Who Makes a Good Programmer?

It can be difficult to find, recruit and retain quality IT development staff. It can also be relatively expensive to hire the services of external IT Developers.

There is another thing though that organisations can consider rather than to spend all their time bemoaning their IT recruitment difficulties. That is, why not consider re-training some of your existing personnel into IT development roles?

Not revolutionary

There’s nothing new in this idea and it has been tried successfully by many employers over the last half-century or so.

In fact, back in the days when IT was still called ‘DP’, many companies first started their in-house development departments by successfully retraining existing staff from other disciplines.

So, it can be done.


However, many organisations cite some conceptual difficulties in getting to grips with this idea. These include things such as:

  • Identifying people with the potential aptitude
  • The cost and risk overheads of re-training existing personnel to become developers are greater than those associated with hiring them externally in the first place.

There’s not much that can be said about the second objection. Different organisations apply very different methods of costing these things and if you are determined to set out from day-one to prove that it is too expensive to re-train your own personal, then no amount of analysis is going to change your mind.

The question about identifying staff with the right potential is perhaps rather easier to deal with.


In the earliest days of Data Processing, there was a quite odd belief that only people with higher maths abilities would be able to master computer programming.

Through the 1950s and 1960s that view was shown to be misguided. Many people with excellent mathematics abilities at advanced level proved to be incapable of getting to grips with the structured methodologies required for program development.

However much programming skills were considered to be related to things such as complex formula resolution in maths, the reality on the ground was clearly otherwise.

So, organisations started to use various forms of aptitude tests that were designed specifically to identify latent programming abilities in potential candidates from outside the maths and science disciplines.

What was discovered, by and large, is that good programmers are typically people who are capable of thinking in a very logical, structured and procedural fashion. Individuals that might like attending to detail, puzzle solving and “dotting I’s and crossing t’s” in areas of professional activity, often had the required skill sets to make a good IT programmer.

Where might such skills be found in your existing IT organisation?

Strangely, employees working in complicated process administration might be one source. If they are taking in information in lots of different forms and from different sources, doing something with it, filing it and then needing to retrieve it for various purposes, then they may be doing the rough manual equivalent of programming.

Of course, there are no guarantees. Even if people have the ability to be developed into programmers it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have the interest or motivation.

The good news is though that you do not have to guess. Those above-mentioned aptitude tests exist and they may continue to be a useful yardstick in helping to identify people who just might have the potential to be put successfully through a developer’s training course.

It’s worth thinking about if you would like to reduce your reliance on external development sources.

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