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Sat, 04 Feb 2006
In a recent blog post, Lars Wirzenius took a swipe at a post entitled Seven Secrets of Successful Programmers by Duncan Merrion. Lars “found it to be simplistic enough to be inane” and I certainly agree with that assessment. And I mostly agree with his other criticisms of the original article.
But then Lars goes on to give his own list and that’s always going to lead to people wanting to disagree—something I’m about to do.
His fourth point is to develop debugging muscles. Lars suggests that this is difficult, since nobody teaches it and that does seem to be true, to some degree at least. But then he says “you’ll be spending most of your time doing it.” And that’s where we diverge. In my view, if you’re a “successful programmer”, then you’ll spend most of your time programming. It’s the unsuccessful programmers who spend most of their time debugging.
So, if you’re one of the people who knows your debugger better than your editor, you really need to learn more about the practice of programming—from books like The Practice of Programming by Kernighan and Pike, or Bentley’s Programming Pearls or even a classic like The Elements of Programming Style by Kernighan and Plauger.
That’s not intended to be an exhaustive list, of course. You need a more complete grounding than that and you need domain-specific knowledge as well. But, regardless of where you go to learn your craft, you need to develop your skills to a level where you hardly know how to drive the debugger because it’s so long since you last used it.