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Wear More Hats

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Day 17 of the 30 Day Writing Challenge

Developers of all types know that they have responsibilities: to clients, to employers, to code standards, and so on. We’d be doing ourselves a disservice, however, if we didn’t acknowledge our responsibility to grow into not-typically-dev roles. It goes without saying that if you fall too far in love with a particular language and don’t learn alternatives/future-friendly sibling languages, you’ll become as certainly obsolete as your beloved language one day will.

This isn’t about learning new languages - this is about learning new disciplines. And wearing more hats.

Lots of hats. Party hats.

There is probably a spectrum that runs from Designer to to Database Engineer with developers front-end and back in between. Throw in copywriters, project managers, and account executives, and you have a whole world of hats to wear. You might think some of these roles are boring, and they might say the same of you, but that’s not the point - branching into other roles makes one immune to ignorance about them. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll learn a little about what you really love to do with your career.

Front End, Back End.

If you’re used to writing Ruby, PHP, Python, or whatever backend language you’re comfortable with, then JavaScript, CSS, and HTML might seem like tricycle languages to you. On the surface, back-end languages deal more closely with data and hardware, and are open to huge levels of nuance and particular histories which developers take with them with every new project. JS isn’t all namby-pamby and CSS has its own nuances - and both have communities that are huge and accessible. Getting used to browser compatibility issues will help solve your fellow devs hours of headaches in the future, and getting accustomed to html5 will help relieve your own frustration with web objects.

If you’re a front-end guy or gal, learn what you can about the server-side - talk to back-end developers and start going to hack nights. If you have a high familiarity with JavaScript, use Node.js to catapult you into the world of server-side scripting. It’s probably a matter of time before these two disciplines are looked at in the same way, after all.

This doesn’t mean you have to wear a Beret.

Maybe you’re already designing in code. That’s great! Keep up the good work. If not, you should know that coding starts at the design level. Most web designs, in Photoshop or otherwise, have a structure inherently established, and proper use of layering and folder-structures within a document only help add to this structure.

Talk to your designers and see how they setup their grids, their layer/folder structure, and their element hierarchy. It could give you a great head-start when building out your web templates or reveal the designer’s intentions before you get too far down your path in coding the site.

Lose the Lorem Ipsum

Ditch it. If you’re building out a website with greeked text, take the time to write some sample content for the page you’re building. It will help give you an idea of what the user will experience when he/she hits your page after you launch. At this level, you’ll often realize that a page is unnecessary because the content is redundant - just because the site map specifies it should exist doesn’t give it validity. Tap into your inner Copywriter and give it a go!

Your Sunday Best

Some of the best devs I know are serious introverts. There’s no fault in this: they put on their headphones and crank out better code than I could muster. But there’s a reason for the extroversion that project managers and account executives extoll in their peers - clients love being spoken to in their own language, and they love being able to feel like they can speak to you in yours. If you comment your code (and you do. I know you do.), just expand your comments into notes that a layman could understand. Why you’re minimizing a file, the reasons behind g-zipping or calling jQuery rather than writing in core JavaScript, etc. all matter when the client is expected to ever maintain a project, or even to help explain just what they’re getting out of the deal. More than anything, working on speaking with clients will help you connect with them on what their needs really are, and quit playing telephone with their IT team or middle managers.

There are lots of hats you can wear, either in an ad agency or web firm world. Just because you’re comfortable as a developer doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get uncomfortable from time to time. Take chances and do new things!