level up some UI chops

Deciding What Not To Learn

Oct 7 2016

Whether you’re new to web development, recently coming back to it, or have been doing it for years, you’ve probably asked yourself this question more than once:

How can I keep up with all this stuff?

Well I have good news: you can’t. And even if you could, it would be a huge waste of your time.

The number of new things to learn grows at a faster rate than your ability to learn them. By the time you ship your project, half your stack is considered deprecated by the cool kids. Some folks call this churn, others call it innovation. It can be exciting. It can be exhausting.

I used to keep a long list of all the tech I would someday get around to learning. The problem with that is it just made me feel even more anxious. And if I was being completely honest with myself, I didn’t actually have a ton of interest in most of them. I just didn’t want to get left behind.

So instead I’m trying something different. I’m making a list of things that I’m not going to learn. First I organize all the tech into categories that make sense in my mind:

tech organized into categories

Then I simply pick the ones that I’m truly interested in right now, and cross out everything else. Things I already know but don’t plan on investing any more learning/attention to get crossed out. Things I know well enough but that keep on giving the more you put into mastering them (like git) make the cut.

tech cut

An interesting thing happens when you do this. You don’t feel like you have to learn everything. You don’t have to stay up to date on something you learned a couple years ago (you can always look things up if you need). That precious headspace and mental energy get freed up to learn the few things you’re actually excited about right now.

Note: these are my interests, not a prescription for everyone. You should do this for your own interests. You may also want to include backend/DB tech.

It helps to think of the things you’re crossing out as R&D (Research & Development) for the node they branch out from. For example I’m not going to be learning Ember any time soon, but Ember is doing things that is making all the other current and future frameworks better. Same for Elm, Reason, and TypeScript. I’m not personally going to spend my time on them, but I’m grateful for those who are because I know that many of their awesome ideas will influence JavaScript.

For me the litmus test is simple: true interest. Not shallow interest because of a talk I heard at some conference. Not feigned interest because that’s what hot and I’m supposed to be a hot shot. True interest or it’s out.

So, what do you really want to learn? What do you not want to learn? Grab a piece of paper and keep it real.

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Flexbox is incredibly powerful. But it's also crazy hard to master. So we all end up depending on a cheat sheet and guessing in the dev tools. Enough of that! Time to master it once and for all, in a way that actually sticks, so you can build any layout you can imagine with flexbox.