Take the Pedals Off Your Bicycle and Become a Better Web Developer

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Take the Pedals Off Your Bicycle and Become a Better Web DeveloperOver the weekend, my wife and I had the privilege of taking care of two of our friends’ children, while their parents had a night out at a local show. When the kids’ mom was showing us a few things around their apartment, we noticed that their daughter’s bicycle had no pedals on it. That was a little peculiar, so we inquired about it.

Her mother said she wanted her daughter (who is about 5 years old) to have her feet on the ground as she learned to ride her bicycle. This would allow her to remove her feet from the ground only for short amounts of time, thus practicing her balance without pedals or training wheels. In this way, she could focus purely on balancing herself, and not worry about trying to do more than one thing at a time.

I’m not really sure where her mom got this idea from, or even if it is any good for learning to ride a bike, but it reminded me of what I personally prefer when it comes to learning new skills in web design or development.

Focus on One Skill at a Time

I believe you can become a much more valuable and refined developer if you don’t allow yourself to get too distracted with what you don’t know, and just focus on continuing to improve your skills in what you do know.

Here’s what I mean by this: You might have beginner or low-intermediate knowledge in JavaScript, but maybe you haven’t yet taken the time to delve too deeply into any of the popular JavaScript libraries like jQuery, YUI, Dojo, or MooTools. You’ve done a few cut-and-paste jobs with a few scripts, and you’ve utilized a few library plugins, but you haven’t learned to use those libraries in your own JavaScript code, creating custom scripts, and so on.

The best way to handle this is to remove your bicycle pedals — that is, forget about trying to learn advanced JavaScript and advanced jQuery at the same time. Concentrate purely on just one of those things, preferably pure JavaScript. When you get familiar with object-oriented JavaScript concepts, you’ll pick up jQuery in no time. In fact, most good jQuery books will tell you to learn specific JavaScript concepts and principles to really improve your jQuery abilities anyhow.

Or maybe you’re pretty good with Photoshop, but have never touched Illustrator. You see tons of awesome stuff being done with Illustrator, and you’re wondering if you’re missing the boat on some great graphic design opportunities. My advice is to continue to refine your skills in Photoshop and forget about Illustrator for now. Gain expert-level status, or near that, in Photoshop before you move on to Illustrator.

And the same would be true if you’re contemplating putting your PHP skills on pause while you try your hand at Ruby. I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to hire an expert PHP developer who knows nothing about Ruby over someone that knows both languages at a low-intermediate level.

Expert-Level Skills are More Valuable

Focusing and refining your skills in one specific area will help you to work towards expert status in that area. Being able to have extensive skills and expertise in a few areas is, in my opinion, much more valuable nowadays than trying to wear too many hats — although I’m sure some will disagree.

I’m sure our friend’s daughter is getting some quizzical looks from her friends while riding her bike on the street — “Where are your pedals?” But just imagine how well she’ll be able to balance herself when those pedals are put back on her bike!

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10 Responses

  1. Tony:

    Amazing read. I agree with having extensive skills and expertise in a few areas is more valuable than trying to venture on more fields. For graphic designers, the important aspects that need mastery are applications, how you make designs and how you converse with potential clients.

  2. Pam:

    I think you have hit on a very important concept that many have forgotten. Similar to the old saying “Jack of all trades, Master of none.” This is certainly not something any of us want to labeled with.

    When a client comes to us, I always mention our strengths. If we are not strong in an area, we tell them this directly and explain WHY we have focused where we have. We never jump to try and work in a new area but LOVE expanding our current strengths with new challenges. Almost always, the client is much happier to have both the honesty, and the knowledge that they are working with a specialized professional.

    I think one important point made (although possibly hidden) in your article is not to ignore that other methods and skills exist. Yes, focus and become an expert before you expand, but keep you ear to the ground on new options and how they can accent and improve your now expert areas. Then still keep it to one or two hats. You, your results, and your clients will thank you :)

    Pam

  3. Mike Wilkes:

    The bicycle idea is extensively used in Europe. Was in Skiis and Biikes (as you’re a fellow Torontonian), and the salesman was showing my 3 year old son (and obviously me) the bike. It was built without pedals, and low to the ground.

    I’m using a scooter for learning balance, but the lesson is the same. It’s great to learn where you know you have a safety net if you don’t quite get it right.

  4. You have some strong points in there for every web designer to take note and I’m one of them.

  5. Reading this article carefully I would like to argue with the author. It is impossible for a person to be a good web developer and be able to do all stages by him/herself. In order to be a good web developer you should have strong skills in web design, HTML, CSS coding and PHP at least. All these actions require a lot of time.

  6. strong words of thought here. Often i struggle to learn more than two things at once – later on realizing that I should focus on one thing only, master that and then move on.

    thank you for the post.

  7. Daniel Lucas:

    This is great! I appreciate you writing this because I’m a budding web developer and am almost done with college. I’m not very satisfied with my experience here at college so I took on myself to teach myself web design. I totally agree to focus on only a few areas and become expert in them. You have just given me quite a bit more motivation and inspiration to focus on a narrower line of web development. I’m not going to try and learn everything. Thanks a bunch.

  8. From the starting of my graduation in 2004 I was confused what should I start to go walk with web development then I decided to learn HTML and after that started PHP though during that time I studied on .net also but was fixed to learn PHP in master level. Now I can realize I did the good work learning just specific one that is PHP ;)

  9. Thanks for this “pathbreaking” article. Seems that most people always have the problem of beeing willing to learn on the one hand and to stay focused on the other. However, I appreciate times where I don’t learn, but apply the things and time where I just pick around in any theme for getting the bigger picture how things are onnected and could be compared.

  10. Moirakow:

    Good article and valuable comments too. It makes sense to stop and think througly what it takes to become an expert.

    I ´m a graphic design / multimedia / web design -teacher, worked within media content production last 20 years. I´m a junior football (soccer) trainee too, got 3 children. An old fart so to speak.

    Dispite your specilal skills, what ever their might be, your must able to communicate with the environment too. The skilled web designer for example have to master some level of knowledge in all trades included in his own expert area. I mean vocabulary, possibilities and restrictions, working flow, softwear and so on… This does not mean to be an expert of all trades though. How can he / she otherwise hire a PHP lizard if he / she does not have a clue about it.

    Bicycle without pedals is great: We did it with our son when he was 2 and a half year. He mastered his bike in no time.

    Small children are different than students / grown ups who are more able to concentrate and multitask, left aside and change the focus to continue again. They can master switching conceptual frameworks. For children, in their early years, even simple parallelism causes difficulties. Let say bicycling and telling a “story”, dribbling a ball and doing visuospatial perceptions at the same time.

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