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8 Skills Every Successful Coder Needs to Have
You don’t need any background knowledge or specialist equipment to learn how to code. However, not everyone is cut out for the life of a coder. If you want to be a successful coder, here are eight skills you need to develop.
Learning to code can often feel overwhelming, especially when you are just starting out. Until you have some experience and you have developed your own workflows and routines, you will often find yourself improvising as you go.
Coders have to learn to trust their own instincts. But for any given problem a programmer might face, there will be multiple potential solutions. Not all of these solutions will be equal, however. Identifying the best solution for the problem in front of you and learning to trust your decision-making requires you to be self-reliant.
In some cases, you might find yourself having to choose the best coding language to tackle the problem before you. It would be disastrous to get halfway through your project only to realize that you have made a poor decision. Starting a project in the wrong language, or using the wrong routines to solve problems, can derail your project in the future if not immediately.
A Basic Understanding of How Computers Work
You don't need to understand exactly how your computer works to learn to code. But the more background knowledge you have, the easier you will find it to tackle more complex coding concepts.
Some career paths will require you to learn about the inner workings of a computer. However, the vast majority of programmers will never have to worry about the physical processes by which their computers work.
If you want to work with machine code, which is required for interfacing directly with computer hardware, you will need to understand how it all works. But, if you are planning on pursuing a job that involves working with computers at this level, you will almost certainly need to enrol in a university course at some point. You can learn a lot online, but there are limits to what you can or should teach yourself without professional instruction.
There’s a lot more to know about computers than you might think. You don’t need to understand all the minutiae of how a computer works, but you need to have a basic grasp of the big stuff. For example, understanding binary is helpful for any coder, albeit not essential. You should know how to convert between decimal and binary, even though there are online tools that will do it for you.
Everything computers do is done in binary. It isn’t just numbers that convert into binary; you can convert binary to text as well. Convert Binary has a free online binary to text translator, accompanied by a guide on converting between ASCII text and binary. As well as their binary translator, Convert Binary also provides a binary converter that enables you to convert decimal numbers into binary and back instantly.
For people who enjoy coding, it is an almost meditative experience. There is something uniquely calming about composing code. When you know what you are doing, that is.
If you find yourself taking on new challenges that you aren’t sure how to solve, or a big project with lots of moving parts, frustration can soon set in. Any professional coder can tell you that bug hunting is a big part of the job.
Coding is a very specific activity; either your code is written correctly, or it isn't. If it isn't written correctly, it will not execute. An errant typo can prevent your whole program from running. However, you know there is a problem, at least, and you can find and fix it. There are also cases, particularly with larger projects, where an unnoticed typo will lie in wait until it has the opportunity to throw up an unexpected error.
Tracking down and fixing software bugs is a big part of a coders' life. It is also one of the most frustrating aspects of the job. If you cannot motivate yourself to persevere until you have located your bug and fixed it, coding probably isn't for you. You also need to be prepared to spend hours looking for a bug only to discover that it is nothing more than a missing semicolon.
Problem-solving is a very important skill for coders to have, and not just the hunting down bugs.
Every challenge you face in coding is a problem that needs to be sold. The approach that you take to problem-solving will shape your approach to coding as a whole.
Many coders look to the scientific method for inspiration in devising their approach to problem-solving. The scientific method is all about formulating hypotheses and then testing them. The results of your tests can then guide your subsequent decision making.
Software development is one of the few careers that will continue to throw new challenges at you throughout your time working. In most careers, you will encounter the vast majority of the problems you need to solve within the first few years. Often, these will be problems that recur. But coding problems continually change, especially if you operate as a freelance developer taking on a range of different project types.
You should be conscious of your problem-solving routines from the moment you begin learning to code. As you encounter new problems and find ways of overcoming them, note what works for you and what doesn't.
As you have probably gathered by now, coding has the potential to be an incredibly frustrating activity.
It's worth any frustration you encounter along the way to see your final project realized. But, if you want to make it through a long and arduous development process to reap those rewards, you will have to learn to exercise patience. If you let your frustrations get the better of you, not only will coding be a less enjoyable pursuit, but you will not be able to work as efficiently as you would otherwise.
Patience isn't just important when you are dealing with software that isn't working properly. It is also a valuable trait to have when you are learning new concepts and ideas. You can't expect to take on board everything that you learn straight away. As with anything else, you will need to revise and apply what you learn to solidify it in your memory.
Attention to Detail
Some programming languages are kinder than others in terms of readability.
Relatively simple languages like Perl and Python use a syntax that leads to highly readable code. Even without any background knowledge, most people can look at a piece of code written in one of these languages and work out what at least some of it means.
On the other side of the spectrum, you have languages like C, C#, and C++. These languages are more complicated. Code written in C or one of its variants will make little sense to someone without any training.
Regardless of the complexity of the language you are using, learning to pay attention to key details helps you avoid making mistakes and enables you to identify them quickly when they do occur. Some languages use semicolons to denote the end of a command, whereas in other languages you only need to start a new line. Attention to detail means keeping track of the semicolons, brackets, spacing, indentations and other small formatting details that affect your code’s execution. Once this becomes second-nature, you will notice a decrease in the rate of bugs and other errors in your code.
There is no right way and wrong way when you’re deciding how to approach a new coding project. But jumping straight in with both feet is an approach fraught with problems. Even if you aren’t the kind of person who generally likes to plan things in advance, it is worth getting into the habit for your coding.
You should begin every project by breaking down the final objective into individual components. Ideally, you want to be able to express your idea as a series of subroutines running together. This approach forces you to consider how each individual part of your project will work and how you can effectively slot them together. Planning ahead will help you to avoid many of the most frustrating issues that coders have to deal with.
The only way to get better at coding is to keep doing it.
Whenever you encounter a new idea or concept, ask yourself how they apply to real-world situations. Try to challenge yourself by setting yourself projects that require you to learn how to do things you have never had to do before.
It is also worth experimenting with different languages. Websites like Code Academy are great for this. They give you a buffet of languages and the tools to sample each one before you commit.
Anyone can learn to code, but not everyone can make it as a professional coder. Getting into good habits early on will help your entire coding career. The skills outlined above are the most important ones to nurture as you develop as a coder.
About the Author
Zoe has written and researched articles for a wide variety of career websites, blogs and magazines, has a strong understanding of current business trends and a passion for entrepreneurism.