Mastery as a Lifelong Endeavor

While I think that it is relatively straightforward to begin the software development journey, it is another thing entirely to become a master. Mastery is nearly impossible to measure and may require a lifetime of dedication to the craft to achieve. While these facts may be almost universally applied to any craft, I think that when applied to software development in particular they are especially telling. In Hoover and Oshineye’s Apprenticeship Patterns, they discuss a pattern termed The Long Road. It is this Long Road that is representative of the lifelong journey that is mastering the craft of developing software.

Hoover and Oshineye urge that the true value of mastery lies not in making more money or gaining status and power, but in, “comprehend[ing] and appreciat[ing] the deeper truths of software development.” This focus on the craft rather than on typical indicators of success such as promotions or high salaries is what sets truly great software craftsmen apart from the mediocre. I found it both inspiring and a bit comedic that Hoover and Oshineye included the parts about surpassing legendary software craftsmen such as Donald Knuth or Linus Torvalds. When you think about it, however, such feats do not seem entirely unrealistic considering that anyone truly hoping to become a master software craftsman will likely dedicate over forty years to that end.

I feel that this pattern would likely be offensive to developers who chose computer programming simply because of the abundance of jobs or relatively high starting salaries, not because of a genuine appreciation of the craft. These software developer posers would have no desire to become masters of the craft, and would jump ship at the first opportunity for a promotion or raise. This is also where the lack of knowledge transfer between generations of developers mentioned in the pattern’s introduction originates. If developers are waiting for any opportunity to move on, then the void that they leave is constantly being filled with new developers, leaving few veterans to show them the ropes.

I can certainly appreciate why a promotion to project lead or some executive position would be a tempting opportunity for career advancement. These roles, however, often require giving up the very things that make software development such an exciting and rewarding job to begin with. The feelings of pride and excitement after finally figuring out a difficult piece of a program or passing every test case is something that software craftsmen on their journeys to becoming masters will continually experience.

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