Dive Into Everything!

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Getting into web design or development is like swimming in a rip current. If you don’t just let go and let the current take you for a ride you will exhaust yourself trying to go about it the wrong way. What the hell does that mean Eric?

To me it means that web and mobile design and development today are forces that you are never going to fully master. If you get into it, you have to move forward with it. You can’t fight it, try to stay in one place or god forbid try and swim to backwards to shore. It won’t work, you will drown and die(metaphorically).

So what are some things you can do to keep up with this fast paced technology field? It helps to have some longevity it the field, I’m thankful for that and I have been part of the design or development community actively since 2001 and building websites since 1999 in some form or fashion. Just having that longevity can be a huge benefit, but not everyone has that, but it’s OK. You have to start your journey somewhere and it might just be that you started 2 weeks ago.

You need to have passion to learn anything well. Your drive to learn more is fueled by that passion and few things you can do to drive that passion are:

  • Keep yourself busy.
  • Constantly have a project going (or multiple projects).
  • Document your efforts and failures (Blog them).
  • Immerse yourself in the ongoing conversation.

That last item (Engaging in the conversation) is just the start though. To simply go to meetups of like minded designers and developers is not enough. Those places are for the most part familiar. So once you get past that average knowledge base of your stack or technology you need to do things like:

  • Go to meetups about technology or topics in your stack that you know nothing about.
  • Open up a Git hub repo of something that is over your head and try to figure that out.
  • Immerse yourself in the unfamiliar or uncomfortable conversation (Twitter, Blogs, StackOverflow, etc).

You will find places in those conversations where you can add something meaningful, I promise you that.

Find conversations that interest you and like I said, don’t let the fact that it’s outside of your stack discourage you. You can find some really good information and entertainment value out of those conversations. You can find these conversations in:

  • Podcasts
  • Screencasts
  • Presentations
  • Keynotes
  • Meetups

Your always going to learn from thing things, just because they are using a different technology stack doesn’t mean you won’t be able to take that back to your field of expertise. Software craftsmanship is software craftsmanship, it doesn’t matter the language. So consume these different forms of media even if you believe it to be over your head or unfamiliar.

I can give you some good examples of putting yourself in a position of listening to something that is unfamiliar, regularly. I often listen to keynote speeches or presentations on technology that I am completely unfamiliar with. But the thing I do the most is listen to as many podcasts I can that have to do with development, even if I don’t think it pertains to my stack. If you listen to it, put a link out on twitter to share with others, or contact the podcast creators and let them know you like their content and tell them something about yourself.

I am comfortable with front end web design/graphics and ASP.NET on the back-end. But if you look at my list of podcasts that I listen to every month, you will find things that have nothing to do with my stack.

Let’s look at three podcasts that as a ASP.NET developer I really have no reason to listen to… but I do. I’ll explain why when I’m done.

Three Devs and a Maybe – The description of their show states:

“Weekly discussion podcast on all things web development. Topics range from daily developer life, PHP, frameworks, testing, good software design and our experiences using many other programming languages.”

This is pretty accurate and I would say that the show is more up my alley these days than it was when I first started listening back in episodes 1 through 10 when the purpose of the podcast was to get new developers acquainted with PHP and how to get started. Well they could only talk about getting started with PHP for so many episodes and eventually they got into more modern development talk, but from a perspective which is angled at PHP development. Has nothing to do with ASP.NET, so why would I listen to that?

Build Podcast(Screencast) – This is a Mac developer screencast that takes different technologies and explores “Hello World” and more in about 20 to 30 mins. But I’m a Windows developer who uses ASP.NET MVC, what’s the point of listening/watching this pod/screencast?

NodeUp – This is a podcast started by the core members of the NodeJS team and is a wonderful walk through (at this time) 77 hours of NodeJS history from Node 0.5 to present day. Some of the core members are not front and center in the podcast anymore, but the people running it are most definitely very high up in the Node community and there are appearances from the core guys and plenty of core NodeJS insight. This one is way over my head and I probably understand about 15% of most episodes. So why even bother?

Another podcast that I enjoy listening to because of it’s diverse range of topics is The Changelog, which is a podcast that details open source projects and most of the episodes are on technologies I have no idea about, but again, your getting this look into areas that your not familliar with and 9 times out of 10 I walk away with a new found appreciation for a open source project I didn’t know of or a basic knowledge of a technology I wasn’t familliar with.

Other than just getting familiar with other technologies, another reason I listen to these podcasts is:

1) The guys I work with aren’t.
2) If you want to stay abreast of new technology your aren’t going to do so in a black box. You gotta get out there and soak it in.
3) I like knowing the talking points of these other technologies even if I don’t completely understand them or deep dive into them. This allows me to engage with developers I normally would have nothing to talk about.
4) I’m a developer, I’m curious and I want to learn more!

I could come up with many other reasons, but the main point I’m trying to get across here is that we are living in a very interesting and fast paced time in web based software technology and if your passionate and this is your calling, then you need to be immersing yourself in the conversation, examining the bigger picture as well as focusing on your stack.

Most of the people I tell this to say they have no time to listen to podcasts especially if it doesn’t pertain to them and their work. I call bullshit!

In the last 6 months I have worked on two full-time projects wrote a majority of an 11 month curriculum for a program I will start teaching next year, I watch 10+ hours a week in Pluralsight videos to stay ahead in my stack and I have 2 kids and a wife that works full time. So when do I listen to 30 to 40 podcasts a month?

When I go to the store, when I drive in my car, when I workout, when I mow the lawn, when I lay down to go to sleep and sometimes when I’m working. I have created a twitter following around posting the latest podcasts, this twitter following is not large, but it’s all developers and they all are like minded. On top of the twitter following I am the first of most of my peers to learn about a new technology. Yeah a lot of it goes in one ear and out the other, some of it is way over my head. But a lot of it is starting to make sense. I can write my own http server in NodeJS, I know how to use Jade with Express, I use Ruby to install NPM and compile my Sass (More recently LibSass). And a lot of my peers are not doing most of these things that are basic in those technologies yes, but just having that basic understanding of them makes you more valuable and you can still keep up with your stack.

I think podcasts are one of your best tools as a new or seasoned developer to even attempt to keep up with this fast paced field. If you are not listening to some of these podcasts I mentioned I think you should. Start with ones you are familiar with and branch out. Or do like me and dive into everything. The waters warm!

Check out my post on The Best Devcasts of 2014! In no particular order.

These concepts are what we refer to as Life Hacks, check out my friend John Somnez’s youtube video on “Life Hacks” which may give you some additional ideas on listening to podcasts and Ebooks and how to maximize your time and do other things in the process.

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