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Looking back at my career and life as a programmer, there were plenty of different ways I improved my programming skills - reading code, writing code, reading books, listening to podcasts, watching screencasts and more.

My question is: What is the most effective thing you have done that improved your programming skills? What would you recommend to others that want to improve?

I do expect varied answers here and no single "one size fits all" answer - I would like to know what worked for different people.

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Practice, practice, practice. And never be satisfied with the first thing that comes to mind. –  Mark Ransom Sep 3 '10 at 5:28
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+1 for Mark Ransom...The difficulty comes when you're still not satisfied with the 100th thing that came to mind! –  Stimul8d Oct 21 '10 at 8:11
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Not wasting any of my time on Programmers Stack Exchange site helped me improve my coding skills immensely. –  Job Feb 2 '11 at 17:53
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@Mark Trapp how is this not constructive? –  rightfold Jan 22 '12 at 23:14
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@WTP - Read the description. "This question is not a good fit to our Q&A format." - as someone who asked this question, I agree. It was asked in more relaxed times. –  Oded Jan 23 '12 at 16:52
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360 Answers

Reading Books, Megazine , google different type of scenario and go theu that code , writting code working with smart ppl who can give you good idea how to improve programming ,always keep updating your knowledge about new technology

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I grabbed a development site and just started churning out web sites that would just pop into my head. This helped me learn several new languages and a vast amount of technology pretty quickly.

I still buy a programming book a month to read and learn from. I have expanded my knowledge a great amount over the last year just by doing this.

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Maintaining other peoples code. Having to dig through 1000's of lines of undocumented, under/over designed code will do more to teach you about code structure, re-use, and documentation than any class or any amount of code writing. Being able to write clear easily understandable code is the best thing I've ever done to improve my skills.

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Learning how to write short, understandable comments.

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Undoublty learning assembly (or should I say assembler, as I started coding in hexadecimal? :-)

Once you know how the processor executes code, you realize what really an "if", an "while" a "struct" and any other language construct really are, and you start to appreciate these language constructs exist. Also, once you know assembly, the speed in which you learn a new language is so fast that this for its own is worth the effort.

Just to help people realize how great is learning assembly, it's like when Neo starts to see the Matrix how it really is by the end of the movie. Someone will come and show you this "new great framework" and how it works, and you'll just say "is this just it?"

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Knowing the business of software and understanding how to become profitable. You become very adept at managing clients, requirements, and quality. From a technical perspective you apply appropriate architectures, patterns, and methodologies that lend itself toward simple, pragmatic solutions.

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I started to read and do things similar to development, but NOT development. eg

  • Joel On Software.
  • Managing Humans (Rands FTW!!).
  • photography (creative outlet which isn't software, but uses a LOT of software)
  • mountain biking (same - technical, but not development)

Worked for me :) the last two are great ways for me to work thru a problem - esp MTB.

that, and learned a new language, or atleast looked at new stuff, often. I can atleast read C#, java, VB.NET, Ruby, Python (well, getting there), Pascal, x86 ASM, Obj-C etc, even if I can't WRITE all of them well.

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I learned to read other people's code.

This might seem overly simple at first, but being able to understand the subtleties in code before modifying it is a great asset. When you work on a project for a couple of years, code gets old, so you're bound to have to modify code you're not so familiar with. I too often see young programmers who have a lot of trouble understanding the big picture when going through code they didn't personally write.

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A programmer needs only to solve 'unsolved problem'.

Do not reinvent wheel.

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I took a developer job in a field I didn't have any particular interest in prior to being hired.

The specific issues encountered in this line of business that I had to solve changed the way I approach solving programming problems.

I think the lesson here is that I was taken out of my comfort zone and had to tackle issues I would never have had to solve in programming projects in fields I've already worked on in the past.

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Always try to imagine what is going on inside the software I see running. What is the compiler doing? How does the app server implement that connection pool? What is the version control system doing with my file?

Then when something breaks I have somewhere to start to look for problems.

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Fresh out of university I got some of my C++ (a language I thought I knew) reviewed by someone who really did know the language. He completely took it apart and spent a long time explaining why it was awful. Up until then no-one had ever criticised my code, so I thought I was pretty hot, but after that day I realised I still had it all to learn. Getting taken down a peg or ten was absolutely essential and I'm so glad it happened early in my career by someone knowledgeable enough to set me on the right path.

Since then I've always been prepared (even eager) to give up "my" way of doing something in place of a better way.

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Reviewed Code and let my Code get reviewed

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Studying the best books on our profession. (E.g. the GangOfFour book about Design Patterns). Working on projects gives you experience but there is no substitute for the good old learning.

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Applying the Extreme Programming aphorism, DoTheSimplestThingThatCanPossiblyWork, probably improved my overall software-engineering skills more than any other single event or practice. Of course, sometimes that "simplest thing" doesn't work, but that's OK: you've learned something, with minimal investment of time and effort. Even if you hate everything else about XP, that one principle is worth the price of admission.

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The single most effective thing? That's easy: listening to other people.

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Switch Industries every 3 years.

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There are many effective things I did to improve my skills. I read and still keep reading as many programming/technical books I can cram into my skull. I also write as much code as my fingers will allow me.

Programming is an art form. Plain and simply. Just like the artists of history. Leonardo did not just see art as "just a job" but it was his life's work.

Another great thing to do is listen to other software developers who are not only better than you but who are on your same level. There are many ways to come up with a solution to a certain problem. This is where collaboration not only helps solve a solution but it also develops your programming skills as well as your team work abilities.

If you study and practice at it then you will be a great developer.

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Read Code Complete by Steve McConnell

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Teach someone else how to program.

I teach programming after work at the local college and it requires me to be able to plan, to think on my feet, anticipate errors that people (including mysef!) make, and to empathize with the difficulties of people learning something new which makes it easier for me to face the frustrations of learning something new.

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Joined a relatively big open source project and contributed thousands of lines of code to it. In the process, I learned a lot about architecture of big programs, good cases to use programming patterns, advanced object-oriented design, teamwork, cross-platform compatibility and UI design. Ever since I joined the project, my programming skills keep improving.

So, to answer: it's the working with other people in a team that opens new horizons. And open source projects are very good for this since:

  • there is no pressure to get the work done ASAP
  • people will tolerate if you lack some skill and help you learn it
  • you don't have to program some part of application you don't like or find boring
  • the entire team is friendly, since it's in everyone's interest that the project goes well
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Got a job teaching programming at university. Had to read all those text-books that I never read as an undergrad in order to try to get it into the heads of bored 19 year olds.

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In terms of coding, it would be learning Common Lisp for me. I never got to do real projects in it, but it taught me most of the language features possibly present in other languages. It helps me learn new languages/think about problems in unusual ways.

For professional development, I learned a lot from a senior developer at my first job while still in college. He guided me through concepts/things like version control, deployment to servers, testing, and working with designers. These things were confusing to me as a new developer.

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Learn assembler and write a disassembler to see what the compiler really does.

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Being around people that are much stronger than I am. You pick up the scent of good skills from these folks. On the other hand if you are around folks with much weaker skills, there's a tendency to cut corners, etc. This applies more generally than just coding. I take it as a general rule that I need to always be around people better than I am. I have always benefited when I have done so.

In terms of techniques, one that has really helped is actually reading blogs. Putting together a good collection of technical blogs that you read frequently is an invaluable growth tool. For example through blogs I learned about DDD, IoC, SOC, SRP, etc. Yes you can learn them many other ways, but blogs tend to be much less book knowledge and much more real application.

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I started life as a C programmer.

The biggest jump came when I switched from MS-DOS/Win 3.1/Windows 95 to Slackware Linux.

Close runners up:

Learned assembler. Learned about Functional Programming

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I read "A Framework for Representing Knowldge" by Marvin Minsky - and discovered the Science part of the field, as opposed to just the Programming part, which I had gotten bored with

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To be honest, learning LISP, Prolog and ML went a long way to improving my skills as a programmer. Looking at the programming world through the lens of functional programming goes a long way. The math behind it is fascinating. It puts you in a completely different state of mind when you go back and work in C#/C++/Java/what have you. Functional programming is clearly not the end all be all of programming paradigms, but it's a great tool to have in your mental toolbox.

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Read. A lot.

And write. Write about programming.

Fashion a passion for programming. Let it fester, er, grow!

The thing about programming is not the programming, but the concepts. If you learn the concepts well, you can apply (most of) them with any development language.

The single most effective thing you can do though is to never stop learning. Pay attention when working with others. Even a senior dev can learn from a junior dev if the senior programmer pays attention. Just remember that you never stop learning.

Second most effective thing you can do is read Pragmatic Programmer.

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