Advice for Mid-Career Developers
Staying sharp as a developer gets tougher as you get older. Here are some tips to give you a few small percentage points.
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Over the last few years, as I've matured in this industry, there are a few things that I've learned along the way that can help your well-being, and help you get that extra 5% that's critical as you get older. You don't have the energy of these new graduates, and you might not have the ability to work long days like you used to. These are things that they don't teach you in university, but you pick them up as you go along. Like Steve Jobs said in his famous Stanford Commencement speech:
“You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards."
So, what have I found that helps me stay that little bit sharper? Some of this is painfully obvious, but also easy to forget, and following just a few of these tips, you'll be better equipped to keep burnout at bay.
Trust Your Sleep Cycles
Remember when you could code through the night? Or maybe you were one of those 4am early risers? You've got to accept that is no longer the norm. While you might be able to do it now and again, if you do this over a sustained period, you will burn out. While you should definitely set alarms to ensure you don't get into work too late, I'd strongly advise against dragging yourself out of bed too early when it doesn't feel natural. Just trust your body to wake up when it can. If there's something that you're under pressure with, chances are you will wake up early to work on it — just let your internal alarm clock do the work.
Stand Back From Problems
Don't just fix stuff straight away like you used to. You'll want to dive into the code to solve something, just to prove you haven't lost it. But remember to use the advantage of your development experience to solve the problem more efficiently. You don't have to worry about proving yourself anymore; if you have 15+ years of experience, that is your secret weapon now.
Eat Well, Drink Well, Take Vitamins
The problem with our profession is that we probably drink too much coffee, snack too much, and sit at our desks for too long. It's not that easy to break that cycle, but once you get in the habit of having a decent breakfast and staying hydrated with water throughout the day, you're halfway to solving it. Consider using the pomodoro technique to stay focussed on tasks, and then leave your desk after every other task has been completed.
The fact that you're at your desk, means that you're probably not getting enough sunlight, and hence will be deficient in vitamin D. Getting around this is as simple as taking a vitamin supplement. There are loads to choose from, including those that promise greater brain power and focus. Not sure if they work, but why not try it!
Remember That Done is Better Than Perfect
Also, follow that Facebook motto and accept that done is better than perfect. We all want to build the perfect system, but you know that getting client feedback sooner is better. If you wait for perfect, you might never get there!
Watch Out For Decision Fatigue
If you haven't heard of it before, check out this article on decision fatigue. Does it sound familiar? The summary is that while it may seem trivial, your brain is actually drained throughout the day from switching between menial tasks. So how do you solve this? Eliminate those tasks. That's exactly the reason that you see Mark Zuckerburg (and saw Steve Jobs) wearing the same thing to work every day—one less decision to make. Again, when it comes to getting that little bit of extra efficiency, one less decision, no matter how small, could make the difference.
Get to Know a Physiotherapist
Unless you're particularly active outside of work, or have a threadmill desk, sitting at a keyboard for hours on end, every day for years and years, will take its toll. More than likely you'll get RSI, sore back/neck or shoulders. That's exactly why you should see a physiotherapist regularly; maybe even as regular as your dentist. It'll help to keep the knots in your shoulders away. If you can find the time, an hour of conditioning, or circuit training could be a huge benefit, and will clear the mind.
Think Twice Before Writing a Book
This last one is from bitter experience. It might sound like a great idea, and it might look good on the CV, but writing a technical book is not as rewarding as it might seem. Unless you uncover something amazing that every developer will want to read for a long long time (like the Gang of Four's Design Patterns, or The Pragmatic Programmer) writing a book that will be successful is a challenge. Make sure to weigh everything up—will it take up too much of your personal time? Should you take a vacation from your day job to get the book written? Books will always come with tight deadlines. There will also be diminishing returns as the technology you wrote about on paper fades away.
What tips have you picked up that help you remain at the top of your game?
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