I recently updated the theme on this blog, and in the course of doing so I realized that I had not posted on it in the year 2017. The last time I posted about something software related was over two years ago. I then realized that this sort of defeats the purpose of having a blog as a software developer. So here I am, a tad over a year later, reflecting on 2017 and—like many people—how to better myself in 2018. I realize the terrible cliché that I’m starting to tumble into, but bear with me here.
In 2017, my main resolution was to try and read more, and I think I’ve made some decent progress on that goal. I started in perhaps the worst possible way: by trying to tackle David Foster Wallace’s behemoth, Infinite Jest. It is currently sitting on my nightstand with a bookmark halfway through it after several attempts to get started again. Maybe one day I’ll finish it, but probably not anytime soon. I did finish a few other books, including a new favorite of mine: Tracy Kidder’s The Soul of a New Machine. If tech is your thing, I highly recommend it.
In addition to books, I tried to read more of the articles I was previously skimming through on HackerNews, and started reading some industry staples, such as Joel on Software and Kalzumeus. These two blogs are fantastic resources and I’d highly recommend reading them if you (like me) are a new developer in the industry. They also made me want to write more, and made me feel bad about not writing (see above). So that makes for a simple first resolution.
The natural next step from reading more is writing more, and doing so, like reading or any other common resolutions, provides numerous benefits. For one thing, I find writing to be a great way of processing thoughts and ideas, as it forces you to organize them into a presentable manner, then defend why your ideas are correct. In the course of doing so, you may discover a flaw in your thinking or something you overlooked. Additionally, writing down your thoughts provides a tangible log of them, so you can go back and see why you decided to do something, even months or years down the road when you are bound to have forgotten your reasoning, or to remind you of an important lesson learned.
Blogging is—in my mind—becoming a bit of a relic of the old web in some ways. Posts are long-form, well thought out (sometimes even involving pre-writing and editing!), and are self hosted, agnostic to any particular social network (at least for the most part). Writing posts exercises some good, old fashioned English class rhetoric that I feel I don’t get enough practice in, and since I have some big changes coming in my life and am about to learn a lot of new stuff, it seems like a good time to start practicing.
Cal Newport is a professor of CS at Georgetown, and has a blog where he posts several study tips for college students, presumably because he feels like a bunch of his students need some advice in that area. He also wrote a fantastic book called Deep Work that I read on a recommendation of multiple HN commenters. The book’s premise goes something like this: people are getting embarrassingly bad at focusing on one thing at a time, and if we could just rewire ourselves to learn how to do that, productivity for us knowledge workers would skyrocket.
The concept seems simple, but the actual rewiring part is a bit tricky. Social networking sites, TV, text messaging, and similar developments have really wreaked havoc on the human attention span, and in order to reign our focus back in, we have to practice some techniques. These techniques all basically revolve around a common theme: work on one task at a time, with no distractions, and mindfully plan out and pick what that task is. Getting into this focused state of “deep work” will allow you to complete the task quickly and to a higher degree of perfection, while the planning part will reduce your anxiety about how much work you have and keep you from putting it off. I have already begun to try and work some of his strategies into my routine, and want to keep this up in 2018. If you have the chance, read the book for some of his strategies; you can buy it on Amazon here.
About two years ago, over the summer when I was working in NYC, I built a simple CMS application with Rails for a student organization I belong to at Penn State. The members liked it, and with out getting into too much detail, I realized I could extend the application to be a more general use, multi-tenant web app. Life got in the way for a bit, and then I revisited the idea again about a week or two ago, and here I am.
Now, this resolution is not to build out this application, market it, and then make some sales and become Rich Uncle Pennybags. Rather, it is to see how useful this could be, whether a market exists, and how feasible and time consuming building it would be. I’ve had a few ideas for apps in the past (as, I’m sure, anyone remotely related to the tech field has), but usually end up building out a quick prototype, figuring out how I would build it, then getting bored and dropping it. Actually going through the motions, if nothing else, could provide to be a useful experience.
So there you have it, my big three resolutions for 2018. Hopefully, I can follow through and get another post up in a much more timely fashion next time.Written on January 3rd , 2018 by Drew Higgins