Jason in a Nutshell

All about programming and whatever else comes to mind

Am I a bad programmer?

Posted by Jason Baker on February 27, 2009

Ever wonder why it is that poor programmers always seem to be the ones that are the most confident in their abilities? I’ve always held the opinion that part of what makes programmers good is to sit down and ask themselves “Am I a good programmer?”

According to David Dunning and Justin Kruger, I may be on to something:

People who do things badly, Dr. Dunning has found in studies conducted with a graduate student, Justin Kruger, are usually supremely confident of their abilities — more confident, in fact, than people who do things well.


Unlike their unskilled counterparts, the most able subjects in the study, Dr. Kruger and Dr. Dunning found, were likely tounderestimate their own competence.

In other words, the incompetent don’t realize how incompetent they are. And possibly even more importantly, they don’t realize how competent everyone else is. This seems to explain why they seem to be so unwilling to listen to others’ ideas.

This serves as a reminder of two things:

  1. When you disagree with someone, make sure to spend a bit of time thinking about their point of view. This is common sense, but we all need to be reminded of this sometime.
  2. Next time you find yourself worrying about how poor a job you did on that one class/method/module/entire program, remember to tell yourself that the simple fact that you’re feeling this way is a good sign.

As it turns out, there is a solution for the overconfident but poor programmer. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy one: you have to make them into non-poor programmers. After all, if they can’t become better programmers, why do you employ them in the first place?

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