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On Slowing Down the Web Developer’s Hamster Wheel

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The Web Developers Hamster WheelThe Web Developers Hamster WheelThe Web Developers Hamster Wheel

Last year I wrote an article called The Learning Conundrum which described some of the concerns, frustrations, and fears I (and apparently many others) had in regards to the fast rate of change in our industry. The issue struck such a chord with readers that I followed it up with a presentation at O’Reilly’s Ignite at Fluent event which touched on this. I was happy to have several people thank me for talking about this—it made me feel I wasn’t alone.

It’s no longer possible or, dare I admit, reasonable to expect that one technology or programming language will sustain you singularly through a lasting career. Notice that I used the word ‘singularly’—JavaScript has been my main language for many years now, but I can’t honestly say that the language itself would allow me to remain relevant. Front-end development now encompasses so many different technologies and tools, making JavaScript only one part of the puzzle. The fact that all this tooling is now necessary to really be a professional developer can make it feel like we’re on a perpetual hamster wheel.

I’m not trying to say that things are horrible. To the contrary, I think things are simply more challenging. There are times when I truly wonder if these challenges exist because we’re over-thinking solutions, or are not thinking enough about the actual problem. I’ve seen many cases where new tools are created to tackle problems that have already been seemingly resolved. Or worse, when contributing to or enhancing existing tools would probably have been the better route to take. This makes me wonder how much ego or the “not invented here” mentality comes into play.

And if you look to raise a family, it becomes more challenging to balance your desire to spend valuable quality time versus reading the latest book on JavaScript. The one thing I will unequivocally say is do not sacrifice your family for your job. I learned many years ago that time is fleeting and you will never recover lost time with your partner and children. Learn to strike a good work/life balance and if you can’t, work to find another job that will provide it. I know I sound like I’m on a soapbox but I’m sharing my personal experiences and can promise that I’m only saying it for your own good.

Ultimately though, we have to evolve. As professional developers, we have to come to terms that ours is a constantly-changing field which will forever force us towards perpetual learning. The sooner you come to terms with that reality and embrace it, the sooner you’ll be able to create a plan to ensure that you stay relevant. This is even more important as ageism, my generation’s four-letter word, seems to be becoming a pervasive issue.

In my post, I outlined some of the things that I’ve done to keep up-to-date. Re-reading it now, those things are still relevant. I’m not saying it’s simple, but staying in the game and making yourself consistently valuable is definitely possible.

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