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Coping with information overload and also being marketable

Ahsan Bagwan
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Joined: Oct 05, 2010
Posts: 161
I always find it overwhelming how so little time I find to get a good grounding in web development. There is so much to learn that I always end up feeling unable to catch up with.

In retrospect, I don't even write good unit tests. I have less exposure to build tools like Ant which every Java developer should know. I also struggle with critical knowledge concerning that of exceptions, reflection, concurrency and so forth.

I have only worked with JSP and the usual scriptlets. I have never written JSTL and EL and think I'm stuck working with old stuff while the world has moved onto JSF, Spring etc.

For a little bit background, I am working in my first job.

So fellow Ranchers, how did you deal with this feeling if you went through it, that is? Is it more of a conundrum bordering on philosophical aspects? Sorry if this comes out like whining but I thought I could turn to the experienced bunch of this community for some wise words.

Also, the fact that not learning anything in college and wasting some precious years keeps coming back to haunt me. Please be kind to my English as I am really learning to write fluently.
Ulf Dittmer
Marshal

Joined: Mar 22, 2005
Posts: 42289
    
  64
It seems that this question is meant seriously, so I'll move it to a forum where it is likely to attract serious answers.


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Joe Harry
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Joined: Sep 26, 2006
Posts: 9427
    
    2

Ahsan Bagwan wrote:I always find it overwhelming how so little time I find to get a good grounding in web development. There is so much to learn that I always end up feeling unable to catch up with.

In retrospect, I don't even write good unit tests. I have less exposure to build tools like Ant which every Java developer should know. I also struggle with critical knowledge concerning that of exceptions, reflection, concurrency and so forth.

I have only worked with JSP and the usual scriptlets. I have never written JSTL and EL and think I'm stuck working with old stuff while the world has moved onto JSF, Spring etc.

For a little bit background, I am working in my first job.

So fellow Ranchers, how did you deal with this feeling if you went through it, that is? Is it more of a conundrum bordering on philosophical aspects? Sorry if this comes out like whining but I thought I could turn to the experienced bunch of this community for some wise words.

Also, the fact that not learning anything in college and wasting some precious years keeps coming back to haunt me. Please be kind to my English as I am really learning to write fluently.


You are absolutely right. There is so much to learn just because that is the nature of a typical IT related role. You should keep up pace with the advancements that are happening so rapidly in the IT sector. Often times it is necessary that you spend some time of yours after work reading some articles, blogs and that is how you keep informed. As and when you read them, you might find yourself attracted to a certain technology or a domain. You need to find that out what interests you the most and make a career out of it.

When I started with my career I wanted to focus and get a good hold of the basics of programming, be it Java or C or whatever. Everything else is just a matter of learning how to use the right framework and tools to do what is required to do. I remember spending lot of my weekends, nights reading through technical books, countless tutorials and all that paid me off in the long run.

On a lighter note, the world has certainly moved way beyond JSF and Spring!


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Tim Cooke
Bartender

Joined: Mar 28, 2008
Posts: 1132
    
  59

There is a significant shift in the way you learn when working in the 'real world' from when you were at school / university / whatever. At school the primary goal is to learn stuff, like Java, and your assignments are geared towards that goal. But at work the goal is to get stuff working, you might learn something along the way, but that's no longer the primary concern. To make things even more difficult, there's no longer a school curriculum dictating what subjects you should be learning.

So what do you do? --- You take control of your own professional development.

Well that's great! But what does it mean? --- It'll mean different things to different people, but I'll talk a little about what it means to me.

As the Software Engineers within our companies, it us our responsibility to gain knowledge about the tools available to us and to drive the technological direction of the company's software product(s). The hard bit for us is to know what to learn. So I would recommend starting small with something you know for sure is going to help you write better software. Don't be overwhelmed thinking that you need to learn everything at once, take it one step at a time. You mention that you think you could be better at writing Unit Tests, so why not start there? It's a high value topic in my opinion. Start learning about what it means to write good Unit Tests, for example by reading a good book on the subject such as "Test Driven" by Lasse Koskela, and/or his follow up "Effective Unit Tests". Then practice, practice, practice, whenever you can. With Unit Tests you can even practice while you work too buy just writing more unit tests for your production code, and improving existing tests. I have a 40 minute train journey to and from work every day so I use that as my reading time, a colleague gets up half an hour earlier on weekdays and uses that as his reading time. You can work out your own schedule of course.

Obviously we can't learn everything so we have to be a little smart about what we spend our time on. This is not easy and you won't always get it right. But I have found that connecting with my local development community has helped me with this greatly. Having an appreciation of what technologies other teams in other companies are, or are not, using as well as within your own company gives you a good understanding of what's popular in your area. Have a look about and see if there's any local events going on that you could attend. For example, here in Belfast there's a free event happening tomorrow night all about Clojure that is being organised by one of our local software training companies. Perhaps there's something similar going on in your area?

If there isn't any active community type thing going on in your area then why not start one? Even if it is just within your own company, or even just your own team. Do you know any other devs with similar thoughts to you? Do you know any more experienced devs who would be willing to share their knowledge just for the good of others?

If you're not up for that then getting involved with online communities, such as this 'ere Ranch, is a great option. I've found the regular posters here to be exceptionally knowledgeable and keen to help, especially if you are genuinely keen to learn and not just here for a lazy shortcut.

This all sounds like a lot but it's an ongoing process and you work it into your life routine in a way that best suits you. It will help you become a better, more rounded, Software Engineer and you'll have a lot of fun along the way. I find it very rewarding and I'm sure you will too.


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Ahsan Bagwan
Ranch Hand

Joined: Oct 05, 2010
Posts: 161
Joe,

Thank you for your response. I do try to stay abreast of the new developments in my choice of languages. I just find it difficult to start with anything small. I imagine I should get good grasp of the fundamentals of languages before delving into frameworks.
Ahsan Bagwan
Ranch Hand

Joined: Oct 05, 2010
Posts: 161
Thank you Tim for the great advice. I will try to get my hands on and work through the book by Lasse Koskela. It looks promising in getting my feet wet.

The bit about allocating time daily to learn something useful (while not discounting other of your points) is also quite helpful.
arulk pillai
Author
Ranch Hand

Joined: May 31, 2007
Posts: 3223
What makes you think that you will have to catch-up? Learn the web basics like HTTP protocol, session management, stateless nature, request forwarding, ajax basics, etc. Just learn the web framework used in your current job. By the time you learn JSF, it will be superseded by a JavaSCript based framework like AnglarJS. Study objectively when it comes to frameworks. Once you know the basic web fundamentals, you can easily learn frameworks.


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Ahsan Bagwan
Ranch Hand

Joined: Oct 05, 2010
Posts: 161
Thank you Arulk, your advice on frameworks is just what I was looking for. I see your blog is directed towards folks that are in my shoes. Kudos for that!

As a side note, I suppose I have gained good perspective by reaching out to the community.
Deepak Bala
Bartender

Joined: Feb 24, 2006
Posts: 6662
    
    5

Perhaps you are overwhelmed by the amount of information that you are bombarded with at your first job. Your knowledge comes from working on it a little every day. No one gets a 6 pack ab within a week (except those people that buy the miracle ab crunch machines from a shopping network. Damn I wish I knew their secrets !). Similarly your knowledge backs your experience over time and you get better at what you do.

Keep learning everyday and make it a habit to read something new. Find something that excites you and follow it. These little drops will form an ocean one day.


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Paul Clapham
Bartender

Joined: Oct 14, 2005
Posts: 18669
    
    8

You're not the only one who feels this way. I felt that way too -- there was HTML and CSS, and servlets and JSP, and Javascript, and then DHTML which turned into JQuery, and then there was putting the whole business together into a web application, knowing that more than half of your problems would be from minor errors in the configuration rather than from the programming you did. It felt like going to circus school and having to learn to be a juggler and a clown and a high-wire walker and a lion-tamer.

And not only that, they keep moving the goalposts, like you said. The web apps I wrote two years ago are faded and the apps I wrote six years ago are hopelessly obsolete. To succeed you really need to be a person who wants to learn new technologies. And it doesn't hurt if you like rewriting old applications to use those new technologies!
chris webster
Bartender

Joined: Mar 01, 2009
Posts: 1775
    
  14

You also need to accept that you cannot know it all anyway. Java covers a huge range of technologies, many of them highly specialised, and there's lots more to learn beyond Java of course. You'll need to know about different things for different projects, so focus on the stuff that's most relevant to your current interests - or to the work you would like to be doing next - and then maybe just learn enough about the other stuff to know where to find more details if you need them later on.


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Ahsan Bagwan
Ranch Hand

Joined: Oct 05, 2010
Posts: 161
Appreciate all the replies and thoughts. I've gotten some great and genuine advice that I can focus on.
 
 
subject: Coping with information overload and also being marketable