Being a Better Developer… In 6 Months

Scott Hanselman’s show this week was killer. ( ). In it, Scott and Carl discuss a thread going around the internet, namely how to become a better developer in six months. They had some excellent ideas, some of which they were passing along from other posters, some were theirs. The post that seems to have started the whole thread was done buy a guy named Justice Gray, back in April. or . Just recently he posted a follow up at or .

I like the whole concept, and am going to implement my own version of it. And the first step is to declare what I’m going to do, so without further ado…

I’m going to start by reading a chapter a week from a book. Now, I know that doesn’t sound like much compared to the plans of others to read a book a week, but it leads to my next step…

I will work all the code samples in the book. Reading is one thing, but doing is even better. Personally, I find I get a better understanding when I actually type in the code samples and run them. And not just run what’s in the book, but tweak it, experiment with it. And then what will I do with my knowledge?

I will teach what I learn. The best way to learn is to teach. I’ll blog, talk with my co-workers over lunch, give presentations, but in some way I will give back what I learned. But I won’t stop this learning process with just books.

I’ll increase my listening of podcasts or videocasts. I recently got an inexpensive MP3/WMA player, which I load up with podcasts. This left the 1 gig card on my iPaq free, which I’ve loaded some videos on. Since the iPaq is portable, it increases my ability to watch these videos. Since I’ve blogged so much about podcasts in the past, I shan’t continue talking about them.

I’ll create at least one new presentation and give it to a user group. Again, the best way to learn is to teach, and there’s no better place than with your peers at your local user group.

I’ll look at the source code for an open source project. This is one I really loved from the show. Look at someone else’s code, see how it works, step through it. Right now I’ve got several in mind, first is the Paint.Net project ( ) since I think the graphics would be interesting, and graphics aren’t something I normally get to play with at work.

Next is RSSBandit, with the source at .The networking concepts in there should be quite useful in many instances. Finally is SharpDevelop ( ). It’d be interesting to see how an IDE works. I’m not sure which of the three I’ll look at, but these are on my short list.

I will learn a brand new or little used technology. There’s a lot of new technology out there, or tech I don’t read much about. Working a lot with the SQL Server BI (Business Intelligence) tools, the upcoming SQL Server 2008 sounds interesting. Of course there’s Visual Studio 2008. And XAML promises to be a hot topic, between WPF and Silverlight I think this will eventually be a “must” for everyone. Those are just some examples, find something that fascinates you and go learn.

The final two items on my list are suggestions from my manager, who my kids have dubbed “Mighty Mike”. I thought these were really good.

I will learn more about the business. No, not the business of programming, although that’s certainly important. I’m talking about what my company does. Most developers aren’t in a job where their company produces software. Instead our programming efforts help support the production of some product, which our company sells. I will learn more about that product, how it’s produced, what processes apply, and what the difficulties are. And finally….

I will get to know my customers. By that, I mean the people who are using, or are affected by the software I write. For most of us, those will be other employees of our company. Meet these people. Get to know them. Buy them a cup of coffee. Take a non-IT coworker to lunch every so often. Setup a half hour meeting with them every so often to learn and understand more about their job. Find out what their pain points are, find ways to solve their problems, offer them solutions to make their jobs better.

Whew, that’s quite the list. It will take a lot of balancing of my time to carry this off, but at the end of it I’ll be a better programmer.

To wrap this up, I’m supposed to tag four other developers, to challenge them as well. So here goes…

First is Jeff Barnes, . Payback time! (He knows why, heh heh heh).

Next is Todd Miranda, Birmingham’s newest MVP. Congrats Todd!

I think my next victim will be my brother-in-law, Dougal. Even though he’s not fortunate enough to work with .Net, he at least got to do some cool stuff with WordPress.

My final pick is that perfect blend of lunatic and coding genius, Mark Miller. It’s his fault I got deeply involved in coding again. I was thinking of getting into project management, but after seeing his talk at VSLive 2005 I got so enthused about coding again I jumped in with both feet and here I am. So how about it Miller, put down that McGriddle and blog something!

An now I challenge you, the reader of this post to go out and be a better developer. Post a link to your development plan. If you don’t have a blog of your own, feel free to post your plan below. Look at others, take the best of the ideas that will work for you.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a lot of work to do!

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10 Responses to “Being a Better Developer… In 6 Months”

  1. Jeff Barnes Says:

    Good stuff.

    I will accept the tag and post my version by sometime Monday night. This is a topic that I always enjoy discussing in detail.

  2. Suze Says:

    Speaking of sharing presentations, you might hit up your brother-in-law about that one. His new company, FreeIQ, is in the business of information-sharing, specifically presentations in all forms – video, audio, text, etc. You might think about sharing on FreeIQ.

    As far as becoming a better programmer, well, I don’t do a whole lot of programming, but I am trying to become a better learner through my grad school classes. And you are right on target with reading one chapter per week – that is the typical assignment in my grad classes, because it does indeed take all week to get through one chapter when you work the chapter problems and examples. (Trust me – I know – I’m in a statistics class this quarter!)

    On the upside for Dougal and I and the downside for you, we are unfortunately preventing you from being a better learner because we forgot to return your CD/DVD portfolio of your lessons. :-( Let us know if you will be in town soon and we can try to get them to you somehow!

  3. Todd Miranda Says:

    Well, alright then…I’ll take that tag! Since I feel a great passion for always striving to become a better developer (and blogger!), and helping others to do the same, I will get mine posted soon. Thanks Robert!

  4. Become a Better Developer in 6 Months - Jeff W. Barnes Says:

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