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Keeping Up with the Kids

Gemma from "Sons of Anarchy"

Having worked in web development for 19 years has its advantages, but there are plenty of disadvantages too.  Gray hairs and wrinkles are a topic for another post.  I’m talking about all that useless knowledge (table layout, anyone?) you still carry around and how you can get stuck in your ways.  Of course, by “you” I mean me.

The last few years I’ve gotten a little lazy.  With lots going on in my personal life, I've relied on the tools I already had to get me through projects at work.  Besides, at 55 years old, who wants to always be studying up on the latest cool new fad in web development?

Turns out, I do.

It’s shocking just how quickly I got behind.  Within a year or two, young developers on my team are doing things and using tools I’m too nervous to try.  It makes me feel a little dated and old, and that is one thing I will not put up with.

I may be old, yes, but I still adore building web sites and have no intention of retiring to a rocking chair.  It’s time, I realize, for a plan.  So I came up with one, and I’m sharing it with you in case you find it useful or can add some good ideas.

Eat your fruits and veggies.  Seriously, now is the time to take care of yourself.  You need the energy to keep up with the youngsters.  A little exercise probably wouldn’t hurt, either [insert groan].

Don’t rest on laurels.  It sounds harsh, but no one cares (too much) what you built back in the day.  All the world cares about is what you are building now and what you’re going to create tomorrow.

Change your habits.  It’s so easy to do things the same old way.  It's quick, it's painless, and it's familiar enough you could do it in your sleep.  But maybe that's the problem.  If you're sleepwalking through your work, maybe it's time to incorporate some new technologies that could inspire and reinvigorate you.  Shake things up by trying something new--change your development workflow, experiment with a new platform, or play around with a new language.

Listen to and learn from the kids.  Yeah, they don’t have the range or depth of our knowledge.  But they do know what’s trendy, cool and cutting edge.  You may be (almost) old enough to be their grandparent, but you can still learn from them.  Ask a kid you admire to teach you something.  Anything.  

Do something that scares you.  If design terrifies you, join lynda.com and challenge yourself to create a set of graphically rich mockups.  If command line gives you dry mouth, find a tutorial and open up Terminal.  If you’re nervous about Sass, start using it.  Today.

Crack those books...and the online tutorials, courses, blogs, articles, feeds and newsletters.  Anywhere the latest techniques and tools are explained, be there.  Every single day.

Rethink your niche.  Step back and take a high-level view of the industry.  It's changed a lot since you started playing in this game (maybe as a jack-of-all-trades webmaster?).  The explosion of new platforms and technologies means exciting new areas of specialization have opened up.  Find the two or three that interest you most, and focus your time and energy on those.

Recommit to your career. Just because we’re older doesn’t mean we can’t code anymore or that we’re only fit for management.  Unless we’ve stopped trying.  Have you stopped trying?

Don’t. Ever. Stop. Trying.  Because age is fricking irrelevant.

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