Going Forward

I wrote a post about moving on from being a technical writer, and I've definitely written some since then about programming and various side projects, but I haven't really done the kind of public reflection on this topic that I've done historically about, many other things.

When I switched to a programming team, I knew some things about computers, and I was a decent Python programmer. The goal, then was to teach myself a second programming language (Go,) and learn how to make "real" software with other people, or on teams with other people. Both of those projects are going well: I think I've become pretty solid as a Go programmer, although, it's hard to say what "real" software is, or if I'm good at making it, but all indications are positive.

This weekend, for various reasons, I've been reviving a project that I did some work on this fall and winter, that I've abandoned for about 6 months. It's been both troubling (there are parts that are truly terrible,) and kind of rewarding to see how much I've grown as a programmer just from looking at the code.

Queue then, I guess, the self reflective interlude.

My reason for wanting to learn--really learn--a second programming language, was to make sure that all the things I knew about system design, algorithms, and data structures was generalizable, and not rooted in the semantics of a specific language or even implementation of that language. I was also interested in learning more about the process of learning new programming languages so that I had some experience with the learning process, which may come in handy in the future.

Learning Go, I think helped me achieve or realize these goals. While I haven't really set out to learn a third language yet, it feels tractable. I've also noticed some changes and differences in some other aspects of my interests.

I used to be really interested in programming qua programming, and I thought a lot about programming languages. While I still can evaluate programming languages, and have my own share of opinions about "the way things work," I'm less concerned with the specific syntax or implementation. I think a lot about build tools, platform support, deployment models, and distributing methods and stories, rather than what it can do or how you have to write it. Or, how you make it ship it and run it.

I've also gotten less interested in UNIX-esque systems administration and operations, which is historically a thing I've been quite interested in. These days, I find myself thinking more about the following kinds of problems:

  • build systems, the tools building software from source files, (and sometimes testing it!) and the ways to do this super efficiently and sensibly. Build systems are quite hard because in a lot of ways they're the point through which your software (as software) interacts with all of the platforms it runs on. Efficient build systems have a huge impact on developer productivity, which is a big interest.
  • developer productivity, this is a big catch all category, but it's almost always true that people are more expensive than computers, so working on tools and features (like better build systems, or automating various aspects of the development process,)
  • continuous integration and deployment, again connected to developer productivity, but taking the "automate building and testing," story to its logical conclusion. CD environments mean you deploy changes much more often, but you also require and force yourself to trust the automated systems and make sure that project leadership and management is just as automated as the development experience.
  • internal infrastructure, as in "internal services and tools that all applications need," like logging, queuing systems, abstractions for persistence, deployment systems, testing, and exposed interfaces (e.g. RPC systems, REST/HTTP, or command line option option parsing). Having good tools for these generic aspects of the application make writing actual features for users easier. I'm also increasingly convinced that the way to improve applications and systems is to improve these lower level components and their interfaces.

Free Software and open source are still important, as is UNIX, but these kinds of developer productivity and automation issues are a level above that. I've changed in the last 5 years, software has changed in the last five years, the way we run software on systems has changed in the last 5 years. I'm super excited to see what kinds of things I can do in this space, and where I end up in 5 years.

I'm also interested in thinking about ways to write about this. I'd written drafts of a number of posts that were about learning how to program, about systems administration, and now that I'm finding and making more time for writing, one of the things I don't really know about is what kind of writing on these topics I'm interested in doing, or how to do it in a way that anyone would be interested in reading.

We shall see. Regardless, I hope that I'm back, now.

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