An even more fascinating metric is this: 5% of programmers are 20x more productive than the other 95%. If this were a science, like it claims, we could figure out how to get everyone to the same level.
Let’s say that this follows the 80-20 rule. Roughly 80% of programmers don’t read books, don’t go to conferences, don’t continue learning, don’t do anything but what they covered in college. Maybe they’ve gotten a job in a big company where they can do the same thing over and over. The other 20% struggle with their profession: they read, try to learn things, listen to podcasts, go to user group meetings and sometimes a conference. 80% of this 20% are not very successful yet; they’re still beginning, still trying. The other 20% of this 20% — that’s about 5% of the whole who are 20x more productive.
The lesson here is that if you want to be a great developer, you’ve gotta put in the extra effort that Bruce talks about. There are no shortcuts. In my experience, I’ve seen that there are quite a few developers who rarely read things that pertain to their profession, never attend conferences or talks, and certainly never look into trying new approaches that are even the slightest bit different from what they already know. Well, unless they’re forced to, of course, via organizational changes or layoffs. I don’t understand why anyone would willingly choose a profession for which they’re unwilling to invest in continuous career-long learning.
I also like what he says here:
You need to pay attention to economics and business, both of which are far-from-exact sciences. Listen to books and lectures on tape while you commute. Understanding the underlying business issues may allow you to detect the fortunes of the company you’re working for and take action early. When I first started working I looked askance at people who paid attention to business issues — that was suit stuff, not real technology. But those people were the smart ones.
Another reason to pay attention to the business side is that it’s actually rare that the best technology wins. I used to struggle greatly with this, and over the years I’ve seen many developers do the same. Understanding how markets work and how technologies advance in the marketplace is important for every developer, so they can put their work in perspective and perhaps be a little less religious about it.
So, from these ideas, my two recommendations for 2008 are:
- Learn a new programming language or new approach that takes you out of your comfort zone.
- Study one or more technology-focused business books.
In both cases, you’ll be very glad you did.