You Don’t Have To Be a Math Genius To Be a Great Programmer

I’ve found there is a big difference from what colleges say you need from what you actually need in order to make money in the business world as a programmer. College tends to try to over prepare you and many times ends up teaching you things that are either out-dated or of little to no business value in the real world.

They do get a some things right, don’t get me wrong. You can learn a lot in college (usually more than you wanted to learn) and it’s a very structured environment that helps you to systematically learn in a classroom setting whereas you may not have dedication and commitment to learn on your own.

But there is a real gap between what you learn in college and what the business world is looking for. I’d like to offer my perspective here and break this down for you.

You do NOT need to be a math genius or even take advanced college math in order to be a programmer.

What Colleges Say You Need:

Lots of Math Courses:

The computer science BA and BS degrees at universities like Florida State University and others show that you need the following math prerequisites in order to get a degree in Computer Science: Discrete Mathematics I, Discrete Mathematics II, Precalculus, Trigonometry, Calculus I, Calculus II, Intro to Applied Statistics, Introduction To Probability.

However, I did not take any of the above college courses. College Algebra was the highest math I took in college. I wasn’t looking to be a math scientist or teach math in a college setting. In order to be a computer programmer, or software engineer you should be more focused on problem solving skills and business geared courses.

Lots of Programming Courses (will you use them all? Probably not.):

Colleges usually still start you off with C, C++ and then move onto Java. The academic institutions are usually several years behind the real business world that is constantly moving and evolving. They also usually only focus on the open source languages that everyone is doing and usually isn’t as lucrative or sought after in the business world. See my article here for the differences between open source and commercial programming languages in my article How To Start Coding Right Now.

What You Actually Need:

Commitment and Resolve

When you break programming concepts up into individual components, programming is easy. It’s easy to take 5-10 min to learn about 1 basic building block of programming. It’s easy to learn about computer basics. It’s easy to learn about hardware, software, machine language vs. programming language, data, syntax, etc individually. The main reason these things really become difficult is because they are cumulative.

You build upon previous knowledge. Each thing you learn individually doesn’t take long to grasp. You then learn the next thing and your knowledge builds upon your previous knowledge. Many of the concepts are patterns that can be transferred to learning different programming languages, so the more you learn the faster you begin to learn.

However, you must commit to learning. Computer programming is not something you can learn for 6 months and then be an expert. You must continue your pursuit of knowledge and perfecting of your skill / craft. There is always something new to learn so you must have the resolve to not quit and not give up.

Problem-Solving Skills

Steve Jobs once said “Everyone in this country should learn to program a computer, because it teachers you to think.”

It’s all about learning to problem solve and to solve problems in more effective ways. Whatever those problems are, business or personal, being able to think in such a way that solves those problems faster and more efficiently

More than anything employers are looking for you to know how to solve problems. If you can solve their problems and do it faster and better than someone else, you save them time and money.

Here is a 5-step method for becoming a great problem solver:

  1. Understand the Problem
  2. Come up with a Plan
  3. Simplify by Dividing the Problem into Smaller Pieces
  4. Write the Code and Debug
  5. Practice, Practice, Practice

Attention To Detail

Businesses need those who will catch the little foxes that can creep up into their business and steal time, money, etc. Being someone who can find the holes in things, to write code that has little to no bugs and pay attention to the small details is being someone that will set you apart from the rest.

“Attention to detail is not about perfection. It’s about excellence, about constant improvement.”

– Chris Denny, Speaker, trainer, business owner

Make sure you’re always checking for accuracy, being consistent and making sure nothing is left incomplete. A #1 rookie mistake is typos. Whether it’s your code or your resume, typos can break your code and make you stand out in a negative way to managers and clients.

Choose a Marketable Programming Language

Obviously, I recommend Apex! Check out my previous article on 3 Little Known Ways To Learn Salesforce.

What business skills have you found that are way more important than advanced college math?

Let me know. I'd love to hear from you!


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