As a programmer, what did another programmer (or yourself) do that absolutely blew you away?

Mudassir Ali
Feb 10, 2020 05:38 AM 0 Answers
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Mudassir Ali
- Feb 10, 2020 05:38 AM

I was working in a fairly flat meritocracy. I had worked my way into a respectable position by taking on a shoddy code base, and making incremental and obvious improvements. The code was in production, the profit boost was tangible, everything was great. After several years on the job, I had been working hard, I had picked up so much stuff, and my confidence was on the up. I was making it as a programmer.

We made a new hire. Half the people that interviewed this guy said no, the other half said yes. He was an accomplished mathematician with a truly impressive CV. He was confident, genuinely humble, and loved to talk. Some people thought he wouldn’t make a good hire. Maybe it was because he was a mathematician, not an engineer? Maybe he was too talkative? Anyway, the brass were solidly in the yes camp, as was I, and so the hire was made. Guess who he was going to work with mostly? Me.

So I made an empty directory in our source code and called it “machine learning”, started telling people we needed that library, and he was off. Here I was, thinking how much knowledge I had obtained, how far I had come. I wasn’t expecting him to write such a beautiful and elegant library of C++ and Shell code, using techniques and with a design maturity that far surpassed my own. And my realization of these facts was not immediate; it took time and collaboration for my appreciation to grow. In the end, I felt like his code was better than most of the stuff in the entire source tree. And I wasn’t working with a bunch of hillbillies…quite the opposite. I can still remember him debating with the resident University medalist (another unusually exceptional coder) about the merits of overloading the C++ new operator. I think they reached a begrudged, though amicable, truce in the end.

But I digress — it was the way he broke things up, the granularity of his classes and how they interacted, and the way he wielded the language to pull it all off. The way he achieved simplicity in spite of complexity. The clarity of his thought, his intention, and the way it was expressed was a level above. It blew me away.

Over the next few years, I worked with this guy, and as I came to use his classes and scripts, I slowly ingested his philosophy of coding, and I feel like it exponentially increased my skill as a programmer, and I never looked back. In the next few years, the quality of my work went up, and I became increasingly daring in my ventures.

Mentors, be they sought out or unintentionally chanced upon, can truly change your career. They have been the most profoundly influencing factor in my own. And they can come from unexpected places. In fact, maybe, just maybe, the greatest software engineer I ever worked with was not a software engineer.

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