Just How Good Are You?
What do doctors, lawyers, programmers and strippers have in common? The need for continuing education (ok, strippers probably don't but, you know, strippers. Think about it).
I realized early on that I was never, ever, EVER, going to be done learning about programming. Until I retire, and probably not even then, I'm going to spend a good portion of my life with my nose in a book, reading blogs, and/or diving into subjects WAY above my head.
I don't think this is as bad as it might sound though. I really love this shit. You have to if you want to be taken seriously. I accept that I'm not a Wozniak or Cutler; I have to actually work to understand this profession.
Oddly, I'm in the minority here. In my, limited, exposure to other programmers I can say definitively that the majority just plain suck; mostly because they refuse to grow and learn.
I've heard all the arguments before, "My weekends are mine", "I work hard enough; I don't have the energy", and the best ever, "My employer should pay for this like Google does. Whah!!". (I know Google doesn't, in fact, do this but people still say it.) All just pure crap excuses for maintaining a level of competence just high enough to not get fired.
Bottom line: working 8 hours a day is just not enough to matter. If you think you're a programmer and you don't spend time improving your skills you'll quickly, really quickly, become obsolete. It just doesn't matter if .Net is going to be around forever and your employer won't ever upgrade from 1.1; you're a hack (and not in a good way).
The crappy developers rarely, if ever, read blogs, books or articles on anything related to development. And when they do, it's usually just to reinforce a preconceived notion they already had. You've seen it; "See! Look, I've been saying all along Java sucks and here's an article on Reddit."
On the other hand, good developers spend time thinking about their projects. They read books about programming concepts like Code Complete and The Mythical Man Month. They're interested in the past; learning about how Windows NT was built or how AOL was founded is a good read to them. When asked for weekend plans they actually weigh programming against it.
I'm a little sick of the discrepancy here; there are just way, way, too many crappy programmers out there. Just lazy, untalented, bastards.
If you're not living programming to your bones chances are you're just not going to succeed. Sure, you can make a living but you'll never be anything more than what you are right now. If the idea of never excelling doesn't scare you do us all a favor and just stop writing code. Just stop right now.