Whether you’re just beginning your journey into computer programming or are a long-time coder who’s experienced in a few languages, there’s always room for improvement. Even when coding is your day job, you can still think about new ways to format your code to make it easier to understand or more efficient to run. But figuring out ways to consistently increase your skills can be difficult. In this article, you’ll find three distinct ways to improve your programming and development skills no matter your programming language, each with helpful tips and tricks to ensure you stick with them, so you can achieve a positive end goal.
1. Analyze already written code
Perhaps the best way to improve your coding ability is to read other work. You can find good code in one of two ways: either find a developer you look up to and dive into their code library, or find an open-source software you use and inspect its code. But don’t just clone the GitHub library and scroll through the code. Instead, use the code as a practice exercise – ask yourself the same set of basic questions every time you look at code and try to answer those questions as you go.
For example, as you work through a Python script that processes lines in a file a certain way, you can ask yourself how you would have written that same code. In fact, you can write a block of code that does the same thing but in your style for practice. As you do this, you’ll quickly find spots where the original code can be improved or spots where your code is not quite up to par. After you’ve gone through a particular block of code, you should sit back and objectively ask yourself what you learned. Try to pinpoint code you’ve written in the past that would benefit from what you’ve learned, and maybe apply it in those places if that’s useful.
2. Find an accountability buddy
It’s extremely easy to be motivated for a short time if you’re coding solo. When you come up with a great idea, you get excited to work on it. Your brain works at 10,000 miles-per-hour and you get a rough sketch finished – but as soon as you hit a snag, the project fizzles out. That’s why it’s helpful to find an accountability buddy, a coding friend at approximately the same level who is working on totally independent projects.
Accountability buddies help you in a few ways. You’ll usually meet with your buddy once a week or once a month, sharing your progress on projects with each other and telling each other what your goals are for the next time you meet. If you’re stuck on a specific block of code, your buddy may be able to help (and vice versa). More importantly, you’ll feel a sense of purpose and responsibility for the goals you established. You aren’t just setting goals for yourself anymore – your buddy will hold you to those goals, expressing disappointment and support the next time you meet. The buddy technique has been proven to work quite well and is a huge reason that coding meetups exist across the United States and Europe.
3. Don’t just keep the first version that works
You’ve just written a big chunk of code that somehow magically works. It’s going to be extremely tempting to just keep that piece of code, letting it do its task quietly while you work on the next code block. But that’s not the best way to improve your coding skills.
Instead, leave it out of your thoughts for a day or two. Leaving a project gives your brain some time to rest and come up with new ways to address whatever problem that code was addressing. Once you’ve taken some time off, go back to that code. Examine it closely for any places you could make it simpler or more efficient, then implement those changes. Repeat this process of rest and re-editing the code at least once more, and you’ll have polished code that most likely runs faster and more clearly than the original version. The editing process is just like writing drafts of a paper – by going back repeatedly and turning just OK parts of your work into stellar parts, you’ve dramatically improved your code and honed your skills.
Creating code that’s functional and beautiful is what every coder strives for. To get to that point, you need hours upon hours of focused practice. With the three techniques listed above, you can consistently systematically improve your coding skills. Next time you sit down to write code – whether for work or for an at-home development project – take some time to apply these techniques to see if they work for you.