Have you always considered yourself a top-of-the-range coder but watched your colleagues zoom ahead of you in achieving their career goals? Perhaps you haven’t had the opportunity (or the time) to truly evaluate your coding skills to spot the problem areas that hold you back. Or you may be on the threshold of a career in programming, eager to make a mark in the field. Wherever you are in the curve, the common link is a question, “How to improve coding skills?”
Before exploring the possible solutions to that query, it’s good to take a step back and shore up the fundamentals.
Excellent Coding Skills: Why You Need Them
An ancient Chinese proverb says, “The best time to plant a tree was 50 years ago. The next best time is now.” This holds good in whatever career path you follow. There is no right or wrong time to acquire and improve your skills. It is an ongoing process that lasts throughout your life.
Digital technology has transformed the world, and very few areas haven’t been impacted by it. As data becomes more easily available, we need to learn how to interact with it in a meaningful and effective way. This is the only way to use it and leverage its power. Not just companies in the tech sector, but many businesses have become reliant on coding, whether it’s healthcare, gaming, finance, manufacturing, textile, the auto industry, art and design, engineering, food and beverage, or aviation.
You could be a veteran in the earliest days of the digital age or a student planning a career in IT. You may head a hot-shot managed services firm or sign your first contract as an independent coder. No matter where you’re coming from, coding skills are the basics. There is a place for everyone in the digital universe. But the market is not neatly structured or organized. As it evolves, you need to stay in step or fall along the way.
The options are endless. You may want to:
- work in a big company
- become a specialist
- head a start-up or work in one
- become a freelancer
- become a front-end developer
- stay with low-code or no-code formats such as IT sales
- become a tech recruiter
At the heart of all these diverse paths is one common thread - coding skills. Coding is using a computer program to write instructions, unlike an app or established program. Therefore, you will need to learn a programming language, preferably one with broad capability. It is essentially how we learn to communicate with computers. The “why,” “when,” and “what” are added skills you pick up along the way.
Besides hard skills, coders should have a suite of soft skills such as time management, excellent verbal and written communication, teamwork, patience, curiosity, adaptability, conflict resolution, and problem-solving.
How To Improve Your Coding Skills
Before you think about improvement, it’s wise to ask two important questions:
- What computer science education/training/background do you have?
- Do you have specific goals that you want to achieve through coding?
Once you understand where you are and want to go, it gives you direction and motivation. You need to concentrate on major areas: Data structures, programming languages, system understanding, and algorithms. This is an area that requires multitasking. You need to understand computer architecture and data structures, networks, different programming languages, paradigms, effective testing, procedures for deployment of your work, and follow the latest trends and innovations.
1. Mine free resources: If you don’t have a strong background in computer science, there are plenty of excellent, free resources available. Books, magazines, podcasts, videos, websites, and personalized tutorials are mines of information. Make sure that printed resources are up-to-date because this is such a dynamic field that printed information can quickly become obsolete. If you’re well-trained in computer science, this increases your tech-savvy and literacy. Become adept at reading and keeping yourself updated.
2. Write: Keep writing programs and solve different types of coding problems. Many websites organize coding competitions/tournaments. Take part in them and get a feel of the real world of coding. This helps to boost problem-solving skills and get a deeper understanding of how different tools work. Refactoring code is a vital skill to perfect the process and helps you to review your work. You can also rework others’ codes to create a different product. This is important to hone your skills and boost the amount of code you write daily, no matter the language. Take smaller steps, and don’t push yourself to go too fast, or you’ll be weak on the basics.
3. Communicate: Soft skills are a vital aspect of coding. Don’t shut yourself up in an ivory tower. Communicate with others in the field, attend webinars and meets, meet developers and designers. Communicate with clients in simpler terms without jargon and acronyms. This helps you with cross-cultural communication across continents and cultures with great skills, such as Russia, India, China, Eastern Europe, and more. Many C-Suite stars started as coding developers – Elon Musk, Satya Nadella, Bill Gates, to name a few.
4. Mentoring: Look for mentors and experienced developers who are generous with sharing their time and skills. Joining code-user groups, hackathons, boot camps, and pair-program projects help you to gain exposure and experience. There could be coders whose work you admire. Follow their work and stay connected to them. Be mindful and accepting of feedback. There could be patterns in your mistakes that need to be tweaked. At some point, you can start mentoring beginners. Teaching is a great way to learn.
5. Academics: Staying in touch with the academic community is a great way to sharpen your skills. You can pick up cutting-edge skills from research papers and innovative projects and build your professional bonds. If you don’t have a formal degree in computer science, you could think of getting one. It takes much of the trial and error out of your work, and you can speed up your skills through academic programs because they have a structured format. Academic programs help you to strengthen and consolidate your fundamental concepts. There is much more scope to explore non-traditional areas such as AI, compilers, ML, robotics, and more. The classroom (real or virtual) is a space where you’re free to ask questions and get the right answers.
6. Choose a specialization: Being a generalist is great in the early stages of your career. It gives you the broad-based knowledge and skills you need to solve various problems. Focus on data structures and architecture in the beginning. However, as your coding skills gain traction, choosing a specialization is wise. It must align with your personal and economic goals. You may wish to focus on designing games, for instance. In this case, it’s important that you first consolidate your basic skills and then slowly move into the game science and design sector. You may be interested in programming projects such as desktop utility, mobile apps, web applications, or database front-end. Document your progress at every step to avoid making the same mistakes.
7. Know Your Language: While learning a coding language, don’t just skim the surface and assume that you know everything. You must dive deep and swim far to explore the parameters as much as possible. You need to master the advanced concepts and become familiar with the core language library of each language. When you read another person’s code, try to understand why they made certain choices and not others. This process helps you to understand your weak areas. Functional areas, keyboard shortcuts, and productivity tips are typical hotspots where experience and expertise matter. Take the help of experts in such areas and request them to work with you.
8. Personal qualities: Perseverance is a huge skill to cultivate. Don’t give up too easily. If something is knotted up, take some time out, park the problem and come back a while later. Attacking it with fresh energy usually solves the problem. Efficiency, elegance, and economy are three great qualities to inculcate in any program, no matter how big or small. Focus on getting your technique right. Many coders concentrate on the tools and methodologies. This can lead to arrogance and over-confidence. Stay a life-long learner because this is a field where nothing remains the same for long. Develop your soft skills, and verbal and written communication skills and use them to connect and learn better and newer processes.
9. Mind-Set: It’s important to get away from “the code works” mindset. This is just the first step in writing successful code, and the first iteration can certainly do with improvement. Next, you must analyze whether the software can be made faster, easier, and more reliable. Another assumption you have to break is proving that you’re right. Look for where you’ve gone wrong instead of what you’ve done right. This keeps you grounded. Don’t assume that you know everything and that the client and everyone else are dumb. This can land you in big trouble since you’ve blocked off the channels that teach you new ways to look at problems.
The road ahead will be tough, no matter where you are on the learning curve. But with the right attitude, a clear focus, and ensuring that you have the right resources, you will certainly know how to improve your coding skills. Try as many resources as possible before you zero in on those that align with your goals and passion.