Software Creation Mystery -

IQ vs. Self-Discipline. What is more important in Software Development?

Angela Duckworth and Martin Seligman research shows that both IQ and self-discipline are correlated with academic performance and GPA, but self-discipline is a much more important contributor: those with low self-discipline have substantially lower grades than those with low IQs, and high-discipline students have much better grades than high-IQ students. Further, the study found no correlation between IQ and self-discipline—these two traits varied independently.

Comments: Does this research applies for software creation? Can we say that self-discipline is more important than IQ for programming? I believe that self-discipline, emotional intelligence and control over unconscious mind are more important than IQ in programming. You cannot get anything useful done without self-discipline; however low IQ is a problem too.
My formula for the talent in programming: Talent = IQ * Self-discipline * Creativity

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I think it’s true , and You Abbreviate it With “You cannot get anything useful done without self-discipline; however low IQ is a problem too.” .. It’s really True.

Comment by KaRiM | July 16, 2007 1:06 am

Joel (of Joel on Software fame) insists that you really need both high IQ and self-discipline. As he puts it, he only hires people that pass 2 criteria:

1) Smart
2) Gets Things Done

I tend to agree that the best developers have both qualities, but I definitely think self-discipline is the more important of the two.

Comment by Ryan Cooper | July 16, 2007 9:50 am

Working in a small software company what i often see is the lack of smartness in people.

I don’t know if there is a correlation between smartness and IQ, but some of the best people that i worked with were very smart in the sense of problem solving and gtd…

Comment by blackbelt | July 17, 2007 1:11 pm

The problem with IQ is that is does not equal the ability to ‘think’ and analyze. I’ve seen a lot of really smart people that were horrible programmers because they couldn’t think through a problem, even relatively simple ones.

The problem with discipline is that if you are too disciplined you won’t be able to think out of the box. You will be too rigid in your thought process. However, having the discipline to not let something beat you is definitely a good trait in my book.

Comment by Robert | July 17, 2007 9:24 pm

It isn’t “IQ”.

1. IQ is based on very narrow tests, which bear little resemblance to real life
2. The study speaks of GPA and academic (in-school) performance, which also are not real life

Software development, or to use simple, old-fashioned words, programming, is a craft or sport. Like playing a musical instrument, or swimming competitively. Nobody would ever ask a violinist or a swimmer about IQ.

Self-discipline is it. (Note that this is not “discipline” in the misused but popular sense of “doing only what you’re told”. Don’t think army. Think Tai Chi.)

Of course being smart matters. But I’d limit “smart” to “genetically wired in favor of a particular activity”. I happen to be wired that way for math, languages, programming. But that head start probably just helped me with some early positive feedback. The rest of what I’ve learned comes from self-discipline, or “stick-to-it-iveness”.

Visible results comes from skill.

And skill comes by learning from experience, and from practice, both of which require … self-discipline.

Even risk-taking and creativity can be traced to self-discipline, through conquering fear of failure.

Comment by Tom Harris | October 1, 2007 1:19 pm

Does been a good student have any importance in your “real life”? Well… sometimes yes, sometimes no…
Does a good grade reflect the expertise of a student regarding a given topic? Well… sometimes yes, sometimes no..

My personal answer is that if you want to succeed in software development you need both, as you need creativity and method

Talk soon,

Comment by Francesco | December 9, 2009 12:42 pm

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