Today I wanted to have buttons for some Git features in my PHPStorm toolbar. Unfortunatley it doesn’t have icons for all the essential Git features, which results in empty buttons. Doesn’t look very nice. So I created some icons on my own. Use them if you like.
It was the 13th of November, when I made the descision to leave my current company. I can remember that date, because according to my browser history, it was the day when I’ve choosen the song for my farewell mail (we had the tradition, that everyone who’s leaving links to a song in their last email). Some days passed until I’ve finally realized, that this was the moment, when I’ve switched my mindset from “keep going” to “I’m leaving”. After three tremendous years, I will quit my job as a lead developer and reach out for something new. Propably one of the hardest decisions I had to make.
Since then, I was often thinking about what happened in those years and what I’ve personally lerned from it. So I’m doing this post mostly for myself to recap, but maybe a former colleague or someone else will find it useful. Maybe you’ve made similar experience. So, this is about my lessons learned, as a member of a startup, as a developer, as a team lead. Let’s start with number one.
1. Know Your Limits
Let me tell you a story, a “war story”, that took place in the first months of the company, when everyone had that pioneer spirit. For me it was the most intense time at that company. The time when some individuals, who haven’t worked together before, became a team.
It was early 2012, when we just had licensed our first game and announced it to the press. The date for the closed beta release had already been choosen (for the non-gamers: closed beta is when a game is released to the public, but only for a limited amount of users). The plan was though, but it was possible. Unfortuately we got more and more into trouble, when some of our partners struggled with delays. The game developer needed more time to deliver the server software and we had similar problems with other service providers. We had to wait, until we received something to work with. It was only four weeks to prepare everything for launch – and nothing was ready. No game servers with the game running, no website, no account management. Everything needed to be built within those four weeks.
At that time we’ve been only two people in the tech department. Me, responsible for development, and my colleague, responsible for IT. So we did, what everyone working in tech is doing in such a situation: crunch time. It wasn’t a problem for us. We’ve been full of power, everyone was euphoric about our first release. Usually we started working at 10 a.m. like everyone else. All the other colleagues left at around 7 p.m. and the best part of the day began. No one randomly popping in and asking for stuff, we were able to concentrate on our tasks, at last. It was us two and the CTO sitting together and pushing forward. The atmosphere was nicely startup-ish, we ordered food, had a few beers and when everyone needed a break, we played a session of Minecraft and continued after an hour or so.
We’ve usually been exhausted late at night when everyone went home. For the next weeks we continued like this, almost seven days a week. Going to work, working, food, working, food, working, going home, sleeping, going to work… Looking back, I have to admit to myself that it was totally insane. I litterally had no life. Laundry piled up at home, the fridge was empty, but at least I’ve learned a lot about Berlin’s night bus lines.
So why am I telling this? Because at that time I’ve permanently exceeded my personal limit. I was so fueled by the challenge of making it happen, that I didn’t care about myself. And as usual, if you drive above the limit too long, something will go wrong. In my case it was the result of me being totally wasted by the previous weeks, suddenly all that pressure fell off on the launch day and I made a decision I’d have better thought twice.
Although it was kind of harmless, many month later it made me realize, that exceeding your personal limit is a real problem. It may be ok from time to time, but you should make sure not to exceed it for too long. Otherwise you will most certainly harm yourself. A former colleague of mine did not get off that lightly – he got a burnout and needed to start a therapy. That’s certainly an experience nobody want’s to live through.
Today’s working environments make it easy to reach your limit and going further. Therefore it is even more important than ever to be aware of your personal limit and – that’s equally important – you have to be able to realize when you’re exceeding it. I’m not saying you have to avoid it under any circumstances. Sometimes it is necessary to give 120%. But if you see yourself permanently running at 120%, something is wrong and you must not hesitate to change it. I can’t tell you what to do, because it strongly depends on your indiviual situation. For me the solution simply was to keep an eye on myself and to force myself into some spare time away from the workplace, instead of doing extra hours just for fun, when I had no plans for the evening.
Altogether, find a healthy balance between work and leisure time. Oh, that sounds so much generation Y 😉
As the title might tell you, it is about techniques and rules to help you to writing high quality code in such a manner, that it becomes easy to understand and and easy to maintain. The book has a chapter for each aspect of software – naming, formatting, structuring, error handling – to name some of them. After defining a set of dos and don’ts, the following two chapters demonstrate how to apply them by refactoring a piece of software step-by-step.
I consider myself having a pretty good “code sense”, which means that I naturally know, how to structure things and write good code. Therefore most the book wasn’t such a surprise for me, but I discoverd some aspects, that I haven’t thought about before. Instead I just did it. The book helped to understand, why it is a good idea to do certain things, instead of just doing it because it feels right.
Why should you read it: You’re creating software, especially together with other people in a team. You care about the quality of your work and you want to improve your sense for good code.
5 years later (2020-08-17): I’ve found this blog post, which is taking a critical view on the recommendations from the book. I have to say, I do agree with the arguments made in the blog post, but I still believe there’s some usful advice in the book that can help you improve your code. So my advice would be: Read it, but be critical about it. You don’t have to follow everything by heart to produce better code. If some rules don’t make sense to you, don’t do it. The important thing to take away is: be critical about your own code. Imagine someone else reading it without the knowledge you have (right now) and write your code in a way to help them understand your intention and what’s going on.