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My first experience of developing blindly with next to no code examples and confusingly written docs

April 5th, 2016

I’m lucky enough to work with a lot of talented developers with a wealth of experience and many years under their belts. Most of these guys have been programming since long before I was even born and joke about Visual Basic and Fortran 90 being cutting edge when I was just learning how to talk.

When I talk to my peers about my degree I sometimes get standoffish comments about how tough it was for them “back in the day”. Joel Spolsky, CEO of Stack Overflow frustratingly blogged:

“The lucky kids of JavaSchools are never going to get weird segfaults trying to implement pointer-based hash tables. They’re never going to go stark, raving mad trying to pack things into bits.” ~Joel Spolsky

I wish he wasn’t right, but he is. And with the help of his own creation Stack Overflow it made University dare I say easier. I started tinkering with things (mainly taking the source code for websites and altering them) when I was around 14 years old; several years before the birth of the Q&A giant. But in the same way as folk say “I can’t imagine a time before google maps” (yet during such a time a normal OS map was perfectly normal and fine), I was just blissfully aware of how easier scripting/programming/development would be. However, last week I got a brief insight into how development may have been like for my peers:

Your search returned no matches.

This was the message that I was greeted with when searching for the answer to a problem I was having while I was doing some development for a side-project of mine; a plugin for Slack. Slack was released 2 years ago and the API only 4 months ago (at this time of writing). My burning desire to contribute to Slack, my own teams productivity (or lack thereof), and the Open Source Community (I’ll probably do a blog post about the plugin soon) meant that the only help I had to rely on was the API documentation. Admittedly it’s alright. It looks visually impressive in that modern bootstrapped sort of way and provides enough information to get you going, but in my opinion it does so in a confusing and scrambled away with a lot of circular links where at one point I had 3 tabs open which were all the same page of documentation. It led me to imagine a time when all developers had to refer to was books and manuals, where help from the community wasn’t really a ‘thing’ yet. I was going into it somewhat blind with little to no idea about different aspects or good practices about writing such plugins. It was frustrating. My “Java Schools” degree didn’t quite prepare me for this.

I’ve always had an appreciation for the developers of the generation before me and the commitment and dedication that it must have taken not to throw in the towel and try a different, easier profession. A one with perhaps a more stable future at the time.

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” ~Isaac Newton

No doubt myself or other software developers of my generation will ironically be angrily blogging in 20 years time about the next generation of software developers because of “how easy they have it compared to back in my day where we only had Stack Overflow”. Let’s hope so.

By Smittey
Posted on April 5th, 2016


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