November 27, 2015

Becoming a "what matters" developer

This morning I read an interesting article by Pete Smith that discusses the opposite of “dark matter” developers, a term coined by Scott Hanselman to describe the people that lurk in the shadows of the development community.

Pete suggests that it’s not so black and white when it comes to these two groups; it’s largely a matter of perspective. Is someone a dark matter developer just because they don’t write a blog? Is someone better for the community just because they do? Or are these just people with the same passion but different priorities?

It got me thinking about how I’ve changed as a developer in the past year. I used to be one of the “polar opposite" guys Pete refers to, blogging about the latest innovations in my field and playing around with tech for fun. I spent time learning about new ways to perfect my craft because at the time, that was important to me.

Through my experiences I believe I’ve become a “what matters” developer. I’m still passionate about software development but I now have a very different perspective largely formed by working in a startup where my responsibilities go far beyond writing code.

Now when I think about learning the next big thing I have to ask “will it improve our product?” and more importantly “will it deliver value to our customers?”. If the answer is no, it ain’t gonna happen. I enjoy hacking, I really do; but after 10+ years working as a developer, I’d rather spend my evenings with my girlfriend than sitting in front of my laptop.

I’ve always been an advocate of product focussed development and I think that the closer you are to your customer the more you understand what really matters. Delivering value becomes far more important than the mechanics of how you do it. This isn’t to say you should not take pride in what you do - there’s no point delivering a great product that only works 50% of the time. Just make sure you focus on what’s important to you.

This change in perspective doesn’t mean I’ve become a “dark matter” anything. Instead I’ve found myself in new communities discussing new topics. I could spend time learning and writing about the latest tech but it’s not what matters to me right now.

Ultimately how you’re perceived by those in your field doesn’t really matter, unless that matters to you. If you love what you do and want to share that with others then great. If you’d rather spend time with your family, learn a language or dance Salsa, that’s pretty great too.

© 2022 Ben Foster