I got asked today why I was applying to attend two different conferences this year. Neither of these conferences were cheap; I feel very lucky to have a training budget where I work. On top of these my company generously provides me with access to 2 learning platforms as to help me become a better developer. As well as that, I pay for another learning platform myself. Is so much needed to keep ahead?
Is any of it really necessary?
The one thing constant about web development is change. Our industry iterates very quickly, and things that were best practice or popular a year ago soon make way for newer ways of doing things.
One good example of this is state management in React. Only a short time ago, Redux was a standard requirement on front end job ads, it was almost inseperable from React itself.
Now there are other ways of having a data layer on the frontend that can be considered alternatives to Redux, like React's own Context API, or Apollo GraphQL.
To keep my skillset relevant, and make sure I can easily switch jobs if I should need to, I feel I need to keep up with these trends.
I think of this part of my learning as the implementation detail of what we do. We need to keep relatively informed about new ways of doing things (even if we don't know them in depth) so that we can adapt if we need to.
To continue to develop in this regard, I mostly follow tutorials on one of the learning platforms I mentioned. But I also think it's important to get a more general overview by attending a conference that might cover several of these ideas in one go.
But there's something else that I think is important too.
I think it's also very valuable to keep a close eye on the wider implications of web development as an industry, and its intersection with others, what's going on in the wider world, and how that might affect what we do as developers.
There might be new technologies or ideas brimming on the horizon which could explode into our day-to-day development work. If we don't watch out for that we could be caught unaware.
An example of this could be responsive design. When "A Dao of Web Design" by John Allsop was first published on "A List Apart" it was an early indicator that something was on the horizon.
Later, when Ethan Marcotte published "Responsive Web Design" which made practical application of Allsop's ideas, we could begin to see how our industry would be altered forever.
To cover this aspect of my development I try to keep up with people I know who are thinking along these lines. I also subscribe to A List Apart and Smashing Magazine, two publications who are at the bleeding edge of web development.
But also, conferences such as Mozilla's MozFest, or JAMStack Conf, tackle wider issues such as privilege and equality, the latest ideas from the CSS Working Group, and new approaches to systems architecture.
I think as developers we should be aware of our "CPD" (continuing Professional Development), much like an architecht or doctor would keep up with their industries, and particularly with that's happening in their area of expertise.
The Web Development industry must be one of the only self-taught professional industries out there that demands so much of it's practitioners. We can't possibly keep up with it all. I certainly can't.
I think it's enough to keep and overview of the trends and latest news just so we aren't taken completely by surprise when something changes, and choose to deep dive into subjects that appeal to us, or are relevant to our situations.
In that way, we maintain flexibility in the face of change. And change is always coming!