05 February, 2008

The Importance of Being Challenged

In this most recent engineering, architecting and development endeavour which I simply refer to as my "job" or "contract", I have come to some conclusions which I feel require sharing.  I'll be very straightforward so as to not waste certain readers' time.  Many of the more seasoned lifetime coders will know (and have experienced many times over) that which I am writing about, which can be summed up as such:  If you are not being constantly challenged, you are atrophying as a developer.

I often write about my own experiences as I know them better than any single other developers experience(s).  This is not because I feel that I'm the end all be all of coders.  Far from it, I do feel that I'm good at what I do, however I prefer to look at my writings as a form of navel gazing, a self-reflective ascertaining how I can better grow in my art and profession.  It is exactly the same manner in which I'm going to proceed regarding today's message.

As I have mentioned, I have most recently jumped into a contract situation at the personal request of a rather successful life-long entrepreneur and given that the opportunity sounded rather interesting, I turned down a salaried position worth almost double because the challenge that was proposed.  Please don't get me wrong, I took a position fixing a half-assed php open-source hot or not style rating system because the employee responsible by no fault of his own necessarily, and due to a lack of a sense of urgency was unable to get a system such as that prescribed, in place by a contractual client deadline.  This was not the reason I took the contract, whilst simultaneously being precisely why I took the contract. 

I'm not a fan of php in its current state (though it has been improved upon since my first dealings with the language), and most definitely not a fan of a vast majority of already written php applications open source or otherwise, but the latter point is more an issue with those specific applications and their designs and integrations.  What I am referring to more so is that I was brough into an environment where it wasn't the same old same old.  Now I wouldn't have stayed were the job going to continually require php specifically and exclusively simply out of my desire at the time to branch out skill-set-wise.   I did know that while I don't consider myself a web developer, I would be required on more than one occasion to work on web applications and having come out of many back-end intensive positions wasn't sure if this is somewhere I'd want to remain.

These weren't to all be simple ones either, any moderately proficient web developer and non-web developer alike could figure a good many of these solutions out.   What really did it for me was that I would be required to not only work under a fairly frequent set of short deadlines due to the nature of the publishing industry as well as the time frame required to keep the site and features current.

The importance of all off these ramblings is this simple point.  Being experienced and disciplined as a Software Engineer/Developer/Architect, etc. ad nauseam helps me to know 'what' I need to do, and gives me insight as to how I might go about solving an issue.  It is however, the actual specifics which put those tidbits of understanding and knowledge into play which go outside a given comfort zone.  It is only then, when we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory, under threat of tight deadlines coupled with our own personal desires to do our best and produce code to which we are proud to associate our name.  

I know that earlier in my career there were times (albeit very few, which I can honestly say) that I too fell into this 'comfort zone'.  I found out though, that this comfort zone is boring and causes one to stagnate.  We code because we love it.  Coding and problem solving is in our blood, and in our hearts.  It is how we look at the world and as such isn't something from which we can remove ourselves.  

If you only know low-level languages, learn a high level language.  If you only work in functional programming paradigms, learn object or aspect oriented ones.  If you only work with interpreted languages, learn compiled langauges, etc.  I'm not saying give up your current lingua franca, I'm simply saying expand your horizons.  The more ways you have of looking at, describing and ultimately understanding a given problem, the more ways you have to solve said problem.  This doesn't solely benefit you, it benefits everyone for whom your code will be written and utilised. 

You knowledge needs to be a living, dynamic pool of information, not a static, never changing one and the way to ensure that is to aggressively fight off the status quo.  Be aggressive, absorb all that you can.  The best way to do this isn't by dipping your toes into the shallow end of the kiddie pool, it is accomplished by putting on your goggles and climbing that high dive, plunging in head first.  

Take a chance for once, you might just learn something.  

Till next time..