Things every programmer should know

Learning process of developers never ends. It is in our DNA to continuously feel the need to learn and self develop. As much as we learn, we have even more to learn. The technology world is moving so fast that to keep the pace and be up to date with cutting edge knowledge, we need to embrace learning as part of our daily activities. Whenever we say we learned to use a framework, we see that 7 other frameworks have become famous and we need to take a look on them. One of the most frequent questions of my students is the question “what should I learn to be a good programmer?”.

Luckily, nowadays, learning resources are so vast, we have difficulties to chose which one to pay attention first. We have plenty of books available (free and paid), free magazines, blogs, video tutorials, MOOC courses, etc. However, cutting the line what one should learn to be a good developer is not an easy task. As doctors have chosen to specialize only on one part of the body, developers too need to decide for a specialization, be it system developer, web developer, business application developer, etc. The specialization is something which comes to question when you reach a steady state of development knowledge and experience, but what do you need to learn to get there. What could be a good developer knowledge path?

Over the time, I have come to conclusion that developers need to know the whole stack of code execution in order to succeed.

What do I mean with this? The computer literacy starts with using the computer and perhaps some basic configuration and application usage knowledge. If you advance in configuration skills, you learn perhaps also about servers, monitoring, user management, etc., you start learning system administration. Then you need to network the computers and servers to work together, and start learning networking, which builds on top of administration skills. Then you feel the need of automation, and that’s where you start with learning programming.

Why do I think this model works? In early times of software development, we used to have only desktop applications which performed certain functions. Today the whole view is different. We rarely develop single computer applications. We either create a web application or have a network aware app. Those applications often may face problems of different nature, especially if they are running inside a corporate infrastructure where proxies, firewalls, and other infrastructure components interfere with the traffic and environment. Most of the time, problems caused by those components will not demonstrate themselves very clearly and often it will look like the application is failing. Finding the root cause of the problem requires good troubleshooting skills and that requires understanding of system administration and networking which are the layers above which your code runs. If you fail to have the understanding of underlying platform, you will be left alone to find what is the problem with your code, as most of the time, system administrators/network administrators will not be able to identify why your application is failing (and perhaps it is not their fault as they do not know the ins and outs of your application), therefore the judgement will be that the code is faulty 🙂

What should you focus to learn? Do you need to be a system administrator and network administrator before you start to learn programming? No, I am not saying that. My suggestion is you get at least the basic understanding of operating systems (perhaps not all of them but those which are in your environment), learn how user management is working, the privileges, and the connection to central user management like Active Directory. Learn how to read system logs, that is the place you will most often find valuable information about what is happening with your code and find the clues about what is going wrong, how to list running processes and see who is consuming the memory and who is consuming the processor. Learn a little bit also about system security,  to setup and configure your production environment and its subtleties and the basics of how the computer networks operate. In the long run, you shall benefit from this knowledge for sure.

I do believe that a “complete developer” is not the one who only knows to write code and nothing else. You should know the whole picture of the environment you develop and the environment your code runs, and this requires you to get a little bit out of your zone and see what you have around. I would like to explicitly clarify one point here. I do not think that developers are above or more valuable than System Administrators or Network Administrators. Everybody in this ecosystem has his/her importance and value. I just want to point out that if you want to know the full stack of execution of your code, you have to have a clue what happens beneath and these are the things every programmer should know. Troubleshooting problems of your applications will most likely come to you as the last line of support, and finding faults in system or network requires basic understanding how those function.

The most important skill for Software Architects

I trust anyone reading this post title most probably is expecting to see something like UML Design, OOP Design, writing code, etc. I would not consider these in required skills list, these are I would say, mandatory skills for a Software Architect. In my opinion, the most important skills for Software Architects are the communication skills.

The importance of communication skills

In Microsoft .NET – Architecting Applications for the Enterprise (2nd Edition) book, the role of the software architect is defined as a person who ties together the requirements and specifications, and one of the most important responsibilities of the software architect is mentioned to be the acknowledgment of requirements.

This requires a lot of communication with people of different profiles and various knowledge of technical jargon (project managers, business analysts, potential users, etc.), and it is a natural expectation that Software Architect should speak the language of business rather than the other way around.

Speaking the language of business is one part of the communication. Next comes communicating that business knowledge and requirements to development team. In my experience, I have seen several situations that developers and business people were speaking about the very same solution, but the language terminology they used made everybody think that they are speaking about two different solutions.

It is the technical skills of planning, designing, development, and implementation of a software solution that qualifies one for  the position of Software Architect, but in my opinion it is the soft skill of communication that is the most important skill for software architects and the skill that makes one an appropriate choice to be in that middle point of the team. As my boss says, we must talk talk talk.

What can you do to improve your communication skills?

Of course there is no silver bullet to this problem. We humans tend to be unique in our behavior and skills, and as such the recommendations can not easily be generalized. However, I have three points which I can recommend to anyone:

  1. Seek for sincere advice from people around you, be it your family, your friends, or your colleagues. Generally, it is not easy to get someone to sincerely tell you what they think. People sometimes don’t like to tell what they think and sometimes they are afraid of being percepted as criticizing others, so they don’t tell you exactly how you are being percepted unless they get this freedom from you. Try to make people feel comfortable saying what they think about your communication skills and appreciate sincerely their comments.
  2. Spend some time with yourself thinking about your communication with others. What did you say, what was your intention to communicate and how was it percepted? This could be very helpful to find your weak points, on which you should focus to improve.
  3. Read the book How to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie. This is one of the best books I have read and I can confidently recommend this book to anyone. It has an immense set of advices which are very useful for improving one’s communication skills.

You can find plenty of advice from different resources on internet, from books, and from people around you about how to improve your communication skills. Pay attention to the input you get especially from people, you will appreciate it at the end.

Staying up to date with technology developments

For a software developer, staying up to date with technology developments and follow latest trends of software development is of utmost importance. But nowadays, the number of online posts/activities that are competing for our attention has increased exponentially. Dealing with all this load of information and staying up to date is not an easy thing. I have create a simple strategy which works for myself and I’d like to share it with you.

 

Conferences to follow/attend

Conferences are where the latest developments usually are formally announced and demonstrated. Attending developer conferences gives me the opportunity to listen to the demos and presentations of latest trends in software development as well as network with my peers. Sometimes, attending conferences is costly, especially if you target one of the major conferences, but luckily, most of those conferences publish their videos online so we can view them.

Some of the major conferences I follow are:

User groups

Local users groups provide excellent opportunities to see what your peers are up to, what is happening on the market, and what technologies and trends are actual in your neighborhood. There is also a value added activity of networking with your peers which is a good benefit. There is a user group for almost anything out there so just search for user groups at your neighborhood and join them.

Sites to follow

There are some major sites where I follow latest developments on software development technologies and practices, and entrepreneurship (in my opinion, developers should be quite familiar with what is happening on the business world as well) . Of course the list of the sites will be relative to your interests and platforms you use, but here is my list:

Persons to follow

Every industry has its own influencers who evangelize technologies and practices, and sometimes these people define the trends the industry follows. It is very important to chose who you follow as in some ways, by following a person you accept his influence to some degree and if this person is a successful one, you will benefit positively from his experience and thoughts.

Here is a part of the list of persons I follow:

Conculsions

It is quite challenging to stay up to date in this dynamic world, and we need a process in order to excel. Having a defined and structure workflow of flowing the information in and getting most of it will be a skill we all have to master. Depending on the technologies you use, the market you work in, or your interests, most probably your list will not be same as mine, but the principle behind is valid for any interest I think. It is important to define your standard sources of information and supplement them with additional sources from time to time or even substitute your standard sources with new ones after some time.

What are your sources of information?

 

Microsoft Certifications: Web development path

Microsoft Corporation offers a rich set of possibilities when it comes to education of new and existing software developers. Taking certification exams and certifying your knowledge is one of the best ways to build a solid knowledge base, improve your skills, and get ahead with your career in software development. In this post I will describe what it takes to follow Microsoft Certifications: Web development path.

In this wide range of certifications, where does one start from? Well, it depends on your current skills and work experience. If you are new to software development with less then one year of work experience or so, then my suggestion is you start with Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) certifications.

You may start with  following MTA exams:

Software Development Fundamentals (Exam: 98-361)
Web Development Fundamentals (Exam: 98-363).
.NET Fundamentals (Exam: 98-372)
HTML5 App Development Fundamentals (Exam: 98-375)

For the complete list of MTA certifications please see MTA Certifications web page.

MTA certications are optional and are useful only if you do not have work experience developing these solutions.

What after that? The next part of the path is of professional certifications. The web development path leads to Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer: Web applications (MCSD). This title is awarded to anyone who passes these exams:

Programming in HTML5 with JavaScript and CSS3 (Exam: 70-480)
Developing ASP.NET MVC Web Applications (Exam: 70-486)
Developing Microsoft Azure and Web Services (Exam: 70-487)

When you complete all of these exams, you will get the title of MCSD: Web Applications which will certify your knowledge in the field of developing web applications using HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, and ASP.NET MVC.

Certification 70-486: Developing ASP.NET MVC 4 Web Applications

Last week, I took the exam for Microsoft Certification 70-486: Developing ASP.NET MVC 4 Web Applications and passed successfully and scored 831. This was my first exam after almost two years. Although, the exam format and questions’ style did not differ, I certainly noticed some differences.

The number of questions were 45, and the questions were spread in proportion:

22 general questions
23 questions in 3 different scenarios

The test included 3 different scenarios to analyze, and it required a good amount of time to spend on reading code and business requirements of the scenarios in order to be able to answer the questions. Although the scenarios were quite different, it was very easy to mix the requirements, so a good focus had to be put to remember the requirements of each scenario.

The questions were practical, but not easy. They were focused on details of specific features. I was introduced with good amount of questions regarding session management, especially in distributed environments, security implementation, debugging, azure deployment, and related to controller implementation.

To anyone who is preparing to take the exam, my recommendation is to put a focus on the topics above mentioned.

I hope this helps.