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Forks and Journeys.

Posted February 17, 2013

Who and where you are today is the cumultive effect of a lifetime of decisions. Actions. Reactions. Five years ago if you would’ve asked me what I would be doing for a living one year hence I would’ve had no clear answer for you. Yet, fate had it that I would be beginning my journey into web development.

Fast forward three years and you will find me working at JR Motorsports doing web design and front-end development, albeit at a rather mediocre level. I had been pouring a very large portion of myself into this craft ft for the previous three years absorbing all that I could.

Throughout this period of time I was on a bit of a personal search to find what I loved to do and where I wanted to go. There were moments when I thought I wanted to be a graphic designer for the print industry. You know. Make things like pretty. Lipstick. Control.

Then there were days where all I wanted to do was write HTML and CSS. jQuery bleeped on my radar and I started experimenting with rudimentary interactions.

Alas, the road before me forks. To the left was a future of design and to the right there were little developers sprouting out of the ground. How could I be asked to choose? I love them both.

Jack of all Trades, Master of Many

My friend, Bermon Painter, was going around giving this talk he called Jack of all Trades, Master of Many. You can see the five minute lightning talk he gave at IgniteCharlotte on YouTube and follow along with the slides at SpeakerDeck.

The argument Bermon puts forth is that within a years time, you can be a good craftsman at anything. By applying yourself fully for a year, you will have gained sufficient mastery to serve most purposes. From that point, becoming Master Craftsman would involve investing the rest of your life achieving, yet the return for such pursuits is nominal compared to what has already been achieved.

At the Berlin Academy of Music on violin players, Anders Ericsson did in-depth research on time invested in practice and training and the resulting skill level of their violinists. What they discovered was that to become an average level violinist took around 4000 hours of practice. After 8000 hours one would become a good violinist. Yet to become the elite you would have to spend up to 10,000 hours to emerge.

Those time periods, in full-time work equal out to about 2 years, 4 years, and 5 years.

Where Do You Want to Go?

To me this is wonderful news. 2011 was the best year ever for me. I changed employers three times in order to be amongst the best in class with Skookum. I have spent the past 16 months pushing myself into the “good” level of a front-end developer.

Not great. Not expert. But good. I can do a lot. A lot more than I ever imagined I could.

And I love it.

My design skills are wretched. But that’s okay. I know that when the time comes, just a couple years of persistant, dedicated hard work and the fruits of the labor will be rewarded. I think Ira Glass spoke to the beginning of the journey with great truth.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste.

But there is this gap.

For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer.

And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have.

We all go through this.

And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile.

You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

Ira Glass

The destination isn’t where you want to be. It’s the journey. The constant push and struggle and refining of ourselves that makes us come alive.


These words brought to you by Dustan Kasten. A friendly, bearded, husband, father, and user interface engineer living in Charlotte, NC. Considers himself quite partial to React.js these days. Find @iamdustan on Twitter