Being an aspiring software craftsman goes way beyond than just saying it. I'll quote my own definition of software craftsmanship from my previous post.
Software craftsmanship is a long journey to mastery. It's a lifestyle where developers choose to be responsible for their own careers and for improving their craft, constantly learning new tools and techniques. Software Craftsmanship is all about putting responsibility, professionalism, pragmatism and pride back into software development.Software craftsmanship is all about attitude. The attitude of raising the bar of professional software development starting with our own skills and professionalism.
The responsibility shift
Not long ago, I was speaking to a developer and he was complaining about his company, saying that they didn't have a good career plan, that he did not have any training, that he was not given the opportunity to learn new technologies and, of course, that he was not paid enough. Apparently, from his perspective, his employer was responsible for his career.
Imagine that we need a doctor. Would we pay a doctor to learn while he cut us open or give us a diagnosis? Would we pay an engineer to learn while he draws the plan for our new house? Would we go to a concert and pay the musician to learn how to play the guitar during the show? What about a chef in a restaurant?
So why is the employer's obligation to pay us training courses and pay us to learn new technologies and tools while we are working on a project? Should the employers be responsible for what we learn and what we don't learn.
Software development is not a 9 to 5 profession. To be a professional software developer, we need to take our own time and money to keep learning and improving. As professionals, we should be paid for what we know, our ability to learn fast and for the quality of the work we do. We own our careers and are responsible for them. Working for a customer/employer that helps us with our career in terms of training, books, conferences, seminars, etc, is great but should be considered a bonus.
... but how can we learn and keep ourselves up-to-date?
Different developers have different preferences but here is a list of ways I find useful.
Books, many books. Having your own library is essential. Books give you a good overview of a specific technology or subject quickly. No, it does not mean you will be proficient and next day you will be a specialist. What a book will give you is an understanding of what a technology or subject is about. It will be up to you then to decide if you want to practice what you've learned and become proficient. If you don't have the habit, try reading 3 to 4 technical books per year. Once you get the habit, try one per month. The most common excuse is that you don't have time. The cool thing about books is that you can read them during periods of "dead" time, like on the tube, bus, in your dentist's waiting room, on the bed before going to sleep, toilet, etc.
Blogs are now one of my favourite types of reading. They tend to fit more the software craftsmanship model since they are much more personal and in general, related to personal findings, opinions, successes and failures. Reading blogs from more experienced professionals and subject matter experts is a good, quick and free way for apprentices and journeymen to learn from multiple master craftsmen at the same time. But don't think that just experienced professionals should write blogs. Every software developer should write his or her own blogs, sharing their experiences and findings, helping to create a great community of professionals.
Technical websites are also good in order to keep yourself up-to-date with what's going in the market. New technologies, techniques, etc.
Practice, practice, practice
Pet project(s) is for me, by far, the best way to learn and study. A pet project is a real project but without the boring bits. There are no deadlines, does not need to make money, you control the requirements and most importantly, you use the technologies and methodologies you want, whenever you want, wherever you want. You are the boss. Pet projects give something for you to focus and help you to understand why and how you can use certain technologies. It gives you the experience you need to apply what you've learned into real projects. Pet projects are meant to be fun.
Contributing to open source projects can also be a great thing. There are thousands of them out there. Find a project that is related to what you want to learn or know more about and download the source code. Start running and reading the tests, if any. Inspect and debug the code. If you want to contribute, start small. Add some documentation and write some tests. Then, check the list of features to be implemented and pick a simple one and give it a go. You can also propose and implement a new and small one to start with.
Pair-programming can be a great experience. Many developers are afraid to try or think they will feel uncomfortable. That's what I thought as well before I tried. Today I really enjoy it. Pair-programming gives you an opportunity to discuss your ideas, to learn new tricks and techniques from your pair and the resulting code is much better. Pairing with someone from your team is good but pairing with someone that you barely know can be a very interesting experience.
If learning a new language or new technique like TDD / BDD or trying different approaches to OOP or functional programming, try a code kata. Code kata is a small exercise that in general can be solved in a few minutes or in a few hours. Code katas were created to help developers to focus in a problem while improving their skills. You can find a good source of code katas at codingkata.org and codekata.pragprog.com
Community and Events
Be part of your local community. Software craftsmanship is all about a community of professionals, learning and sharing with each other and elevating the level of professionalism and maturity of our industry. Join your nearest user groups and participate in their events. User groups are the best way for making contacts, sharing ideas and learning things. Many user groups promote free talks, coding activities and social events. A great aspect of being part of a community if the feeling that you are not alone. There are many people out there having the same problems you've got and many others that will happily share their solution to it.
Raising the bar
The main changes proposed by the software craftsmanship movement are related to the developers attitude. In summary, it's about being proud about your work, the code you produce and the software you create. It's about constantly trying to improve your skills and learn new ones.
An aspiring software craftsman is intolerant of bad code will constantly apply the Boy Scout Rule.
If you find that the good code you wrote one year ago is still good enough today, it means you didn't learn anything during this period and this is unacceptable.
The attitude of a software craftsman goes beyond good code. The relationship between a software craftsman and his or her customer (or employer) is of a productive partnership and not employer / employee. As a productive partnership, it's our role to constantly question the requirements and propose improvements and new features. It's our job to warn our customers about the problems we see. Due to the knowledge of the code and technology, developers are well positioned to help their customers improve their business.
However, sometimes some customers or employers don't want or don't see the advantages of this partnership and will treat developers as production line workers that should just do what they are told. Coding monkeys. In cases like that, any aspiring software craftsman should move on and find another job. Staying in a place where your skills are not appreciated is a career suicide.
Raising the bar of our industry is on our own interest. The better we become in writing code and delivering valuable software, the better our lives will be, professionally and financially.
PS: If you are in London or nearby, join the London Software Craftsmanship Community.