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  • Lokajit Tikayatray

10 Red Flags That Scream 'Novice Programmer'

Experience in the tech world isn’t just about how many years you’ve been coding. While tenure does play a role, it’s not the be-all and end-all.

I’ve met programmers who’ve been in the profession for years but still display rookie mistakes. On the flip side, I’ve met programmers with only a few years under their belt who show remarkable growth and maturity.

So, how do you distinguish between an experienced coder and a novice?

Here are ten red flags that indicate you’re dealing with a novice programmer. Note that avoiding these pitfalls could be crucial for your career advancement.

1. They Don’t Follow Coding Standard

Novice programmers often write messy code that’s hard to follow. It’s all over the place in the project files.

If you try to read this jumbled code, you’ll get confused. You won’t remember where you started or what you’re trying to find out.

You learn to follow the coding standards as you get better at coding. With experience, you also know to plan before implementation. For anything that’s not super simple, jot down your ideas and steps first. Walk through it in your mind to make sure it makes sense. Then, start coding.

If you don’t follow coding standards or skip planning, you’ll struggle to understand your code later. This makes it tough for you and your team to fix or improve what you’ve written.

What You Can Do

  • Read the project and understand the standards followed in it.

  • Recognize the importance of coding standards and stick to them throughout the implementation.

  • Don’t start coding unless you are clear about the requirements and know where to add or modify code.

2. They Overcomplicate the Solutions

Overcomplicated Solution

Novice programmers tend to over-engineer solutions. They make the code more complex than it needs to be. This not only makes the project harder to maintain but also increases the likelihood of errors.

As you gain experience, you learn the value of simplicity. You realize that the best solutions are often the simplest ones. There is no brownie point for writing complicated code.

Before diving into solutioning, you must thoroughly understand the problem. Once clear about the ask, think of the most straightforward way to solve it.

Instead, novice programmers make things too complicated. They don’t spend enough time understanding the requirements or brainstorming the solution. Ultimately, they find it hard to update their own code for future requirements.

What You Can Do

  • Aim for the simplest solution that effectively solves the problem.

  • Review your approach with other team members before you start coding.

3. They Ignore Code Reviews

Feedback is super important for any programmer. It helps you see what you’re doing wrong and how to improve. Good developers use feedback to do their job better.

Novice programmers often neglect the importance of code reviews. They either ignore them altogether or treat them as a mere formality. This attitude can lead to poor code quality and missed learning opportunities.

You can tell a novice programmer by how they react to feedback. They don’t like being told how to improve. They might even get mad about comments on their code.

I remember a team member who got mad about my comments on his code. He sent me a long email saying I should only check if the code works, not how it’s written. He thought he knew everything about coding.

If a coder gets upset over review comments, it shows they haven’t learned much, even if they’ve been coding for years. Novice programmers keep making the same mistakes and wonder why no one appreciates their work.

What You Can Do

  • Be open to feedback. It helps you become a better coder.

  • Don’t take code reviews personally. They’re meant to help you improve.

  • Learn from the comments and use them to do better next time.

4. They Submit Oversized Pull Requests

Ever get a code review request that’s so big you don’t even want to start? That’s what novice programmers often do. They put a ton of changes into one pull request and expect you to look at it right away.

Even some experienced coders do this. They’ll work on code for days without asking for any feedback. By the time you look at it, they’ve done so much that any changes you suggest will be a big deal.

When I get such a pull request, I usually send it back. I’ll point out the first problem I see and ask them to split it into smaller parts. If I’m feeling nice, I might call them to go through the code together.

What You Can Do

  • Keep your pull requests small and focused. It’s easier for people to review.

  • Don’t wait too long to ask for feedback. The sooner you get it, the easier it is to make changes.

  • Never check in the code that does not compile or break the build.

5. They Lack Discipline In Testing

Testing is critical for anyone who writes code. It helps you find mistakes and make your code better. Good programmers always test their work carefully.

You can tell a novice programmer by how little they test. They often assume if the code runs on their local machine, it’s ready for production.

I remember a new programmer on our team didn’t test his code enough. He just checked that it worked on his computer before dropping it into production. The next day, many users faced issues using the feature.

We found out the developer didn’t verify all possible scenarios. He just tested a few happy paths and decided to deploy.

If someone doesn’t test their code and gets upset when problems happen, it shows they haven’t learned how important testing is. That, to me, is a clear sign of a novice programmer.

What You Can Do

  • Test your code for both functional and performance impact.

  • Use tools that can automatically test your code for you.

6. They Display Arrogance

Novice programmers wear their confidence a bit too proudly. Instead of being open to feedback, they might take it as a personal attack on their skills.

Fresh from their academic settings, many newcomers act like they know everything. They talk about every programming language or the latest tech trend without knowing them deeply. This often shows they have more to learn.

But it’s not only the newbies. Some developers, even with years of experience, act overly confident. This might be because of past achievements, or maybe they haven’t been around truly skilled peers.

Acting like you’re always right is a sign of a novice mindset. This attitude blocks learning and growth.

Nobody wants to work with someone who thinks they’re better than everyone else. And when things don’t go well, these novice programmers blame everyone but themselves.

What You Can Do

7. They Avoid Documentation

Have you ever tried to understand a piece of code with no comments or explanations? That’s a common mistake novice programmers make. They write code without adding documentation to explain what it does or why they wrote it that way.

Even some coders who’ve been around for a while neglect this step. They think they’ll remember everything or their code is “self-explanatory.” But when you or someone else tries to update that code later, it’s like trying to read a foreign language.

When I come across code with no documentation, I usually ask the coder to add some. I point out areas that are especially confusing and ask for clarification. Once in a while, when I have time and understand the functionality, I add the required missing documentation.

What You Can Do

  • Always add comments for your code. Good documentation can save hours of debugging and make the codebase more maintainable.

  • If you’re working on a bigger project or a new feature, create a separate document explaining how it works, its purpose, and other important details.

8. They Shy Away From Collaboration

Novice programmers often prefer to work in isolation. They believe they can handle everything on their own. This approach limits their perspective and reduces the quality of their work.

As you grow in your software engineering journey, you understand the importance of teamwork. You value collaboration and recognize how it can enhance problem-solving by bringing different perspectives and ideas.

However, novice programmers often hesitate to engage with others. They feel insecure about their skills and fear criticism. As a result, they miss out on valuable insights and end up facing challenges that could have been easily avoided with a bit of collaboration.

What You Can Do

  • Embrace collaboration. Working with others can provide new perspectives and help you grow as a programmer.

  • Don’t wait for others to come to you. Ask for feedback on your work and be open to suggestions.

9. They Are Afraid of Taking Ownership

A clear sign of a novice programmer is their reluctance to take responsibility for their work. They shy away from owning their mistakes, fearing they might reflect poorly on their skills. When issues arise from their code or design, they are quick to point fingers elsewhere.

Many newbies exhibit this fear of ownership primarily due to their lack of confidence. Fresh from academic settings, they are still adjusting to the real-world implications of their work.

But it’s not just the newcomers. Some developers, despite having years of experience, avoid taking ownership. This could stem from past mistakes or perhaps never worked in a challenging environment where accountability was crucial.

Regardless of the reason, avoiding responsibility is a clear sign that such developers haven’t fully matured.

Developers who refuse to take responsibility can make others cautious to work together. Additionally, when their career progression hits a roadblock, novice programmers blame external factors instead of looking inward.

What You Can Do

  • If you see an issue, resolve it. Don’t worry about who is responsible for it. Take ownership of making things better.

  • Everyone makes mistakes. The key is to learn from them and move forward.

10. They Run Behind Hyped Technologies

A common trait of novice programmers is their obsession with the latest tech trends. They’re always buzzing about the newest tool or language, eager to jump from one to the next as trends shift.

These developers often spend hours on tutorials. While tutorials are great for learning, merely following them without applying the knowledge to real projects doesn’t lead to genuine understanding. It might feel like progress, but the true measure of expertise is tackling real-world challenges.

Rarely will you see these developers using the latest tech in meaningful ways. It’s more about showing off and feeding their ego.

Many developers fall into this pattern because they fear being left behind in the ever-evolving tech landscape.

What You Can Do

  • Instead of chasing every new trend, build a strong foundation in core technologies.

  • It’s good to be aware of new technologies but constantly evaluate if they add value to your work.

  • After learning something new, use it in a project or practical scenario to gain real-world experience.

Take Away: Novice Programmers' Red Flags

Novice programmers can inadvertently slow down a team’s progress. Their lack of a proper approach can prevent them from realizing the full potential of a promising software career.

It’s important to notice and fix these common red flags early on. If you keep doing something the wrong way for too long, it gets harder to change later.

Thanks for the read. I hope this helps you avoid mistakes and become a better coder.

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