Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Tell them: It's a lifestyle

It's a well established fact that the world of software is changing crazy-fast. Computing capacity have generally doubled each year since anyone can remember and in 2013 we jealously try imagine how life as a programmer was in the nineties when IT was kind of experimental and not so much "we're all gonna die when the internet turns against us". And yeah, single-threaded!

If you are a successful (or at least employed) software developer today and plan to be that in say twenty years, history strongly suggests that you need to keep yourself updated with at least some of the trends in software.

That, or risk finding yourself hopelessly outdated and prematurely ready for retirement at an age where you would rather be working another decade or two.

The fact that you are reading this article suggests that you already understand all this, and actively seek ways to keep yourself up to date - which is great! Therefore, in this post I am not referring to You, dear reader, but rather your colleagues!

"The constrained colleague"

So many people in our business feel that it is just not possible to find the time it takes to read books, blogs or tweets, take courses or attend the local community meetups. The boss won't pay them for going to a conference or even surfing the net, for starters. And the family shows no sympathy for unpaid “work-related” stuff outside office hours.

So what can we tell them? Are they officially excused for not keeping themselves updated? Well, no!

Evolution will continue and even if Java is still around in 2030, who wants to be among the "Cobol guys" of their generation?

It's as simple as this: Software development is a lifestyle. Just like people in medicine, we have to monitor industry trends and research and adopt techniques continuously. Just like carpenters, we have to try new tools and become proficient with those that matches our personal style. Just like musicians, we have to practice practice practice on your craft to keep it solid and fluent.

Here is some advice I occasionally try to articulate:
  • Our days contain many small chunks of time when you're not expected to have your focus elsewhere. Listen to a podcast when commuting or working out. Read a blog article when you're eating or, uhm... well. Replace that spy/thriller novel you’re reading at night with a book on functional programming, agile or design patterns.
  • Go to the local community. Explain to your spouse how getting knowledgeable and networked pays off with a better job in a few years from now. 
  • If your employer refuse to sponsor conferences or courses, find ways to pay for them yourself like bringing lunch instead of eating out to save money. Or you could always change company or become your own employer.
Software development is a lifestyle, and part of it is keeping up to date. Some employers will coach us in this, but we must take responsibility for our own careers in the long term.

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