I began writing this post in 2019 and it only took a global pandemic for me to finish it.
Catching up after being AFK in 2018
For reasons I won’t get into here, I was unable to work (or do anything) for an 18 month period spanning 2017 to 2018. I was completely off the grid.
When things returned to normal in 2019, I found myself in the unique position of rejoining an industry that had grown by 18 months while having zero knowledge of what had transpired. I was like Captain America waking up after being frozen for 70 years…
… but better looking.
After much anxiety about resuming my professional career, I dove into some contract work and found that getting up to speed after a long period of inactivity wasn’t as difficult as I’d expected. In fact, some of the more tricky challenges were ones I wasn’t anticipating.
Here’s what I learnt:
Teamwork. So helpful 🤜🤛
My 2018 was fairly isolated, so rejoining the workforce and suddenly being surrounded by all manner of people was a shock to the system.
Navigating the sea of personalities, roles and agendas, while trying to earn the respect of teammates inside a team with an established dynamic proved to be the most challenging — but fulfilling — part of my return.
Going in I was so worried about keeping up with my code, but that turned out to be the easy part. It was the process of re-learning the value of effective communication in a multi-discipline team (and how to do it well) that demanded most of my attention.
Focussing on building relationships within a team can help pave the path you need to walk, but you also end up just making great friends along the way. It’s a win-win.
Self-doubt. So helpful 💭
As far as I know, there are only two rules for maintaining a blog as a developer:
- ✅ Your blog must be hilariously over-engineered
- ✅ You must write about Imposter Syndrome
Of all the hot takes on Imposter Syndrome I’ve read, I like Rach Smith’s the most.
Even with that in mind, I was still carrying around a chunk of self-doubt wherever I went. Keys, wallet, phone, self-doubt.
However, over time, I’ve come to embrace it. It helps me maintain an edge I otherwise wouldn’t have. It allows me to self-identify as a beginner again, which has made me more open and ready to learn.
Not that much changes
Even though I was now worthy enough to wield the power of self-doubt…
… I found that there was nowhere near as much to catch-up on as I thought there would be.
In the real world, building real products, with real money at stake, technology simply just doesn’t move at the pace our Twitter feeds would have us believe.
Changes are usually iterative. Evolutionary rather than revolutionary, building on ideas that were built on ideas previous to those, and so on.
So even after 18 months in the dark, I wasn’t completely lost because I could see the through-line from 2017 and 2019. Here are some notes I took in my first week back:
1## Things to catchup on2* React: HoCs > render props > hooks (which look like mixins that can3 access state?)4* React: context has an actual API now. Check it out.5* Everyone seems to use VSCode now. Check it out. Is it good?6* Relearn your git commands and aliases. Create new aliases that make7 sense to 2019-you.8* You'll be right.
Prettier. So helpful 🧹
My initial reaction upon seeing Prettier in action was a visceral, “I don’t like it.” I didn’t like the idea of something doing that much for me.
20 seconds later, I completely changed my tone.
Seriously, I just vomit code into my editor now with almost no regard for spacing or formatting and Prettier obediently tidies it up instantly. It’s like I’ve freed up a CPU core in my brain that was previously dedicated to formatting. It feels like cheating.
TypeScript. So… helpful?
This was a surprising one to me. Before my sabbatical, the last time I’d used TypeScript was while working on an enterprise Angular 1.x app for a big bank. It had the reputation of being overbearing with a poor ROI, while Flow seemed have have the backing of the community.
One extended period of time later, that’s flipped on its head.
It makes sense. As web technologies are asked to do more and more, the legitimisation of the web as a platform continues, the idea of TypeScript and its benefits scale well with the increasing complexity of our frontends.
Although there already seems to be some healthy discussion about whether the investment is worth it.
Programming is still fun
More than anything, I rediscovered just how fun it all was.
I will always view programming as a team sport. Like real team sports, it was the small “in-between” moments between teammates I relished the most. Like the excitement when you and a teammate discover you can both mutually benefit from a refactor of a common set of logic.
“We’re the best! Everyone wins!”
Or when you and your pair both realise you’d both held the same dumb assumption for hours when approaching a problem.
“We’re the worst! We’re so stupid!”
While somehow, at the same time, programming is one of the most rewarding solo experiences (and probably how most of us got into it in the first place). Just you, the problem and an afternoon to solve it. Bliss.
Err… so what I’m really trying to say is, I’m the Captain America of frontend development.