This Damn Industry

Editorials on Nettuts+ are few and far between, but, given that we're nearing the end of yet another year, I thought it might be nice to have a discussion on one sleep depriving aspect of this web development industry that we're all privy to: it's forever twisting and turning.

To those of you who have five or more years of experience: knowing what you know about about the steep, never-ending learning curve, would you be willing to start all over?

The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know.

An Example

Take me, for example: I'm 25, and have been working in this industry, in various forms, since college. By any other corporate measurement, I'm a baby -- barely worthy of opening his mouth during a team meeting. However, our particular web development industry is a bit different in this regard: we're young. Many of the developers who are rapidly pushing the web forward are under 30; how simultaneously amazing and depressing at the same time!

Depressing? Sure: depressing. They say that, in Mathematics, if you haven't had your great idea by the age of 30, you'll never have it. Of course, I use the generic "they say" because I'm really referring to a line from the movie, "A Beautiful Mind" -- but I digress. The advantage to youth is all around us: it's in the music you listen to, the JavaScript frameworks you love, the tools you use, etc.

Ever notice how your favorite music artists rarely achieve the same level of "magic" in a new album a decade after they entered the music industry? Why is that?

Perhaps, when you're young, you're open to new ideas, and question the status quo. Or maybe, fifteen-twenty years later, you don't have the same drive as you did before. Rocky Balboa would refer to this as the "eye of the tiger"... or the lack thereof. He once lost it...and bad things happened.

Now certainly, this doesn't transfer over "pin-for-pin" to our little ole' web development environment, but it's fair to say that it does in some small form.

My Days

Even when I get paid to learn, I've still found that it's impossible to keep up with the pack.

A large portion of each of my work days is spent learning new technologies. Whether that comes in the form of deciphering the CSS3 Spec, or traversing through countless blogs (thanks, Instapaper!), my job requires me to stay up to date on the latest trends and techniques. I can't tell you how often my laptop is brought into bed, as I work on a project long after the misses has fallen asleep. My gut tells me that we're all familiar with the ubiquitous "laptop in bed" syndrome, as well as the hot groin effect. That said, even when I get paid to learn, I've still found that it's impossible to keep up with the pack. For instance, let's review a short list of exciting new technologies or scripts that I've yet to play around with:

  • CoffeeScript
  • NodeJS
  • ControlJS
  • LabJS
  • Raphael
  • Ruby / Rails
  • The Kohana Framework

Perhaps even more depressing, that list only amounts to what I was able to think of within a moment or so. In another six months from now, that list will triple.

Even scarier, at 25, it stands to reason that, within five years or so, I'll have children. Right now, save a few scoldings from my fiancée -- typically when she's ready to leave the house, while I continually say, "5 more minutes" - I'm able to spend as much time as possible coding away in a room that's long since gone dark, after the sun went down; because, of course, I can't be bothered to turn on the lamp when I'm working!

To the Moms and Dads

To those of you who have full-time jobs, wives (preferably just one), and children: how do you find time to continue learning? Or, maybe better put: when do you find the time?

Why do we Keep Learning?

"Two mice fell into a bowl of cream. The first mouse gave up and died right away. The second mouse fought and swam until he churned that cream into butter and he crawled his way out." - Christopher Walken

So this brings up the question: who do we continue learning new techniques, if those same techniques will invariably become out-dated within a couple years or so? How many useless, old tech books do you have lying around the house?!

I imagine that each of us continues the learning process for a variety of reasons.

  • Passion: From time to time, I mildly complain that it seems as if I never have time to relax, and, say, play that new video game I purchased a month ago, but haven't yet dug into. Though, if I'm honest, it's because, during my free time, I genuinely enjoy toying around with some new framework or personal project. As you're reading this article right now, it stands to reason that you're the same way.
  • Obligation: Perhaps your particular job requires that you stay on top of the latest trends, and aware of the specific changes/updates in each new browser version.
  • Competition: Is it possible that you neglect your friends in favor of a monitor because of competition with your peers? Do you worry that you'll be passed by, if you take a month's vacation?
  • Necessity: We're invariably inspired by the websites we browse. Intrigued by Apple's use of CSS3 animations on their website? Well, if you want to mimic that sort of effect without JavaScript, you'll need to dig into some CSS3 articles on our website, or Andy Clarke's excellent Hardboiled Web Design book.
  • Enjoy Punishment: Then again, it's also possible that you enjoy brushing your teeth with a bottle of Jack, and grinding your teeth on the barely-readable HTML5 spec. Whether we admit it or not, I'd wager that we all fall into this camp. There's a unique sense of pride that comes from learning frameworks and techniques that .1% of the population are capable of understanding.

[...] There is a world of beauty and intellectual challenge that is denied to 99.9 percent of those who are not high-level mathematicians.
- Andrew Wiles

If you're somewhat like me, I'd imagine that you'll identify with each of the possibilities above -- at least in some small form.

What's your Point?

Okay, okay; so is there a point to all this rambling? Maybe so; maybe not -- editor's prerogative!

Mostly, my goal today is to selfishly find solace in the fact that, like myself, others, too, stay awake at night, struggling with this frustrating, age-inducing and rapidly progressing industry.

Forget your years of experience: if you take even a year or two's break from this industry, you'll find yourself right back at the beginning, once again holding the title of "noob." But seriously, do any of us ever truly get away from that word entirely? I've been using WordPress for years...but I still refer to the WP codex on a daily basis.

So the next time your heart-rate increases, as you, once again, attempt to wrap your mind around some new technique, or way of coding (think web forms vs. MVC), always remember: we're all in this together; we all feel behind the pack. But, then again, we stay the course because we love this damn industry.


As this article concludes, I have only three questions for you, John Q reader:

  • How do you deal with the constant progression of our industry, and the understanding that, if you take a year off, you'll feel obsolete?
  • Knowing what it took to get where you are today, would you be willing to start all over, if the clock was rolled back?
  • Why do you read Nettuts+ every day?


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