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Do lefties make better software engineers?

Hack Reactor

Do left-handed people make better software engineers?

By Kevin Juhasz for Hack Reactor

There was a time when being left-handed was best kept to yourself. During the Salem witch trials, left-handedness was one of the items used to claim a woman was a witch, and many religions believed using the left hand was a sign of consorting with the devil.

As time passed, being left-handed was less deadly, but discrimination continued. Children who were left-handed have had their arms tied behind their chairs to force the use of the other hand. Left-handers were believed to be more likely to commit a crime. In the middle of the 20th century, some left-handers were accused of being Communists. The world has also been designed with right-handers in mind.

While there are still people misguidedly trying to turn lefties into righties, there is not only acceptance of left-handers but also a belief that people who use their left hand have a leg up on the majority. Does this ring true in the tech world?

Will left-handers excel in a coding bootcamp? Are they producing better code?

There is certainly a case to be made that left-handed people are more intelligent and creative than their counterparts. History is full of southpaws that are not only successful but also highly influential. Steve Jobs. Bill Gates. Mark Zuckerberg. Marie Curie. Albert Einstein. Neil Armstrong. Leonardo Da Vinci. Mozart and Beethoven. Aristotle. Ruth Bader Ginsberg. This is just a handful of successful people who favored their left hand.

Despite an extensive roster of intelligent people, the scientific community has seen mixed results, which has led to the assertion that your dominant hand has no role in how intelligent a person might be. There are studies that show left-handers are significantly smarter, others that show the opposite, and some that show no link at all.

In 2018, Eleni Ntolka and Marietta Papadatou-Pastou of the University of Athens in Greece did a review and meta-analyses of past studies. They reviewed three dozen studies and ultimately did three meta-analyses on more than 20,000 people. The result was that right-handers had a higher IQ than left-handers but by such a small margin that it was moot.

When it comes to creativity, the same holds true. There are studies that show there is no impact, while others show that there are advantages and others that show the opposite.

However, it’s been found that it’s not all even when it comes to other items. There are advantages that left-handers have over the righties, much of which comes in the right-handed world they’ve been forced to live in. Left-handers are usually required to adjust how they do things, creating skills that can be an advantage, especially in software engineering.

Left-handed people tend to be better at adjusting to changes and are better problem solvers. They are also better when it comes to multi-tasking, as well as using a keyboard. So, a left-handed software engineer may not be above the crowd when it comes to creating an app or writing code, but they are more likely to be advantageous when it comes to getting the work done.

The results are mixed also when you talk to those who work in tech.

“We have a host of software engineers at CocoFinder with different dominant hands,” said Harriet Chan, Co-Founder and Marketing Director at CocoFinder. “From my observation, a person’s dominant hand has no effect on their coding skills, and it all boils down to their willingness to learn new things and experiment with different projects and tools.”

Marilyn Gaskell, Founder of TruePeopleSearch was in the camp that left-handers exhibited skills that gave them an advantage, such as multitasking. The general feeling in the SE world, however, is that a dominant hand is far less important than an open mind and hard work.

It’s also not just a case of dominance in one hand. A recent study also found that the degree of that dominance is a factor also. The more dominant one hand is, the less likely people are to exhibit excellence in their performance. Most people use both hands. Left-handers who drift more toward ambidextrous are more likely to exhibit beneficial traits. The same goes for right-handers. Software engineers are better off focusing less on which hand is better and work toward getting both hands to function as equally as possible.

So, it might not be a bad thing to push left-handers to use their right hand more, as well as pushing right-handers to embrace their left more. That approach was certainly beneficial for Thomas Jensen, CEO of Passion Plans and a left-handed software engineer. His suggestion to left-handers is to embrace using their right more.

“Get over it,” he said. “The best advice someone told me regarding computer mice and being left-handed was to get over it. Get used to using your right hand because it will be a lot more inconvenient if you have to request a left-handed mouse every place you need it. I've gotten over it, and it has made my life easier.”