How to Recognize Good Programmers

Determining whether one can define what it is to be a good programmer demands that we consider two deeper questions:

  • What in a programmer gives good programming performance? Should you care about the amount of experience she has? Should you worry about her personality? Should you attempt to measure her IQ? And what about all this in the context of pair programming and team work?

  • What is good programming performance? For example, should you hire the person who can produce the most lines of code per unit time or the person who produces the code of highest quality (whatever that means), no matter the amount of time spent producing it?

These questions touch on fundamental and difficult issues. In the work life where one has to make strategic decisions, such issues are explicitly or implicitly dealt with on the fly by following intuitions or applying more or less ill-founded personal profile and aptitude tests. In academic research, the deeper and more general meaning of these questions has led to huge research efforts across several disciplines in attempts to gain some insight into these issues.

Individual Differences: Fixed or Malleable

Characteristics that separate one individual from another—or individual differences, as researchers call them for short—can be classified along a continuum from fixed to malleable. Toward the fixed end, you find things such as personality and cognitive predispositions that are assumed to be relatively stable throughout a ...

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