Life Imitates Code. Essays by Ka Wai CheungEssays by Ka Wai Cheung from around the web.

Coding ● September 2016

Make good decisions

My alma mater, Northwestern University, holds the unfortunate distinction of being the only school in a major athletic conference to have never qualified for the men’s NCAA basketball tournament. It’s become so bad that our fans have come up with a simple slogan for the team. It simply reads:

Make Shots.

Though it sounds like we’re just poking fun at our own team, I’ve always found this slogan to be more poignant than funny. And, deep down inside, I think everyone else in our fan base feels the same way.

You can strategize all you want. Study film. Hit the weight room. Practice your jumper a thousand times a day. Prepare to your heart’s content. But, as cruel as it sounds, you will only be judged by the shots you make and don’t make during a game. You don’t get a free pass because of all the hard work you put into a missed shot.

And so, if I had to sum up all of my programming experience into only one piece of advice, it would be something similar:

Make good decisions.

The best programmers I’ve ever worked with always do this one thing consistently. It’s not that they knew a certain language or specific pattern or were the fastest to come up with a clever solution to an intricate problem. It was that, when faced with a challenge, they somehow always executed their solution beautifully. They made good decisions.

The tricky part about making good decisions is you don’t know you’ve made them until you see the result. Just like you don’t know you made a shot until it goes through the net. But, this is where repeated experience comes into play. The more attempts you try, the better you can assess yourself.

Experience isn’t the only indicator though. The programmers that make good decisions also seem to master these traits: