The Thankful Software Developer
Neil McAllister's Fatal Exception blog post What I'm thankful for as a developer is timely given the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in the United States. In that post, McAllister expresses gratitude for open source tools, online documentation and support, modern IDEs, desktop virtualization, distributed version control, and jQuery. I use the remainder of this post to look at some of the thing I'm thankful for as a developer.Open Source Tools, Libraries, Frameworks, and More
Like McAllister and doubtless thousands or even millions of other developers, I'm thankful for open source tools and online documentation and support. I've been the beneficiary of others' work in the open source community with products (tools, libraries, frameworks, etc.) such as Struts, Java, JFreeChart, Flex, OpenLaszlo, Groovy, Ruby on Rails, Spring Framework, Guava, Apache Commons, TopLink Essentials, EclipseLink, Ant, JUnit, NetBeans, Eclipse, GlassFish, Apache POI, Apache ActiveMQ, Apache Batik, Apache FOP, and numerous others.Online Documentation and Resources
I also agree with McAllister that one of the things most developers should be thankful for is online documentation and resources such as articles, blogs, and even electronic books. Each of these types of online resources has its own set of advantages. I covered these and their advantages in the post Useful Online Java Developer Resources. Portions of that post are Java-specific, but many apply to any programming language. As I stated in that post, I am appreciative of content aggregation sites such as DZone, Reddit (programming and java), and Java.net. I am similarly appreciative of focused news sites such as JavaWorld. I similarly appreciate online documentation that vendors make available.
The Internet was hitting mainstream about the same time that I started my professional career in software development. Although it was available from the beginning of my career, it took a couple years to catch on and I think there are a couple of reasons for this. First, the percentage of people putting content on the web was much lower then. Most pages were static on sites such as GeoCities. Although not terribly difficult to use, these sites were just difficult enough to prevent a large percentage of developers from creating web sites and documenting their experiences. Blogging and so-called micro-blogging have changed all that. The second major development leading to increased usefulness of online resources in software development is today's powerful search engines. The Google search engine, as discussed in my post Useful Online Java Developer Resources, is still my favorite. The combination of availability of resources and the ability to quickly and efficiently find relevant resources have made online resources invaluable to software developers.Community and Lessons Learned
One can learn valuable lessons from hard experience. It's even better, though, to learn from others' hard experiences. I have come to value learning from others' experiences and their lessons learned. There is a wealth of knowledge and insight out there. This is one of the reasons that I've advocated more developers writing blogs.Contrarian Opinions
I continue to value contrarian opinions in software development. I don't always agree with them, but I appreciate people who challenge potential herd mentality. They may be wrong in the end, but the challenge helps me and others to think through the merits and drawbacks of any particular approach, language, toolkit, framework, or methodology. The Spring Framework arose from someone recognizing flaws with EJBs in 1.x and 2.x versions. Younger developers today may take it for granted that people think badly of EJB 1.x and EJB 2.x, but I remember a lot of Kool-aid drinking going on at the time as "experts" told us what was good for us. Given this, I am appreciate of posts such as Stephen Colebourne's recent Scala feels like EJB 2, and other thoughts and follow-up Scala EJB 2 Follow-up. I don't know enough about Scala to take sides, but it seems nice to see an opinion of Scala that doesn't imply that Scala will solve world hunger.Modern Language Features
I am thankful to have so many new language features at my disposal. For example, garbage collection has been a tremendous boon to productivity. Similarly, I look forward to improvements in Java such as better modularity (fewer class loader and classpath issues) and lambda expressions.Choice
I'm a strong believer in using the correct tool for the job and, in most cases, no one tool covers every job as well as I'd like. Therefore I appreciate having a wide variety of languages, tools, and frameworks to choose from. I particularly enjoy the recent surge in alternative JVM languages. I use Java for most production tasks, but use other languages (especially Groovy) where they are a better fit.The Joy of Software Development
In his famous book The Mythical Man-Month, Frederick P. Brooks, Jr., wrote in the 25th Anniversary Edition prologue, "Too many interests, too many exciting opportunities for learning, research, and thought. What a marvelous predicament! Not only is the end not in sight, the pace is not slackening. We have many future joys." Brooks wrote earlier in the book, "Programming then is fun because it gratifies creative longings built deep within us and delights sensibilities we have in common with all men." This is what we have to be most thankful for in software development: there are so many new things to learn and try and play with. I am grateful to have found a career in which I can make a living and enjoy what I do.