Knowing the questions

it's impossible to have all the web–dev answers

It's never been a more exciting time to be working in web design and development. Web standards support is a dream compared to where we were just 3 years ago, mobile and ‘always–on’ connectivity is almost ubiquitous and the tools — the software and libraries and frameworks that help us build exciting products — are numerous and very often given freely.

A nice problem to have

But whilst the tools and all the information available are what make modern web development interesting, its also one of the issues I struggle with most. What should I read next? what should I try to learn? — there is always something new. Whether you are a specialist or generalist (a brick or the mortar), for people working on the web it's vital to keep up with new developments. Most developers I know have a running ‘to read’ list that gets longer daily — most also accept the fact that some things will just never get read.

If you work in small team, it's likely you'll wear many hats and have multiple areas of responsibility. When faced with the plethora of new information to keep up with, it's tempting and only natural to focus on the areas that are most likely to have an immediate use in your daily work — it makes that reading list seem a little bit more manageable. From time to time though, it can be beneficial to read about a subject that seems only tangentially related to your core role. It will round out your knowledge, and maybe when a related issue crops up in 6 or 16 or 36 months time, you'll know enough about the topic to understand the questions that need to be asked.

…it's beneficial to read about a subject only tangentially related to your core role…you'll know enough to understand the questions that need to be asked.


A simple example

An example that springs to my mind is GZIP. At some point in the past I read a little about how GZIP works. Not that compression algorithms are a particular area of interest, but I read enough to get an understanding of the way it references repeating strings. I didn't think much more about it at the time, but gradually realised this little snippet of information was starting to inform the way I approach some front end development tasks — creating strings in a way I know will compress well, whilst emphasising human readablity and maintainablity.

The ‘stalagmite’ skillset

Many people talk about the ‘T–shaped skill set’, but I prefer to think about it as stalagmite. The drip drip drip of snippets of knowledge builds up over time to give a breadth and depth of skills, allowing you to collaborate and contribute across disciplines. I'll probably write more about this soon.