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The fear of keeping up

Lately, I’ve had a lot of early career developers mention their fear of keeping up.

For years, front-end development has had a tooling problem. The pace of change is part of what makes this industry so exciting, but this obsession we seem to have with tools (and creating new ones) instead of maturing what we’ve already got it is exhausting.

But lately, the platform itself has also been growing rapidly.

Plain old CSS can do a ton of amazing things that felt impossible when I started as a web developer a decade ago. Native HTML elements are making big JavaScript libraries obsolete. It’s a wonderful thing!

But… it can also leave you feel like its impossible to keep up or learn it all.

And that’s because you can’t! The field is literally too big to learn everything. “Keeping up” is both impossible and overrated. It’s the path to burnout.

The truth is, knowing specifics and technical details about every tool and platform feature is overrated and unimportant. Tech skills are the least important aspect of being a good developer.

Our profession is about problem solving. You can look the details up when you need them.

But here’s the rub: to be a good problem solver, you need to have a general sense of what is and isn’t possible, and what options are available. Knowing big trends in our industry matters more than knowing specific tools or techniques.

For example, I know that there are now native HTML elements for things like dialog modals and popovers. I know that if I need a dynamic and interactive UI, I could use a client-side state-based UI library or a compiler that spits out mostly HTML.

I don’t know how to use the dialog element yet. I have some experience with Preact and Vue, but not a deep knowledge of their implementation details. I’m aware of Svelte and Astro, but I’ve never used them.

If I had a project that needed one of those tools, I can look it up!

So how do you stave off the fear of keeping up?

Build a good understanding of the fundamentals, stay aware of general trends in the industry, and focus on solving problems with tech rather than just knowing a bunch of tools.