Looking left and right will improve you as a developer

After initial encounters with computers and programming I pretty much settled with Java as my preferred Language and especially platform. Occasional adventures to C/C++ or other languages and tools do happen but not on a day to day basis. We are mostly a Java shop so this seems natural. However, I strongly suggest looking left and right and trying new stuff, be it a programming language, an operating system, an IDE or a programming framework. Similarily to travelling around in the real world™ it will widen your views on your daily work and give you new ideas on how to improve it. You will try to adapt new good stuff from elsewhere and on the other hand appreciate nice aspects of your current environment more.

Let me give some examples to support my point and motivate adventures outside your home turf. I have been playing around with Scala and therefore functional programming in the past months. One major benefit of these experiments was my new appreciation for immutable types and side effect free code. You can carry them over to many programming environments including Java often making your code easier to test and less error prone. Object-oriented programming (OOP) relies heavily on objects with state and side effects but there are many places where immutability reduces tracking effort of objects and their state. A nice example in Java is the Joda Time library with provides immutable DateTime-classes in contrast to java.util.Date et al. Null-Handling in Scala using the Option-Type seems so interesting that some people try to carry it over to Java as an alternative to Null-Objects or null checks. The rich collection classes and implicit conversions in Scala may encourage you write own utility classes for Java collections, nice wrappers or use alternative collection frameworks to make your life easier. In general, I find wrapping a nice, standard OO-technique often underused outside of frameworks.

You do not always have to stray that far. Some frameworks like Fest and EasyMock show nice usages of fluent interfaces. Why not use this technique in own code? I found them especially useful for implementing builders for complex or highly configurable objects. Fluent interfaces can make your code look a lot like natural language resulting in expressive and highly readably code.

Using Mac OS X with Spotlight™ and TimeMachine™ may make you look for similiar features on your Linux Box (e.g. gDeskbar and BackInTime) or Windows (depending on version available through third party software or built-in). Using the multiple deskops of Linux (or another OS with an X11-Window system) may motivate you to try them in your other working environments (they suck on OS X, though).

Trying different IDEs may increase your effectiveness depending on the language and frameworks used. Grails support may be better in IntelliJ whereas you may like Eclipse more for plain J2SE projects. Sometimes you will find some cool feature in one IDE you were missing before. I encourage you to go back to your environment and look for the same or similar features. Often you will find them in many advanced IDEs.

Without seeing what is possible you may never miss it. But beware thinking everything new is automatically better. The grass is always greener on the other side. Try to reflect on the things you learn and encounter. Take the good parts to improve existing stuff whenever sensible. But also do not fear to move on if it is time.

For me and my colleagues this wandering around in this rich software development world has proven very valuable to continually improve our style and increase our productivity. These adventures in foreign waters coupled with reading books, dev brunches and attending talks on and offline keeps our skills fresh and improving. Sometimes it may even lead to own ideas, APIs and tools.

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