Creative People Make the Best Coders

Often, when people think of coders and programmers, they have specific image in their mind. Someone who enjoys being alone, sitting in a corner, doing math. That’s the stereotype created by Hollywood and movies, the weird goth or emo person in a group of people is often the one hacking or writing code for one thing or another. But the truth is, most of the time, those people don’t actually make good coders.

Good coders have a fundamental understanding of language, not math. They are problem solvers, they think outside the box. They are creative. Writers, musicians, artists and photographers all make excellent coders. Why? Because their minds work differently. They don’t think in black and white, they think in all shades and can fathom possibilities well outside the realm that math can provide. They enjoy creating new things, building products, writing code that is beautiful and seamless.

Sure, there are technicians who excel at building. If they were to go into construction, they are the general contractors. If you want to build a 100-story building, these are the people you want. They are usually very proficient at math and have a deep understanding of more convoluted math and machine learning. These people are good coders too.

But the other side of really good coders that people often don’t consider are creative people. They have some creative avenue they pursue outside of coding, but they are architects trying to figure out how to solve real-world problems through code. In fact, a recent study by the University of Washington shows that math backgrounds have less importance than backgrounds which show a person is proficient at language and learning languages.

For example, learning a foreign language like Spanish, learning to write music. Those two alone have various symbols and combinations of letters that are different than the English language. When you can successfully learn a second language, you learn to think differently, your brain learns to adjust and reaches a deeper understanding of that information much more quickly.

Think about all of the coding languages out there today. Java, Python, Ruby, older languages like Perl and C++ still exist even if they aren’t used as widely anymore. If someone who is proficient in language doesn’t know one of these, they can quickly take an online course and learn the language in a couple of days to a week. Now they have another source to solve a problem that maybe the language they normally use can’t solve. They have the ability to move from one language to another without thought. Most people who are technicians who are really good struggle to do that as easily. Some can manage, but some can’t.

In today’s world of technology and coding, math is very much abstracted away either to hardware SDKs or lower level languages that modern languages run on top of. Much of the understanding is more about figuring out how to construct logic and grammar and interpreting concepts to semantic language “the computer understands.” Moving between coding languages is like moving between foreign languages, it’s about learning vocabulary and grammar and applying universal concepts to it.

For instance, in English, we say, “The running dog.” But in Spanish it is, “El perro corriendo,” or, “The dog running.” It’s backwards, whichever way you learned it first, the other way is backwards. So learning languages in general teaches your brain how to think in a different way. It’s the ability to look at a coding language you’ve never seen before and understand what is happening. It is akin to hearing a word as a child that you’ve never heard before and understanding the meaning of that word based on context alone. Not all kids can do that, not all adults can do that, but that is a vital piece of being a good coder.

There are a lot of very deep misconceptions of what a coder should be good at and what personality traits they should have. There are a lot of misconceptions of what people are in the industry overall. Understanding that it’s just a misconception, that you don’t have to dislike people to be in the IT field, that being creative actually makes you a better fit for this industry is a huge step in the right direction.

Coding, like creative careers, is about refining your craft. As a creative person, you are often criticized by peers, by outsiders, by colleagues. That’s how you learn, that’s how you make things better. This, combined with the ability to navigate through different languages seamlessly, is why creatives make excellent coders.

About the Author

Pieter VanIperen, Managing Partner of PWV Consultants, leads a boutique group of industry leaders and influencers from the digital tech, security and design industries that acts as trusted technical partners for many Fortune 500 companies, high-visibility startups, universities, defense agencies, and NGOs. He is a 20-year software engineering veteran, who founded or co-founder several companies. He acts as a trusted advisor and mentor to numerous early stage startups, and has held the titles of software and software security executive, consultant and professor. His expert consulting and advisory work spans several industries in finance, media, medical tech, and defense contracting. Has also authored the highly influential precursor HAZL (jADE) programming language.

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