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Web developers are teenagers for life

This summer I had a discussion with a social worker who helps teens and young adults find their way in life. The things were the usual kind you would imagine - messing up with school, money or just not having any direction in life.

This is not unlike the life of a typical web developer. In this world it's easy to lose scale, the sense of what is important and just worry about secondary things in general.

The internet is awesome. Pretty much anyone with connectivity and some kind of computing device can contribute great things to the world without restrictions of wealth or formal merits. Yet in this world of virtual equality, some people rise above others - just like celebreties in the real world.

Once someone is known and popular, they're exposed to more publicity. This grows and grows, taking some developers and pop stars way out of context. If Justin Bieber makes teen boys think they must have a six-pack to succeed in life, the same applies to web developers thinking they must create the next big thing in JavaScript to be have a career that is considered as succesful.

But just as most of men make it through life just fine without a six pack, most developers won't steer and engineer something groundbreaking like Node.js or React. The difference is that most people grow out of the wild dreams they had when they were young (the rest become entrepreneurs), developers are exposed to constant change throughout their careers.

While this does prepare us for a world that is constantly changing, it can eat you inside. Constant insecurity of whether your skills are top-notch is very similar to trying to keep on top of the pop music culture projected to teenagers. Just when you learned Angular is useful, you read on the internet that React is where it's at.

The above reminds me of the constant churn of boy bands or similar phenomena. In web technology this is not purposefully created (like some things in the entertainment industry), but it closely resembles it. It is easy to to forget there are millions and millions of people out there "just making websites" and not being ninjas or rockstar developers.

Put this together with working in a community of a technology and you'll have a close match to high school circles. In school you've got people listening to metal, rap, rock or something else. Teens like to relate to a groups like this, just like devs want to belong to software communities and earn the respect of their peers.

If you go to a Drupal event as a WordPress developer, at some point someone will likely dismiss WordPress because... well, because metal is obviously superior to rap or whatever.

Being a senior developer is like being a teacher at high school. You get older, but the students stay the same age. The key is just to learn that change is constant, but it is rarely as drastic as advertised by the common hype driven hivemind of the developer community. Like Joonas Pajunen stated in his excellent article on the abundance of JavaScript libraries:

We should, therefore, be comfortable to be beginners again.

So just accept you're not perfect and never will be. And if you really are bound for stardom in the software world, good for you! :) Just don't worry about not making it. Boy bands break up, web development tools become irrelevant, but life goes on.

Be a good internet citizen, help others learn. If you're into open source, make at least small contributions to the products you use and make the internet a better place bit by bit. Create useful things that help others, even if it is "just" the people at a local small business that will maintain the site you're working on.

Technology wise try to learn things that last the stand the test of time. Learn SQL and related concepts, learn to play the guitar, learn math. Neither of these things as sexy per se, but you can apply them to the latest trends quite often.

Question whether every web application should now be created in Go, just because it's Go. Why should a blog be built in Go? Is it better than one written in PHP or JavaScript? It might or might not, it depends. Everybody's talking about Go, but few are doing it.

Don't read the Superficial Hacker News, it will only make you feel ugly insignificant.

P.S. I frequent both the Superficial and Hacker News - some people never learn.

Written by Jani Tarvainen on Sunday August 30, 2015
Permalink - Tag: webdev

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