This post is over a week in the making. I attended AltNetBeers #9 last week in London which is making a quick rise in my list of top developer-related events, big or small. And that’s not just because I got one of the best compliments ever from someone who claims his non-IT friend reads a single IT-related blog (take that, Hanselman!). Anyway, it’s nice to know I’m reaching my target audience.

The event was not altogether removed from what Sebastien outlined at the one I attended last year which shows a degree of vision to which I only aspire. We spent a couple of hours talking on a topic of choice (as voted by attendees), then socialized until the place closed down at the unreasonable hour of 11pm. I’m told much merriment ensued afterward but, after posing for a picture, I made my way back to the hotel.

The topic at hand, and I’m paraphrasing: How do we become better developers today, and how do we create them tomorrow? Nice and subjectively vague, just how I like my open spaces. The runner up topic, brownfield applications, seemed suspiciously planted so I threw my weight behind the one we eventually chose.

Kinda concerned at how often this image is relevant to my posts

Conversation ran the usual gamut from apprenticeship programs (and thanks to Neil for the extensive historical thesis into the concept) to showing passion to defining professions to just going out there and doing it. My position through most of it was to focus more on the non-technical skillz, to the point where I think I pooh-poohed actual book learning more than I should have. If you decided, based on my advice, to drop out of university, I’d advise you to politely grovel to your dean to get back in. It’s still important. But take a psyche course or two when you go back.

Alas, we didn’t offer as much practical advice to the first part of the question as I would have liked so I’m expanding on the closing comment I made. It was essentially: Follow your instincts.

Now, there’s a danger with throwing out a broad statement like this because I made it in a very specific context. Namely, in a crowd of people who had taken time out of their lives to come to an IT-related event (albiet, one with more social activities than your average code camp; it *is* held in a pub after all). These are people who, at some level, have made a conscious decision to improve themselves on their own time. They could have had much better things to do but their instincts told them that this was an event that was more important than attending the new West End show, Deliverance: The Musical. (Side note: I know I just made that up now but MAN, the Duellin’ Banjoes scene would rock live; I suspect they’d lose a lot of people at intermission though.)

A lot of people have questions like, well, how do I make myself a better developer. The fact that they are asking those questions is the first step. The next step is to trust that they can muddle their way through their own answer. Because as we proved last Wednesday night, the same answer may not work for everybody. Me? I’m not much of a book learner. Nor, ironically, do I get much out of scanning blog posts (other than creating my own internal Google index so I know where to look later when the topic becomes relevant to me).

It’s dead simple to make yourself a better developer nowadays. Resources are plentiful and mostly free. And the ones you pay for, like conferences and training courses, are easy enough to rank with a little research (e.g. JP’s Nothin’ But .NET, Oredev, NDC). All it takes is a focused effort to make yourself better and to put some thought into how you go about it. You alone know which bloggers out there speak the same language you do. And you alone know which technologies will help you in your daily life and which ones interest you. Yes, SharePoint developers are in high demand but is it a product you want to learn and spend eight hours a day working with? (That’s not meant to be facetious actually, stop laughing.)

There will be much second-guessing and wondering which way you should go. And that’s fine. I won’t pretend I’ve made the right decisions all the time but like the software we’re supposed to be writing, most decisions are reversible. Humming or hawing about a contract in Dubai? Go for it. If you don’t like it, go home when it’s done. Worried about being away from your family that long? Well, you have some soul-searching to do but once you’ve made the decision, move on to the next one.

Was it the right decision? In my experience, unless you have direct and obvious evidence to the contrary, the answer is always yes.

Like I said, the topic is generic enough that pretty much everyone’s opinion will be valid, likely because it has worked for them personally. The underlying message I want to get across isn’t so much how to improve yourself (because you already know how to do it), but rather, if you’re in the London area, AltNetBeers is not to be missed. Many thanks to Neil, Toby, Scott, Andrew, Chris (both of them), Paul, Christian, and Lorenzo for the conversations and, of course, to the incredibly humble and reticent Sebastien Lambla for organizing and chairing the event, and also to Neil Robbins for the geek lunch two days later.

Kyle the Well-Shod