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The dire state of programmers in their twenties


I spent part of the afternoon wasting a lot of time reading a post entitled, the dire state of WordPress, and the responses over on Hacker News. I know, I’m the kind of person that would warn you to stop wasting your time reading this stuff and move on, and yet I went and did the very thing I would recommend against.

But as I read it, I read something different than a rant about how poorly WordPress was coded.

When I was Growing Up…

You know I can’t start a rant without going back to the old days. Right? But when I was growing up, writing software was something that was difficult to do. I was lucky to have a personal computer when I was 7. I don’t know how much stock my dad had to sell to buy one, but he did so he could work from home on the weekends.

I grew up seeing punch cards. Then code that still wasn’t very interactive (today’s compilers that tell you exactly where your problems are were a dream of hope that didn’t exist for folks back then).

So to be a software programmer meant you studied. Not high school computer class. That didn’t exist. I’m talking about college. And in college they don’t teach you the new stuff. They take you back. Way back. To the fundamentals.

But the Times are Changing…

More than a few folks I really respect never went to college. They just started coding and learned as they went along.

Now mind you, I have nothing against folks that don’t go to college to learn outdated computing languages. I have no preconceived notion that you learn better in college than you do in the real world.

I’ve written about the invasion of the lightweights before and it won’t stop. More and more non-programmers will become programmers, taking paths we’d never guessed.

Invasion of the Lightweights

But because they’ll all come from different perspectives, with different levels of learning (and with hopes of becoming the next billionaire), we’ll see what we saw from this developer again and again.

What we have is a classic story of a designer who slowly learns to look at javascript, and then eventually learns a few object oriented concepts, checks out a framework (like CodeIgniter) and then looks at WordPress.

And without an understanding of where it came from, or how it works, or why it works, declares the dire straights it’s in. Without understanding history or context.

My Suggestions to You

I don’t really care if you write code, design posters, write music, do bookkeeping, or teach in a classroom. I want you to win. I want you to be successful. And to that end, I want to give you three pieces of advice – especially if you’re young.

  1. Find mentors. When you find folks that are on your road, but further ahead, they can give you context and help you understand history. Plus, those conversations can happen in private, without the whole world being exposed to your ignorance.

  2. Study / Learn from the past. Just reading a few articles, finding a book, or doing some basic research may help give you insight you didn’t have before. It will help you think about what you’re doing in potentially a new way.

  3. Test Small.  If you’re of the opinion that something is wrong or broken and you want to see change, test those ideas in small trusted spaces where you can collect helpful feedback to encourage you.

This isn’t just for 20 year olds

The truth is that this applies to anyone who’s stepping into a new space. You’ll be the fish out of water. And when that happens, circle back here and check out these three tips.

I use them myself anytime I am learning something new. I want to live life with a student’s posture and perspective, not as an expert who quickly turns into an emperor without clothes.

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