Feb 24, 20233 min read

Why I'm starting a developer community

Shortly after I started working at Google, I was assigned to interview a contractor candidate for my team. I was a little nervous looking at his resume: he had over 15 years of experience. I had just over 3. I was wondering if I’d even be able to evaluate his skills.

Turns out, he wasn’t actually great at writing code. Fifteen years of working on marketing sites but knew very little about any of the requirements for the job: CSS, semantic markup, SEO, or web performance.

It’s easy to get the sense when looking at job postings that “years of experience” is some sort of golden metric for how good an engineer is. There’s some sort of years requirement on pretty much every single job description. This interviewing experience taught me years of experience and skills are only somewhat related. I've heard it put another way: "you can work the same year for 15 years".

Indeed, I’ve found this to be true in my own career. I’ve had many years where I stagnated and only a few where I grew substantially.

What did my periods of growth have in common? I worked at jobs where I received incredible mentorship from engineers I respect.

The importance of mentorship

More than ever, anyone can learn to program. There's an abundance of free resources that can teach you how to write code.

But it’s still really hard to learn how to write code well. Every programming problem has infinite solutions, and only a few of them are good.

How do you write code that’s easy for future readers to understand? How do you write a reusable function that handles most of your expected use cases for it? How do you craft a robust, responsive React component that won’t break any time the spec changes?

There are resources that will help you learn these concepts too, but they’re often in a sea of misleading or downright bad resources that don’t apply to you. Nothing beats a code review from an experienced engineer who understands the problem you’re working on.

Getting help from the internet

A few years ago, I joined Tech Twitter and discovered a vibrant community of people talking about engineering. I found it to be a wonderful supportive place where people could showcase their work and be encouraged by others.

However, It’s hard to have a deep conversation about a technical topic on Twitter — the medium is just not the right fit. It’s hard to convey the nuance needed to guide someone on how to make good decisions for their particular problem and circumstance via drive-by interactions.

On the other end of the spectrum is Stack Overflow, a Q&A site theoretically dedicated to getting help with your technical problem. But Stack Overflow moderators are notorious for enforcing brutal quality standards for both questions and answers. Threads about Stack Overflow are filled with stories of people either personally getting shut down or being too intimidated to post.

Stack Overflow also uses a model of anonymous strangers helping you. Nothing wrong with that, but there is something about having a long-term relationship with a mentor who wants what’s best for you and is able to see you grow as an engineer over time.

Let’s Get Technical (LGT)

So I’m hoping to create something between a social community and Stack Overflow. A place to build relationships with other great people, but one whose core focus is helping people improve as engineers.

One thing I agree with Stack Overflow about is that asking good questions is a critical skill. If your mentor is good at engineering, they’re going to be busy, and they’ll have more capacity to help you if you do the work to express your question well.

Stack Overflow deals with this by basically shutting any remotely subpar question down and having people learn how to ask good questions on their own. I get it, makes sense at Stack Overflow’s scale.

But I want to see LGT members not only get their question answered, but to improve their ability to ask good questions over time. That only feels possible in a community where people care about you personally.

I want quality mentorship to be accessible to everyone. So I’m putting this community out there with Shashi and James, and looking forward to seeing what it becomes!

It’s invite-only at the time of this writing, so if you’re interested, check out the manifesto and drop either Shashi, James, or me a DM and let us know. Hope to see you there!