What are keys to success?

The other day I got a message from someone I’ve been mentoring via email. His question was one I think a lot of folks in our industry struggle with:

Can you please tell what are keys to success and what should I do to become a successful programmer and software engineer? Anything is appreciated.

That’s a tough one. “Success” can be defined in so many ways. Is success making truckloads of money? Is it having 100,000 Twitter followers? Is it getting invited to speak at conferences in exotic locations? Those are very external notions of success, perhaps it’s more personal: Feeling like you’ve accomplished what you set out to do. Feeling like your life has meaning. Finding joy in both your work and your play. With so many ways to define success, there’s no magic formula for achieving it.

Unsure how to answer this perplexing question, I decided to answer by sharing what makes me feel successful—the Golden Rule. I used the Islamic version in my response:

No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.

That I chose the Islamic version had more to do with where my protege resides than anything else. This concept is universal, cropping up in nearly every faith and philosophy as well as in numerous cultural proverbs:

Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself. (Baha’i)

One should seek for others the happiness one desires for one’s self. (Buddhism)

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (Chrisitianity)

Try your best to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself and you will find that this is the shortest way to benevolence. (Confucianism)

He sought for others the good he desired for himself. Let him pass on! (Egyptian)

Don’t go around hurting people, and Try to understand things. (Hopi)

Humanists acknowledge human interdependence, the need for mutual respect and the kinship of all humanity. (Humanism)

In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self. (Jainism)

One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts. (Nigerian)

Do as you would be done by. (Persian)

Then there’s my personal favorite, from Judaism:

What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. That is the entire law; all the rest is commentary.

The Golden Rule is a wonderful tool for helping maintain balance in your life, business, and relationships. And so, I followed this recommendation proverb with a bit more detail on how I feel we can embody this philosophy:

  • Treat others with respect (means respecting their time, dignity, etc.).
  • Look for opportunities to help others accomplish their goals.
  • Give of yourself freely without expecting return.

My twelve years of Catholic schooling drummed the proverb “to whomever much is given, much will be required“ into my head, which accounts for my emphasis on sharing. I know that my “success”—as I define it at least—has been made possible by the generosity of others. And so I think it’s my duty to “pay it forward” and I look for every opportunity to create opportunities for others.

In my experience, living life this way—or at least improving on it a bit each day—makes me feel successful. Perhaps it will work for you as well.

Note: Passing along this tiny bit of wisdom made me feel successful today :-)


  1. I hope you had a successful week, and encourage you to take a moment for this lovely writing by @AaronGustafson. aaron-gustafson.com/notebook/what-…


  1. Joe Martucci