How to Become a Better Programmer

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If you’ve just entered the world of coding, or even if you have a year or two of experience under your belt, you may be wondering how to become a better programmer and take your skills to the next level.

Code can be complex and difficult to write and maintain. If you’ve found yourself staring at your computer screen, trying to work out the same bug for hours on end, you may find yourself asking: “Does this get any easier?”

Many expert coders will say “Yes” — with time and more experience, coding does get easier.

Others, however, may say “No,” the problems are still complex — but it does become quicker as you get more familiar with the language and find ways to solve problems with fewer lines of code.

Luckily, there are a few tips to help you improve your coding skills and become a better programmer.

8 Tips to Become a Better Programmer

1. Code, Code — and Code More

If you’re wondering how to become a better programmer, one of the best things you can do is practice coding.

There are many resources online where you can practice code in online simulations. However, many programmers will say that coding in action is quite different and will be more beneficial for sharpening your skills.

A few of the many benefits of practicing coding include:

  • Become more familiar with the language.
  • Deliberate practice (practicing what you’re not good at) helps you improve and broaden your skills.
  • Learn to recognize and debug problems when they arise.
  • Come up with shorter, more creative solutions.

2. Ask People to Review Your Code

One of the best ways to improve as a programmer is to ask those with more experience to review your code.

As a programmer, your team may have minimum requirements for review where one or a few people will have to ensure the code is functional and doesn’t have any bugs.

Go above and beyond any requirements and get additional eyes on your code. Every person you have review your code is a learning opportunity.

Don’t be afraid to ask people with varying levels of programming experience to review your code.

People who have slightly more experience may be able to offer tips and tricks they learned a year or two ago to help you avoid making the same mistakes. Meanwhile, those in engineering manager roles can offer advice that may help you think outside the box and vastly improve your skillset.

3. Learn That Less Code Can Be More

Often, there is more than one way to solve a problem.

A mediocre programmer who writes 100 lines of code to solve a problem may sound productive — but an expert may be able to solve the same problem in 10 lines.

Both a long and short code sequence may have the same effect, but an expert programmer will know tips and tricks to get it done in far fewer lines with a different structure.

Shorter code can be just as challenging and complex for an experienced developer as a longer solution. However, it’s all about making it executable and easier for fellow programmers and computers alike to read.

And not only is it more work for others to read and review more lines of code, but it also means more room for bugs — which take more code to fix.

Remember: What’s most important is readability. Look for places where you can condense code into fewer lines, but don’t try to squish four to six lines into one massive line that’s impossible to read and understand when you or others come back to it.

4. Learn From the Experts

While hands-on experience is essential for coding, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn tips and tricks to solve problems in fewer lines and make your job easier and faster.

A few great free or inexpensive resources from experts to improve your programming skills include:

  • Stack Overflow: With over 100 million monthly users, Stack Overflow is popular with novice and expert coders alike. People can ask questions about anything and everything programming-related, and learn tips and knowledge from other experienced coders.
  • YouTube videos: Expert programmers will post videos including tutorials, how-tos, walkthroughs, tips, tricks, and more.
  • Threads: Discussion boards like Reddit are full of advice from other programming beginners and experts alike. Look in previous threads for advice that’s already out there, or start your own to get advice on a particular problem or question.
  • Books and blogs: Expert programmers often create explainer blogs or whole books full of tips and “need-to-know” information as you get started. Look for the most up-to-date information on version updates and more.

For example, Codeacademy offers free coding classes in 12 different languages; a community section with forums and chatting; a resource section with helpful documents, cheat sheets, blogs, and videos; and much more.

5. Implement the DRY (Don't Repeat Yourself) Principle

If you’re at all familiar with programming, you’ve likely heard of the DRY principle — Don’t Repeat Yourself.

It may be tempting to copy and paste more generic lines of code and modify them slightly.

However, repeating code can cause a few problems:

  • If a problem (bug) arises, you have to manually go into every place it exists in the code.
  • Fixing the same problem in multiple places takes significantly more time than if each code line and sequence were unique.
  • Even with routine maintenance updates, updating the same lines of code across multiple places is time-consuming.

Not only is the DRY principle helpful for saving time with bugs and maintenance, but it is cleaner and challenges developers to come up with unique code. The best developers rarely ever repeat code.

6. Use Functional Programming (FP) Wherever Possible

Functional programming (FP) means using pure functions when writing code.

Pure functions do not mutate state, so they are guaranteed not to have side effects. This makes them easy to test, debug, and reason about in a complex code base.

Functional programming:

  • Makes it easier to reason about code
  • Makes code less likely to have bugs and easier to debug

Some programmers find it difficult to comprehend functional programming. However, many available frameworks can help make it easier, like functional React components with hooks.

7. Use Declarative Programming

Compared with imperative programming, declarative programming explicitly states what a result should be.

If you’re trying to change a color, for example:

  • Declarative programming: Would “declare” that the result should be “blue.”
  • Imperative programming: Would instruct the current hue’s color should shift by 30%.

Declarative programming is more straightforward and tells a computer the result without specific directions on how to get there.

Imperative programming, meanwhile, includes specific instructions to achieve the desired result, rather than just stating what that result is like declarative programming. Imperative programming requires more extensive knowledge of possible starting values, and more testing to achieve the correct result.

Declarative programming is inclined toward immutability, which means fewer bugs to work out.

8. Learn Multiple Programming Languages

While some may think that the best way to become a better programmer is to learn one language and learn everything there is to know about it, there are a lot of benefits to learning multiple coding languages.

  • Boosts critical thinking skills
  • Helps you solve problems creatively
  • Makes your coding more adaptable and broadens your skillset

Some of the most popular programming languages include:

  • Python
  • Java and C#
  • JavaScript and TypeScript
  • C and C++
  • Go (Golang)

The languages you may use to code will often depend on the type of programming you’re doing:

  • JavaScript is popular for front-end development
  • Go is popular for back-end development Python is common in data analysis (and along with JavaScript, is increasingly used in back-end development)
  • C and C++ are often used in systems, embedded, or high-performance environments

No matter the language you start coding with, learning other languages will help you creatively solve problems and make your skills more applicable across different programming use cases.

The Bottom Line

If you’re wondering, “How long does it take to get good at coding?” there’s no one solid answer. A lot of how to improve your coding skills and go from beginner to expert depends on how you code.

When starting from scratch, coding boot camps often take 3 to 9 months, many self-study taught programs take 6 to 12 months, and a computer science associate’s or bachelor's program typically takes 2 to 4 years.

However, many experienced coders say that because of the problem-solving nature of coding and constantly evolving frameworks and languages, you never stop learning.

If you continue using the same functions and language, copy code in multiple places, and only have the minimum number of people review your code, it will take a lot longer to make noticeable improvements.

If you look to experts for advice, get as many eyes on your code as possible, and work to create unique code that solves problems in fewer lines, you can consistently improve and continuously implement your new skills as you learn and grow.

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