Andy Hansen

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Humility as a Programmer

  • programming
  • mindset

“Hey pal, can’t wait to work with you. I love that high opinion you have of yourself, and that you always make sure you get your way!”

I’d like to think a sentence like this has never been said in real life, and that I’ve worded it sarcastically enough that it was obvious why. Though you (hopefully) won’t find someone as ego driven as the example above, you will come across people who have traits that make them difficult to work with. No one is ever going to be perfect, but to avoid being “that guy”, you need to act with humility.

Humility is being able to say that you don’t know the answer, it’s being able to ask for help, and it’s being open for constructive criticism. You can have humility and still be proud of your work, you can still let your opinion be heard, but you need to understand that your opinion isn’t always the most important.

Pair programming is a great example of how effective humility can be in action. With humility, pair programming is two people building on each others ideas to come up with the best possible solution. Without humility, it’s two people arguing about why their way is the best. A persons effectiveness when pair programming shows that they value other peoples opinions, and that they don’t mind opening themselves up to criticism. The major advantages of pair programming, such as low bug count, are simply not going to show their beautiful faces unless each person is able to comfortably point out mistakes.

Humility is not always easy. Early in my career I often feel victim to the dunning kruger effect. When you work on existing code bases you may find yourself wondering, “Why on earth would they build it like that?” It takes a bit of experience to understand that you can’t always write perfect code. Complex problems have multiple solutions, and you may not always end up picking the right one. You will always see ways to improve your old code, because you are always becoming a better developer. Being too vocal about the mistakes of others before you’ve learnt these lessons is a sure fire way to make yourself look like an ass.

Humility is obviously not just some switch you can turn on and off, but I’ve found that it’s a very useful concept to remember as I work day to day. Hopefully this post has been a benefit to you, but if not, feel free to leave a comment below. I still quite new to blogging, so any feedback is greatly appreciated.