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Tech Lead Journal

115 EpisodesProduced by Henry SuryawirawanWebsite

Great technical leadership requires more than just great coding skills. It requires a variety of other skills that are not well-defined, and they are not something that we can fully learn in any school or book. Hear from experienced technical leaders sharing their journey and philosophy for building… read more


#61 - The Programmer's Brain and the Importance of Cognition - Felienne Hermans

“Understanding what makes code readable from a cognitive perspective will help you design better. There are so many areas of programming where knowing something about knowing is just going to make you happier and more effective."

Felienne Hermans is the author of “The Programmer’s Brain” and an Associate Professor at Leiden University. She is also the creator of the Hedy programming language, the co-founder of Joy of Coding conference, and a host at Software Engineering Radio podcast. In this episode, Felienne explained why programming is one of the most demanding cognitive activities and described the three different cognitive processes involved. We discussed why code reading is hard and how to get better at it, the connection between programming and spoken languages, naming things and why it is so important to get it right, and how to avoid having bugs in our thinking.

Listen out for:

  • Career Journey - [00:05:09]
  • Kids Learning Programming - [00:06:15]
  • Writing “The Programmer’s Brain” - [00:08:58]
  • Programming as a Demanding Cognitive Ability - [00:11:19]
  • Code Reading is So Hard- [00:16:23]
  • 3 Cognitive Processes - [00:19:32]
  • How to Improve Code Reading Skills - [00:22:09]
  • Power of Chunking - [00:25:07]
  • Learning Programming and Spoken Language - [00:27:35]
  • Bugs in Thinking - [00:31:02]
  • Naming Things is Hard - [00:34:32]
  • Code with Bad Names Has More Bugs - [00:37:36]
  • Mental Models - [00:41:31]
  • Other Cognitive Aspects - [00:42:45]
  • Impact of Interruptions - [00:44:37]
  • 2 Tech Lead Wisdom - [00:46:46]


Felienne Hermans’s Bio
Felienne Hermans is an Associate Professor at the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science at Leiden University, where she heads the PERL research group, focused on programming education. She also teaches prospective computer science teachers at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

Felienne is the creator of the Hedy programming language, and was one of the founders of the Joy of Coding conference. Since 2016, she has been a host at Software Engineering Radio, one of the most popular software engineering podcasts on the web. Felienne is also the author of “The Programmer’s Brain” a book that helps programmers understand how their brains work and how to use it more effectively.

In 2021, Felienne was awarded the Dutch Prize for ICT research. Felienne is a member the board of I&I, the Dutch association of high-school computer science teachers, and of TC39, the committee that designs JavaScript.

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