It is the end of 2019, and the invitation to write an article for 24 Days in December is an excellent opportunity to reflect on what has happened this year - and maybe even look back a bit further.
In 1990 I wrote my first line of code on an Atari Portfolio, and at the time, I would have never guessed that one day I would be building and maintaining software for a living.
In 1999 I got paid the first time for building a website with static HTML.
In 2001 I took up an internship in a startup in Berlin, and there I would write my first line of PHP code. In 2007, shortly before dropping out of business school, I started working full-time with PHP in another startup. In the years to follow, I worked for several startups, always with PHP.
In 2012 I found out that PHP developers meet up monthly to give and listen to talks about their experiences at so-called user groups, and I first attended the Berlin PHP user group.
From writing my first line of PHP code in 2001 to attending my first user group in 2012, it took me eleven years to realize that I am part of an actual community! A community of people who not necessarily work in the same companies but a community of people who share their experiences; people who are eager to learn from and eventually help each other to become better developers!
In the months and years to follow, a lot of things changed for me. Most of all, seeing that there is a community out there, and that it is easy to become a part of it, made me want to become a better developer.
Soon I started following other developers on Twitter. I made my first contributions to open-source software. I attended my first PHP conference. Attending the user groups more or less regularly, I got to know other developers, some of whom introduced me to other people in the PHP community. I took note of books recommended by speakers, and added them to an ever-growing reading list. I overcame my fear of writing tests. Eventually, I started writing tests first. I continued to make contributions to open-source software. I began working for a company with an actual build pipeline and a process that I still admire today. I overcame framework fanboy-ism and got hired over Twitter to work remotely for a company in New York. I attended conferences more regularly. Seeing a lot of developers over and over again, I found it rather easy to get in touch with them - and was surprised that they are very approachable. I became acknowledged with more and more developer tools - tools that made my life as a PHP developer a lot easier. I started contributing to these tools, and even published a few small open-source libraries that have users other than me. I came around to writing blog posts, and at the moment, I’m struggling with writing this article here.
Probably none of this would have happened if I had never attended the meetings of the PHP user group - none of it. Up until the moment when I first joined the user group meeting, I was entirely concerned with making things run. By going to these meetings, I had opened a new chapter and began wondering how to make things right.
In the last five years, the focus of my work has shifted from creating to maintaining and modernizing legacy applications. Thanks to excellent tooling experiences made, dealing with legacy applications is not a hard problem.
What I have come to realize in 2019, but have heard numerous time before, is, that people are the hard problems - just as Jerry Weinberg, who passed away in August 2018, put it in The Secrets of Consulting:
No matter how it looks at first, it’s always a people problem.
Setting up a build pipeline, putting developer tools in place, refining a process, making it harder for developers to ship faulty code - this is all excellent.
Working on code, however, has only short-term effects: as soon as the project is over, developers are left alone with a code base they hardly understand. When developers have only learned to follow the rules enforced by automated systems, but have not learned why they have been put in place, these automated systems become an annoyance rather than a crutch.
Working with developers, on the other hand, can have long-term effects: by asking developers questions instead of giving them directions, by letting developers fail and helping them up again, by showing them alternative ways of developing software, and by encouraging them to question the status quo, they will eventually become better versions of themselves.
Perhaps you are working on a legacy code base, with colleagues who do not care so much. Perhaps you are looking for a new job already. Of course, the grass always looks greener on the other side - but is it?
For some of your colleagues, being a software developer is just a 9-to-5 job. Others have already so much on their plate, maybe they really cannot and will not be able to do much more. However, there will always be interested developers who only need a little nudge or a pointer.
You could be the person reaching out, go ahead and invite them to the next user group.
This article was originally published on 24 Days in December.