Psychology of a “pretty good” programmer

(This post refers to no single person or job, but is describing a personality type I and others have encountered)

Just to get this out of the way, a really bad programmer is easy to spot-a truly bad programmer can be a perfect storm of inability to understand and unwillingness to try, a lack of caring or opinions, poor innate troubleshooting skills, and general lack of intelligence. Such people do make a living as programmers (which is a separate, interesting issue) , but they’re not who I’m addressing today.

More interesting to me than the truly awful programmers are the pretty good ones. They crank out code that works, they’re good troubleshooters, and they are generally reliable. Some of these people are senior. They do what they do pretty well. They accomplish things, deliver sizable projects. They focus on risk that is near-term… a guaranteed return is the way to go, every time-“this is what I know, and that’s what I’ll do”. As for how current work will be to deal with in a year or two from now if things drastically change? That’s another day.

There are problems with this approach though…sometimes improvements initially appear as risks. For example, writing unit tests (upfront time not spent on “production code”), writing in a concerns-separated fashion(moving things around is stirring things up for no reason), or exploring a new technology or methodology(time that could slow down the project, or even lost entirely if the new tech doesn’t pan out). Finishing the task is key to this mindset, and keeping an application useful, understandable, and maintainable is, frankly a lot of “busywork”. Problem is, the long-term success of the project can hinge on those factors.

Well… I’m trying to understand the mindset. As I said, the people I’m talking about are smart, capable people, so it’s not a simple case of lack of ability to think it through- there’s more to this story. It’s easy to imagine non-coding managers taking this approach, but why competent developers?

One Response to “Psychology of a “pretty good” programmer”

  1. Late responder says:

    Being a consultant, I see this all the time. My company prides itself in hiring and retaining intelligent and experienced “software guys” (am i the only one who dislikes the terms engineer and programmer?). However, these guys are all about the here and now. I don’t know if its the consulting mind set, the inability to plan for the future, or if they just don’t give a damn since they will not be there in a year (next guys problem).

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