Growing as a developer


Super busy at the water table
Grey and his pal Lydia, super busy at school.

My son, who is four now, has been in school since he was 12 weeks old. Yes, school. Many people make the mistake of thinking that infants cannot be taught anything, but after about the first three months that’s completely untrue. In fact, they learn so much in the first twelve months of their lives it’s stunning. They learn to hold up their heads, roll over, sit, crawl, stand, and walk. They learn to talk. They learn to drink from a cup and eat with a spoon – if someone teaches them. In fact, they learn to eat food! They learn how to socialize and interact with others – if they have the chance. They begin to learn the world. They learn the sky and the grass and hugs and kisses; pants and diapers and books and toys. We are born knowing very little. It is not unreasonable to have a teacher and be with other learners at this time in life.

At first I felt guilty about Grey being in school from such a young age, but I think he is so much more amazing than he would have been if I had been his teacher and it had been just him and me. And I do mean me in particular. My husband would have probably been an excellent teacher, he’s much more thorough than I am. And a better student. This is not any kind of criticism of parents who teach their children. I just think I would have sucked at it.

So those following along at home may already know this, but I have worked at the same company full time for 25 years and before that I was a summer intern a few years running. I learned to be a developer at my company and I have had a lot of mentors.

Entering the WordPress world has allowed me to see first hand some of the realities of being a freelancer or working in a very small startup. It has given me a renewed appreciation for the environment in which I work. Not only is there so much I don’t have to worry about, but it is so easy to talk to other developers and learn from them.

A few years ago our little team was moved from one department to another. That was an interesting experience. Someone who also made the move and who has many years of experience in IT leadership at other companies offered an interesting description of our old department and our new department.  Old department = energetic startup. New dept = enterprise engine.

I had never thought of us as a startup within the larger company but she was exactly right. That’s just what we acted like. An immature IT group that flew by the seat of its pants and valued agility over best practices.

When we arrived in the “enterprise engine” I started attending the open tech discussion meetings. It was hard because everyone else was a Java developer and I was frankly intimidated. I didn’t understand a lot of the discussion. But I learned stuff, I met people, and then one day a couple of them came to me because they’d heard I had jQuery experience and they needed people who had worked with JavaScript frameworks. That lead to a tremendous learning and connecting experience. I think it is fair to say that I would never have set up our continuous deployment infrastructure for WordPress if I had not gone to those tech meetings and met those people and had that experience.  I really owe the “enterprise engine”, which I once viewed as completely stodgy and out of date, for where I am now.

I know that often freelancers view the enterprise world as a prison. There are bad places to work everywhere and at the enterprise scale especially. But in a good place, developers can learn and grow so rapidly. The security doesn’t have to be a trap. In the best cases it a freedom that allows one to do one’s best work.