This question comes up surprisingly often, although dyslexic computer programmers or software developers are probably on every team and startup.
Some of the big picture reasons dyslexics made do well in programming:
- Strong Problem Solving
- Systems Thinking – Big Picture
- Flexible Thinking
- Analytical and Logical
But for the details of why dyslexics do well in software development, lets hear from developers themselves:
From Simon, Lead Software Engineer:
“You may worry that you have to read and write code all day, but its not the same as documents its simple code. If your dyslexic mind works anything like mine you process words as pictures and patterns. This works great for code you can easily visualise systems and processes.
Code is the best grammar and spell checker you can have. Programming languages require correct syntax, you can’t get it to work unless its right and you easily learn to solve the issue. Much like dyslexics can learn new words by been forced to use it over and over again. It then registers as a new picture in your mind. Once you have a good IDE (integrated development environment), you’re set to program where I actually feel it gives me an advantage. Because of the way I visualize systems, I can program away from the computer in my mind. Solving complex issues with a bit of thought. If you’re dyslexic and reading this don’t panic, get out there and program.”
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Beth, a full stack Web Developer, seems driven to eliminate ambiguities in code because they would confuse her.
“Language constructs like meaningful whitespace or a lack of parentheses to delineate scope have caused major bugs, including the recent SSL vulnerability in OSX; they also make it almost impossible for me to comprehend code. I can never ever rely on numbers (they all mostly look the same), so I use readable constants instead. When I write Java Comparators, for example, I’ll have them return FIRST_GREATER, BOTH_EQUAL or SECOND_GREATER. Ordering is nearly useless and flag arguments incomprehensible. If I call the method twice it’s likely going to be faster to create a new object than do the extra work to ensure two arguments of the same type aren’t flipped….I support coding styles, static analysis and languages choices that don’t allow anyone to make careless mistakes, reducing overall bugs.”
Beth also shared why programming has useful to her:
“Thanks to our tools, programming is a training ground with instant feedback…I am told instantly if I left off a semicolon or mismatched brackets or misspelled a function name. All I need to have at my fingertips are the concepts, metaphors and design: the fiddly symbols come from my tools. Even without an IDE, compilers and unit tests both helpfully tell me when I’m wrong. The more often I can make mistakes the more likely I am to learn not to. It is okay to be wrong about the things I am often wrong about when I program, because I have automated mitigation strategies.”
Many dyslexic programmers also find they can use their visual strengths with coding especially with the current IDEs. Unlike the English language, words in computer programs refer to objects or a process. Color coding for syntax definitely helps many people too.
From another dyslexic programmer:
“I don’t know how people can code in an environment that allows the eye to wander and does not mark wrong syntax. Having the right IDE allows a dyslexic to program without losing time. A familiar IDE is comfortable to work in, similar to using a tool that feels right in your hand.
Dyslexic programmers tend to think visually in design blocks of code function rather than in lines of characters. Each functional block has to be translated into code. The benefit of thinking in functional blocks rather than code is that one does not become confused by large systems because a visual of the system can be used to map the code.”
Want to learn more? Read more below. Beth recommended Head First and we found the pdf on the web.ComputerProgrammingDyslexia