Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow

We find programmers who learned “all you need to know” about Java or C++ years ago.

They’re fully self-sufficient programmers, not needing any “help” from pair programming or TDD. They don’t really need unit tests because their code “always works.” They reached a level of professionalism that held them above their peers.

And they stopped. Dead.

They don’t read books, blogs, tweet streams, open source code, nothing.  As far as they know, they still know all that they need.

One one hand, they have reached a “plateau of competence” and can continue to do work at the level of their current skill. It’s nice, and the time that they might have spent building new skills can be spent on other things.

Taking a break from learning is like taking a nap. Sometimes you really do need a rest. But the question is whether you really do need to wake up and get back to it.

10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
    a little folding of the hands to rest—
11 and poverty will come on you like a thief
    and scarcity like an armed man.

Proverbs 6

This business isn’t static. Today’s Java isn’t the same as last decade’s java, nor is the C++ the same as the old C++. Knowing some ruby and rails made you top of the heap ten years ago. Thirty years ago, all anyone needed to know was CICS/Cobol/DB2. Before that it was fortran, and nobody needed to do anything that fortran couldn’t do.

And it was mainframes. Then AS/400 and HP/UX computers. Then PCs. Hey, C is good enough for Microsoft Windows programming, right? Or maybe Turbo Pascal.

This discussion feels like a walk through the museum of past computer “mainstream.”

While we sleep, the world changes. Today I use Ubuntu 13.10 and gcc and mono and python 2.7 and … well, it’s all stuff that is relatively recent (if you ignore the fact that they’ve been around more than 10 years).

When we lose our urge to grow new skills, we end up not having any.

Our defense is to learn.

Everyone has to learn. We can always gather more knowledge, and we need to have some pride in how much we learn and how fast we learn. Our relationship with learning is a lifetime adventure, not a rite of passage.

  3. For I too was a son to my father,still tender, and cherished by my mother.
Then he taught me, and he said to me,
    “Take hold of my words with all your heart;
    keep my commands, and you will live.
Get wisdom, get understanding;
    do not forget my words or turn away from them.
Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
    love her, and she will watch over you.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get[a] wisdom.
    Though it cost all you have,[b] get understanding.
Cherish her, and she will exalt you;
    embrace her, and she will honor you.
She will give you a garland to grace your head
    and present you with a glorious crown.”

— Proverbs 4, starting at verse 3

We need to quit surrendering our tomorrows and living on our yesterdays. While the author is an avid learner, he has also had a few rests that have lasted longer than they should have.

Cherish wisdom and understanding. Do not forsake her, and she will watch over you.




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