david mosher

personal and semi-professional opinions of a web designer and developer living in ottawa, canada

It was almost a year ago that I posted on my experiences as a new employee at VendAsta Technologies, one of the newest technology companies in Saskatoon. I think it's a good idea to have a blog to look back on, it's a really good indication of the accomplishments you've made and gives you the ability to reflect on what your mindset was and how it's changed since then. In re-reading my blog post about work bliss, I've come to some conclusions about my experiences in the past year and decided it would be a good idea to reflect on my experiences with the company in that time and some of the struggles and accomplishments I've worked through.

Rose Colored Glasses

There's a certain glow about a person who's just been hired at a new workplace. It's the kind of thing that sometimes makes people see things the way they want to see them, instead of the way they really are. The first thing I think about when I re-read my post was "Geez, I sure went into this job with rose colored glasses on". I should clarify the preceding statement though; I don't feel that my impressions of the company then were wrong. In fact, having worked here for nearly a year I think I'd be accurate in still saying it's a great place to work that provides ample opportunity for self expression and improvement. I think the error of my ways in donning rose colored glasses in my outlook to the new job was really one of setting myself up for disappointment. It's almost impossible for anyone or anything to be perfect, and companies are no exception. I think initially I may have set my expectations a little too high regarding the company, corporate environment and sometimes the people I worked with. When you do this you create an environment that's setup to disappoint you. I'm not saying we should be pessimists as I think an optimistic outlook is important to the health and well being of employees, but it's easy to become disappointed (and sometimes even hurt) when you place things up on a pedestal expecting perfection.

VendAsta is still a great place to work, filled with ultra-talented individuals. I think in a year of working here I've just learned to not put people and the company in a place in my mind that's set to inevitably disappoint me. Or, in a manner of speaking, I've taken off the rose colored glasses and started looking at things through lenses of realism ;)

Struggles

There have been a number of things I've struggled with from a professional point of view in my year at VendAsta. I think examining ones weak-points is a beneficial exercise because it helps us to identify them in the future and come up with strategies for avoiding their pitfalls. Lack of confidence is a huge hurdle that I've had to overcome in my time here; a hurdle that I feel, for the most part, I've cleared. Perhaps it's just human nature to be intimidated when starting a new position and coming out of (relative) inexperience. If I look back at what I've accomplished even in my time before working at VendAsta I start to feel more confident; I think my problem initially was that I was too quick to compare my experiences to those of the people around me. This is dangerous because it can create a perceived disparity between what you've accomplished and the relative value of what you see other people have accomplished. It's easy to get into the comparison game and start to feel a lack of confidence because you inflate the value of other peoples accomplishments next to your own. I've learned to put aside direct comparisons with the accomplishments of others and, instead, started to focus on comparing my own accomplishments a year ago versus what I've accomplished now.

It's sometimes easy to get discouraged that despite your passion and desire to change processes you aren't ultimately having a positive effect on improving them. I have felt this way often in the past year and, at times, given one of two possible responses: apathy or determination. It's much easier to become apathetic when you feel like the things you're suggesting are falling on deaf ears, so to speak. The nobler (and harder) thing to do is to persevere despite this and continue to voice your opinions. I haven't quite mastered this yet but I think it's important to at least recognize these responses and choose for yourself on a daily basis which you are going to do. I've felt that sometimes it just isn't worth voicing my opinion and taken the apathetic route, but I always end up feeling like crap after doing this. Even though it's harder to be determined I think it's more rewarding and ultimately builds more character. Going forward I'm going to give it my personal best to stay determined and positive despite these setbacks.

As a software developer it's so easy to second guess the decisions we make when it comes to coding and design. Some of this is healthy, but it becomes destructive when we enter a mindset that causes us to feel like we must always rely on others to give us direction in order to proceed. Code Review, Peer Review and Pair Programming are all things that VendAsta promotes as part of its mandate to implement the Scrum process as closely as possible but I've realized that these tools in and of themselves don't make better programmers; it's really only the ability to learn from ones mistakes that produces a better programmer. Am I confident that I'm a good programmer? No, but I've moved away from being scared of making mistakes to embracing them as a learning opportunity. I'm not afraid to implement an algorithm I designed, see how it works in code, and then find out that there is an easier way to do things. I've learned that there will always be an easier, better way to do things than the solution I come up with. The work that I'm doing and the people that work here have enabled me to feel that I'm a better programmer than I was a year ago and that I'm heading in the right direction, and that's one of the most important parts of a satisfying work experience.

Accomplishments

When I started at VendAsta I thought my skill-set included a well rounded set of disciplines from my previous experience. Looking back at what I've accomplished in the last year I think it's safe to say that my toolbox has grown considerably. I didn't have much in the way of experience writing unit tests, which is a core philosophy at VendAsta. Writing tests and examining Test Driven Development has given me a new appreciation for efficient ways to tackle development. The "Red. Green. Refactor" mantra is something I've taken to heart, not just when writing unit tests but when writing my actual code as well. I've learned about things like Dependency Injection, how to refactor efficiently, and how abstraction) can help achieve reusability. I've taken my knowledge of CSS and HTML to a new level, something I thought starting out last year that I had mastered. I've also learned that I haven't really mastered anything as a software developer/designer and I probably never will, but that's ok :)

I've written more JavaScript in the last year than I did in the previous 6 years combined. Being able to understand the language at it's lower levels has given me an appreciation for the abstractions available in current libraries like jQuery and YUI. Reading and learning from Douglas Crockford and the YUI Theatre have proved to be an invaluable tool in my JavaScript toolbox. Closures, Prototypal Inheritance, and Dependency Management are all things I've learned to deal with effectively. As much as I've learned about JS in the last year I still feel I've only touched the tip of the ice berg in terms of what's capable. JavaScript is truly an expressive and powerful language and I think many people in the software development community underestimate it as something that is the language of web hackers and script kiddies; they couldn't be more wrong.

I had dabbled with Django and Python at the beginning of last year, running through the most basic tutorials and building a basic blog with Django. When I started at VendAsta that experience proved to be valuable as we used the experience of building our corporate website in Django as a stepping stone to understanding what we'd need to do when building StepRep and MyFrontSteps. I participated in the development of both of our core products from the stages of infancy up to where they are today and I'm very proud of what we've accomplished in less than a year. I almost forgot to mention Google AppEngine which we use to host MFS and SREP. Learning about GAE has enabled me to expand my knowledge of so many other areas of development that I wouldn't have imagined. It's foundation is in Python and we run Django on it. Our applications are tied very tightly to JavaScript (almost to a fault) which has enabled me to learn so much about that language. I've learned how to create a project from scratch on AppEngine using alternate frameworks like WebPy, CherryPy and Google WebApp. I've deployed several websites on AppEngine for work and on my own as side projects to explore further uses of the platform when coupled with social network platforms like Twitter. In developing MFS I was able to learn how to build a social application on both Facebook and MySpace concurrently as well as supporting a standalone platform (not an easy task). Jeff Read and I customized an open source upload utility, the YUI Uploader, to do client side resizing of photos using the open source version of the Flex SDK.

The Future

No job is perfect, and I think it's safe to say that looking into the future I can't predict what's going to happen at VendAsta. However I think looking back has given me a new appreciation for the work I'm able to do here and the things I've been able to accomplish. I think VendAsta will succeed as long as we keep hiring exceptional people that strive to improve themselves on a daily basis. I'm trying to continue to do that myself ;)