Changing Roles as a Developer Can Be Scary

There's so much to learn - where do I even start?

As a developer, I love learning new things! As a developer, learning new things scares me! Although perhaps seemingly contradictory, both these things are true about me.

No developer can remain stagnant and succeed. The industry changes too much and too quickly for that. However, in most cases, these can be small shifts that build upon a foundation of expertise. These small shifts can add up to be significant over the course of years, but the underlying foundations were never threatened.

That is the course I set out in the first half of my career. I started out as a ColdFusion developer. I added database expertise. Worked to improve my front-end coding skills (being a relatively early adopter of things like CSS and jQuery), and eventually expanded those into Flash and Flex.

For me, the shift over the course of those years was dramatic enough that by the end of the first half of my career, I’d basically left behind many of the back-end ColdFusion and database skills that I’d started my career with, but each change had gradually built upon those early skills so that it felt like a natural extension of my knowledge.

Other parts of a developer’s career can often take dramatic turns, where you are forced to or choose to leave behind much of what you know to embark on an entirely new set of technologies and tools. Often times these shifts come with a new role at your company or a new job.

That’s been the story of the second half of my career from the moment I was forced to leave Flash and become focused on front-end development (in a community management/developer relations role) at Adobe. I was suddenly dropped in a world of development that I once knew, if imperfectly, but which had changed so dramatically in the years that had passed that I was left feeling like an aspiring junior developer working in my first coding assignment. There’s so much to learn - where do I even start?

Since then I’ve rarely felt comfortable in my development skills. I’ve done a lot - written articles, written books, spoken at a ton of conferences, but I’ve also dabbled in a little bit of everything. I used to descibe myself as being the developer equivalent of the Boston Common Frog Pond, covering a lot of ground but never deep in a single spot.

And yet there was a certain kind of comfort in that. I could be building a site in Wordpress and PHP one day and whipping up a command-line app in Node another. I knew enough to get by but no one expected me to have deep expertise in any one thing.

Now, I am - by choice - embarking on a new role and remembering that awful discomfort of that dramatic break from my past knowledge. I once again feel like a noob not knowing what I should know or where to start to find out.

It’s exiting and I can’t wait to get started!

And it’s incredibly scary and I am anxious about taking my first steps!

It makes no sense to have both these feelings at once and, yet, it also makes complete sense.

(For the few of you who read this whole thing - thanks for listening. I hope this wasn’t too personal. I will share more about my new role in the coming weeks and months, but, for now, if you are curious, just know that I am staying on the same team at the same company, just in a very different capacity)