by Leon Rosenshein


I recently ran across an article on "The 10 things every developer should learn", which is a great idea, but kind of hard to specify in practice. I mean, every developer should understand loops, conditionals, and data structures, right? How about discrete math and formal logic? Set theory? Big O notation is something every developer should have a basic understanding of too. It would be good to know TCP/IP at a high level, know what 3NF is. Then there's the toolset. Every developer should know source control, compilers, deployment tools, operating systems, and IDEs. Wait, that's more than 10 things.

Or, you could go the other way. There's the LAMP stack. If you know that you know everything you need to know, right? And that's only 4 things. Simple. Or maybe the list is Linux and C++. It's all just 1's and 0's, and short of assembly language or machine code you don't get much closer to the 1's and 0's than that. At the other end of that spectrum is Lisp and Smalltalk. Those are the best languages ever designed, with rich semantics. Or Ada. If you can get it to compile it's almost certainly correct. Good luck getting much more than "Hello World" to compile though.

So having said all that, I do believe there are things every developer should know. But they're not very concrete. They're more a set of heuristics and guidelines. And there's not a short ordered list. The things on the list are context sensitive and depend on the problem you're trying to solve. So what's on my list? In no particular order, 

  • Make sure you're solving the problem you are supposed to be solving
  • You don't know everything
  • You can't retrofit security securely
  • Build for the right scale
  • Use the right tool for the job
  • Text is hard
  • Write for the reader, not the compiler
  • Design for flexibility, but remember, you ain't gonna need it (yet)
  • Having a way to change things without a full build/test/deploy cycle is important to flexibility
  • Save early, save often (both to disk and source control)
  • Don't go alone
  • Don't blindly follow top 10 lists

So what's on your list? Share in the thread.