Skip to main content

Becoming a Better Developer on Purpose

I’ve become a much better developer than I was when I began working professionally a decade ago. I feel confident enough in my abilities to recognize that I have improved the breadth of my skill set and the depth of understanding I’ve built in the areas I have poured the most focus into over the last few years, especially. One of my strongest, most developed abilities is the ability to recognize and pick apart my own skills critically. I feel good that I can say this is not Impostor Syndrome, something that has certainly afflicted my professional career for most of the years I’ve been at this. What this is, rather than irrational undervaluing of my skills, is finally getting to the point that I realize I’ve spent years getting better passively and accidentally, and I need to develop my skills into the future actively and intentionally.
So to start this new focus on developing my skills, I’m writing this as a starting point, an exploration, and an invitation to anyone who identifies with the intent.
I can characterize the path I took from fledgling to, I believe, experienced developer as passive with more accuracy than any other single word. Passively developed skill happens when you absorb through experience, colleagues, and material that comes your way without specific and focused intent on what you’re getting better at. I’m better today than I was ten years ago, largely, because it is nearly impossible to do what I do for this many years without learning something. I can say with confidence that I’m a much better developer today, but I cannot say that I had much of a hand in that.
The past ten years of experience were littered with an almost obsessive absorption of material from the wider programming community. I’ve dozens of programming texts, listened to many podcasts, and read what must be thousands and thousands of blog posts that simply drifted my way through feeds and social media. With such a huge amount of material I’ve sifted through over the years it is inevitable to accept a distressing outcome: the majority of programming material I’ve consumed has been completely forgotten. There might be a book or two I still remember and can recommend, and I can recall and find you a link to maybe ten blog posts that actually stick out in memory. There are probably hundreds of posts I’ve read from which I’ve integrated some information from. I am sure I’ve learned from this flood of programming material, but I can’t say the ratio is very impressive. To be honest, I can’t say the pay off for the time and effort I put into finding, tracking, and consuming all the fascinating things I’d like to learn.
This has also been one of the most useful ways I’ve randomly come across ideas and technologies that have changed the course of my interests and even my career. I’m distressed over this for two reasons. First, I’m pretty sure that I can trace many of the major turning points in my career to things I came across entirely by accident. Second, there has been awful lot of equally fascinating things I’ve encountered and dived into that, today, do not really have any value to me as a developer. With a lack of direction I have wasted an immeasurable time on interesting development topics that I’ve walked away from with nothing of value. This isn’t something I can allow to continue. I don’t have the time or energy to continue being so ineffective with my self-improvement as a developer.
My new effort is to both spend less time and get more out of my self-improvement as a developer. I don’t want to rely on stumbling across the important things I need to learn and I don’t want to coast through self-improvement as a by-product of habit and the ingrained interest in the newest and greatest developments in the field. Instead, I want to be an active participant in my own self improvement. I want to rely on actively made plans and goals rather than passive habits. This means reading less random posts shared on Twitter and found on RSS feeds, and more structured learning and practice.
Active self-improvement has to replace the casual accidents of discovery.My hope is to replace what is moved me along at a casual pace with setting goals to learn things intentionally and making hard choices about not only the next topic, but precisely what I want to get out of it.
I’m not sure, yet, exactly what form this change in focus will have. I expect I’ll need to figure that on the way, and see what works and see what slows me down. I know my more immediate intentional improvements will be expanding my knowledge and experience with the wider ReactJS ecosystem, but soon it will go beyond that to other endeavors.
The thing I can say with confidence is that I expect to feel better about the progress I make in the next year than i do about the progress I’ve made in the past ten.

Comments

Albert said…
This was a good read, although admittedly I found it from a "random" RSS feed. Anyway good luck with your journey.

Popular posts from this blog

The Insidiousness of The Slow Solution

In software development, slow solutions can be worse than no progress at all. I'll even say its usually worse and if you find yourself making slow progress on a problem, consider stopping while you're a head.

Its easy to see why fast progress is better: either you solve the problem or you prove a proposed solution wrong and find a better one. Even a total standstill in pushing forward on a task or a bug or a request can force you to seek out new information or a second opinion.

Slow solutions, on the other hand, is kind of sneaky. Its insidious. Slow solution is related the Sunk Cost Fallacy, but maybe worse. Slow solutions have you constantly dripping more of your time, energy, and hope into a path that's still unproven, constantly digging a hole. Slow solutions are deceptive, because they still do offer real progress. It is hard to justify abandoning it or trying another route, because it is "working", technically.

We tend to romanticize the late night hacking…

Finding "One Game A Month"

I was really excited about the One Game A Month challenge as soon as I heard about it.
For about two years I've struggled in fits and starts to make my way into game development. This hasn't been productive in any of the ways I hoped when I started. Its really difficult to be fairly experienced as a developer, which I believe I am in my day job as a web developer, while struggling really hard at an area in which your experience just doesn't exist.
Its like being a pilot who doesn't know how to drive.

But this challenge provided a new breath to this little hobby of mine. It gave me a scaffolding to experiment, to learn, to reflect on finished projects. I had spent far too much time on game projects that stretched on far past their exciting phases, bogged down by bad decisions and regret.
And it has worked.
I have a lot to learn. I have a lot of experience to gain through trial and error and mistake and discovery. I have a lot of fun to be had making more small games t…

On Pruning Your Passions

We live in a hobby-rich world. There is no shortage of pastimes to grow a passion for. There is a shortage of one thing: time to indulge those passions. If you're someone who pours your heart into that one thing that makes your life worthwhile, that's a great deal. But, what if you've got no shortage of interests that draw your attention and you realize you will never have the time for all of them?

If I look at all the things I'd love to do with my life as a rose bush I'm tending, I realize that careful pruning is essential for the best outcome. This is a hard lesson to learn, because it can mean cutting beautiful flowers and watching the petals fall to the ground to wither. It has to be done.

I have a full time job that takes a lot of my mental energy. I have a wife and a son and family time is very important in my house. I try to read more, and I want to keep up with new developments in my career, and I'm trying to make time for simple, intentional relaxing t…