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What Separates a Good Developer from a Great One?

Such an easy question to ask, right? Everyone knows that a great developer is the one that has enough experience and expertise to work on any project that comes their way. Combining the work of years in the field with knowledge of different tools, languages, and technologies is what makes software engineers truly great. Or [...]

David Russo

By David Russo

Director of Business Development David Russo helps BairesDev grow by building and expanding relationships with customers, partners, and teams.

10 min read

Good developer becoming Great

Such an easy question to ask, right? Everyone knows that a great developer is the one that has enough experience and expertise to work on any project that comes their way. Combining the work of years in the field with knowledge of different tools, languages, and technologies is what makes software engineers truly great. Or so you’d think.

If the answer was so obvious, you wouldn’t be reading this blog post (nor we would have written it, for that matter). Yet here we are, so there definitely has to be something else. Merely accumulating projects and information doesn’t necessarily make an engineer great. There are other things that make them truly stand out from their peers.


Good Vs. Great Developers

If you were to ask lead developers what kind of people they would want for their team, chances are that most of them would list some common traits. Things like excellent tech skills, problem-solving skills, and knowledge of best programming practices would surely come first. Some would say that they would love to see passionate people working for them, as well as engineers that are keen on teamwork.

All of that it’s great, as they are a desirable set of traits for developers to have. However, those are only the foundations of a great developer. Truly great engineers go above and beyond those abilities and into exceptional territory – great developers are a rare breed, after all. They are extremely productive, even more so than good developers. That’s because they are always pushing a little further, refining their unique talent day after day.

This might sound like great developers are naturally born geniuses that are meant to be found rather than trained. Sure, there are people that are innately talented and for whom everything seems easier, from learning new languages to keeping code clean. But that doesn’t mean that engineers can’t aspire to the same greatness. It might be harder and require a little extra work, but every software engineer can be a great one, provided they know what to focus on. Here are some tips on that. 


The Way to Greatness

The roadmap to success in any field is always paved with effort and hard work. Without it, even the most talented people will inevitably fail. That, of course, applies to software development, too. Engineers that want to up their game will have to put in extra effort to become the elite they want to be, which implies several things. Putting aside the more self-evident aspects of it all (mostly, knowing about technical stuff), here are the other things great developers have in common.


A Relentless Thirst for Knowledge

In most people’s minds, the best professional is the one that knows-it-all. The idea of someone having encyclopedic knowledge about everything in combination with common sense and sharp logic alla Sherlock Holmes seems like the goal for everyone. Who wouldn’t want to overcome the most difficult challenges with just a glance?

Yet, knowing everything is an impossible ordeal. There’s always a new tech, a new tool, a new approach to learn. So, instead of knowing everything, the best professionals (with the great developers among them) embrace an ever-learning mentality. Since all of the things they know today might change, adapt, or become obsolete later on, they are always on the look for the new thing.

They acknowledge they don’t know everything or that what they know is an undeniable truth. They aren’t afraid to ask for help and learn from any resource available, be it an online video, a new book, a conference, or a new addition to the team – even if the latter is below them, hierarchically speaking. 


A Keen Attention to Communication

Have you ever played Pictionary with your friends and feel baffled as to how your teammates can’t figure out what you’re drawing, even when it’s crystal-clear? Then you already know how hard is it to communicate something clearly and unambiguously. Even if you haven’t even heard about Pictionary (really?), you’ve surely had those frustrating instances in which you were absolutely sure you were explaining yourself, only to find that the person you were talking to had no idea what you meant.

Whenever we say something (or draw, in Pictionary’s case), we put a lot of things into play. Most of it is background information sprinkled with our own logic. Thus, whenever we say something, we always know what we mean, so we can’t imagine that the other person can make out what we’re saying. However, it happens – a lot. That comes to show that communication is a tricky thing we can’t take for granted.

Apply that to the world of software development and you’ll see why communication is so important for the whole process. Software development deals with a good degree of abstraction (especially stemming from the languages and the development processes) but it also takes account of things coming from psychology, design, and business, to name a few. Understanding all of that to come out with a cohesive solution is a massive challenge, one that great developers are very apt for.

Why? Because they can communicate with every part involved to clearly deliver concepts and goals as well as to propose a working roadmap. They can understand the client’s requirements and translate them effectively to the other members of the team. It also works the other way around – they can take complex technical issues and explain them in layman terms to the client. Thus, communication makes it easier for everyone to work together in harmony and deliver more value. 


A Balanced Approach to the Product

Developers can be roughly divided into two categories. First, there are developers that would do anything to get the software working, regardless of what it takes. These engineers don’t mind about patching up code after code, reusing old lines, or using shortcuts or unconventional ways of doing things. They are pragmatists with only one thing mind – that the final product works.

And then there’s the second category, in which developers aspire to produce the greatest software ever created. They spend a lot of time trying to correct every minor bug or optimizing the littlest of details. They want their end product to look spotless in the back while offering a superb user experience. They are perfectionists. 

While both approaches have their benefits and drawbacks, leaning too hard to either side will surely make the end product hurt. Pragmatists work in such a way that their products may become bloated or nearly impossible to maintain or upgrade. Perfectionists, on the other hand, spend so much time fretting over details that the product, in their eyes, is never done. Neither approach is good for business.

That’s why great developers are adept at balancing both ends. On one hand, they rely on peer review and client feedback to understand the issues in the program they are working on. They know how to take criticism without ever making it personal and know when criticism is useful and when it leads to nowhere.

Additionally, they know when to put a stop to development. They are able to identify when the software is ready to launch, taking into account the market and client’s needs, the target audience, and the technical aspects of it all. In short, they know when they need to use the shortcuts to get the product out and when to focus on a solution that requires more work. 


Ready to Become a Great Developer?

As you can see, the abilities that separate a good developer from a great one are things anyone can work on. First and foremost, you need to keep a learning attitude to stay up to date with the latest trends while also being open to learning from anyone and anything. Additionally, you need to work on being more empathic – listening to the opinions of others and putting yourself in their shows. 

Doing so will help you grow in your development abilities and will slowly turn you into a better professional. Just remember that you need to be constant and patient to see your efforts bearing results. The road is what’s important and you’ll need to keep your focus and make an effort because, as you’ve might already noticed, greatness isn’t simple to achieve. 

David Russo

By David Russo

David Russo is Director of Business Development at BairesDev. With over 15 years of experience in business development within the IT industry, he helps develop and expand client, partner, and inter-office relationships while assisting with strategic decision-making.

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