How to Be a Great Developer

The most productive programmers have an ability to cut through to what’s really important, focus on that, and then know when they've gotten stuff right.
  • Transcript


Question: What motivates you as a programmer?

Justin Frankel: You know, most of it is when I want to do something on my computer and there’s not, either there’s not a way or there’s not a good way or there’s not a free way to do it.  So, it comes out of wanting to use the thing that I'm making, ultimately. And then once it becomes something of its own, I think having other people use it is actually very rewarding in that you get satisfaction from other people getting the same benefits that you are from the software that you make.

Who do you look up to?

Justin Frankel: There have been people where I’ve looked at the work they’ve done and have a lot of respect for them and, like John Carmack would be an example who was one of the founders of Id Software, who made like "Doom" and "Quake" and "Wolfenstein 3D," and it was always impressive to look and see the things that they would produce.  And they would be successful in doing it and apparently enjoy themselves.  So, that would be one top-of-my-head example. 

Also, in like the ‘90’s, and probably maybe before that as well, there was a big demo scene were people would make demos where it would be trying to demonstrate what would be possible with the limited computers of the time and most of these people were European, I think, but they would have these bit parties where they would show off their demos and a lot of those guys, I don’t remember specific names, but it was always impressive the things that they could accomplish.

What does it take to be one of the best developers?

Justin Frankel: I wouldn’t say that there are “best” programmers, but I think that there are programmers who end up being probably ten times more productive than the average programmer.  And I don’t know what it would really take, it comes down to... it comes down to just the ability to cut through what's really important and then focus on that. And sort of having the sense to know that when you get stuff right, everything else can fall into place.  And there’s probably some necessary element of being able to keep enough things in your head at the same time, but I think really a lot of it is just sort of a signal-and-noise if you find the right thing to focus on, it makes everything all right.

Are developers really anti-social?

Justin Frankel: I think a lot of it comes down to; it’s very easy to spend a great deal of time focusing in on something and then forget to call you friends and that sort of thing.  I probably would do that more if I wasn’t married, so...  But I think there are programmers that way, but I think there are plenty of programmers who are just regular people and do regular things and go out and, you know, do all the things that are sort of normalish.

Recorded on June 21, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman