This article was originally posted to .cult by Neil Green. .cult is a Berlin-based community platform for developers. We write about all things career, make original documentaries, and share loads of other untold stories from developers around the world.
It’s a waste of time trying to learn every new technology. Instead, focus on learning how to learn.
The tech industry thrives on the insecurity of software developers. The less a software developer thinks they know, the easier it is to sell them new technology.
Big companies like Facebook and Google thrive on this economy of insecurity because it maintains their status at the top of the software development hierarchy. These companies portray their open source projects as generous and charitable, but the harsh reality is that they only serve themselves.
They want you to use their frameworks and libraries, not those of their competitors. The more developers they lock into their ecosystem, the more global software development mindset they possess. Their goal is technical dominance, not to make developers more productive.
The fact that tech companies don’t care about software developer productivity should be obvious. Do you feel productive when you have to change technology every two years? Is it in the interest of your career or your company to reduce your production to zero every time a new technology trend appears on HackerNews and Twitter?
Software development is all about productivity: the more products you ship into production, the better. Anything that drives the tech economy depends on releasing high-quality software that meets user needs as quickly as possible. If you are not good at playing this game, your project or startup will fail. A software developer is a factory in itself and stopping to learn every new technology stops the production of the factory.
When I talk to software developers today, the situation is always the same: high anxiety and impostor syndrome with a hint of depression. They feel lost and confused about what to learn and how much to learn. The overt bombardment of “You’re not good enough to be a real software developer” attacks them from every angle. Training courses, lectures, articles, tweets and peer pressure reinforce their fear that what they know is not good enough.
The fear of missing out hits our self-taught or fresh out of code school colleagues the hardest. The industry makes them feel inadequate and worthless, all to advance the thinly veiled agenda of “Learn our technologies so people know we’re the best tech company.”
The web technologies battlefront is where we have the most software developers with impostor syndrome. The irony is that the latest technologies are mostly niche solutions that are generally not applicable.
Many businesses need traditional websites and nothing more. There are plenty of high-paying jobs where a PHP and jQuery master would be orders of magnitude more efficient than a React or Angular newbie. However, PHP and jQuery are “old” and “dead”, according to top tech companies. If you don’t stop what you’re doing right now and learn the latest front-end frameworks, you won’t be able to find a job and you’ll end up homeless on the streets, according to the story.
Unfortunately, the message “learn the latest technology, or you won’t be able to find a job” isn’t entirely wrong. Tech recruiters are just as insecure as the software developers they’re trying to hire. They don’t want their skills questioned for posting a job that requires PHP and jQuery, even though those are the best technologies for their project. They want to signal to their management that they are at the forefront of the latest trends and that they want to stimulate innovation in the company.
After all, isn’t adopting new technologies an innovation? Of course not. Innovation doesn’t come from the tool you use; it is a measure of the value of what you produce. When you research new technologies, you necessarily reduce the rate at which you can create new things, greatly reducing the chances of creating something new or exciting.
Instead of jumping on the selfish corporate hype bandwagon of “To be cool, you need to learn our latest technologies,” become an expert at learning new things quickly. Learning to learn is the one essential skill a software developer needs.
Would you rather be the software developer who knows a little about every new technology or the person willing to learn how to use the best tool for what they need right now?
The best software developer doesn’t have a favorite technology and doesn’t follow trends. Their great effectiveness comes from thoroughly understanding the problem facing them and selecting the best tool for the job. Is the best tool React? Then learn to react. Is the best tool PHP? So learn PHP.
A software developer should be open to anything, but should only learn what they need when they need it based on the context of their current problem. The alternative is to endlessly chase their tails and end up with a frantic, anxious, unproductive, and ineffective version of themselves that isn’t good for anyone.