Know Your Tools

Author’s note: This is part 2 of a series of essays I originally drafted about Opinions for your Tech Career. Part 1 is Learn in Public.

A fully expanded and revised version is available in The Coding Career Handbook!

You missed a lot in your bootcamp. I’m not talking about compiler theory from computer science courses. I don’t mean algos. I mean a lot of basic knowledge of your tools is lacking. “A poor craftsperson blames his tools”, they say. But you. You’re no “craftsperson”, you’re still a novice. You don’t even know your own tools that well. You haven’t built that much with them, and you still freak out when things go wrong. It’s not your fault, but it’s in your power to fix your gaps. The bootcamp gave you a head start, now you have to go the distance.

If you’re a frontend dev: Learn Webpack. Learn Babel. Learn what the CSSWG and TC39 do. Heck, learn Javascript and CSS all over again. Did you know you can use the Chrome Devtools as a profiler and an IDE? Learn bash. Learn git. Learn CI/CD. Learn frontend testing. Learn Docker. Learn AWS, and Firebase. OPEN NODE_MODULES. Yeah, it’s a lot, and I don’t truly know some of these things either. I’m workin on it. Equally important is figuring out what is ok to miss. I have my list, I’m not sharing it. But there are some things you will use daily in whatever career you end up in, and some other things are sexier or seem important but are really just nice-to-have. Figure out the difference. Tech is a house of cards a mile high, abstractions atop abstractions. Lower levels of abstraction have a longer half-life than higher ones. Kyle Simpson says you should learn one abstraction level below where you work. I think that’s directionally but maybe not literally correct.

The subheading for this one is avoid FOMO. Your favorite thought leader says you should check out ReasonML, is Javascript dead? Why the hell do people want to kill Redux so bad? Is CSS-in-JS literally the devil? Vue passed React in Github stars, should you pivot to Vue?

I dunno, do you get paid in Github stars?

Fill in -your- gaps. Focus on you and your needs. There are so many opportunities in tech that you can pretty much pick out your turf and play entirely within it AND be completely ignorant of all the other stuff AND still do great! Don’t get me wrong: I’m a big fan of playing the meta-game. It is possible to make strategic blunders but it’s also impossible to avoid them altogether. Stop trying. It’s much better to focus on the “good enough” and be directionally but not literally correct. The goal is to be accurate, not precise. Try your best to be right, but don’t worry when you’re wrong.

There’s more to knowing your tools than just knowing what they are. There’s also the why and the who. Who made the paradigms we live in now? Who’s maintaining it today? Why is the API the way it is? Why did it change from past versions? (If you’re feeling adventurous: how does the tool work under the hood?) Let your intellectual curiosity carry you and fill in your lack of experience with research that nobody else bothers to do. Guess what? There could not be an easier subject matter to research, this stuff is literally all online and version controlled with git, and all the people involved are still alive and easily contactable.

And when you’ve filled something in, when you’ve found something cool in your research, write it up.

P.S. Learn in Public!

Next: Clone Open Source Apps

Tagged in: #advice #principles #learn in public

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