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There's a lot of talk around this site and elsewhere about comparing the productivity of excellent programmers to "average" programmers. Likewise, there's talk of how to become a great programmer instead of an "average" one. Everyone can agree there are definitely some amazing coders out there, and lots more (very) subpar programmers. These are easy to define (designed and wrote a text editor in Assembly on a Nintendo DS over a weekend vs checks in copy-and-paste code that doesn't compile on a daily basis). But what qualities does an average coder have? This I think is important beyond just an academic discussion, such as making hiring decisions and sizing up where you are on the crappy-amazing scale.

So what qualities does an "average" programmer have or should have?

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closed as not a real question by Anna Lear Oct 17 '11 at 2:53

It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. For help clarifying this question so that it can be reopened, visit the help center.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

codinghorror.com/blog/2009/04/… That said an average programmer could be an extraordinary person; they just aren't in the right place. I do not like saying average wo a good reason - it is offensive, IMO. –  Job Oct 17 '11 at 2:37
@Job My problem with that list is that success seems inflated. Can't someone be successful without being almost revolutionary or starting a multi-billion dollar company? –  joshin4colours Oct 17 '11 at 2:51
This is a very broad question that makes a better discussion topic than a question that can be answered in a Q&A sense. Please take a look at the FAQ. If you have a specific question about software development that fits the "please explain X to me" model, please feel free to ask about that. Otherwise, a site like Reddit or our Programmers Chat would be a better place for this discussion. Thanks! –  Anna Lear Oct 17 '11 at 2:52
@joshin4colours, there are only 10 kinds of people: celebrities and nobodies. You and I would lose a "balloon argument". –  Job Oct 17 '11 at 3:42
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1 Answer

I'll take a stab at this. The average programmer is average. He's the Mario of coding, not very good at anything but he does ok. He knows a language or two pretty well, has knowledge of data structures up through hash tables and binary trees. He knows enough math to get by but nothing amazing. He makes a few mistakes in his code but rarely makes colossal errors.

Mostly Average is an attitude in programming. He's a single focus machine. He does well at his job, doesn't rock the boat. If something is assigned for work, say learning a new library, he does so studiously and as quickly as he can but as far as hobby work goes it's unfocused and sporadic. Programming is a job to this programmer. He is competent at his job and wants to stay competent at his job but he doesn't grow beyond that very much.

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The programmer you described ... she is above average :) –  Job Oct 17 '11 at 2:36
@Job Needs Moar Office Space? Also is the average here, mean, median or mode? –  World Engineer Oct 17 '11 at 2:37
i wish my collegues were like that –  Thanos Papathanasiou Oct 17 '11 at 9:54
Bad analogy, Mario is awesome! –  Roc Martí Aug 11 '12 at 8:42
@RocMartí I was referring specifically to this trope: tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/… Mario as a character has nothing to do with Mario as a statistical phenomena. –  World Engineer Aug 11 '12 at 23:14
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