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Do I really want to be a one-trick pony?

I’m a web application developer. I’ve been using the same specific language for 15+ years; I even wrote a book on it. But I recently asked myself:

Should I learn something new, or should I stick with what I know?

Part of my day-job is rapid-prototyping by making web applications. When my boss asks me to make something, I can turn it around pretty quick.

People should be aware of current trends/topics; especially in the IT industry. Why bother using an old technology if there’s newer, faster, better one out there? Professionals should constantly be learning.

But, I don’t like change.

I have a skill set that allows me to do something (make websites), and I can do it efficiently and quickly.

If I migrate to a new language, there will be a learning curve. And during that time, I won’t be “the guy that can just do whatever the customer needs.”

I’m reminded of what a CIO of a major company once asked me:

“Would you rather be a little fish in a big pond, or a big fish in a little pond?”

The correct answer is that you should want to be a little fish in a big pond, for the reason that you’ll have room to grow. But what if you don’t want to leave your comfort zone? Leave the time you have as being the go-to person who can do whatever is needed?

So, I did try to change; to learn something new…

A friend convinced me to try a different programming language. At first, I was fascinated by it; there were things that would have taken me 50+ lines of code, and now they were built-in features. I proceeded to read articles online, watch videos, and buy physical books. I even hired a private tutor to guide me through creating some applications!

Alas, there was a downfall. I lacked the confidence in solving unfamiliar problems. I don’t consider myself cheap, but I didn’t want to have to resort to paying someone (a private tutor) to constantly help solve all my problems.

Reflecting on the experience

It is said that one needs to spend 10,000 hours on something to become an expert. Learning this particular language, I only spent ~250 hours. So obviously I didn’t spend enough time. But how much time do you spend on something, that frustrates you, before you change course?

The end result

When I mentioned the initial problem statement to a friend, he responded with “Isn’t it obvious? You have to continually learn new things.”

I’m glad I branched out to learn something new, but disappointed that I succumbed to the defeat of not becoming an expert.

The future…

Right now I have an opportunity to learn yet a different programming language, and I’m very tempted to take it. Maybe I won’t reach the breaking point of giving up. I’ll just have to be mindful of how long it will take and the frustration I’ll endure: but keep in mind the potential benefits.

I’ll give it a shot. If it doesn’t work out, at least I have a fallback plan: I’ll still have my original skill.

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