Making Choices for Web Developer Sanity

    December 27, 2006

Nowadays, there’s too much information for a web developer to handle: Web 2.0, AJAX, JavaScript libraries, Ruby on Rails, ASP.Net Atlas/AJAX, CSS, DWR…and the list goes on.

It’s enough to make a young web developer feel overwhelmed.

How do you cope with this information overload? This question isn’t rhetorical; it’s one that we, as web developers, face every day. Imagine, if you will, a typical day in the life of a web developer:

1. Arrive at work, review 50-item task list, and proceed to “add rollover preview functionality like Ebay’s” to the site (I’m imitating what a business person would say).

2. Decipher requirements from the bosses’ scratch paper sketches and a couple of quick conversations that include phrases like, “that should be easy, right?”.

3. Figure out the best way to complete the given task by searching on Google and seeing how others out there are doing it.

4. Find out that no two people are doing the assigned task in exactly the same way, but that everyone that implements this functionality claims that their way is the best.

5. Keep searching for the “best” way to complete the task.

6. Look up 4 hours later to realize that if you had just committed to one way of performing the given task, you would have finished an hour ago.

That’s the problem with being a knowledge worker: too many choices, too many people claiming to have the “best” way to do it, and too much other random information that needs to be sifted through to find a workable solution. Over at FreshBlogger, Ray Dotson talks about the issue with having too many choices:

We’re bombarded with choice in today’s world. This can be paralyzing for many people. This paralysis leads to indecision which in turn can lead to dissatisfaction, stagnation, and depression.

I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve started out looking for a way to do something online like create rounded corners without using images only to look up at the end of the day (after trying out dojo, prototype, yahoo UI, etc.) and realize that I haven’t accomplished anything at all. I’ve been so busy trying to find that perfect way of doing things that I’ve ended up accomplishing nothing.

Now, a manager might say that I’m not using my time wisely. And I would agree with that, but my question would be: how do I make a choice in the face of a dizzying array of options, knowing that I’m not necessarily choosing the right solution?

And to that I say: make a choice. Choose one. Forget the others. Move on.

I know that sounds overly simplistic, and it is; it’s simplifying the problem to keep you, the web developer, sane. It’s a technique for realizing that there is no perfect solution, no matter what people might tell you. So make a choice and stick with it, whether it’s what programming language to use, what tool to develop with, or what AJAX library to implement. By making a choice, you’ll look up at the end of the day and realize that you’ve accomplished something. Even if you don’t have that mythical “perfect” solution, you’ve got something that works.

And in web development, as in life, I’d say that’s good enough.


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Mike Floyd is the creator of BAM Web Solutions, an Atlanta-based web technology company dedicated to helping web developers, designers, small business owners, and hobbyists to succeed online.

BAM Web Solutions provides indispensable tips, tutorials, and articles on the latest industry news and trends.