Things I learned during the first 5 years of my career:

  • Knockout
  • Angular
  • jQuery
  • Handlebars
  • ASP.NET
  • Nancy
  • Entity Framework
  • Telerik
  • Telerik Reporting
  • Kendo UI
  • Crystal Reports
  • AppFabric
  • Orchard CMS
  • Joomla
  • Drupal
  • Wordpress
  • NHibernate
  • Jasmine
  • Mocha
  • Mongoose
  • NUnit
  • XUnit
  • QUnit
  • SpecFlow
  • IIS
  • WCF

This list makes me sad. Really sad. If I could unlearn this list and re-acquire the time I spent learning it, I would gladly do so. In fact, I’ve already unlearned a large portion of this rubbish.

The elimination of time-wasting activities is one of my passions. My Fiance refuses to take me to the grocery store. Her goal is to relax and find good deals on tasty food. My goal is to make the trip as efficient as possible. This results in a lot of yelling, brisk walking, and occasionally leaving food items behind if the want/(walking distance) ratio isn’t a resonably positive number. I have no time for banter with the cashier, but competent cashiers will be acknowledged with pursed lips and a head nod.

When I look at the above list, I realize I was mindlessly wandering around Wegman’s for such a long period of time that cashiers knew me on a first name basis. I hit rock-bottom when I fell asleep in the frozen food section and security had to carry me out of the building. I loved that grocery store, but I was wasting valuable time. I needed to change, so I did.

Things I have learned in the past year:

  • JavaScript
  • SQL
  • Elixir
  • C#

Try to convince me that any one of those things will go away in the next ten years. Now, I know what you’re thinking:

How did you do Knockout, Angular, and jQuery without knowing JavaScript?

It’s not that I didn’t know JavaScript, I just didn’t know it well. The same can be said for C#. I used that language, but only within the context of what my chosen libraries and frameworks would allow.

Please don’t take this post the wrong way. I am not building an argument against learning all libraries and frameworks. These things are essential for us to be productive programmers. Instead, I encourage you to find libraries and frameworks that make you more productive with small amounts of investment.

I have spent the past six years living in ASP.NET world. That’s a lot of time to learn things. I’m pretty productive with it, but I’m still learning new things every day. I might know ~60% of the core API. In contrast, I have also built things in Express. I’m productive there as well. Express has a tiny API which I was able to learn in a few hours.

I can learn 100% of Express in a few hours and be productive, or learn 60% of ASP.NET in six years and be productive. ASP.NET 5 is right around the corner, and I’m going to have to invest large amounts of time re-learning.

Actually, I started that process a few months ago. I created a new application in ASP.NET 5. Immediately, I was smacked in the face by a strange dependency issue I had never seen before. A google search sent me to this article: Diagnosing dependency issues with ASP.NET 5

I need to learn all the information in this 6,000 word essay in order to include a 3rd party dependency that I also had to learn, and I have yet to deliver a single piece of functionality. Once I finally understand this essay, something will change and I get to recursively repeat the process until I die. This is the point at which I fell asleep in the frozen food section. I was so exhausted from walking up and down the aisles and seeing the same food over and over again that I tapped out.

// This source code falls under the restrictions of the MIT license.

var ryanIsDead = false;
var frameworksLearned = [];

// You can expect a stack overflow to occur if you use this function.
var learnFramework = function(framework) {
var knowledgeGained;

while(!ryanIsDead) {
if(framework.isObsolete || knowledgeGained >= framework.knowledgeRequired) {
frameworksLearned.push(framework);
learnFramework(getCoolNewFrameworkFromInternet())
} else {
knowledgeGained++;
}
}
};

// Please don't call this method. My family and friends will miss me.
var killRyan = function() {
ryanIsDead = true;
console.log(`Ryan is dead, but he learned ${frameworksLearned.length} frameworks!`)
};

// With innovations in modern medicine, age 128 seems about right.
setTimeout(killRyan, oneHundredYearsFromNow);

// I don't want to pick on you .NET, but you
// metaphorically made me fall asleep in the grocery store.
learnFramework(aspdotnet5);

My list of not bad tools

  • Programming languages
  • Express
  • Hapi
  • Moment
  • Backbone
  • Underscore
  • Marionette
  • Handlebars
  • Git
  • Bash

I list programming languages as my first item because they are wonderful. Even if you never write a single line of production code in a particular language, understanding the different paradigms and ideas behind different languages will make you better at what you do. They have a relatively long shelf-life and will almost always be worth the investment. Books are great, and can teach you things about programming you would never figure out on your own. If you want to learn a new language, start with a book.

The rest of the items in the list have provided tremendous value to me without asking for countless weekends and evenings. I’m sure I could list a few others here as well, but these are the ones that came to mind immediately.

Consider the future

Imagine a huge framework that makes you incredibly efficient, but takes two years worth of hard work and dedication to learn. We’ll call it Hodgepodge.js. You are able to deliver high quality software rapidly after learning Hodgepodge, and customers are happy. Everyone is so happy, you get a promotion. You will now be leading a team of developers on this wonderful thing you have created. You even get to do the hiring.

There’s one major problem. Hodgepodge.js takes a long time to learn. You are now limited to only hiring developers who know Hodgepodge.js. You don’t have two years to train vanilla JavaScript developers.

Also, while you were busy learning Hodgepodge.js, Mulkarey.js came out, and it is the FUTURE! No one is interested in Hodgepodge.js anymore and applicants roll their eyes when they see your job posting. You are immediately filled with regret and sorrow.

Wouldn’t it be better to pick a common denominator - some subset of technology that takes a bit longer to be productive with, but won’t be a total maintenance nightmare two years from now?

So, should you go learn Mularkey.js? It’s entirely up to you. Do you have an immediate need for this knowledge? Do you think it will make you better at your craft? Do you just want to do it because people are talking about it? Whatever you choose, try not to fall asleep in the grocery store.