What does your development community look like? No, I'm not asking what you're development environment looks like. And I'm not asking what development frameworks or platforms you're using. I'm asking what does the tribe of developers of which you are apart look like?
Growing as a software engineer is not just about learning new algorithms, platforms, or tools. It's also about learning systems and methodologies. Here's some questions you should ask about your development community to make sure you're putting yourself in a place where you are able to grow and grow others.
Are the people in your community able to challenge each others ideas?
Does your development community foster the idea of critical review? When ideas or plans are presented does the community enable constructive criticism? Do egos get in the way of someone pointing out flaws in designs or approaches? Is dissent about an approach fostered or is it taken (or given) as a personal attack?
Exposing your ideas, approaches, and designs to a larger group is a great way to expose holes, risks, and errors in approach. But only if the community embraces and fosters an environment where criticism is constructive. It has to be okay to be wrong. And it has to be okay to change your mind.
If your community encourages healthy debate and constructive criticism you will grow as an engineer. Your designs will be better and less error prone, simply because it will account for more than you could have come up with on your own and it will account for context that you do not have.
Are you being exposed to new or different paradigms?
Have you ever switched between a statically typed language and a dynamic one? Or procedural programming and object-oriented programming? What you notice when you do is that the assumptions are not the same. Nor are the trade-offs or optimizations. Being exposed to a wider range of development paradigms helps you to start asking new or different questions about your current development paradigm.
For example if you've been a hard core java programmer and never been exposed to Ruby you may not have been exposed to lambdas or closures. You won't have experiential knowledge of the problems they solve or their usefulness.
Does your community include people with a range of backgrounds?
Does everyone in your community use the same tools and frameworks?
Does everyone in your community use the same tools, frameworks, and platforms? Each tool, framework, and platform comes with it's own set of idioms and standards. They all have their pros and cons, but understanding the trade-offs will help you to think more critically about the problems you are trying to solve. It will foster choosing the correct tools to solve your problem rather than shoehorning your problem into the tools you know.
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