Just Some Kid
As of this post, I am 28 years old and I’ve been practicing web development professionally for the last 7 years or so.
Which pretty much makes me a baby. Sure, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some really great, high profile clients and companies and they’ve paid me well for it. But, there are folks out there that have been working in the computing field for over 50 years that have forgotten more in the last 7 minutes than I’ve learned in my whole career. So, compared to them I’m just some young kid.
In the web development world, most of us are forced to grow up very quickly, professionally speaking. We get out of college and it’s time to find a job. A good paying job at that. Otherwise, why else would we have acquired all that debt? We never really get a chance to be young and inexperienced.
There are a couple of reasons that I can see for this. The first is primarily financial. Being inexperienced means it’s pretty hard to find someone who will take you on as a green, young developer AND pay you the kind of salary you need for those student loan bills. We’re forced to grow up because we need to pass ourselves off as an “expert.” It’s all about making money and padding the résumé so you can climb up to that next job. It may be good, well-meaning, honest work that you’re putting out there. But you shouldn’t fool yourself: no one can really become an expert in a couple of years. It takes some serious time to master this craft.
Do this for a couple of years and you might even start to buy your own hype. And that’s dangerous. Really, really dangerous. Dangerous because our egos can prevent us from learning because we don’t want to look uninformed. Especially to ourselves. No developer likes admitting that they don’t understand something.
Which brings me to the second reason: Ego.
There are a lot of people my age that we all look up to and say, “Man, that guy is a genius. He’s only 25 and he developed X framework/library/technology/masterpiece.” So we aspire to be that next wunderkind and produce our masterpiece1. And that’s great, we should be inspired by our peers. We should be trying to make the best software possible.
But, there’s danger here, too. While you’re trying to think up your killer app and prove just how clever you really are, you’re missing opportunities to learn from the real experts out there. Too often I see young developers like myself focusing on becoming well known as this week’s badass and missing the big picture.
The reality is, if you’re anything like me, you haven’t been doing this development thing anywhere near long enough to call yourself an “expert.” You might be a dedicated craftsman, but it just takes lots of time and experience to get there.
I’ve recently had the opportunity to spend time sitting at the feet of some real masters and some truly accomplished journeymen2 that I respect immensely. And let me tell you, there is nothing more healthy for one’s ego than to sit quietly and get schooled by your betters. Next time you’re at a conference, try to find the people you really respect. Then watch and listen carefully and figure out who they’re quietly sitting and listening to. And then pay attention, cus that’s the guy you’re supposed to be learning from.
It’s OK to be young. It’s OK to be inexperienced. And it’s OK to admit you don’t know how something works, even if you’ve been doing this stuff for a while.
As for me, I’m trying to embrace my naïveté, pay attention, and hope I learn something.
1 Technically, in the old guild system a Masterpiece was a work that a apprentice or journeyman craftsman created and was their test of fitness for the title of Master, giving them the right to enter the guild, start their own workshop and have apprentices of their own. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masterpiece
2 In the old guild system, the word ‘journeyman’ refers to their right to charge a fee for each day’s work. The word comes from the French word journée, meaning the period of one day. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journeyman