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Programming as a Dyslexic

I have always had an interest in computers, I started ‘programming’ at around 10 years old, configuring games as an attempt to increase my frames per second and decrease my connection ping.

I went through school ultimately thinking I was as thick as two planks. I couldn’t read out loud, couldn’t read from the board, got bad grades, and had terrible spelling and grammar. I was always placed in the lower sets and was constantly being told “Paul is capable of more, he just struggles to apply himself”. It was pretty difficult to hear this.

I felt I had all the information locked in my head and was unable to get it on paper (which is how we were graded, right?!). I was eventually assessed for Dyslexia at college after a referral by my tutor. I was 18 years old at this point and I’m grateful times are changing.

Fast forward some years; I had started working for a company in a technical support department. My line manager saw that I enjoyed messing with software and troubleshooting, so as a side responsibility during downtime, I rebuilt our internal FAQ site using HTML, CSS & some JS (it was more of a reward than anything else).

I then ended up building automated Google Script solutions, Bash Scripts and the odd NodeJS script. This was mostly due to my ever-increasing workload, so with the help of mentors, I automated most of the manual aspects of my role.

However, this wasn’t enough, I still thought I wasn’t able to be a software engineer due to being dyslexic. This went on for a further 3 years and I only programmed as a side responsibility, to automate tasks in the business and my team at the time.

In 2018 I took the plunge and was offered the chance to be a junior engineer. What I’ve learnt since is dyslexia makes absolutely no difference. If anything, it’s a bonus skill set to have in this role!

Yeah, you may typo the odd declaration (just add a spell checker extension to your VSCode), but it’s actually a benefit from speaking to other non-dyslexic engineers (bear in mind, we don’t know how to think non-dyslexic); Here’s some of the things I’ve learned that prove advantages. You’ll:

  1. have a holistic view of architectures
  2. be able to spot patterns and in turn spot an oddity
  3. easily generate mental models
  4. bring to the table a different way of thinking
  5. be able to visually memorise a lot
  6. remember syntax preferences for the project
  7. spot syntax oddities
  8. notice things in a PR which others may not
  9. be able to visualise and design processes
  10. easily spot possible bottlenecks.

There’s no doubt more, these are just my personal findings (it’s difficult to be 100% as I only know how to think like this).

A dyslexic is a valuable engineer for any software engineering team and is extremely suitable for the role (a good team is made up of a vast mixture of skill sets after all).

Don’t let past experiences around spelling and reading put you off. Configure your IDE preferences and have a go.

I do also have some tips I would love to share:

  • Don’t hold back telling employers you're dyslexic. I personally now see it as an added skill set, heck, put it in your CV under additional skills!

  • One key thing is setting up your IDE and browser to help you;
    You could use the OpenDyslexic font (bear in mind, screen sharing). Out of preference I personally prefer Verdana when coding. There is also a Chrome extension to enable the OpenDyslexic font across all webpages - here is a article explaining how to set up both.

  • I use the Henna VSCode theme which is extremely dyslexic friendly.

Code block showing henna theme

  • Install a spell check extension for your IDE, I use Code Spell Checker in VSCode.

  • Browser (specifically for Google Chrome):
    I use the hacker vision plug-in as it gives me dark themes for sites/platforms which don’t have this option.

  • And Grammarly for writing Jira comments, emails, documentation,

Don’t be afraid to keep customising and trying things. What works for me, may not work for you.

TL;DR if you are a dyslexic and have stumbled across this blog post and wish to become a software engineer, don’t let dyslexia hold you back for years like I did. Pick a language on Codecademy (Python is a good starter), find something you wish to automate/script and give it a try.

I have now enjoyed programming full-time since 2018 and I haven’t looked back. I honestly feel I’m cheating at life by getting paid well to pursue a hobby with like-minded individuals. Dyslexia is great. Happy coding.

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