Developers: Taking Our Own Advice

My cohort at General Assembly, as I’ve mentioned countless times if you’ve ever talked to me, was AMAZING!

How many times have you had a room full of classmates you felt comfortable just calling out of the blue or asking for help? Who were just cool people to have around? This was a very special group of people to me.

I mention them because a lot of valuable feedback about our time at GA came out of that class, lots of critical insight into what worked for us as learners, how the program met (or did not meet) our expectations, and full of passion to make things right. That’s sort of what’s on my mind right now: the making it right part of the bargain.

It’s so very, very easy to be critical. I should know. I’m always being critical of something. But the hardest part about being critical is taking one’s own advice. In this case, it’s recognizing that maybe something we participated in wasn’t as perfect as we imagined but that making that thing more perfect is on us, not the creators.

This lesson hits home wherever I am, whether volunteering for an event that just really didn’t do a good job of organizing to being at work and feeling like we’re making needless mistakes. Well …the folks who made those organizations have done one of the hardest parts: bring it to life. The folks who join there after have a special responsibility: keeping it alive.

It’s easy to sort of assume that creators are responsible for making their project more perfect, and its true that they’re important here. But sharing something with others is like giving them all a piece of the dream, distributing responsibility. We can take it and weave our vision into it or we can discard it as not good enough for us and move on. I think there have been many times where I moved on from projects, not knowing that I was walking away from an opportunity to actually do the things I believed in.

Starting over elsewhere can be this sort of game of evasion we play with ourselves, where we dump one place in search of another where we like things better. Being critical isn’t just about helping creators improve their vision, but an opportunity to explore our own. In a world that moves at the speed of light it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we will arrive at places where things are “done right”. Things are as they are so that we, the newest wave of thinkers and doers, actually have a place to start. You can’t actually add anything to something that’s perfect or “done right”.The more I think about it the more I realize that sort of thinking conveniently situates me as the heir to someone else’s perfect work, where I just come in and get exactly what I expect without making a substantial contribution. If you’re at a place where things have gone wrong, and you recognize that things are wrong, that there is your chance to do what you believe is right.

When I hear developers, especially community experts, stigmatizing the quality or kind of developers (engineers vs coders vs hackers vs cs grads, etc), I’m reminded of how rarely we take our own advice. The irony of some expert complaining they have no quality junior candidates never seems to register with them, as though junior developers arrive skillful and knowledgable. That new developer not meeting your expectations? Guide them to where they need to be. If you’re one of those (annoying) people who falls back on “it’s not my responsibility”, know that it’s not the junior dev who’s the problem. That title goes to you.

To those who do take those opportunities to improve their projects and their teams, you’ll find yourself swamped. It is, in all aspects, an uphill battle. The amount of things that need to be done and the amount of time available to do them don’t line up at all. It’s frustrating, time consuming and often exhausting and thankless. It’s easy to see why people would just leave that work on the table, but we’re all fools to do so. It’s the most rewarding thing I do. Taking my own advice is hard. But that’s why I can type this and be so sure it’s the way to go. Start where you are, work on the problems nearest you. Maybe the results will ripple outward to the wider community. Either way, it’s how I bring myself back to Earth when I feel overwhelmed by the number of wrongs that need to be righted …just pause a moment in my criticism and ask “what are you doing to help make this right?”. As I’ve heard some developers say to aspiring designers, don’t be an idea person. Do something. That counts double for seasoned developers.

My challenge to me: take the advice and criticisms I give and give them in a way that I feel respects all involved. My challenge to you: do the same.

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