Back in late January, after spotting an advert on Facebook, I contacted .net magazine with an idea for an article on the challenges faced by lone developers.
Within one hour I’d received a reply from their deputy editor, Tom May, giving me the go ahead, within one week the article had been written and sent off for approval, and within one month, my work was on the news-stands (check the June 2012 edition of .net to see it for yourself).
As cool as it was to see my work published (and believe it, it is very cool), I was a little upset that they had edited it down as much as they had, and chosen to fill all the empty space they had created with a HUGE photo of myself (one of THREE locations they used my photo in).
Because of this, I decided that at some point in the future I would publish the entire article myself – and it appears that point in the future is today, so enjoy.
The Lone Developer
I’ve been dabbling in web development since around 1999. I started teaching myself in my spare time, and by around 2006, I felt I was good enough at this-whole web-development-malarkey that I would probably enjoy it as a career. Fast-forward three and a half years, and not only had I graduated from the University of Worcester with a degree in Computing/Web Development, but was just about to start my first professional web development gig, working as an intern for a local college in Evesham.
Although I was part of the marketing department, I was a lone developer. The people that I worked for didn’t have any real knowledge of the Web, making me the go-to guy for any and all Web-related questions. During my nine month tenure with the college, I built a site that not only achieved all the college’s goals, but one that I felt very proud of. I was clearly the best developer this side of sliced bread (or something like that).
It wasn’t until my next job, working as part of a team for a medium-sized Web development company in Rugby that I discovered that I maybe wasn’t the super-developer that I thought I was, and that maybe, some of the techniques I was employing were just a tad out of date.
This is the curse of the lone developer – the constant challenge of staying up to date in an industry that is forever pushing forward.
So with the Web industry growing, with more people choosing it as their career every day, how does the lone developer keep up to date, and avoid being replaced by someone younger, and powered by more up to date knowledge?
My first piece of advice is to become part of a community. Although I am no longer with the company in Rugby, and am, once again, a lone developer, working for a small company in Leamington Spa, I keep in touch with my old work colleagues. This small community of people, who meet from 9:00 till 5:00, Monday to Friday, in the virtual realm of IRC, allow everyone there to benefit from shared knowledge, and can provide a sort of peer-review of everything you do. The community you belong to could be via a group on Facebook, a forum, or even a physical meet up once a month, it doesn’t matter, the important thing is that you use it to share knowledge and learn from one another.
- Stack Overflow has saved my life on more than one occasion. The question/answer format of this site makes it very for you to find solutions to your problems, as well as help others with theirs.
- GitHub seems to be the centre of the open source community at the moment, allowing remote members of a team easily share and contribute towards projects.
My second is to take full advantage of RSS. The Web is full of fantastic sites just begging to give you news and information on the latest developments in the industry, each of which publishes their latest articles via RSS. Sure, they no doubt also use Twitter and Facebook to promote these articles, but if you follow even a moderate number of people via these social networking sites, you have to be in the right place at the right time to see them, before they get flushed under the constant stream of information. RSS, on the other hand, lets you choose when to read it.
- WebAppers provide regular updates on the latest open source resources for web developers, and has had the predictive quality of featuring a useful resource, just as I need it.
- .net I couldn’t write an article for .net without telling each and every one of you to subscribe to their RSS feed.
This leads me to my final piece of advice, which is to always try and learn something new. Many of the aforementioned RSS feeds will include tutorials on just about anything you can imagine. By dedicating some time each week to working though these tutorials (which sometimes can be completed in no more than 30 minutes), you’ll be reinforcing your knowledgebase, and even if you don’t see any immediate need for what you’re learning, that isn’t to say that you will never need it.
- Codrops I’m always amazed at the quality of the tutorials provided by codrops, they’re always informative, and the result of the tutorial always looks stunning.
- Nettuts provides tutorials on just about every aspect of web development, each one easy to understand and follow.
It is hard work being a lone developer, and I admit that what I’m suggesting above probably sounds like I’m trying to make your life harder, but it is human nature to want to make things easier, and by learning the latest way of doing something, you’ll probably find that you’re actually making your life that much easier.