You Are Not Your Technology

Do you see you have a “friend” that sees themselves as an X developer?

  • I’m a JavaScript Developer…
  • I’m a Flash Developer…
  • I’m a PHP Developer…
  • I’m a ColdFusion Developer
  • I’m an iOS Developer…
  • I’m an Android Developer…

This statement usually indicates that this person will be very resistant to any sort of technical change you are driving that in any way competes with those technologies. Why? Because they have worked their technology into their identity.

When one makes a technology part of their identity instead of a tool they use, they see any competition, replacement, or massive alteration of it as an existential threat. Keep in mind, they see this as a threat to themselves, not just the technology. People get crazy irrational about existential threats. It’s not their fault. Fight or flight is built into us; carefully understand and weigh your options is not.

In the long run this is a bad thing.

  • Viewing change as a threat makes you fight it.
  • Viewing change as an obstacle makes you rise to overcome it.
  • Viewing change as a challenge makes you expand to face it with pride.
  • Viewing change as an opportunity makes you seek to capitalize on it.

The goal should be to move your reaction to further down this list.

Oh yeah, I know you don’t really have a “friend” with this problem.

What’s the Fix?

What do you do to fix working your technology into your identity?

Immediately start talking about yourself by what you do, not what you use:

  • I’m an Interactive Developer (thanks Lee Brimelow)…
  • I’m a Web Developer…
  • I’m a Mobile Developer…

Even if you don’t believe it, even if it is uncomfortable, even if you have to ditch business cards and domains, do it. Identity is about perception, both yours and others. You won’t believe it till it’s rote for you. Others won’t believe it until you do.

Start learning about the competing technology. Figure out why people chose it over your technology. Figure out what parts of its philosophy you can absorb to make you better in whatever technology you use.

Why bother?

There are a lot of excuses you can use to prevent yourself from fixing this:

  • This technology has a lot of life left in it.
  • This technology is dominant, and will be forever.
  • I’m too old to change.
  • I don’t have time to change.

Bullshit

We are on the cusp of yet another major shift in computing, the post PC era. The post PC era has more significance than I can wrap my mind around, but one thing is glaringly obvious: The device, the browser, the platform is being swapped out much faster than in the past.

User adoption is a major brake to technology advancement. The 3 to 5 year cycle in swapping out technology is dropping. What will happen to the rate of technology change when people are swapping out their major information device every 2 years? Well it has the potential to be at least twice as fast, if not faster. Technologies are going to rise and fall faster. Those who see technologies are tools to be swapped will fare better than those who think they are their technology.

Finally, your technology is not special or safe. 1 year ago BlackBerry was still the dominant smartphone manufacturer. 2 years ago WebOS still had a shot. 3 years ago there was no iPad. Will JavaScript be dominant 5 years from now? Maybe Dart will gain traction? Maybe browser makers will make the jQuery DOM API native to the browser? Maybe Apps will win? Maybe NodeJS usage will eclipse PHP? The point is nobody really knows what the future will look like exactly. But those who will have the best shot at facing the future and succeeding will be those who view it more as an opportunity and less as an existential threat.

10 thoughts on “You Are Not Your Technology

  1. This is all good advice but I think first and foremost someone should consider what their motivation is. For instance if you work for some company as a Flex Dev and they decide to start migrating over to HTML then you learn HTML or quit. Fortunately in that instance you usually learn on the job so who cares. I’d gladly work for 100k/year to learn HTML.

    But if you’re considering what you want to branch into for your personal growth/interest then it’s all about what excites you. If JS excites you then go for it. If not then find something else.

    We really need to end this perception that all Flex devs need to branch into HTML in order to stay relevant. That is absolutely not the case.

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  2. You left one out of the Why Bother? category: I’m tired of change because most of the time the change allows you to do the same damn thing just a different way that may or may not be better.

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  3. I have professionally programmed in C, C++, ABAP/4, Java, Grails, Scala, and ActionScript. I am not attached to any technology. Having said that, I think JavaScript is crap and it is a shame that Adobe is pulling resources from AS and Flex into it. I feel I am a BETRAYED developer.

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  4. I am sorry, but after the complete lack of trust Adobe has engendered with its November PR fiasco, anyone who quotes recently-turned-professional-Adobe-apologist Lee Brimlow as an authority on developer identity should change their medication.

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  5. Terry,

    Totally get where you are coming from – but what do you say to those people who have based a career around authoring / supporting an open source product that is based on a specific technology?

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  6. I’ve changed (what you young guys call) stacks 4 or 5 times in my career. I figure I have at least one more change in me before someone throws dirt on me. Change happens constantly and it always has. The velocity has started to increase as you note, but change has always been there. The biggest changes I have seen have nothing to do with languages or technology. The biggest changes have revolved around employee relations with companies. There are so many more independent people now than there were 10 or 20 years ago.

    I call myself a developer (or programmer,) but I mostly use ColdFusion and jQuery these days. I’ve also tried to learn Clojure, but it is tough to learn when you don’t have a problem to solve with a language. I agree with the commenter above that Javascript isn’t the best of languages, but if that is what I have to use, I’ll do it or figure out some other way to make a living.

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  7. Great question Mark. I’m not saying you shouldn’t gain expertise. I’m not saying don’t use, prefer and master individual technologies. Absolutely do that. Open source is a great way of doing that. It’s also a great way to build up environment, skills, and notice.

    In short to give a metaphor. Use a hammer. Become great with it. Write articles on using it. But never forget that it is one of many tools. And don’t be threaten by screws or nail guns. You’re not a “hammerer” you’re a “carpenter”.

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  8. There’s still a lot of [quite understandable!] mis-trust in the community and that is unfortunate. Things didn’t have to happen this way. Adobe will hopefully continue to address this in a meaningful way.

    That aside, if we take what Terry is saying here outside of that lens – it really is just a bit of common sense. “Don’t back yourself into a corner.”, “always have an out for any situation.” all that good stuff.

    Even apart from technology and the web – we have people identifying themselves in general/specific ways: “Lawyer specializing in divorce” or “Surgeon specializing in ocular dentistry”* …I see myself as an “interactive software developer specializing in the Flash Platform”. Doesn’t mean all I do is Flash – my actual title is “Senior Interactive Software Engineer” – no mention of Flash even though that is absolutely my specialty. Doesn’t mean a lot to anyone who isn’t familiar with my work already.

    Titles are hard things… I think we can all agree on that.

    *As you fall asleep tonight… think upon the horrors which surely must exist in the field of ocular dentistry.

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  9. This abstraction you talk about can be applied to anything.

    How about… “you not a carpenter, your a handyman”. You know the tools of carpentry, and can get by, but u aint great, cos u do a bit of plumbing, gardening, decorating as well.

    The theme of these kind of blog posts (which everyone is jumping on the bandwagon with) suggest we should all become a “jack of all trades, master of none!”

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  10. While you make some excellent points, sadly the job market still wants to buy technology-related buzz-words. They don’t ask for a web developer capable of learning any language thrown at her, they ask for ColdFusion, Flash, Java, and specific versions at that. I can tell them my current tool-set, sure, and they can match buzz-words based on that, but they then see that as my identity. And you’re right, it isn’t.

    Change? I’m a programmer who uses
    PL/1 X
    Cobol X
    Fortran 4 X
    Fortran 66 X
    C X
    dBase 3 X
    Oracle 5 X 6 X 7….
    that new-fangled Web thing, HTML
    JavaScript 1.0 X 2…..
    ColdFusion 5X 6X 8X 9…..
    SQLServer
    VB
    .Net
    PHP
    MySQL
    ActionScript
    Dunno what that language is, but the bug’s in that line there….

    When I started as a programmer, the web did not exist, and relational databases were a theory of no practical use. Change? Unless you want a career that only lasts a few years, do you really think you have a choice?

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