Developer’s Life – Every Developer is a Sherlock Holmes

Developer’s Life - Every Developer is a Sherlock Holmes sharelock I have been thinking a lot about how developers are like super heroes, and I have written two blog posts now comparing them to Spiderman and Superman. I have a lot of love and respect for developers, and I hope that they are enjoying these articles, and others are learning a little bit about the profession. There is another fictional character who, while not technically a super hero, is very powerful, and I also think stands as a good example of a developer.

That character is Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes is a British detective, first made popular at the turn of the 19th century by author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The original Sherlock Holmes was a brilliant detective who could solve the most mind-boggling crime through simple observations and deduction.

Modern interpretations of Sherlock Holmes stay true to the original’s almost magical crime solving abilities, but have added action, adventure, and modernity. Recent TV shows and movies portray Sherlock Holmes has having not only almost superhuman detection abilities, but fighting skills that could rival Spiderman or Superman. It are these near god-like qualities I’d like to compare to developers.

So how are developers like Sherlock Holmes?

Well, read on my list of reasons.

Superlative Skills

Be the best at what you do. Sherlock Holmes does not pretend to be mysteriously gifted, or just able to use natural abilities. He does not hide the fact that he considers himself exceptionally talented, and that he has worked his entire life to hone those skills to make him into a “super detective.” There are a lot of parallels here with developers. While there is nothing supernatural about devleopers’ skills, many do spend their whole lives honing their talents, often starting at a very young age.

Core Skills

Most Sherlock Holmes adaptations (and certainly the originals) show him solving crimes without the benefit of modern forensic techniques. His extreme powers of observation allow him to find things others have missed, and his sharp mind can interpret the details. Developers also have extremely sharpened skills, and can think of solutions that others cannot. They also spend their whole lives perfecting these skills through use and study.

Strong Team Player

The original Sherlock Holmes mainly used his partner Watson as a prop to explain details to (and to also explain the plot to the readers). Current TV shows and movies have Watson playing a much larger role in finding clues, interpreting data, and interacting with the public. Developers also find themselves working in teams, whether they need someone to listen to their theories or an extra set of hands and eyes for the actual “dirty work.” Holmes and Watson work as a pair, and developers should, too.

Keep an Arm’s Length

Keep an arm’s length. Sherlock Holmes often has little emotional involvement in a case beyond his desire to find the solution. This “anti-hero” attitude has made him beloved to audiences because it has a hint of rebellion to it. Developers should definitely care about the work they do and try their best at every task, but it is also important to keep a good perspective on your work. If you are spending hours of overtime trying to enhance one tiny aspect that no one else will notice (unless you brag about it), it is probably time to turn off the computer and go home. Staying fresh will keep your mind sharp and help you perform at your best!

Keep Your Imagination

Try to keep your imagination. This can sound like conflicting information, after “keep an arm’s length.” Sherlock Holmes, though, often solves unsolvable cases because he is not afraid to try solutions that anyone else would dismiss as obviously wrong. To quote Sherlock Holmes himself: “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” You can take this attitude into the world of developers by trying to find solutions “outside of the box.”

Sherlock Holmes may not be a traditional superhero with a cape, the ability to fly, and a radioactive spider bite, but he still has some amazing skills that developers often share. His insights into murder mysteries and kidnappings can also be taken into the IT world and used to become better at your job. Can you think of other ways developers are like Sherlock Holmes (or your own favorite fictional character)? Share them in the comments!

Reference: Pinal Dave (

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3 Comments. Leave new

  • Well done, Pinal. I like this comparison, though I think it there are a lot of places it diverges. Bringing in the position that developers, like detectives, work better in pairs was clever.

    Honing the craft and using powerful observation to find an approach unseen by others is where this comparison shines.

    It falls short, though. Most of all, developers are dealing with a very different type of problem than Holmes. His is one where there is one solution, one truth, one past to explain. A developer has a vast array of possible solutions to a problem. It is a challenge where one solution may be clearly better than another, or one may be better in some ways while another is better in others and there are trade-offs to be chosen. The job of a developer is to find the solution that best fits the needs of the business and deliver maximum value at a reasonable cost. The aloof and intellectually superior approach of Holmes is not a good fit (though one developers often take, to their detriment). Developers need to engage and understand the goals and motivations of stakeholders to deliver a quality result. They need to match technical expertise with human values. It’s not enough to just stick to the facts of the case and make observations to find objective truth.

    Also, you mentioned your posts about Spiderman and Superman, but left out the best one – Batman.

    • Thank you Dave,

      It means a lot that you read everything so carefully!

      • You’re welcome. You’ve produced quality content consistently for a longer time at a greater frequency than anyone. You deserve thoughtful readers and commenters. I have mentioned before having come across your content throughout the years via search, but only just now reading you regularly. I am better for it and appreciate it. I have heard it said from different sources recently that “How you do anything is how you do everything.” Even the act of reading a blog post – if you aren’t giving it your full attention and getting everything you can from it, why even bother doing it?

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