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Happy New Year, part I

Image courtesy of jonolist @ flickr It's the beginning of a new year and you know what that means: Public disclosure of measurable goals for the coming year. I've not made a New Year's Resolution post before, which of course means that not living up to them was slightly less embarrassing. Well, this year, I'm going to go on the record with some professional development goals. I consider the purpose of these goals to be exercises of taking myself out of my comfort zone. Simply resolving to do something that is a logical extension of my existing professional development road map is just padding. But before I get into enumerating my resolutions for 2011, let's see how I fared on those undisclosed ones from last year.

How did i do in 2010?

Make git my defacto version control - success

By the end of 2009, I had only used git to the minimum extend required to get code from github. I knew i didn't like svn, because I was a big branch advocate and it just sucked at all related tasks, like managing, merging, re-merging, re-branching branches. I had been using perforce for years and considered it the pinnacle of revision control because of its amazing branch handling and excellent UI tooling. I also got poisoned against git early when I watched Linus assigned the sins of svn to all non-distributed version control system in his googletalk on git. I knew this was irrational and eventually i would need to give git a chance to stand on its merits. But the only way that was going to happen was by going git cold turkey and forcing myself to use it until i was comfortable with it. That happened on January 1st, 2010. I imported all my perforce repos into git and made the switch. I also started using git on top of all projects that were in svn that i couldn't change, keeping my own local branches and syncing/merging back into svn periodically. This latter workflow has been amazingly productive and gives me far greater revision granularity, since i constantly commit WIP to my local branches that wouldn't be fit for a shared SVN trunk.

One other aspect about DVCS that had kept me from it was that I consider version control both my work history and my offsite backup. So, I probably still push a lot more than most git folks. Sure, i've only lost work once due to disk failure vs. several times because of ill-considered disk operations or lack of appropriate rollback points, but I also work on a number of machines and religious pushing and pulling lets me move between machines more easily. Basically, I never leave my desk without committing and pushing because I've been randomized by meetings or other occasions that led me home before making sure i had everything pushed for work from home.

After a year, I can safely say, i'm not looking back. Git has spoiled me and I even use it for keeping track of CM changes for this and other blogs.

Get serious about javascript -- partial success, at best

The last couple of years I've been doing toy projects in Ruby as an alternative to my daily C# work. But unlike seemingly everyone else, i never found it to be more fun than C#. Maybe it's because i used to be dynamic language guy doing perl and I became a static typing guy by choice. As dynamic languages go, Ruby doesn't really buy me anything over perl, which I'd worked with off and on for the last 15 years. And while the energy of the Ruby community is amazing, too much of that energy seems to be devoted to re-discovering patterns and considering them revolutionary inventions.

Javascript, on the other hand, offered something over C# other than just being a dynamic language. It was a language that could be used efficiently on both client and server. That was compelling (and was the same reason why I liked Silverlight as a developer, although i never considered it viable for use on the web). Up until last year, I used javascript like so many server-side programmers: only in anger. I knew enough to write crappy little validation and interactivity snippets for web pages, but tried to keep all real logic on the server where i was most comfortable. When i did venture into javascript, I'd try to treat it like C# and hated it even more because I perceived it to be a crappy object-oriented language. But even then I understood that what I hated more than anything was the DOM and its inconsistencies and that blaming javascript for those failures was misguided.

So in 2010 I was going to get serious about javascript and but initially went down the frustrating path of trying treat javascript like other OO languages I knew. It wasn't until I watched Douglas Crockford's InfoQ talk "The State and Future of Javascript", that it clicked. What I called object-oriented was really a sub-species called class oriented. If I was to grok and love javascript, i needed to meet it on its own turf.

In the end, 2010 never went beyond lots of reading, research and little toy projects. I should have committed to solving a real problem without flinching. While my understanding of javascript is pretty good now on an academic level, i certainly didn't get serious.

Lessons learned from my resolutions

It wasn't as much a new lesson learned as a re-affirmation of an old axiom: Learning something to the extend that you can truly judge its merits and become more than just proficient requires immersion. Casual use just doesn't build up the muscle memory and understanding required to reason in the context of the subject. If you don't immerse yourself, your use of that subject will always be one of translation from your comfort zone into the foreign concept, and like all translations, things are only likely to get lost in the process.