So How Do You Improve Yourself?

Posted on Nov 6, 2016 in ,

I started reading Apprenticeship Patterns a few days ago. It started with the notion of mentorship, and it struck me in the weak spot, because that’s what I’ve been thinking a lot about recently.

It feels like me and people around me all get stuck on some experience level plateau. For the first several years in the industry you spend a lot of time improving your skills each and every day. When you look back a year or a month you can clearly see the path you’ve taken and all the ways you’ve improved yourself in. But another year or three pass by and you start feeling that something is not quite right. You and people around you read a lot, absorb and process relevant technical information in all possible ways, and yet you still feel the same. You work mostly the same way, you are not moving towards the mastery, you’re just doing your job (and maybe doing it well).

I’ve been trying to understand why it happens that way. One of the differences I see (and personally struggle a lot with) is a lack of mentors. When you’re young and inexperienced, there are always a lot of cool guys around, whom you perceive as the know-it-all wizards. They are always there to inspire you and guide you along the way of self-improvement. You look at them and see a path in the woods. You think "I’d like to be at least as good as this guy!"

But the years pass by, and now you are the "experienced" guy. Maybe you even have some (meaningless) job title, maybe you are leading a team and guiding newcomers now. But there is a problem — the other experienced guys around you are not so different now. You are all pretty much on the same expertise level. You don’t learn a lot from each other, apart from some rare tricks and past expertise references. And it’s damn hard to move forward now.

How do you become better every day now?

Try the new languages and approaches? You’ve probably already seen a cycle (or two) of the similar technologies raising and failing. It feels all the same. Reactive programming? Been there, done that a few years ago. Redux? Come on, back to centralized message dispatchers and visual state trees. ES7 async/await? Done it with C#5 and TPL before that (has it really been 6 years ago?) Elm? Elixir? Meh, read the basic "Introduction to functional programming" by Bird and Wadler a long time ago, not impressed anymore. Docker? Kubernetes? Integrating microservices? You see the point but you’re fighting their ugliness and don’t understand how everyone jumping on the hype bandwagon can call it easy and user-friendly. You saw what easy means. What you see now is bearable, but definitely not easy.

When you’ve been doing the software engineering for a long time now and it’s been working out quite well so far, how do you detect the gaps in your skills and your technique? You’ve got to try really hard to detach yourself from the routine context, take a step (or ten) back and try to get a better overview of what’s going on around you. It’d be extremely helpful to have a master wizard-like mentor around to tell you "look, Andrew, you can do this much easier" or "there is another way to accomplish your goal". But there is none. Nothing. Void. You’re out of the training grounds and now you’re on your own. I wonder if anyone else feels the same? Am I in the wrong section of the industry? Maybe I just don’t know the right guys and communities around where I can find the new enlightening experience?

On Book Libraries

Posted on Feb 9, 2015 in and tagged

My grandparents used to have a huge home library in their old house. My parents had a smaller one, most of the books were either borrowed from their parents’ libraries or were purchased for their studies in the university. I have about 10 books at home, half of them may be considered “mine”, the other half technically belong to my wife (meaning I’ve never used them and I have no particular interest in doing so), and I guess I haven’t read more than 30 pages of at least one of “my” books.

For the centuries the home libraries were attributed with erudition, intelligence and even nobility of their owners, because if your family owned a vast amount of books, there was a chance that you’d spent some part of your life reading them and would eventually become smarter than your average common folks. Plus, if you were not struggling for your life and survival, you didn’t have that much choice of entertainment and timewasting, so reading was a reasonable choice to spend your time. And don’t forget that there was much less content to read than you have nowadays, there were no amateur bloggers like me who would throw their illogical and unprofessional thoughts about everything into the huge world-wide pile of garbage.

Things started to change dramatically in the second half of the 20th century with its rise in the life quality, the wide of adoption of television, mass media and internet, which brought us to the 21st century with cheap and easy access to the information, and the widespread of affordable e-readers and always-connected personal mobile devices. There is now much more media content in the world than you would be able to consume in your entire lifespan.

However, the human habits are not so quick to change, so we still have home libraries. You may disagree, but I think there is no point in them nowadays. Due to the enormous amount of content it’s likely that you won’t read most of the books more than once and they will keep standing on a shelf collecting dust for many years.

Public libraries were a good step in reducing the clutter at home – you’d borrow the book, finish it, and then let someone else read it. However, you can buy or download books for free so easy these days that there is no need to go the public libraries at all. And it’s not only about fiction, the web gives you access to the professional literature and research papers as well.

I personally don’t buy the point of the paper books being more superior to their electronic counterparts due to “that magic real paper feel”. Ebooks are much more convenient and versatile to use – you don’t have to carry around the additional weight, you can read them from any device with automatic progress synchronization, easy bookmarks and notes, language translations, etc. However, there are some books with awesome design and layout, which are a pure joy to look at, e.g. Type Matters by Jim Williams but I don’t think most of your books are the same.

For me, the public and home libraries in the way our ancestors knew them are dead. I enjoy our digital future even if I don’t look cool in the eyes of some elitists praising their smelling dust collectors.

License notes:
The featured image is a property of James Kirkus-Lamont