For more than 4 years, I have considered myself one of the luckiest people in the developer circles that I run in. I’ve had so much fun, and I feel lucky to be embraced so warmly by the developer communities around me. My hope is that all developers have this much fun.
One of the lessons that I learned early on as a programmer was that it’s important to help others learn.
Years ago I read a poem that contained a lesson I’ve been able to apply over an over in my life. The poem tells a story, and the poet persuades her readers to repeat the story in their own lives. That poem is The Bridge Builder by Will Allen Dromgoole.
The Bridge Builder
An old man going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening cold and gray,
To a chasm vast and deep and wide.
Through which was flowing a sullen tide
The old man crossed in the twilight dim,
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You are wasting your strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day,
You never again will pass this way;
You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide,
Why build you this bridge at evening tide?”
The builder lifted his old gray head;
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followed after me to-day
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”
Some of us are the bridge builders in this story. But all of us are bridge crossers. Think about all the thousands of chasms that have existed, but are now spanned by a nice bridge to make modern development easy. If you try, it’s easy to think of countless innovations that have made the job of modern developers not only easier, but possible. So many bridges have already been built, and are waiting for us to cross them. And at the same time, each day, people build new bridges so that others can continue the progression. The tech community is pretty cool when it comes to the concept of bridge building.
Too Good To Be True
There’s a moment in my past that’s very clear in my memory. The memory revolves around a moment when I learned of a source of endless bridges that I could cross. And when I learned about it, I couldn’t believe it. That moment took place in 2009. It was when someone explained to me that there was a website called StackOverflow, where I could go and ask my programming questions, and no matter the time of day, a programmer somewhere in the world would be there and to provide me an answer. This seemed like a joke, or something that was simply too good to be true. Why would a programmer sit at their computer and answer questions for people like me, when they could be out writing proper code? Who was paying them to sit around and give these answers? Did I need to sign up for an account with my credit card (which I would have done in a moment) to pay these people per answer? Something didn’t add up.
Prior to this moment, learning to program was much harder for me. As a new developer, I was making slow progress because each time I got stuck, I had to wait until I could get one of my friends to help me out. Due to having a young family, most of my keyboard-time happened after the hours of 10PM, which was when my friends were sleeping, as sane people do.
The StackOverflow community, very literally, set me free to learn at an accelerated pace. At a pace I could set on my own. It was liberating.
Fast forward 8 years, and every day a new website appears where we can go to learn new things. Across the internet, there’s at least 20 training videos for any given technology, even the ones that you only rarely think of, with more being made every day. So on top of the technology bridges being crossed, now the learning bridges are crossed as well.
It’s Up To Us
Each of us is surrounded by fantastic examples of bridge builders. Some of them we know personally, and others are people who are nerd-famous and make us nervous when we’re in their presence.
Each of us needs to harness our inner-bridge-builders and continue to share what we have learned with others, leaving bridges through the paths that we have crossed. Bridges can take many forms. The following are some of the bridges that I cross daily: podcasts, blogposts, conference talks, training videos, stackoverflow answers, contributing to the documentation on our favorite open source projects, organizing events around our favorite topics, reading books on the topic, and many more.
Each of us has the daily opportunity to help others learn. Let’s give a tip-of-the-hat to those bridge builders whose bridges we’ve crossed, and build a few of our own. Generally, building these bridges will be a source of fun and learning for you, as well as those who benefit from the lessons you provide.
Go out and thank your favorite bridge builders. And don’t forget to build a bridge today!