Future-proofing yourself.

The other day I got an interesting comment on an old blog post of mine and I felt like it really deserved a separate post in response rather than being lost in the comments. This is a personal assessment of my skills and the need to future proof myself – it is not a sermon – just personal musings which will hopefully inspire.

The Comment

I have copied the comment here for context.

The past several months, I’ve been working on many Notes client applications, but now we’re ready for a big web based application! So, back to jQuery (YAY!) and some dojo (boo!).
Outside of the XPages world, it seems that jQuery is overtaking everyone else. In fact, I heard that the next version of javascript is taking elements of jQuery! I remember there were Mootools, Scriptaculous, Prototype and TONS of others over the years! Just check the stats of how many Stackoverflow questions there have been for various js librairies: http://stackoverflow.com/tags. It’s not even close! So, for the sake of argument, what if dojo shuts down within 3-5 years, and only Xpages are using them. Then what?

From the outside world, it just seems that jQuery is the better long term decision. Any thoughts?

The Answer(s)

So a couple of things to address directly from the comment:

  1. IBM is a significant contributor to Dojo and has been for many years – I think it is unlikely to “shut down”
  2. jQuery may be “the world’s most popular JavaScript library“, but who’s to say it will be that in 3-5 years? In terms of the internet that is a lifetime away.
  3. JavaScript is an evolving language and of course it will take into consideration any techniques and desires that the development community wants/needs. IFRAME, AJAX and parts of the HTML Spec which we take for granted today were invented as IE only tools which make it into the spec (yeah Microsoft was really groundbreaking in some senses)
  4. I do not agree that jQuery is a better long term decision – I think it is a much better “today” decision and probably at least the next couple of years decision – but what is “long term” anyway? 🙂
  5. Learning the fundamentals of JavaScript I believe is the best long term decision and then the actual library becomes much less of a conversation.

So What?

So I really take the original question as one about future-proofing yourself rather than XPages specifically. For those of you who have already taken the plunge to XPages you have already “evolved” your skillset and you have almost certainly learned new skills (like them or not). Really that is what is important is the adaptability of your skillset – not what should I learn today and what should I be ready to learn tomorrow.

So having learned XPages, what is the hardest thing you have had to learn? For me it is all of the server side controls and the JSF component model. It still causes me mental heartache today and probably always will. I am sure it is obvious to anyone who regularly reads my posts, I am much much happier in the user interface, Client Side JavaScript is my thing, it always will be. I am content that that decision will not harm my future work prospects.

Future Proofing Marky

So for me future proofing myself happened the day I realized that I had been “programming JavaScript” for over 10 years but I had not been a “JavaScript developer” for any of it. If these terms are not familiar to you then you are also not a JavaScript developer: closures. object literals, prototypal inheritance, callback functions, IIFE.

So I set out to learn……and jQuery helped me do that. But……..

There are people who believe that jQuery is an unnecessary safety blanket used by people who do not really understand the language. They also believe that jQuery encourages people to be able to program websites using plugins while they understand very little of the underlying concepts. To that I say *crap*. I do not understand how C and C++ work but I use an operating system and developer tools written in those languages – is anyone fussing about not knowing that? I think not.

My point is, that learning jQuery itself will not teach you to be a JavaScript developer – but it most certainly can help.

  1. The code is free and easy to read – the non-minified version is well documented, easy to read and well laid out
  2. There are many blog posts on how does jQuery work (this is the funniest)
  3. You owe it to yourself to better understand web technology. It is not going away. You may as well start using the tools and understand them as you go along.

I am not saying you must learn JavaScript or you will fail as a developer – far from it. But I will challenge anyone who thinks they are a web developer and is not a JavaScript developer then you are fooling yourself.

JavaScript is not only restricted to web development. As we all see in XPages it is also a server side language and in node.js the fastest growing server side technology for web application development.

Conclusion

So for Marky, JavaScript is the obvious choice. It is not Java, it never will be for me, and I am happy with that decision. I am also convinced that my action will determine my fate. I will not wait for fate to tell me what to learn after my job no longer exists.

The conversation shouldn’t be about what is the best library to use for the future but what skillset do you need to be able to adapt. If you build web sites then JavaScript has to be the way to go.

Web technology moves on a <2 year cycle – welcome to the future of constant re-invention of your skillset if you want to remain relevant.

For your own sake, make yourself better and more flexible – you have no one else to blame if you don’t and the worst happens.

For the record

If XPages is no longer in 3 years what will you do? 2.5 years from now will not be the time to figure that out.

I have no evidence or reason to believe XPages will be going away any time soon 🙂

Dojo is a fantastic JavaScript library. It was never designed to make sexy websites, it was created as a framework for application design. XPages is a fantastic example of how to use Dojo to build a framework – well done IBM.

jQuery is not intended to build “websites”. It is intended to help in the development of websites and simplify the developer experience through standardized functions and removal of browser dependencies.

Ember.js, Angular.js, backbone.js and many others are the new, modern “today” libraries for architecting websites. MEAN is the new LAMP stack and if that all means nothing to you – you should at least do yourself the service of some reading.

Sheer coincidence that I saw this from Tim Tripcony today – same deal – different perspective – same conclusion (metaphorically speaking) 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

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Learning to think…..

My Ph.D did many things, including increasing my alcohol consumption capacity, but the life lesson which has served me to this day, is teaching myself how to solve problems/think.

The stated problem in research chemistry is simple – I have a target chemical I want to make from my starting material – so how do I go from here to there? Being an experimental air-sensitive chemist, with a finite amount of starting material (which took you 3 weeks to prepare) means that you don’t have any room for mistakes.

So you plan – When you have an experiment which is going to have 6 stages and take weeks to perform, you don’t want to screw it up……so you:

  • Do your research
    • Has anyone done something similar?
    • When you are writing up your research paper you will need references to prove you checked?
    • Has anyone created a cool technique which will help make you more efficient?
    • How do I break that bond and add that chemical?
    • etc
  • You process the information and hypothesis on solutions to the problem
  • Write up your plan and discuss with your boss (presenting your work, hypotheses and predictions)
  • Make sure all materials are available
  • Collaborate with your peers and see if they think you are being stupid or realistic
  • Execute the experiment
  • Document to procedure
  • Document the results (Write a paper for your peers to use in their experiments later)

It is not that different from being a programmer and it forced me to become a lateral thinker.

There are many problem solving strategies but my favorite is TRIZ

Solving problems is what gets me out of bed in a morning and it forces me to learn which puts me to sleep happy.