Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

Posted on November 25, 2008 by Scott Leberknight

Renae Bair's post on The Ranting Rubyists hits a lot of nails on the head. I will freely admit to being a developer who is interested in continually learning new technologies - perhaps even at the expense of the ones I currently develop in - and I try to contribute a little back by blogging and speaking at conferences like No Fluff Just Stuff on a semi-frequent basis. But Renae's point is that many people in the development world seem to be all about the New, New Thing and ready to dismiss the old things without a second thought. My feeling is that the old things don't go away, often we just end up piling more things on top. (It's new technologies all the way down.) Sometimes there certainly is wholesale replacement, but from what I've experienced usually you just mix in the new things and things become that much more heterogeneous.

I think it's fine to continually push "forward" to newer and better technologies that help you do the same thing in half the time, or in half the code, or allow things to execute on twice the processors, or scale twice as much. But at the same time it is simply not cool or very intelligent to dismiss the very tools that get you paid and perhaps got you where you are today. Sometimes the intent is just that; to dismiss the old in favor of the new for the purpose of making money. Sometimes the intent is merely the intellectual curiosity the best developers usually possess, and in fact the best people in any field possess. A few years ago I told a friend "Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable." What I meant was to learn new things and push yourself to think about doing things better and more efficiently than you currently are doing them. Sometimes this means switching or advocating a new tool; sometimes it means using your existing tools more effectively. And always it means you can't rest on your laurels and you are always challenging the status quo. Many people don't like this. Well, too bad, because reality is that things change and Resistance is futile.

My day job is still mainly Java and web applications, though I also have managed to squeeze Ruby, Groovy, and Python in there (and of course realized the power of JavaScript) over time. I speak on mostly Java-related stuff like Hibernate and Spring and Groovy a bit. And currently I'm learning about new things (to me anyway) like functional languages such as Lisp and Clojure and Scala. Not because I think I'm going to rewrite the application I'm currently working on in a different language and/or framework, but because over time I feel learning new and different things makes me a better developer, architect, designer, etc. I know that the Java code I write today, while still crap, is way better than the crap I wrote several years ago, and has been influenced by learning Python and Ruby and Groovy and others. While it is still Java, I don't try to write overly generic, overly engineered things like I used to (well, perhaps not as much as I used to anyway). I just try to get the tasks I need to get done, done. If I need to make something more generic later, I can do it. But in addition to the power of just learning new things, I think the more well-rounded you are the better off you are and the better equipped you are to solve new problems. And maybe you'll find a much better way to solve them because you have a more diverse knowledge "portfolio" at your disposal.

So, getting back to Renae's post, I think it's a great idea to continue learning new things and pushing better ways of doing things, if for no other reason than to ensure your own relevance and marketability as a developer but hopefully because you enjoy it! But while it's OK to voice your opinion and seek new and better things, don't just rip to shreds the things that got you to where you are. In the past I've made comments to people like "Java sucks" and "I'd rather be doing Blub programming" and I've tried to curb that and realize that things change, we know more today than yesterday, and to just "Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable." You might not always get to program in Blub but that shouldn't stop you from expanding what you know, and by the way the sphere of your knowledge should include more than just technical knowledge and probably should include things like economics, finance, culture, art, literature, sports, etc. Whatever. Just make yourself more well-rounded and you'll be better for it, in all aspects of life.

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