An Adjustment in Priorities

I think it is very common this time of year for people to reflect, especially on their accomplishments during the past year, and what they would like to accomplish next year. Personally, I’ve been doing quite a bit of thinking about my development as a software engineer.

It feels as though, over the past couple of years, the pace at which I have been learning has slowed. This troubles me. One of the reasons I love the software industry is that there is always something new to learn. I love learning about new ways to solve problems with technology. And, learning is what you must continue to do if you are to stay relevant as a software engineer.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I haven’t learned anything over the past couple of years. Quite the contrary actually. I’ve really been enjoying the boom our industry is seeing in non relational data storage systems. We’ve been utilizing many of these newer technologies at Signal with great success. I’ve been an active member of the ChicagoDB users group, attended a few conferences on this topic, and even gave a few talks…a first for me. I’ve also been learning first hand how to scale a system as we’ve taken the Signal application from one capable of sending thousands of messages per “blast” to one that regularly sends millions of messages per “blast”.

However, something is missing. I used to read more. I used to blog more. I used make a sincere effort to learn a new programming language every year. I used to constantly download and tinker with new tools. These things have fallen to the wayside. And, I really miss them.

Instead, over the past couple of years, I have been spending the majority of my time creating. When creating a new project, there is usually something new to learn. That’s what drives me to create the project in the first place. But as time goes on, the cost of the time I spend working on the project starts to outweigh the benefit. I reach a point where I am no longer learning anything while working on the project. If I’m not benefiting from working on the project in any way (now that the learning part has mostly dried up), there is little motivation for me to keep working on it.

Part of me feels obligated to keep these projects going, and to get them to a point that I would consider “done”. I’ve never been a quitter, and stopping work on these projects sounds like quitting to me. However, it makes little sense to continue working on something that gives me nothing in return. I will still fix bugs that are reported, but any new development on most of my active projects is likely going to cease. Time is precious, and I need to make the most of it.

So as of right now, I’m making an adjustment in priorities. I’m using my free time to invest in myself. To read more. To blog more. To get back to learning a new programming language a year (Clojure is on tap for 2012…I’ve been wanting to learn it for 3 years now). To resume downloading and tinkering with tools that spark my curiosity. I want to start practicing how to write code, like I learned at the code retreat I attended over the summer.

I’ll still be creating, as I’m someone who learns by doing, but I have a feeling from now on my projects will be much, much smaller.

It is impossible to “find” time to do something. You have to make time.

One thought on “An Adjustment in Priorities

  1. I don’t know how so much time slipped past between you posting this and me reading it. I’ve been thinking a lot about time and priorities myself and agree that you’ve got to take a hard line on prioritizing and doing what’s right for you. I’ll be interested to see what you’re up to by way of whatever you write about it or talk about it at the office.

    Also, I know you’re interested mobile optimization of applications – something we’re focusing on heavily this year. I think there will be a treasure trove of projects there that’ll get you excited.

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