...

      SomeStupidAssLongClassName clsSomeStupidAssLongClassName = new SomeStupidAssLongClassName();
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fireboy1919 (257783)
      To go further, I've never met a talented programmer who didn't write well. I have a theory.

      Programming languages are languages. If you understand them, and you're not just shoving out snippets, then a programmer is a linguist.
      So a programmer is a person that spends a very considerable portion of their day thinking of how to say things to a very, very stupid entity that doesn't understand his native language (a computer). So he has to have fantastic clarity of thought in the language translation departmen
  • by FreeKill (1020271) on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:37PM (#22004562) Homepage
    I think the author of this article is way off the mark. The title should have been "How to recognize a programmer who's likely to work 18 hours for very little pay." Almost all of his points boil down to the fact that he thinks all good programmers are the ones that can pad out their resume with 900 technologies and eat, sleep, and breathe programming. I can't even begin to tell you how many absolutely amazing C++/Java/Python programmers I've met who I can almost guarantee have never even touched Ruby before. Just because a programmer doesn't go out of their way to try out every single new technology that hits the market doesn't diminish their abilities at those they do use. The author of this article is clearly looking for a programming work horse that he can throw unreasonable expectations on and toss new technology buzz words at until their head explodes. Guess that's probably what you need when you plan a startup and only want to hire one guy to do the work of 10...
    • by bkr1_2k (237627) on Friday January 11, 2008 @05:43PM (#22005666)
      Thank you. My first thought was, the article was written by a coder who needed to justify how good he is. I've known plenty of damn good, dare I say great, coders who never spent time at home coding after they got out of school. They know/knew a couple of languages well, and left the other languages to people more qualified to handle them. I'd say that's a higher mark of someone's skill is asking them how they'd handle something that they don't list on their resume, or list as having some experience with, but not mastered.

      Excessive use of computers may imply passion, but it also implies early burn-out for most coders I've met. The ones who last and are also good, by contrast, are just the opposite. They work hard at work, and they leave it alone when they're at home. Of course there are exceptions to all rules, and certainly to anecdotal evidence, but that's been my experience thus far.
  • Geez ... (Score:2, Redundant)

    by B3ryllium (571199)
    According to my own self-analysis, I fall into the "Good Programmer" category. Go me!

    However, I still need to improve in a few areas; namely, my "variety". PHP, C++, Java, C#, BASH, VDS ... there's room for a few more languages in there. And maybe a few technologies along the way. :)
  • No MSCE, you say? No thanks! We'll take this trained monkey over someone who actually groks computing systems and associated software.
  • by SCHecklerX (229973) <thecaptain@captaincodo.net> on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:45PM (#22004674) Homepage
    The best I've met have degrees in English, Physics, Engineering, or Math. They then focused on the programming aspect as needed to create tools that helped them and their peers to streamline their work. As that focus became more of a primary job function, they honed their skills and methodology around maintainable code, version control, security, documentation, reusable modules, etc.

    I'm guilty of being one of these types myself, but have since moved up to project management around security type stuff after having taught those who replaced me the things that I learned through experience.
  • Ask him... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:46PM (#22004690)
    Ask him if he's a good programmer in klingon
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:46PM (#22004694) Journal
    ... I am brushing my teeth in the morning in the mirror, grinning back at me, saying what a great programmer I am. :-)
  • Two things (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shados (741919) on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:46PM (#22004696)
    That list is very, VERY good in my opinion, if obvious (but not so obvious to HR people).

    However, two things came to mind. The variety part. Yes, its good. I personally am fluent in just about all programming environments known to man, more data storage techs than I can count, too many business types, and things vastly different, like business intelligence and biology (I started as a programmer for R&D biotech softwares).

    The catch is, that tends to show that you're too much everywhere. You can take one "enterprise" stack, let say J2EE or .NET, and even if you worked with them constantly for the next 10 years, learning something new every day, you'd still have more to find (and by more, I mean significant things). Thats why once, in .NET, I coded some tool, it took let say 50000 lines of code, then learned about some obscure feature that could have reduced it to 500. Yes, 500.

    Those are things that makes the difference between a project taking a year, and one taking a month. Once I realised that (and people hiring know this just too well), I specialised in a 2-3 technologies (specialising in just one isn't enough to keep track of the evolution of the field), and I've been a much better developer since then.

    You need to have a broad VIEW of the field, but still be specialised, to be efficient at what you do. Knowing 10 technologies equaly well means that you don't know either of them at their peek.

    Secondly, the certification thing. We all know certification means crap, I agree, but like the article does state, it helps hiring people to spend less time interviewing you about the obvious. If you say you're Java certified, they can only ask 2-3 questions to make sure you truly are, and forget about testing you on a Java hello world. That way, they can spend more time testing you on the important stuff, like actual development expertise, as opposed to syntax knowledge. Also, having a lot of certifications, if you can prove you didn't brain dump them, can go in the "broad knowledge" and "passionate" part. If you have 12 certifications with 12 technologies, well, it shows you like knowing your stuff (those tests can sometime ask for pretty pointy things...)
  • by hey! (33014) on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:47PM (#22004724) Homepage Journal
    First, there is razor sharp intellect and subtle, erudite wit. There's the way he has of getting right to the heart of matters, his effortlessly quick and authoritative opinions on an astonishing array of subjects. Of course it is conceivable that some might miss his unconventional but undeniable good looks, although that might stretch the bounds of credibility.

    But in a pinch you can go with the way that he often goes about wearing your pants or the fact that he stares back at you from the mirror every morning. That's a dead giveaway.

    Of course if that fellow's unavailable, most people end up settling for somebody who, while utterly lacking his extraordinary qualities, nonetheless agree with as many of his opinions has he has cared to express.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:48PM (#22004732)
    The first category is crap; "passion" is often mis-identified (as in the case of the article) and linked to what people do in their spare time.

    The idea that not programming in your spare time makes you a poor programmer is abjectly false and amazingly stupid considering the amount of complaints within the industry about working hours, laundry-list job listings, industry only for the young and unmarried, etc.

    I've known too many counter examples to debunk this; people who would talk on end on how "great" and wonderful a technology was only to mis-use it to the detriment of the business and the customer. People who had no lives; bragging about what they did at home, what OSS projects they were working on only to get fired for not being able to understand or structure requirements, not having enough domain knowledge of the industry they were working in, or not being able to meet the customer's needs.

    Frankly, I work 50+ hours a week and the last thing I want or feel a need to do is look at a f*cking computer when I go home. And this comes from someone who got a Master's in CS while working full time; led implementation of new technologies and languages within the group.

    It sure as _hell_ doesn't mean I don't have passion for what I do.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MightyMartian (840721)

      Frankly, I work 50+ hours a week and the last thing I want or feel a need to do is look at a f*cking computer when I go home. And this comes from someone who got a Master's in CS while working full time; led implementation of new technologies and languages within the group.

      One of the best programmers I ever knew wrote and maintained a large Cobol-based Point-of-Sale program for MS-DOS. It was an incredibly good product, with all sorts of hooks for all sorts of POS-based equipment, right down to pump contro

  • fear (Score:3, Funny)

    by psbrogna (611644) on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:49PM (#22004744)
    I was going to read the article but I didn't because I'm too afraid that there's going to be pictures of what good programmers look like. Let's face it, we're not the chic-est demographic on the planet.
  • by Chernboyl (1217604) on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:49PM (#22004746)
    This is a serious question. I totally agree on every point except that a "great programmer is uncomfortable using a technology he doesn't feel is right". Two developers can be great but be completely at odds. Wouldn't the 'better' programmer say, "Perhaps I don't feel right because I don't know enough about it?" Strong opinions about certain technologies, in my experience, signifies a degree of ignorance and imbalance; and they didn't learn it correctly, extensively, or in the right context. In my opinion, a great programmer is more open-minded, allowing a non-biased filter to consider technologies he doesn't "feel is right." Am I right?
    • by psbrogna (611644)
      Amen. I strongly believe you're right. I would add though that sometimes there's a legitimate subconscious aversion based on experience. That's no excuse though- it should be raised to the surface and discussed openly in lieu of foot stomping.
  • The list seems to be lacking one of the more important ways of identifying a good programmer -- the uncanny ability to quote from the entire works of Monty Python.
  • What is this, Digg? The content of that blogspam is obvious. Good programmers, the revelation goes, are interested and excited by their fields, and intelligent self-starters.

    Garsh!

    Is there a field where these qualities wouldn't indicate a superior performer? Obviously you want to hire someone engaged by the subject matter on a personal level, obviously it would help if they had some brains to back up their passion, and obviously a demonstrated knack for going above-and-beyond is a good sign.

    I'm fai
  • You know, the one I worry most about is in terms of self-evaluation is "Self-teaching and love of learning", at least when in terms of technology for its own sake. Its sort of an unfortunate side-effect of "Hidden experience"; few flavor of the month technology on the server side seems to bring much new to the table, and so the learning curves just annoy me without a good promise of effort/reward ratios.

    Sort of like my disinterest in OSes, and PC hardware; I want that stuff to just get out of the way of the
  • Thank you for using CV all over the summary and failing to define CV in the summary.
  • Baloney (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MarcoAtWork (28889) on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:56PM (#22004882)
    from the article, what's the #1 'negative'?

    Negative indicators:

    * Programming is a day job


    excuse me, I am a really good programmer, did the whole 9 yards growing up as a stereotypical geek (not into sports, into programming way before it was fashionable to do so, from basic, to turbo pascal, to z80 assembly etc.), I lived and breathed programming and computers for many years of my life, however now I am in my late 30s and I try to have a much healthier work-life balance, I don't see why this should be a negative at all.

    If I wasn't working at a computer dev job I would probably be coding a bit for fun, but there is no way that nowadays you could get me to talk shop for hours just for the fun of it.

    Also

    In fact, the great programmer will be the one talking your ear off about a new technology that you haven't even heard of, explaining to you why you must use it in your business, even if none of your staff knows how to use it. Even if it's a technology he doesn't know how to use yet.

    gimme a break, for me this would be a huge no-no, it would be the hallmark of somebody going after every possible latest fad, instead of focusing on proven tools for the job. Yes, there ARE cases where the bleeding edge is needed, but they are the exception rather than the rule: if I have a business I want code that is mantainable, and that, if the 'wiz developer' gets hit by a bus, is understandable by others (read, it's not such a niche skill that if I lose that person my business will fold because it's impossible to find a replacement).

    Good programmers will have a tendency to talk your ear off about some technical detail of what they're working on (but while clearly believing, sincerely, that what they're talking about is really worth talking about). Some people might see that as maladapted social skills (which it is), but if you want to recognise a good developer, this passion for what they're doing at the expense of social smoothness is a very strong indicator.

    this is another totally bogus criteria: in nowaday's workplace soft skills (being able to work as a team expecially) are just as important; gone are the days of the single programmer in his ivory tower producing code that only himself can understand. You need to have a team, and if I have to choose between person A who is, say, a programmer worth 100/100 but has 0 social skills, and person B who is, say, worth 80/100 but gets along with everybody, I will choose person B every time. A gelled team is greater than the sum of its parts, but you can't gel a team full of primadonnas and socially maladapted people.

    If you are such a 'smart' programmer you will realize that 'programming' social interactions is as important as programming computers, and you will apply your skills to that as well, making your workplace a lot better and likely improving drastically your career prospects.

    If you're hiring for a small business, or you need really smart developers for a crack team that will implement agile development in your enterprise, you should disregard most formal qualifications as noise.

    give me a break, being smart and having no formal qualifications is a lot worse than being smart AND having formal qualifications. I have a M.Sc. in Electronic Engineering: have I used anything I learned in university in my career? Not at all. Have those years broadened my horizons, introduced me to a lot of different concepts and methodologies that made me a much, much, much better programmer than I was before? You bet. Your 'crack team in agile programming' will likely end up implementing something O(n^3) (because they have no clue about computational complexity) while your university educated buzzword-averse reliable programmer will give you O(n^2) or even O(n log n) because they've been there and done that many times before in a lot of different other contexts.

    THESE to me are the signs of a great programmer, experience, good grasp of architectural con
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by C_Kode (102755)
      excuse me, I am a really good programmer

      Rule #1, an ego doesn't make you a good programmer. ;)
    • Re:Baloney (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Xentor (600436) on Friday January 11, 2008 @06:06PM (#22006116) Homepage
      I do agree with you on the "programming is a day job" part, mainly because I'm going through the transition myself. I used to spend a lot of time at home playing around in different languages, writing my own games and utilities, endlessly writing and rewriting websites... Now, I just want to go home and vegetate in front of a game or the TV...

      The change? Full-time job. After spending a full day programming to earn my paycheck, it just becomes mentally separated from what I do in my spare time. I kind of miss the old college days when I could just spend hours and hours doing it for fun, but now I just want to zone out.

      As for the new technology part, I somewhat agree... A good programmer shouldn't be ranting about how everything MUST be done on Ruby-on-Rails, because that's the new fad (Yes, I realize it no longer is. That's the point)... A good programmer will look at a new technology, look at the needs of the project/business, and decide whether or not that technology is a good fit. If it's a major improvement that fixes existing problems, then he'll start pushing it.

      On the other hand, when you're interviewing a programmer, and ask them about some personal project or technology they worked with, getting your ear talked off is a good sign, because this ties into the whole "passion" part. If they find this project or tech interesting enough to ramble on about, this is probably someone who's in the industry because they enjoy it, not because their high school guidance counselor told them it pays well.

      So, on to social skills. Yes, you need to be able to communicate with and get along with other programmers, even those who aren't on the same level. Apart from that, the importance varies depending on the person's role. If they're going to be one programmer on a large team, working off design documents and style conventions, then it's not that important. If they're on a smaller team, and will be working directly with the business side to design parts of the application, then social skills become a necessity. Of course, if you find someone who just wants to sit in a dark room apart from the rest of the team, and just silently deliver code modules to them, then you might want to look elsewhere.

      Qualifications... Degrees... I think the article was basically preaching against certifications, and in that respect I agree entirely. I don't care if someone passed a certification test by Microsoft or Sun... That means they know how to work with one specific area of technology, well enough to pass a test once. It doesn't say whether they can think for themselves, or adapt to a new situation.

      On the other hand, an undergrad degree can be a good thing. You don't learn how to program in college (Well, I hope not), but you do learn how not to reinvent the wheel. You learn some standard algorithms, data structures, and methodologies, and you learn about lots of things that you'll consider useless at the time (Natural sciences, higher maths, etc), but will still influence the way you think. A master's degree or doctorate, well, I don't know... I've worked with PhDs who couldn't think outside the smallest box, and I've worked with a few who could work miracles. A dropout might be a bad sign (Though not a disqualifier, depending on other factors), but I wouldn't trust a PhD to necessarily be better than an MS or BS.

      In short, you make some good points, but you're leaning toward the other extreme. Remember, you're looking for a programmer, not a corporate executive. This is about looking past the doublespeak and self-promotion and determining whether someone can write quality software.

      On a side note... The phrase "working yourself out of a job" is starting to look really scary... I shouldn't have automated this place so well that I have nothing to do but post on slashdot...
  • by tmcmahon (751973) on Friday January 11, 2008 @05:05PM (#22005020) Homepage
    He can re-program a Tram system with a remote control.
  • by khendron (225184) on Friday January 11, 2008 @05:07PM (#22005058) Homepage
    Some of the points made in this article are good, but a couple are way off the mark.

    He lists as a negative indicator *anyone* who considers programming as a "day job." I know quite a few programmers who consider programming a day job. They come into work at 9, they work for 8 hours, they go home at 5, and then they do something entirely different. But the code that they produce while at work is brilliant. They are extremely bright people who enjoy programming, but don't live and breath it. They would rather do something else while not at work.

    He lists as a positive indicator *anyone* who is passionate about technology. Sorry, but I've met a lot of people who are bubbling over with enthusiasm about programming, but can't code worth shit. These are the people dive headfirst into a programming job without any thought of design or architecture, and you end up with an application that uses half a dozen bleeding edge technologies, all bundled together with virtual duct tape, that disintegrates at the first input exception.
  • He? She? (Score:5, Funny)

    by AeroIllini (726211) <aeroillini.gmail@com> on Friday January 11, 2008 @05:11PM (#22005118)

    If your potential programmer didn't do any programming before university, and all his experience starts when she got her first job, she's probably not a good programmer.
    Apparently, a lot happened between university and that first job.
  • Point by point (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SirGarlon (845873) on Friday January 11, 2008 @05:13PM (#22005154)

    I disagree with a lot of these points.

    * Passionate about technology * Programs as a hobby

    Reasonably good indicators

    * Will talk your ear off on a technical subject if encouraged

    Ability to yammer on about a subject one's audience does not care about is a weak indicator of programming ability and a strong indicator of poor communication skills

    * Significant (and often numerous) personal side-projects over the years * Learns new technologies on his/her own

    OK

    * Opinionated about which technologies are better for various usages * Very uncomfortable about the idea of working with a technology he doesn't believe to be "right"

    NO, NO, NO!

    A good programmer has an open mind and makes decisions after thought, study, and understanding the users' needs; not based on some knee-jerk personal prejudice.

    * Clearly smart, can have great conversations on a variety of topics * Started programming long before university/work * Has some hidden "icebergs", large personal projects under the CV radar * Knowledge of a large variety of unrelated technologies (may not be on CV)

    Negative indicators: * Programming is a day job * Don't really want to "talk shop", even when encouraged to * Learns new technologies in company-sponsored courses

    There is nothing wrong with taking advantage of company-sponsored courses. Taking advantage of classroom opportunities is just good time management (it can be easier to learn more, faster, in a well-taught course than in self-study).

    * Happy to work with whatever technology you've picked, "all technologies are good"

    So what you're looking for is a prima donna who will refuse to work in the environment you ask him to, and is insubordinate out of the gate? No. A good programmer will find the strengths of the technology you've picked and design a strategy that plays to those, rather than just telling you you've made a stupid choice and should have used his pet technology instead.

    * Doesn't seem too smart

    I don't know if it's ever a good idea to hire someone who "doesn't seem too smart."

    * Started programming at university

    That's a stupid criterion. Why someone starting programming is a lot more important than when

    * All programming experience is on the CV

    Inability to write a complete CV is hardly an indicator of competence. The author is biased in favor of people who started programming at the age of 9, as he did.

    * Focused mainly on one or two technology stacks (e.g. everything to do with developing a java application), with no experience outside of it

    Nonsense; depth of knowledge is as important as breadth of knowledge. Ability to justify 50 different buzzwords on one's resume doesn't make someone a good programmer. It is a lot better to talk about the problems the candidate has solved, than the technology used to solve them.

  • by Wiseman1024 (993899) on Friday January 11, 2008 @05:41PM (#22005642)
    The Python Paradox
    Paul Graham

    http://www.paulgraham.com/pypar.html [paulgraham.com]

    August 2004

    In a recent talk I said something that upset a lot of people: that you could get smarter programmers to work on a Python project than you could to work on a Java project.

    I didn't mean by this that Java programmers are dumb. I meant that Python programmers are smart. It's a lot of work to learn a new programming language. And people don't learn Python because it will get them a job; they learn it because they genuinely like to program and aren't satisfied with the languages they already know.

    Which makes them exactly the kind of programmers companies should want to hire. Hence what, for lack of a better name, I'll call the Python paradox: if a company chooses to write its software in a comparatively esoteric language, they'll be able to hire better programmers, because they'll attract only those who cared enough to learn it. And for programmers the paradox is even more pronounced: the language to learn, if you want to get a good job, is a language that people don't learn merely to get a job.

    Only a few companies have been smart enough to realize this so far. But there is a kind of selection going on here too: they're exactly the companies programmers would most like to work for. Google, for example. When they advertise Java programming jobs, they also want Python experience.

    A friend of mine who knows nearly all the widely used languages uses Python for most of his projects. He says the main reason is that he likes the way source code looks. That may seem a frivolous reason to choose one language over another. But it is not so frivolous as it sounds: when you program, you spend more time reading code than writing it. You push blobs of source code around the way a sculptor does blobs of clay. So a language that makes source code ugly is maddening to an exacting programmer, as clay full of lumps would be to a sculptor.

    At the mention of ugly source code, people will of course think of Perl. But the superficial ugliness of Perl is not the sort I mean. Real ugliness is not harsh-looking syntax, but having to build programs out of the wrong concepts. Perl may look like a cartoon character swearing, but there are cases where it surpasses Python conceptually.

    So far, anyway. Both languages are of course moving targets. But they share, along with Ruby (and Icon, and Joy, and J, and Lisp, and Smalltalk) the fact that they're created by, and used by, people who really care about programming. And those tend to be the ones who do it well.
  • by esj at harvee (7456) on Friday January 11, 2008 @07:39PM (#22007614) Homepage
    crap, crap, crap. I hit every one of those points. Self driven learning, always exploring new forms of technology and then applying it to the current business, etc. etc. Maybe if I hadn't been so good, my hands would still work and I wouldn't be living with constant pain up to my elbows. What's ironic is I left my father's rigging business (machinery moving) because I saw so many people around me losing fingers, damaging their limbs and back etc.. and I wanted to go do something where I wouldn't be injured on the job. Since I had been programming in high school, I thought hey, this is not a bad career. You work indoors, you're not covered in grease, you don't breathe toxic chemicals and you aren't going to get injured by heavy machinery falling on you.

    Ha.

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