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On being overwhelmed with our fast paced industry

Web tooling is changing at an extremely rapid pace right now and there is a sense of exhaustion, being overwhelmed and anxiety of becoming out of date. “Why is this stuff moving so fast?” cry the developers.

Artboard 1

JavaScript var is dead? We should use ES2015 let and const now?

CSS is getting variables, nesting, scoping and custom selectors. Preprocessors like Sass and Stylus are dead, long live PostCSS.

Just learned Grunt? Oh you should use Gulp – wait no, Webpack.

Still laying out your sites using floats like a sucker? Flexbox is here!

Just built a project using protocol relative // – that’s an anti-pattern now. Oh and jQuery .hide() is bad for performance, so cut that out.

Finally dipping your toes in Angular? Oh, it’s totally changing in 2.0. Wait, shouldn’t you be using React? Haven’t you heard of Aurelia or JSBlocks?

Whenever a new framework, tool or technique comes out, I hear more groans than celebrations.

How are we supposed to get any work done when everything keeps changing?

It’s going to keep changing

It’s human nature to resist change, and it’s kind of a hard pill to swallow for some. Working on the web means that things change really quickly. We’re never to to settle on a technology stack and hang it out – we will always see innovation, people pushing the envelope on both what is possible and the best way to get things done.

It’s not really changing that fast

What you see on twitter, HackerNews and in your newsletters isn’t necessarily what everyone is using. Companies make multi-year investments in technology and will stick to their stack for quite some time. So as much as you think that everyone scraps their current setup for a shiny new framework every 6 months, it isn’t the case at all.

Would you guess that Spotify is built with LESS? Or TweetDeck is highly reliant on jQuery. Yuck, right? No – those were the technologies that were evaluated at the time. There are better options now, but it’s not causing their app to crash or business to fail.

Wait it out and Evaluate

Am I going to drop my JavaScript framework for JSBlocks today? No way! Am I going to keep my ear to the ground and see how people like it? Absolutely. We have all been burned by picking up technologies when they are too early, and it’s important to watch out for that.

At JSConf two years ago, I was there when Facebook introduced React.js and they got laughed off the stage because they thought the idea of markup in your JS was ridiculous. Now I’m starting to swap my beloved Angular.js out for React.js. I waited for the community as a whole to test and embrace it. It’s at a point now where enough people I trust are using it, not because it’s new and cool, but because it’s the right tool for the job.

I sure am glad that facebook decided to put out React.js and push how we think about these frameworks. We had Angular and Backbone at the time, and many would have said we had enough frameworks.

Same goes for PostCSS – it’s a pretty new idea to ditch your Sass for PostCSS and CSS Next. Should you do today? Probably not. Should you keep your ears open and see if momentum for transpiled CSS picks up? Yes yes yes.

Just Build Websites

Making stuff is how you get better, so just build websites.

In the wise words of Chris Coyier, just build websites. Don’t get me wrong, what you use to build them is really, really important, but it’s even more important to actually be continually building things and improving on your skill. That is how you get better, just do a lot of work.

As you get better, these new frameworks and tools become way less daunting and the anxiety caused by things moving too fast will subside because you know that you can easily pick it up in a day or two.

So how?

So – to sum this up. Things are always going to change and that is fantastic news for our industry. You won’t become obsolete overnight if you keep your ear to the ground, honestly evaluate new technology and never stop building stuff. Here are a few tips:

Newsletters

Subscribe to weekly newsletters that give you a high level overview of what is new. Peter Cooper runs some of the best ones around. Take 5 minutes a week to read over the list – no need to click through to every link but keep tabs on what you keep hearing over and over. Chances are that if you hear about something every week, it’s starting to gain traction.

Side Projects

ABC – always be coding. If your work doesn’t allow you to try new things as frequently as you like, have a side project that you are invested in. You can use this to try out new tech you otherwise might not be able to.

One New thing

If you do regularly start new projects, make it a point to try one new thing in every project. It might just be trying Flexbox on a smaller part of a site, but you are making progress.

Self Improvement

There is a wealth of information out there and you should take advantage of it. Whether it’s taking a class at something like HackerYou, watching some free tutorial videos (like http://CommandLinePowerUser.com), or reading a book from someone in the industry (hint: https://SublimeTextBook.com), you should make a point to dedicate a few hours every week to self-improvement. You picked this industry, so it’s your responsibility to keep up.

That’s it, That’s all

TLDR; Yes our industry moves quickly, but that is because it’s getting better and better. If you are always iterating on your skillset in small ways, you will be just fine – don’t worry 🙂

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27 Responses to On being overwhelmed with our fast paced industry

  1. Mandy T says:

    Great post Wes! I love the idea of keeping our ears to the ground but continuing to use the right tool for the job! Better to have balance than to spend all our time constantly trying to improve on things that are working… I love to try new things on each new project, but don’t want to turn into The Experimentor 😉

  2. Tarek K says:

    I enjoyed reading this Wes. It feels good to know anxiety about fast-paced releases of new technology is common. I particularly feel this way towards the front-end layers, but like you said, once I’m in control one can jump or take leaps when updating.

  3. Tammy K says:

    Thanks Wes. Your willingness to share information is what I believe makes you a top notch Developer and instructor. : ) It is overwhelming when I think of how much information is out there yet to learn, but the more I feed my curiosity by actually doing the work the less intimidating it becomes. After Hacker You, (and according to Wakatime), I’ve gotten a lot closer to my 10,000 hours of coding, but the good news is I’m creating things that I had no idea how to do yesterday and the “work” is fun! “A rising tide floats all boats”. Thanks for sharing your insights and for helping young developers like me learn to exhale.

  4. Luke Brown says:

    Good post, and I definitely agree with the overall theme.

    I would add, though, that we’ve seen something like this before, though I don’t remember it being quite so wild.

    Once upon a time, using an mvc framework in a language such as php was something only for the largest of projects, and even then not everyone seemed to agree it was the way forwards. As time passed, mvc became ‘the in thing’, and became far more standard, thanks largely to standardisation and the maturing of the base language… Sound familiar yet?

    What happened was everyone jumped on the ‘hey, I made a framework’ bandwagon, and there were scores upon scores of frameworks to choose from, with many (and many good ones I might add) dying out due to stagnation in innovation or just a thinning herd of community support.

    I now find myself wondering if the same is happening with js frameworks (or toolkits or platforms or libraries or boxes or wiffy-foos or whatever they’re being called this week). People are watching what one framework does, spotting what they think are improvements to be made, and crafting something to fill that gap.

    Now, that could do one of three things – be amazing, fill the niche gap we never knew existed, killing off the old *thing*, leaving us all high and dry for adopting it in the first place, it could be useless, and do only hurt those who adopted too early, or it could, less likely, run harmoniously alongside its inspiration for a while until the process repeats itself.

    Call me old and cynical, but why didn’t we just put our energy into whipping up a pull request for the original *thing*, and make it a whole lot better for everyone? Sure, if the concept is entirely new that’s not always possible, but surely building upon what are often solid, well-tested and highly adopted foundations is a good base for any innovation?

    I’m by no means unwilling to adopt new technology, and in fact I think what these js frameworks in particular do with what is a less-than-polished language underneath is exceptional (and that’s quite something coming from a php developer by trade), but I’m very unwilling to adopt something with such a limited history, that isn’t battle-hardened, for anything other that – as you mentioned in your post – small, personal side-projects.

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  6. Kayla says:

    Very good thoughts, Wes. I can get a bit frantic every time I come across a new technology trend that everyone seems to be adopting, and I’m just recently hearing about it. It’s good to know others feel the overwhelming feeling too.

    For the most part, I’ve been fairly successful at not overwhelming projects with a new tool/framework/technology, just to try it. Perhaps its because I’m stuck in my ways, nevertheless, it’s a habit that’s been useful. I think a lot of developers think throwing the latest thing they heard of into their next project, with no forethought, is how learning all these new technologies should be done. I start every project’s plan with classic HTML/CSS/JavaScript, then see what issues or inefficiencies are remaining. I find it’s a great way to take each project individually, and finding a useful addition and/or learning opportunity for a new technology, rather than throwing something new into a project to use it because ‘I should be using it by now.’

    You’ve inspired me to get some work (experimentation) done on a few side projects that keep lingering too!

  7. Ian says:

    Great article, thanks!
    Just to point out, you missed a closing parenthesis after “hint: https://SublimeTextBook.com
    (While I’m nit-picking, throw in a period at the end of your “One New thing” section as well :p)

  8. Kyrie says:

    I loved reading through this – I try to keep up on everything new and it is so overwhelming. I always feel one step behind. It’s nice to know that everybody’s a little behind, and it’s okay.

  9. Ryan says:

    The main reason for anxiety is if you never understood the older thing to know why the new thing is better. The new stuff is usually easy to learn if you understand the concepts. The second reason for anxiety is if the newer thing is just more complex to understand (like Docker, for example). But I suspect no one who got into this industry didn’t get the memo early on that it would be require constant learning.

  10. I share the sentiment, and I agree in that this isn’t going to get any better. Or easier.

    Not to toot my own horn, but in lack of alternatives, I like to just drop one general and one specific remedy.

    A general remedy is for us to focus on principles. Those don’t change as much, and are more resistant to trends. (I’ve published a few notes in http://meiert.com/en/blog/20150130/web-design-and-principles/.)

    A specific remedy, pertaining to frameworks (which descend from spec complexity and fragmentation, but I’ll skip that), is to be really clear about needs, and then to tailor our solutions—by all means coming up with our own ones, for sometimes the best wheels are reinvented wheels. (I’ve elaborated on that quite a bit in a whole (short and free) book: http://www.oreilly.com/web-platform/free/book-of-html-css-frameworks.csp.)

    So overall it’s understandable to feel overwhelmed (some of our standards’ spec authors are just as us!), but there are some things here and there that help. Fortunately.

    • TechyDad says:

      @Jens Oliver Meiert,

      “A general remedy is for us to focus on principles. Those don’t change as much, and are more resistant to trends.”

      One of my college computer science professors (a couple of decades ago) told our class something that’s stuck with me during all my years of web development: “What I teach you now will be obsolete by the time you graduate, but you’ll use the general principals during your entire career.” Sure enough, I haven’t used one bit of the specifics he taught us, but the general principals served me well from pre-AJAX days up until the present.

      New frameworks/languages can be a bit scary, but it’s mostly the fear of the unknown. Once you dive in, you quickly see the similarities to other frameworks/languages you’ve worked with and that fear dissipates. It mainly becomes a time issue. You can’t possibly keep 100% up to date on every single web technology/framework/language out there. You often need to pick and choose what you know inside and out and what you just have a passing knowledge of (but could dive into should the need arise). The real skill is being able to tell what’s a passing fad that will be replaced in six months and what will stick around, serving you well for some time to come.

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  12. Nikola says:

    Hi Wes,

    You’ve hit the point with this line: “You picked this industry, so it’s your responsibility to keep up”. And, while it may be true that one will not get obsolete over night, it can be very dangerous to not even try to move to a new technology after 10 years (I’m talking this from my personal experience with one firm where did didn’t want to move the code from VB6 because “it was too big”, and now they’re out of business because they just couldn’t keep up with “new cool shiny things” that customers want these days). So, yes, I couldn’t agree more – one has to learn on a daily basis if one chose this industry.

    Also, love your ABC reference to Glen Glose’s Always Be Closing 😉

    Take care,
    Nikola

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  14. This has been very common with other frameworks especially PHP. Glad to hear the psychology and anxiety aspect played up a bit. Enough running around trying to improve minimally and creating risk when doing so. Being smart and efficient is the key as usual.

  15. mfs says:

    Once on Quora someone said, “A fool with a tool is still a fool.” It seems like a good time to share that thought.

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  19. John Locke says:

    The only thing that is certain about our industry is the constant state of change. Someone else touched on it: the technologies all become obsolete to a degree on a long enough timeline. But the principles of HOW to code and how the logic works remains the same.

    The greatest skill you have a web professional is the ability to learn. Adaptability is a necessity.

    My own way of dealing with the constraints of limited time against a backdrop of ever-increasing technology is to find what work, and avoid switching workflows for redundant technologies.

    Some things work very different from what came before. Others are an incremental improvement.

    We have to remember to create the margin of time to be able to experiment with new technologies.

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  22. As a beginner in web development I was having tough time deciding which technology to use. But now I will just stick to the classic ones. Move on only when I have grasped the essentials.

  23. Anvesh C says:

    That was one heck of an article. Thanks Wes!

  24. Quite fascinating. Wes did a good job on this post. If we must remain relevant in the industry, constant update and keeping abreast with the latest technology is the key.

  25. Aydin says:

    Interesting, using Let again. Reminds me of the old Visual Basic days!

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