Weeknotes S04E07: The mythical full-stack developer

I’ve been all over the place this week. There’s been three or four different focuses[mfn]I refuse to say foci, don’t @ me[/mfn] and they’re all very different. Mostly though this has been a good week. Not great, not terrible, but good.

Four things that happened this week

More than four things happened

1 I spoke to students at a local school about workplace expectations. It was a valuable reminder that most places of work are not like mine, where today I’m writing this in salmon[mfn]the colour. Shorts literally made of salmon would be very slippery[/mfn] shorts and a free shirt from a conference I attended. That being said, I think the behaviours we’re all looking for from people on work experience are the same: curiosity; a willingness to do the work; a certain boldness when it comes to asking questions. This of course needs to be supported by us: we can’t expect everyone to jump into a strange new situation and display the savvy and boldness we fondly misremember ourselves having at their age. With that being said, I’m always blown away by the stuff these young people have done. Maybe there’s hope for us for the future after all.

I also got some really good advice from that lovely Cate McLaurin about becoming a school governor. She’s stepping down from her current role – if you’re interested in doing your part for your community maybe you should get in touch? I feel like it would be a really cool thing to do: my only concern is that I would expect people to start greeting me with “Olrite guvna?” in the style of Audrey Hepburn or Dick Van Dyke.

audrey hepburn GIF
Audrey Hepburn stirring a cup of tea

2 I’ve managed to start automatically deploy the code I’m writing for another team in the organisation to a test environment. I’m not ready to show it off yet because I’ve not finished a user journey yet, but I want to talk about it because it’s reminded me that I see courses explaining how to become a “full stack developer” and, honestly, it makes no sense at all.

A horse facing left in broadly three different styles: the first vertical third is stick-like and very crude. The next third is more developed. The last third is incredibly detailed.

I’m doing an approximation of full stack development. I’ve set up a continuous integration pipeline with automated testing. The tests make sure I don’t accidentally ship code that breaks something else.[mfn]that’s the theory at least: in practice, I need more tests[/mfn] Code that passes is promoted onto a free hosting service, where the team will be able to click around and give me feedback. I’m using the GOV.UK Design System to build views that look professional and have accessibility baked in.

I’ve been doing web development for a couple of years now, and I found it an absolute struggle. The list of commits that I had to add just to make it work speaks to my growing frustration. The fact that I also accidentally wiped a load of database migrations didn’t help much either.

My point here is that I (personally) do not believe in full stack developers. Infrastructure is varied; so is backend; and javascript frameworks multiply at the same rate as bacteria. There’s no way you’ve got a handle on all of this. If you do, then I suspect you’ve been around the industry for a long time. I fear it’s not something you can pick up in twelve weeks.

3 I finished my line management training at work. It’s the first time I’ve been properly line-management-trained, and I was slightly relieved to discover it was covering a lot that I’d taught myself through hard practice. The last session was easily the best: it dealt with coaching. Something happened that I want to talk about, because it was weird and interesting to me. For context, I’ve done coaching and been coached before. I’m a believer in being candid, open, and vulnerable at work. I think people know that about me. We – our cohort – had been together for four sessions now, and we had a good sense of the personalities in the room.

This is what happened.

Just before the break, the trainer – who is also a coach – asked for someone to volunteer for a free coaching session and three or four people in the room looked at me. One person twisted in their chair in order to look at me. I’ve never had such an immediate, obvious expression of how people in a room see me. I felt like there was an…expectation that I’d volunteer. And I did, and I’d planned to if nobody else volunteered. But it was staggering. I’d built up a reputation, with this group of people, that I was the kind of person who’d volunteer to be coached with an audience.

kevin hart what GIF
Kevin Hart, blinking at the camera

It was really valuable. If nothing else, free coaching is something you should never turn down. It helped me work through a lot of things I’ve been thinking around my career (weeknotes passim). Throughout, though, I felt the need to joke around. At various points I delivered a straight line, heard the audience/my colleagues laugh, and turned to them with wide eyes or a frown, as if puzzled that the line I’d delivered had provoked this reaction. It was my own personal comedy show based on my real life and decisions I was trying to work through.

Watching someone else unpack a hard decision and talk openly about what drives them, what makes them happy, as if there’s no audience is…compelling? Voyeuristic? I suppose it’s what theatre aims for: voyeurism in a safe space where everyone is comfortable in their roles. In a work context that’s uncomfortably close to eavesdropping. Acknowledging that everyone was there; that I knew this was a little performative, I think helped it along.

4 I did the chess with Dan Barrett. I love playing chess, but I’m going to have to start admitting to myself that it’s too complex a domain to get better by just doing it a lot. I have played 618 10-minute games since August 24, or approximately 69 games a month[mfn]wait, really? Holy shit[/mfn], and I’m still not markedly better than I was last year. I’ve talked before about playing with Dan: we try to converse at the same time and it always ends up with weird moves and missed opportunities. All the same, the meandering chats we have are anchoring and valuable.

I also played chess with someone at work. They were playing two games simultaneously and won both, which has just hammered home that I work with people in a completely different class of clever to me. This is a Good Thing, but I think I may soon invest in some kind of club or lessons to get good enough not to lose so quickly. Like Samuel Beckett says:

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho!

Alternatively, as the man continues, maybe I’ll sink money into it and never get better:

“First the body. No. First the place. No. First both. Now either. Now the other. Sick of the either try the other. Sick of it back sick of the either. So on. Somehow on. Till sick of both. Throw up and go. Where neither. Till sick of there. Throw up and back. The body again. Where none. The place again. Where none. Try again. Fail again. Better again. Or better worse. Fail worse again. Still worse again. Till sick for good. Throw up for good. Go for good. Where neither for good. Good and all.”

Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho!
kevin hart what GIF
Kevin Hart, blinking at the camera again

Oooft. That got dark quickly.

No links this week, I’m afraid. All I have to leave you with is the knowledge that I’m taking Tuesday off because my boss is Her Royal Majesty, and that means I get an extra day of leave.

A pair of 8-bit sunglasses slide down onto the face of Queen Elizabeth
Cheers Liz

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