exceptional programmers

7 Habits of Exceptional Programmers

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Some of these people are responsible for creating the greatest world-changing tech and innovation ever seen by humankind. Regardless of their interest, they all have one thing in common: the ability to turn an idea into an amazing thing.

How did they do it? With a lot of hard work, and in some cases, with some personal peculiar behavioral habits. Check out some of the habits of some of the most successful and influential coders in the world.

exceptional programmers

1.John Carmack

Creator of Doom

Focused, hard work is the real key to success. Keep your eyes on the goal, and just keep taking the next step towards completing it. If you aren’t sure which way to do something, do it both ways and see which works better.

Using your time effectively is very important, and there is often a non-linear relationship between the amount of time you can stay focused and the amount that you can learn or accomplish. It is often possible to get more done in a highly focused 12-hour stretch than in a normal 40 hour work week that is interspersed with email, chat, and other distractions. Someone that can be completely obsessive about something does have an advantage, but the same questions about focus apply for any amount of time you choose to devote to an undertaking. Most people work at only a fraction of their potential.

exceptional programmers


2.Linus Torvalds

Creator of Linux


I am not a visionary. I’m an engineer. I’m happy with the people who are wandering around looking at the stars but I am looking at the ground and I want to fix the pothole before I fall in.

Don’t hurry your code. Make sure it works well and is well designed. Don’t worry about timing.

I will, in fact, claim that the difference between a bad programmer and a good one is whether he considers his code or his data structures more important. Bad programmers worry about the code. Good programmers worry about data structures and their relationships.

exceptional programmers

3.Donald Knuth

Author of The Art of The Programming


My general working style is to write everything first with pencil and paper, sitting beside a big wastebasket. Then I use Emacs to enter the text into my machine.

Computer programming is an art because it applies accumulated knowledge to the world, because it requires skill and ingenuity, and especially because it produces objects of beauty. A programmer who subconsciously views himself as an artist will enjoy what he does and will do it better.

When you write a program, think of it primarily as a work of literature. You’re trying to write something that human beings are going to read. Don’t think of it primarily as something a computer is going to follow. The more effective you are at making your program readable, the more effective it’s going to be: You’ll understand it today, you’ll understand it next week, and your successors who are going to maintain and modify it will understand it.

exceptional programmers

4.Ken Thompson

Creator of Unix

I have to keep up with the scientific literature as part of my job, but increasingly I found myself reading things that weren’t really relevant to my academic work, but were relevant to gardening.

One of my most productive days was throwing away 1000 lines of code.

It is the way I think. I am a very bottom-up thinker. If you give me the right kind of Tinker Toys, I can imagine the building. I can sit there and see primitives and recognize their power to build structures a half mile high if only I had just one more to make it functionally complete. I can see those kinds of things.

The converse is true, too, I think. I can’t imagine the Tinker Toys from the building. When I see a top-down description of a system or language that has infinite libraries described by layers and layers, all I just see is a morass. I can’t get a feel for it. I can’t understand how the pieces fit; I can’t understand something presented to me that’s very complex. Maybe I do what I do because if I built anything more complicated, I couldn’t understand it. I really must break it down into little pieces.

exceptional programmers

5.Alex Payne

Author of Programming Scala

This is a no-brainer: get as much exercise as you possibly can. I try to exercise daily. I work out for three reasons: stress relief, energy, and long-term health. The last reason is self-explanatory, but the first two are worth explaining.

Without strict rules about what I can and can’t eat, I’ll find myself eating whatever’s around, particularly when I’m stressed from work. To combat this, I set very clear guidelines about what I eat and drink, and when.

This is probably the most important of the changes I’ve made. Regular meditation is absolutely essential to maintaining the quality of life for me. It keeps me calm and focused, and helps me sort out personal and professional conundrums.

Time Management:
I’ve always been reasonably well organized, but time management is distinct from an organization. I’ve found that time management has little to do with “life hacks” and how you manage your email inbox and more to do with prioritization, saying “no” to people, and clearly communicating the expectations you have for yourself and others. I’m less crazed this time around the startup block because I feel that I have a better grasp on how to manage my time, both during the workday and when I’m off the clock.

exceptional programmers

6.Jason Fried

Co-author Rework

I don’t use an alarm clock. Lately, I’ve been naturally waking up at 6:38 every morning. I used to wake up at 7:31 every morning, which is actually when I was born. So that was kind of creepy.

I try not to grab my phone and check e-mails first thing. I used to do that, and it’s just not good for you. Instead, I’ll go and brew some tea and try and relax a little bit. But the computer’s always kind of pulling me toward it, so I end up looking at e-mail sooner than I’d like to.

I love tea. I drink green tea and white tea mostly. I play with different varieties depending on my mood. These days, I’m really into matcha, which is a powdered tea. You add hot water and use a bamboo whisk to make a frothy liquid. You actually consume the tea leaves. I get it online, because there’s better selection, and I’m lazy.

For breakfast, I usually eat a couple of maple-infused Van’s waffles and a handful of pistachios. Unless it’s really cold — then I have oatmeal. Three mornings a week, I go to the gym for an hour. I’ve been going to a trainer for two years. Otherwise, I think I’d blow it off.

exceptional programmers

7. Jennifer Dewalt

Founder of Zube.io

Early on when I was just starting to think about learning code, I realized that if I did any sort of learning project in my house, I would go insane.

I definitely wanted a place that I could work without distractions and a place that I could call home. Plus, if I was gone, I wouldn’t have to worry about the dishes or the laundry being done.

It was almost all coding, all the time. I was spending on average 10 hours a day beating my head into the keyboard until magic happened.

Joining a coworking space was actually one of the best decisions I made during the project. It would have been hard to sit at my dining room table and crank away.

Throughout the project, a ‘start small, keep going’ mantra was in my head. It is important to understand that you don’t necessarily need to understand to get things working. It is just as important to keep moving forward. The understanding will come eventually.

It is easy to get tied up with all the little details. You may just not be ready to understand it yet.

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Pavel Malos

Creating Digital Experiences @ BootstrapBay