Developer or Googler?

We all get imposter syndrome sometimes. I’m afraid at least once a week that someone will look at my code or read a blog post and realize that I’m a total fraud and have no idea what I’m doing.

One of the things that each developer asks themselves is Am I Really a Developer or just a good Googler?. It’s a valid question to ask, but one I think has a fairly clear answer.

Good is a hard word

The first stopping point is to define ‘good’. I think it’s fair to say that most developers would say that they are good, then look back at 6 month old code and wonder what ‘hack job’ wrote that.

Becoming a good developer is a path that we are on. It has branches (you can be an awesome WordPress dev and a terrible Drupal dev) that we choose to walk down as we specialize.

So ‘good’ is relative to a certain extent.

Good Googler

A ‘good googler’ is one that can put together the right search phrase in google to get the code that they need.

Then they take it and use it.

Good Developer

A ‘good developer’ is one that can put together the right search phrase in google to get the code that they need.

Then they work to understand it and see exactly how it fits in with their current work. Then they take that solution and use it as appropriate (copy/paste or maybe edited) in their current work.


I think the key difference there is understanding and it applies to more than just developers.

A good designer takes the inspiration of other sites and looks at the current project. They use elements from other designs that inspired them in the new project as it fits appropriately to the project.

A good business owner takes a look at other successful business practices and then takes a look at their business. They use the practices as appropriate (sometimes copying sometimes tweaking) in their own business.

If you just take the code from someone else and have no idea exactly how it really works, you’re a good Googler. Most of us were there once though we just didn’t stop there. At some point I realized that I was just a good Googler and from that point on worked hard to understand the code that I was using. No code that I didn’t understand went in to projects anymore.

That was the starting point of my path on the way to being a good developer.

So if you ask me if you’re a good developer or just a good Googler, you’re going to get a bunch of questions about understanding the code you’re using. Then at least I’ll know you’re on the path to becoming a good developer.

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

7 responses to “Developer or Googler?”

  1. Robert Neu says:

    I think the distinctions you’ve made here are completely spot-on. The reason open source is so successful is because of how easily we can share and learn from each other. Personally, I don’t like to use any code that I don’t at least somewhat understand, but I don’t fault other people for just getting things to work and then moving on.

    We’re all learning all the time and we’ll all encounter things that we don’t understand. I don’t think anyone should feel like a fraud for using Google or not fully understanding everything they create. As long as you’re honest with people and continuously improve your skills, you should hold your head up high. What matters is that you know you’ve done your best.

    • Curtis McHale says:

      Totally right Robert. I’d have to admit that sometimes I do use code that I don’t grok 100% but it had better be 70%+. Typically it’s ‘why’ it was written one way that I’ll let slide. I should understand ‘what’ it’s doing.

  2. James says:

    Glad to hear I’m not alone on my path 😉 Thanks for this post!

  3. Paul says:

    I agree to some extent. Sometimes, I’ll just use a PHP SDK for Amazon for example. I don’t read all the lines of the library to make sure I understand it.
    I haven’t read all the lines of code of the whole of WordPress core either 😀

    Maybe someday…

  4. Jason says:

    Thanks for vindicating me for being a good googler, I don’t feel so bad now. And I am working to understand the code constantly, it is a process to say the least. BTW, your book awesome, still making my way through it.

    • Curtis McHale says:

      We all were at some point the fact that you’re working on understanding means you’re working away from ‘just’ being a good Googler.

      If you have any questions shoot me an email.