These days, coding and programming skills are considered to be must-haves for anyone trying to start a technology career. That makes sense, of course, because we now live in a connected world where all of the devices we use daily need programmers to make them work and extend their usefulness. That reality has driven millions of students around the globe to take programming courses, and in some cases, even pursue degrees in computer science. It’s a great pathway to a technology career, but it isn’t for everyone.
For many computer science majors, it takes quite a while to find out if they’re cut out to be a programmer. Some figure it out when their first major programming project comes due. Others clear the introductory classes with ease, only to hit a wall when more advanced concepts become the focus. In the process, they might spend years pursuing a degree they eventually choose to abandon. That happens because earning a computer science degree takes a certain kind of dedication and a love for what you’re doing that many people can’t (or are unwilling to) muster. It’s not at all uncommon for those who try and force the issue and be something they’re not to succumb to burnout in the end.
It isn’t impossible, however, to figure out if you are likely to have what it takes to be a great programmer. There are, in fact, personality traits that most successful and talented programmers have in common. If you’re considering a career in programming, you should make sure you have them too. Here’s what they are.
1. A Vast Amount of Patience
Above all else, a successful programmer has to have a near-endless amount of patience. That’s because programming isn’t at all an easy thing to master, and even the best in the field run into stubborn bugs, logic issues, and other troubles in their projects. When that happens, the only way through it is to stick with the work. The most successful programmers almost always have this trait in spades. The best among them even tend to enjoy the challenge that comes with getting stuck on a programming problem.
Patience is so vital to the work that it’s fair to say that this is the one must-have trait to become a successful programmer today. While patience isn’t something you can force yourself to learn, it is something you can develop if you have sufficient interest in the work you’re trying to do so if you aren’t the most patient sort but love the logic and structure of coding, stick with it to find out how far you can go.
2. Ability to Pay Attention to Details
Due to the complexities involved, programming is not a task for people who don’t sweat the small stuff. It is instead an exercise in paying attention to the smallest details. That’s because it’s very easy to let small coding errors snowball into much larger issues, and not all of them will be obvious until you try your program and get an unexpected result. Take this snippet of Python code for example, which should output the average of two numbers:
In the above example, the program’s output will always be incorrect. In this case, though, it’s not because of a flaw in the Python syntax. It’s because the equation used (z=x+y/2) is wrong – you have to add parentheses around the addition to get the right result. Did you spot that tiny imperfection? If you did, you might make a great programmer.
3. A High Degree of Creativity
Contrary to the rigid, logic-driven image that programmers conjure in the popular imagination, the reality of great programmers is that they’re some of the most creative people in the world. Studies have confirmed that creativity has the strongest correlation to the programming ability of any other personality trait. If you stop to think about it, that makes perfect sense. After all, the essential task of programmers is to find new ways to solve problems via the code they dream up and what could be a more creative endeavor than that?
In the real world, the best programmers are always the ones that surprise the people they work with by taking a unique approach to the problems they’re tasked with solving, or by coming at every issue from a different angle than everyone else. So if you look for solutions that others might dismiss out of hand, or are used to quizzical looks from the people around you when you respond to questions, programming might be right up your alley.
4. An Innate Desire to Learn
The last critical personality trait that every great programmer needs to have is an insatiable curiosity and a desire to learn everything they can. The reason that’s so important should be obvious, but just in case it’s not, consider this: just about anyone can become somewhat adept at programming if they’re willing to put enough time into it, but to stay great in a field that’s changing and advancing every moment – you have to want it enough to learn every scrap of new information you can get your hands on.
That desire to learn should extend well beyond programming knowledge, too. That’s because programming is the kind of field where it’s all too easy to get lost in the intricacies of the work and grow detached from just about everything else. The programmers that tend to have the best outcomes have rich and diverse interests outside their field and they need those interests to keep them grounded and prevent the aforementioned burn out that’s so common in their line of work.
In truth, there’s no way to say for sure how well you might do as a programmer until you try it. Still, it’s not a coincidence that the best programmers all share the above traits. With them, it’s just easier to succeed in a challenging field like programming, and without them, you’d be likely to struggle.
So to all of the would-be programmers seeking the answer to the question “Is computer science hard?” the answer is a clear one: it’s an emphatic yes. It’s just that if you have the right disposition, aptitude, and love for the work, you won’t find it difficult. Challenging, perhaps, but in the way that all good careers should be. If you’re not a good fit, though, you might find yourself sitting in a computer lab at 3 AM wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into and in that case, you might want to go in another direction.