Expert programmer, expert trader

How does one become truly great at something?

I recently read the book “Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else” by Geoffrey Colvin. This has been the most inspirational book I have ready in a very long time.

I’ll cut to the chase: instead of seeing some individuals as naturally talented and others as not, Colvin explains that true greatness is a process of dedicated intentional practice, and hard work. Not just any kind of repetitive practice, but a kind of directed effort that he explains in detail. The book is well researched, citing numerous studies in art, sports, music, psychology and business, and relating each situation back to his central theme: they got there by practicing their skills.

Do you know what this means? This means that you and I — mere mortals — have it within ourselves to truly excel at whatever we put our minds to. This is great news!

Colvin spends time explaining much of how deliberate practice works, and other ways that experts differentiate themselves from average performers in various fields. Experts perceive more, they look further ahead, they know more from seeing less, and they make finer discriminations than average performers. Deliberate practice hones these skills.

One other part of the book that struck me was the amount of “domain knowledge” that experts possess. Experts simply know more; in working in their field, and and practicing their craft, they learn more, and use that knowledge more effectively. Additionally, experts are able to remember more: they create a framework of knowledge in their minds that they hang new knowledge on.

So, let me relate this to both trading and programming. Colvin uses the example of traders in the book when he talks about business skills that can be practiced and improved. So, clearly, this is good news for traders: if you put in the effort of dedicated deliberate practice, your trading will improve. And by practicing, you will learn more. Your knowledge will grow. Your ability to discern a good trade will improve.

Now let’s relate this to programming. How do we become better programmers? How do we deliberately practice programming? On Colvin’s point about greater domain knowldege applies here. Programmers who are constantly learning new coding techniques, design patterns, and language features, and trying to put them into practice will improve. I think one way to do this is by learning a new programming technique, and then writing a sample program that uses that technique. Reading through a senior programmer’s code is another way to learn. One of the best techniques I have experienced is pair programming, in which a junior programmer and a senior programmer pair up, and actually sit side by side while they write code. We’ll look into this idea more in a future podcast.

That brings me to a point that Colvin makes is that the right mentor or coach at the right time makes all the difference between an expert performer and an average one. Who better to design the material to practice for a student than an accomplished coach? Colvin makes the obvious point that as a student of a sport or skill such as tennis or martial arts, you do not have the ability to design your own lesson. You get no feedback from “trying to figure it out on your own”, and you will likely flounder in your efforts. I like that especially. To excel, and to practice deliberately requires some guidance. Get some coaching, get a teacher.

So, relating that back to trading, getting a coach or mentor to help you know what to practice, what to look for, and to give you feedback on your efforts is invaluable. And for programmers, finding a mentor or teacher or senior co-worker to help guide your efforts will undoubtedly help you improve. That’s one thing we’re doing over here at Trader Tech Talk – teaching and mentoring the art of programming for traders.

Talent is Overrated” is a must read; it will inspire you to excel, to want to improve. Regardless of your domain, you will find this book helping you on your path to excellence.

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