Four Kitchens

After the honeymoon

5 Min. ReadWork life

In the beginning

I’ve been a web developer by trade for about eight years now. During the early years, my appetite for learning was insatiable. Back then, I spent all hours coding or reading about web development. I did my craft during the day, and I worked on learning new techniques at night. My bedside table was filled with books about web development. I watched tutorials weekly (sometimes daily) and shared them with coworkers. I attended multiple camps and conferences a year, often presenting at them myself. My first job involved a decent commute, and I would spend that commute every day listening to podcasts about web development.

Great, right? I was lucky enough to stumble upon an occupation I loved, and I wanted to dive headfirst into it. This is genuinely a wonderful thing, and not to be taken for granted. However, as the years passed, I found myself rediscovering music on my commute. My bedside table slowly refilled with fiction and other non-development books. Around the 4-5 year period, I started working remotely, and I found myself beginning to draw boundaries between home life and work life. Even though I knew my rate of growth as a developer would take a hit, I knew that in the long run I would regret the alternative more.

The seven-year itch

By my seventh year, I felt restless. Having received degrees in other disciplines, I contemplated whether it was time for a change in vocation. Giving it some time, I eventually realized that it wasn’t that I had lost interest in my daily work. In fact, most days, I was still really happy doing web development work. It’s just that I had entered a new phase in my career, one for which I didn’t have a road-map. This new phase didn’t fit the preconceived notion in my mind of “success.” The best way to describe this image in my mind is that it involved passion—late nights discovering new techniques, open-source releases of inspiring work, constant research and self-development, awards, applause, looking longingly at code, long walks on the beach…

Thankfully, I was with an organization at the time with other developers who too had crossed this threshold, and opening up to them allowed us to all share these stories and not feel alone in them. In time, I came to not only embrace this new phase, but I saw it as an opportunity to evaluate what success looks like in what is arguably a more realistic long-term relationship with one’s work. Here are a few things that have helped me as I transitioned out of the honeymoon phase.

Task 1: Embrace humility

Humility should actually be a requirement in Web Development 101. There is always a new technique, new best practice or even new language coming down the pike that you have no familiarity with. I’ve worked with fellow developers who are in the first few years of their career and they know multiple new languages/frameworks better than I do. The reality of our field is that not only is this OK, it is expected and healthy. In fact, I was that person in the early days of responsive web development with a great many senior developers at the time. The best teams are comprised of folks with all years of experience under their belt. As you age in your career, be the developer that responds positively to new languages/frameworks, new techniques and even new team members in the swell of all their honeymoon passion. Sure, healthy skepticism is a great thing, but there is an extremely fine line between skepticism and cynicism. Stay open and curious. Embrace not knowing as a healthy characteristic through every stage of your career.

Task 2: Encourage others

Speak publicly and privately about your experiences with other developers. At its worst, our field is similar to the entertainment industry in that folks in the honeymoon phase of their careers are too often the shining stars. And just like entertainment, companies take advantage of this, as these new developers are often on the low end of the pay scale and are willing to put in ridiculous hours because of their newfound passion and stage of life. They also often contribute back to the community in ways that reflect favorably on the company (although this also means they are actively poached). All of this does not pay off for those companies as expected though. Even when I was pulling passionate 60-80 hour weeks and receiving accolades, the quality of my code wasn’t anywhere near where it is today. Encourage developers during this phase of their career to be cautious about work/life boundaries and the companies they work for. Also, encourage developers moving out of this stage to embrace the transition into a more healthy relationship with their career. In the end, they will be better employees (and people) if they are able to draw boundaries with their personal lives to take care of family or just explore other hobbies and interests in general.

Task 3: Challenge yourself

This phase requires discipline. It is healthy to still grow and learn during this phase, but it takes a more concerted effort than it did during the early years. Because of growing family responsibilities outside of work, I had to find ways to encourage this growth during my work hours. For instance, I challenged myself to learn some new JavaScript frameworks and made that public knowledge within the company. In time, I was put on client projects using these new skills, which allowed me to shadow other more experienced developers and held me accountable to continue that learning. I also made the decision to transition to a company (Four Kitchens) that encourages this kind of growth with dedicated hours every work week. And finally, challenge yourself to set time aside to contribute back—after all, contributions at your experience level will often make a very deep impact.

There’s no denying it: Passion is a wonderful thing. But so is the healthy relationship that ensues when the emotional high settles. It’s a time marked with balance, a time where you can succeed at work and at home, a time where you can be a great family member and a great employee. Embrace this time.