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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
+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
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
@Mark Trapp how is this not constructive? – rightfold Jan 22 '12 at 23:14
@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

360 Answers 360

A lot of people have said to program, and I agree. Specifically, I like to:

1) Do programming Competitions! I just did my first one this summer and it was actually pretty worthwhile (although I admit, I didn't do phenomenally). It forces you to work on interesting problems quickly. Google Code Jam is excellent for this.

2) Write algorithms I know well (sorts are awesome for this) in languages I've just picked up using the helpful features of that language to do it. It just doesn't make since to write an imperative sort in ML when the elegance comes from doing it functionally.

3) Talk to people who LOVE particular languages about WHY they love those languages. Rather than picking a side in the Perl/Python debate, I'd rather talk to a person from each side about why they like their language of choice and grab the useful bits for future reference.

4) Read Tech Blogs. You'll discover a lot about different languages by reading the blogs of the people who know about them. Of course, this applies to a lot more than programming.

Of course, these things tend to do more to make you a better programmer and may or may not help you with Software Engineering.

  1. read research papers [ACM, IEEE] on topics that interest you

  2. try to solve hard problems; even if you fail, you will learn from it


Figured out my learning style (or maybe my learning disability.)

I discovered that listening to people talk is the hardest way for me to learn. So classroom lectures, podcasts and videos are the least good way for me to learn and I don't waste my time even trying them if I can help it. I'm way better at learning by reading. So I buy and read lots of books and web articles. (You know. Sort of like this site.)

Just as there is more than one way to solve a problem, there is more than one way to learn. Optimizing what works for me has been the best way for me to improve my craft.


I tried to apply good programming technique to a language such as TI-83+ BASIC.


It is easy to get caught up in coding marathons. It is critical to stand back once and a while, look at how other people have implemented similar projects.

Read books written by excellent authors. Go through books such as "C: A Programming Language", "The Perl CookBook", or any of the best for your favorite languages. Read about the problems they solve, don't look at the code samples, write them up yourself, and then compare your code with theirs. Figure out why theirs/yours is better.


Used different frameworks, IDEs, operating systems, and languages. In general, if you're not confused you're not growing. The bad thing is not to be mediocre. The bad thing is to be mediocre when you think you're great.

  1. I joined developer centric communities web and physically
  2. Read/Try to read other people's code.
  3. Write code.
  4. Read read read (Blogs, podcasts, books etc.) and do do do what you've read read read.

Reading lots of books and articles..


Read more books, and write more codes.


I think the biggest thing for me was when I took a step back from implementation and started looking at the bigger picture, and better understanding architecture, patterns, processes, requirements analysis etc.


I'm sure this is simply reiterating previous comments:

1: Read code from numerous languages. Understand how the language handles a given situation. It may make you more enlightened in the language you are looking to become better at.

2: Teams...Debating programming practices, approaches, testing, planning, implementation, etc.

3: Use the above to focus on a smaller set of languages.

4: Never assume your 100% right, then you'll have no reason to question anything.


working with people far smarter than I


Use your computer and understand it thoroughly.
Write code for whatever you thought you can.
Read good code and learn how to write. Read bad code and learn how not to code.


There are many things but the following had great impact on making me a better programmer

1) During university days, I was in a continuous competition with a highly talented classmate for creating the best game/program judged by other classmates. It was like 2 small start-ups fighting for market share.

2) Reading "Deep C secrets"

3) Participating in Open Source projects where smart people can comment on your code.


When you are programming alone, it is very easy to assume that the things that come easiest to you or which seem most obvious are therefore the best. However, when you are in active contact with a group of knowledgeable others (especially ones that have more experience than yourself) you will probably find many problems that you never considered, and solutions to them that might not have occurred to you either. It is much better to learn from someone else's experience than to make your own mistakes and by doing so screw up an important project (of your own or of your employer's). If you can learn these things from your peers before you are ever confronted with them yourself, you can avoid many early missteps that catch most programmers unaware. It is possible to become a programmer with a junior amount of experience but a senior's understanding of software development if you pay enough attention to what other more experienced people are doing.

Probably the most useful thing that I did was to spend a few years reading online forums such as comp.lang.c, comp.lang.c++, and regularly (on a daily or at least weekly basis), and participating in forum discussions. (In the day when I actively frequented forums, most of them were on Usenet. Now, they tend to associate with specific websites and developer communities.)

In active discussion groups such as these which attract large numbers of professional developers (and in particular high-level professional developers, such as language authors and the implementors of important libraries) it is much easier to get a sense of which programming techniques are considered useful versus discouraged, and which programming languages, tools and libraries are coming into favor or out of favor. Also, it's useful to pay attention to what software engineering techniques other professionals are using, ranging from version control systems to visual modeling languages to programming methodologies and so forth. Learning which areas are controversial is important too -- Watching an extended debate between two high-level experienced developers with markedly different views can be a tremendously educational experience.

You may find after a while that your favorite language or programming approach is not as universally liked as you at first believed, and you may find you are starting to consider alternatives -- that is good! That means you are starting to become more nuanced and more realistic about your beliefs (rather than just adopting the latest fad), and hopefully expanding your horizons to include different ways of doing things.


Spend some time actually thinking about it, rather than just doing it.


  • think about what skills you have.
  • think about what skills you dont have.
  • think about what skills you would like to have.
  • think about what skills you think the industry would like you to have.

  • share

    Learning a new language a year has been great (Although I learned 3 languages last year alone). I still prefer C++, but knowing different ways of solving things has improved my coding skills in many ways. That and I have a series of "Katas" or small coding goals I keep trying out on my spare time, each time applying my new knowledge to them.


    Work with the smartest people I can and ask them questions. Don't be afraid to ask.

    Someone should build a website to do that...;-)


    Participating several times in ICFP Programming Contest.

    There is no other programming competition like that! Every time I learned a lot. Especially working in a team with people much smarter then I am.


    I read K&R2 for a 2nd time. And then read it again a 3rd time.


    Back in elementary, I wanted to create a fake login screen that would steal passwords from my dad's office PC. It was just a batch script that run on MS-DOS and there was nothing fancy. Then, in high school, I went on to write simple MSWord macro viruses because I found it fascinating to be able to "customize" MSWord according to my liking.

    The programming skills that I learned then were just side-effects on doing something that I found fascinating.


    There is no single think you can think of to improve it. its a learned skill. it will make u better by practice. By practice i don't mean of single attribute. the most important attributes i can think of are 1. Write code 2. Pairing or collect persapactive from different ppl (activity like coding dojo - 3. code review


    Working in pair programming with a 50+ programmer who is an expert on Smalltalk. We were programming in java, but I really learned a lot about object oriented design and debugging techniques.

    Pair programming with an experienced mentor is something to be recommended, as long as we keep an open mind.


    Working with people who are smarter than I (not that hard) and being curious about how thy do stuff. Reading a lot helps, but you have to be able to find your own way on how to solve things.


    Working with another people was the single thing that made my skills to explode. I started learning from their failures. :)


    code a lot don't be afraid to learn new things


    I know most of these have been previously mentioned but I will reiterate them again as they have worked for me.

    1) The most important thing is to have an interest in what you are doing. If you are interested in it you are half the way there. Nothing kills your desire to work/improve more than disinterest.

    2) Find someone in your organization that is smarter/better/faster than you and absorb as much of their knowledge and expertise as you can. This applies to anyone, junior/senior/etc. Job titles are entirely meaningless as far as I am concerned. I've seen "junior" level developers who had far more expertise/knowledge than supposed senior level ones.

    3) I've tried as best I can to follow my own Code of Coding. Write, Read, Analyze, Review, Discuss. Once you Write your code, Read it over. Is it maintainable? Is it commented well? Does it look like it does what it should? As part of this you need to Analyze the code. Is this the best way you could have done this? Could it be improved in any way? Make changes accordingly. Next, Review it, test it out. Does it do what it should? Does it do anything it shouldn't? Do your best to try and break your code. Once you are happy with it, Discuss your code with others. What is their take on it? Do they or Don't they agree with your decisions? Have they any other ideas on what could have been done to improve it.

    4) Always be willing to learn new things and/or idea's.


    100 % unit test coverage.

    Doing unit testing have really improved my programing.

    But using a code coverage tool to measure the coverage of the unit test takes it to another level.

    A good exicise is to take a module and try to make a 100% unit test coverage.

    You might even make a friendly competition with your coworkers by taking a module each and see how can get the highest coverage.


    Follow me on


    Started teaching programming and program design. I was mostly clueless about OO until I taught a Freshman-level Java course and a Junior-level Software Engineering course.


    Using my brain, instead of hammering out pointless code. Code once, code correct.


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