9 Ways to Think Like a Programmer

There’s a certain mystique about web developers and programmers amongst the general, non-coding population. They’re pictured as having a secret lexicon and impossibly deep technical wisdom. They have access to complex tools and mental models that outsiders don’t think they possess. To be honest, it’s kind of fun to have that magical aura, when we can manage it.

But the reality is just a shade different. For one thing, anyone in a creative or constructive profession (chefs, architects, writers, landscapers, florists) has that kind of image among people who don’t do what they do. True, they obtained specialized training at some point to perfect their craft. But they also have a certain mentality, framework, or way of approaching things that you don’t need a university to get.

It’s the same with coders. Everyone’s capable of building the mindset that coders use to perfect their trade and understand the world. Many of us already utilize these approaches and may not be aware of them.

We’ve collected nine different ways that programmers, developers and coders think, and what mental attitudes or strategies they use to get the job done. Some of them may already be familiar to you; all of them are accessible and useable in life situations away from the console.

Know Yourself

Developers have a reputation of being “the brains” of modern business. But even the most well-rounded, adept devs may have blind spots in their expertise. A dev of sound mind is honest with themselves about what they can and can’t do. When they articulate their strengths, they know exactly what they can offer a project. And if they’re honest about their limitations, they avoid setting false expectations, and can identify the gaps in their knowledge they need to fill.

Set Goals

Before a dev makes a single keystroke, a project management team has scoped out and designed their application in careful detail. While a dev can go to work without charting a project’s purpose and objectives, they’re more mindful and effective when they’re clear what goal they’re trying to achieve. Good programmers have a strong grip on the roadmap of their project. Even if some of the details in the process get changed or removed altogether, having the game plan top-of-mind helps them focus their efforts more suitably.

Adopt a Problem-Solving Mindset

Daily existence basically consists of a series of problems to be unraveled and resolved. Some are minor and barely worth mentioning. Others are major and throw your daily schedule into turmoil. A developer’s very nature is attuned to be a problem-solver in every phase of their pipeline. If they don’t have a reliable, ready-made solution at hand, it’s their job to go find one. The problem-solving mindset is used to observe, demystify, diagnose and resolve puzzles with minimum drama.

Embrace (or at Least Tolerate) the Unknown

Even the most complete set of blueprints can’t prevent the intrusion of the unexpected. A programmer goes into a project with the goal of accounting for all possibilities and setbacks, but a good one knows that the chance of something utterly unpredictable is always there. A developer uses their past experience (and problem-solving mindset) to navigate fire drills and other emergencies as best they can, and often they do their most productive work outside the comfort zone. They might not have an immediate solution at hand, but they’re always ready to face the problem head-on.

Break Things

Error is permanently built into programmer and startup culture. The thinking is that, if you want to learn how something is constructed, break it on purpose and put it back together. Whether they’re building an app from scratch or simulating errors in bug bashes, devs test their abilities by deconstructing processes, knowingly committing errors, or flat-out ruining certain processes before they’re ready to ship. They run tests they know will fail or simulate events they know will wreak some havoc. Although that’s not a suggestion that you take a 2-by-4 to a server and indulge your worst nature, you could do some mildly cruel things to JavaScript and find your way out of it.

Build Good Habits

A coders’ environment can be, to be it mildly, hectic. Requests and requirements change with little notice, and the pace needed to meet deadlines can accelerate quickly. That’s why a developer needs to develop strong habits with what they can control, whether it’s managing work/life balance, templatizing repetitive codes, or even finding the ideal height on your chair. Habits make a reliable backbone that’s invaluable in frenzied situations.

Do a Variety of Things

There aren’t many industries left where a worker can be expected to clock in and do just one or two things for eight hours until a shrill whistle blows. Modern programmers aren’t strictly evaluated by their skill set; they’re also valued according to how versatile and multi-faceted they are. If you can learn one coding language, you can learn a bunch of others. If you can build a lifestyle app, you can probably build a productivity app. Give yourself a chance to learn more deeply about anything that calls to your interests and find new things to produce using the skills you have.

Always Grow and Never Stop Learning

This maxim goes for anyone seeking to become an expert in anything, but web development offers quite a few more opportunities to live this proverb out than most other disciplines. The most insightful and crafty programmers know that change is the only constant in technology: No matter how thoroughly they’ve mastered their craft, there are new systems, technologies and languages waiting just around the corner. Instead of being discouraged by the impossibility of knowing it all, they’ve accepted that they’ll spend the rest of their careers learning and growing with the industry.

Stay Positive

If you’ve ever viewed the source code of a major entity’s website, you’ve seen just how sprawling and indecipherable it is to the naked eye. Yet the people responsible for generating that mass of code aren’t super-machines that appeared on Earth after a solar eclipse. They’re suspiciously similar to you and me. Professional web developers (even the surly ones) have a positive approach to their work. They’ve embraced challenge in their own way and see it as a normal part of a healthy human life.

Richard Wang is the CEO of the leading national coding bootcamp Coding Dojo that transforms lives through programming literacy. He is a results-driven executive who is passionate about workforce development and inclusion, immigrant rights, as well as cultivating future business leaders.