If there is one thing that a programmer is constantly doing throughout their entire careers, it is improving their programming skills. The IT industry is one of the most rapidly growing sectors. If you don’t adapt to the new standards and practices you’ll quickly be left in the dust and replaced by newer, more flexible programmers.

The good thing about being a programmer, is that you already have strong skills in problem solving and learning things. This means that learning a new programming language or developing a new skill set shouldn’t be as hard as it would for someone who doesn’t have strong problem solving skills. That being said, learning new things can be a daunting task that can take a very long time. Here are a few tips for increasing your programming skills.

Write a program

If you’re trying to learn a new programming language one of the best ways to improve your skill in that language is to start coding. You can study the syntax and the theory of the language, as well as other people’s tutorials and code snippets all you want, but until you get your hands dirty you won’t have a strong grasp on it. The first day of my first programming class the teacher gave us all of the commands necessary to create a simple program. He told us to use those commands to make any program that we wanted and that he would explain what everything did in the next class. Without having any clue of what I was doing, I took the commands that he gave us and hacked out a program in just under an hour. By the end of that hour I had a much stronger grasp on the programming language than I would have if he had sat us down and taught us the syntax and the theory of it.

Now I’m not trying to say that it’s not important to learn the inner-workings of a programming language, because it’s extremely important to have that knowledge. I’m just saying that sometimes its just better to start and code something in order to understand the language.

Read other people’s code

This tip may seem a little backwards after you’ve read the tip above, but reading other peoples code is just as important as writing your own. Before I get started explaining this tip, I’d like to point out that reading other peoples code will only improve your programming skills if the code is written properly and not hacked together. If you choose to read a beginner programmer’s code you’ll probably just learn bad coding practices and it won’t help you out at all.

Reading another programmers code is not an easy task, but it can be a rewarding one. Lets say you have no idea what a ternary operator ( ? : ) in C is. Reading the documentation can help you a little but actually seeing it written in a program will help you a whole lot more. Reading other peoples code can help you learn algorithms or structures that you don’t know.

Plan before you start coding

Planning out programs is something that every beginner programmer fails to do (and some experience programmers). Obviously if the program is small planing doesn’t make sense because of the size of the program, but as the project grows it becomes more important to plan. Planning helps you improve your programming skills because it gives you an idea of what is needed for the different parts of the program.

Often times when a developer starts coding a large program they quickly get lost in the small details and forget about the larger picture. What happens is that as the program grows in size, they have to write little hacks to integrate the new code into the existing program, which leads to poorly coded programs.

Properly designing a program before you start to code will lead to a more maintainable program.

Work with other programmers

Working with other programmers is one of the best ways to increase your programming skills. Working in a large group helps you in a number of ways. The first way is that working in a large group brings to light your weaknesses as a developer. A lot of programmers assume that every thing they do is better than anything anyone else does, and this is not true. When you work with a programmer that is better than you, you quickly realize that there are things that you can’t program. Because we as developers think that we’re great, when we find out that we can’t do something we tend to learn it quickly.

Working with a group of programmers also lets you refine the skills that you already have. Even if you’ve written an algorithm two hundred times there’s always the possibility that someone else will be able to help you make the algorithm more efficient. Group settings always bring out the best in me. I strive to show the other members of the group how good I am at programming and because of this I try to code my best.

Final Thoughts

As one of my Computer Science professors once said “You never stop learning in this field”. If you can continually update your programming skills you’ll be well ahead of most of the other programmers. You’ll be able to stay with the current trends and you’re value as a programmer will continual to increase.