As an industry we do a poor job of teaching new developers how to develop software

This is not a criticism of any specific school course, bootcamp or on the job training, it’s merely an observation over the years: early Spring and late Autumn/Fall there is always an increase online of very basic developer questions. These questions always include things like: “why doesn’t my code work”, “can someone debug this for me”, “why does this code not produce the result I’m looking for”, and even the flatout “please help me with my homework – here’s the assignment”

These points in time coincide with the start of a new term as new students are starting to learn a programming language, I guess it’s pretty much expected that we would see the number of these types of question increase during these times of the year. My point though is that these types of questions appear again and again every year. Every. Year.

Why have we not progressed past the point where new developers don’t need to ask basic questions as they are starting out? Why are software development courses not equipping new developers with basic problem solving skills to help them trouble solve basic problems for themselves?

Most of these questions and problems could easily be solved by the developers themselves if they stepped through their code in a debugger in their IDE and looked at what happens in their code step by step up to the point where something goes wrong usually because of a simple logic error.

Other problems could easily be solved by applying basic problem solving and software development core techniques:

  • breaking a large problem down into smaller parts
  • writing unit tests to test each smaller part of the app in isolation to confirm each part works by itself
  • testing with a range of valid and invalid values to find what works and what doesn’t work
  • using log statements to trace execution through an app
  • identifying what changed since it was last working, incrementally backing out last changes to find the point where a change was added that broke something
  • using a debugger

There’s too much emphasis on learning a programming language to write code, and not enough focus on techniques to develop software. None of things I listed above are new ideas or concepts, experienced developers have applied these concepts daily for decades. It seems we’re failing short in training new developers if we’re missing out the basics.

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