How to Keep Up to Date with Technologies as a Software Developer

“How do you keep up with the infinite (and overwhelming) amount of information available about the technologies you have learned / are learning?”

It is a waste of time to try to learn every new technology. Instead, focus on learning how to learn.

The tech industry thrives on the insecurity of software developers. The less a software developer thinks they know, the easier it is to sell them new tech. Top companies like Facebook and Google thrive on this insecurity economy, as it maintains their status as being at the top of the software development hierarchy. These companies present their open source projects as being generous and charitable, but the cold reality is they are self-serving. They want you to be using their frameworks and libraries, not their competitors’. The more developers they lock into their ecosystem, they more of the global software development mind-share they own. Their objective is technical dominance, not to make developers more productive.

The fact that top tech companies do not care about software developer productivity should be self-evident. Do you feel productive when you have to switch technologies every two years? Is it in the best interest of your career or company to drop your output to zero every time a new technology trends on HackerNews and Twitter? Software development is a game of productivity: the more product you can ship to production, the better. Everything that drives the tech economy is reliant on releasing high-quality software that satisfies user needs as quickly as possible. If you are not good at playing this game, your project or startup will fail. A software developer is a factory unto themselves and stopping to learn every new technology halts the factory’s production.

When I talk to software developers today, the situation is always the same: high anxiety and imposter syndrome with a touch of depression. They feel lost and confused about what to learn and to what degree to learn it. The overt bombardment of “You are not good enough to be a real software developer” comes at them from every angle. Training courses, conferences, articles, tweets, and peer pressure reinforces their fear that what they know is not good enough. The fear of missing out hits our colleagues who are self-taught or fresh out of code school the hardest. The industry makes them feel inadequate and worthless, all for the sake of pushing the thinly veiled agenda of “Learn our technologies so that people know we’re the best tech company.”

The battlefront of web technologies is where we have the largest body count of software developers with impostor syndrome. The irony is that the latest technologies are mainly niche solutions that are not generally applicable. Many companies need traditional websites and nothing more. There are many high-paying jobs where a master of PHP and jQuery would be orders of magnitude more effective than a novice in React or Angular. However, PHP and jQuery are “old” and “dead,” according to top tech companies. If you do not stop what you are doing right now and learn the latest frontend frameworks, you will not be able to get a job and will end up homeless on the street, so the narrative goes.

Sadly, the message of “learn the latest technologies, or you won’t be able to get a job” is not entirely untrue. Technical hiring managers are just as insecure as the software developers they are trying to hire. They don’t want to have their competency questioned for posting a job that requires PHP and jQuery, even if those are the best technologies for their project. They want to virtue signal to their management that they are hip to the latest trends, and want to drive innovation at the company. After all, isn’t adopting new technologies innovation? Of course it isn’t. Innovation doesn’t come from the tool you are using; it’s a measure of the value of what you produce. When you chase new technologies, you necessarily reduce the rate at which you can build new things, drastically reducing the chances you will create anything novel or exciting.

Instead of buying into the self-serving corporate hype train of “To be cool, you have to learn our latest technologies,” become an expert at learning new things quickly. Learning how to learn is the only critical skill a software developer needs. Would you rather be the software developer who knows a little bit about every new technology or the person who is ready to learn the best tool for what the need right now? The best software developer has no favorite technology and does not follow trends. Their high effectiveness comes from thoroughly understanding the problem before them, and picking the best tool for the job. Is the best tool React? Then learn React. Is the best tool PHP? Then learn PHP. A software developer must be open to everything, but must only learn what they need when they need it based on the context of their current problem. The alternative is endlessly chasing their tail and ending up a frantic, anxious, unproductive, and ineffective version of themselves that is no good to anyone.

This article is part of the Ask Neil series and was originally published on Honeypot

One thought on “How to Keep Up to Date with Technologies as a Software Developer

  1. For anyone interested, here is how ChatGPT (Dec 15th, 2022 version) answers the same question:

    As a language model, I do not have the ability to browse the internet or learn new information beyond what I was trained on. However, I was designed to be able to understand and generate human-like text, so I can assist with answering questions and providing information on a wide range of topics.

    If you are trying to keep up with the constantly evolving field of technology, it can be helpful to focus on a few key areas that interest you, and try to stay current by reading articles and blogs, attending conferences and workshops, and interacting with other professionals in your field. It can also be helpful to set aside dedicated time to learn and stay current, and to be selective about the sources of information that you rely on.

    I adjusted the question to replace “How do you…” with “How should someone…” and here was ChatGPT’s response:

    It can be overwhelming to try to keep up with the constant stream of new information in the field of technology. Here are a few strategies that can help:

    1) Focus on a specific area or technology: Instead of trying to learn everything, choose one or a few specific areas or technologies to focus on. This will allow you to go more in-depth and become an expert in those areas, rather than trying to learn a little bit about everything.

    2) Set aside dedicated learning time: Make time in your schedule to focus on learning new technologies. Whether it’s an hour a day or a few hours a week, having dedicated time will help you stay focused and make progress.

    3) Use online resources: There are many online resources available for learning about new technologies. From online courses and tutorials to forums and communities, you can find a wealth of information online.

    4) Stay up to date with industry news and trends: One way to stay informed about new technologies is to follow industry news and trends. This can help you identify new technologies that are emerging and may be worth learning about.

    5) Network and seek out mentors: Building a network of professionals in your field can be a great way to stay up to date on new technologies and get guidance on what to learn. Consider joining professional organizations or seeking out mentors who can help you navigate the constantly changing landscape of technology.

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