How to Make People Think You Are a Coding Genius

A friend of ours is a Perl coder. He said that much of the time, he gets calls when something isn’t working, and the person on the other end of the line says, “There’s an error, it says there is a problem on line (number) in file (filepath)”. He goes in, fixes the problem that the error message told him to fix, and they think he is brilliant.

I’ve run into the same thing. Problem is, I am NOT a coder. I’m not even close! But I have learned that there are some simple rules that can make me do a lot of things in code. I just pay attention to a few things:

1. Patterns. Code is like a puzzle, and there are patterns to it. If something doesn’t fit a pattern, it may be the source of a problem.

2. Error messages often state exactly what the problem is, and where it is. Ok, so some error messages are a bit cryptic, but usually, if you look around, and apply the pattern rule, you can find something out of whack. Browser error messages often tell you precisely where to look for the problem also, but sometimes you have to load it in a different browser to see a helpful message – different browsers spit out different messages when they encounter a problem, and some are more useful than others.

3. Spelling errors count. Code likes things a certain way. Misspellings in either the code language, or in file names, will make things not work.

The funny thing is, if I tell someone I’m not a coding genius, and they come to me with a problem, and I fix it, they think I am. I can’t write code to save my life. But I can run software pretty well.

Troubleshooting anything is like that. Once you understand the patterns of normality, you can recognize what isn’t normal, and fix it. People who like solving puzzles or mysteries are sometimes very good at troubleshooting because the elements are the same – look for what doesn’t fit, and follow the trail until you find the origination of the problem.

I used to think you had to be a genius for people to appreciate your skills. Not so. You just have to be able to get results. You don’t have to know everything to get results. You just have to know enough to track down the problem, and return it to the state it was in before the problem occurred.

But I must confess, having people think you are a genius is sort of fun!

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