What is more important for your success as a coder: intelligence or persistence?
In my opinion, there’s a clear winner.
You may know the Marshmallow test where kids participate in the following experiment. Every kid gets one Marshmallow as a gift. The kid then can either eat the Marshmallow immediately or wait for an agreed-upon time and get another Marshmallow as a reinforcement for delayed gratification.
Most kids, much like most adults, cannot resist the desire of instant gratification. They eat the Marshmallow right away.
But the test doesn’t stop there. The researchers also studied the success of those kids in the upcoming decades. As it turns out, the kids who resisted the Marshmallows were much more successful in terms of their education, money, and life satisfaction scores.
These are desirable goals.
The reason why these kids succeeded was their ability to resist their urge for instant gratification — they thought in long-term benefits. And their will-power helped them stay on course.
The reason why will-power is so important is that you can go for long-term projects. The kids and adults who fall into the trap of instant gratification cannot commit to long-term projects.
Roughly speaking, they are too weak.
For example, say you decide to become a master coder. But you have only one skill: persistence — and you possess only average intelligence.
Now, say there’s another person who is very intelligent but shows only average persistence. This person grasps things quickly but it will look at source code only once or twice per week.
You on the other hand study source code every single day. It’s hard and you struggle. Initially, source code is a closed book to you. But you still persist in learning every day.
Even if you are less intelligent, capable, or skilled — eventually (pretty soon most likely), you will win in the game of coding.
The intelligent person may be 20% more intelligent than you. But you study five times that hard. And your small edge begins to compound. You are meeting other coders because of your commitment. You finish projects because of your persistence. Your code helps people lead better lives which reinforces your desire to code every day.
You are on the path to success while the intelligent person goes nowhere. Most likely, he’s complaining about the fact that persons like you are successful because of luck, and that he always has been the more intelligent and smarter coder. That it was easy for him in school while you struggled.
But it doesn’t matter — he is left behind and doesn’t know why. Ultimately, he’s blaming life and unfair conditions.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s better being both intelligent, and persistent. But this is a rare skill and if it’s an either-or decision, persistence in writing code every day is a much more important skill.
Note that oftentimes, intelligent people rest on their laurels. They do not persist because they didn’t have to. Everything was easy for them and only a few find it necessary to work for their goals. So they reach the “low-hanging fruits” that can be reached easily by any person.
But they will never climb the tree and invest effort and sweat to taste from those tasty fruits in the upper parts of the tree. They are reserved for the persistent guys like you.
Persistence in coding is your key to success in coding. You basically become unstoppable. Intelligence doesn’t matter that much because a person can only be 50% more intelligent. But if you are persistent, you can be 1,000%, 10,000%, or even 100,000% more successful.
If you write code every day, you will outperform everybody else in your environment. You will outgrow all of them.
So if you want to persist in learning to code, join the “Coffee Break Python” email series and improve your Python skills every day.
While working as a researcher in distributed systems, Dr. Christian Mayer found his love for teaching computer science students.
To help students reach higher levels of Python success, he founded the programming education website Finxter.com. He’s author of the popular programming book Python One-Liners (NoStarch 2020), coauthor of the Coffee Break Python series of self-published books, computer science enthusiast, freelancer, and owner of one of the top 10 largest Python blogs worldwide.
His passions are writing, reading, and coding. But his greatest passion is to serve aspiring coders through Finxter and help them to boost their skills. You can join his free email academy here.