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What Makes a Great Software Developer?


Thanks to Ian over at FalsePositives.com for pointing out a great post by Rowan Hick entitled Good to Great (rules to live by) in which Mr. Hick elaborates on a topic near and dear to my heart.  He writes:

What makes a great developer ? Outside of obligatory technical and problem solving skills which go without saying, the differentiator between good developers and great developers I think simply boils down to understanding, empathy and respect for your client. Having a cross functional developer that can write code and talk to a client in plain english is an amazingly huge (and seemingly rare) asset to any team or studio.

I believe this is especially true in the Lotus Notes development arena, and have built my career around this premise.  Because of the "business-facing" nature of most Notes applications (i.e. they are typically used by non-geeks), a single individual who understands not only what the business people are telling him/her but also knows how to code will often be able to deliver better results in less time than the typical "team" approach.  Given that Notes is among the most approachable application development platforms for non-coders (like I was prior to my Notes epiphany), it's a shame more effort isn't spent bringing business analysts with the right aptitude into the Notes development fold.

Rowan goes on to define 8 specific traits of the good great software developer:
  1. Be pleasant - nobody likes to work with an arrogant jerk
  2. Be understanding - make an effort to learn something about your client's business
  3. Talk to your customer - email is no substitute for hearing how they talk about their needs
  4. Restate their problem - an easy way to be sure you heard what they said in #3
  5. Stay in touch with the customer - don't disappear for long coding binges leaving them wondering what to expect
  6. Know how to say "No" - hint: be nice about it
  7. Determine your customer's goals - even if you have to read between the lines
  8. Admit your mistakes and move on - unless your lawyer has a different opinion

Well worth a read!


1 - Charles, there are indeed situations where you just can't win, but it's still worth keeping your end of the bargain even if its just for self-respect.

Jim, great suggestion - its on my shelf.

2 - Also, I would add that they should read "Code Complete" ;)

3 - Good find!

Is it arrogant to get bent out of shape when you do what a client asked only to discover that somehow after 4 hours of design and specification meetings and two rounds of betas I still didn't get that what they were saying wasn't what they meant? Emoticon

I thought the comment about "the know it all with an ego the size of Africa" was highly ironic. Emoticon

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