Top 10 development lessons they didn’t teach you in school

Many colleges have hefty syllabi for computer science courses, but software developer Dustin Younse believes that there are still a few key lessons missing. In his NERD (New England Regional Developers) Summit talk, “Top 10 Development Lessons They Didn’t Teach You in School,” he’ll be discussing what you’ll need to know as a developer on the job.

Alley Interactive is a sponsor of NERD Summit this year and talks will cover Diversifying IT, the Business of the Web and Large Scale Web Infrastructure.

Dustin gave us a closer look at what motivated his talk.

What were the most useful things you learned on the job rather than in the classroom? 

In college, I was a film student, which did very little to prepare me as a software developer, but it did teach me a lot of very important lessons. One of the biggest was an ability to not get caught up in technical details, but focus on the bigger picture of a project. In film, and on the web, you are working on fairly malleable mediums and shouldn’t let yourself be held back by perceived limitations, rather you should aim for the vision of the project and, as Project Runway’s Tim Gunn says: “make it work!”

Much of my education, however, came from being off-campus while working on indie films in and around Austin. The patience and communication skills learned while working long hours under hard deadlines and limited budgets have certainly served me well in my professional life.

Give us a sneak peak at a couple development lessons you’re going to share at NERD Summit.

One lesson is also the reason I want to give this talk — it’s the importance of sharing. So many of us have our careers due to the help of others — either directly, by giving you advice or teaching you a skill, or indirectly, by creating open source software you can use to build great things.

A more technical lesson is how not to be afraid of version control, even if you’ve just started to use it in the middle of an existing project.

How do you juggle working independently while also making sure your work is cohesive with the goals of your team? 

I think this comes down to project management. You need to break the project down into bite-sized pieces and assign them based on the talents of your team. One of the things I think is great here at Alley is our peer review process. Every line of code is written and tested by the developer, of course, but then hand reviewed by someone else on the team before moving up the release chain. This helps catch miscommunications and maintains a coding and visual style across the project that helps make the finished product greater than the sum of its parts.

How do you balance everything you have going on at a fast-paced agency? 

I try to keep it simple.

I calendar everything. Everything. Lunch with a friend? On the calendar. Task with a deadline? On the calendar. If it’s not on my calendar, odds are it’s not going to happen.

My other habit, which is a bit harder to enforce, is the idea of misé en place, which is a fancy French word for the way chefs organize their workstation. Everything has a place, down to the location of my phone and soda on my desk.

After moving to the northeast, I learned the hard way (a hundred dollars hard) about street sweeping tickets. To help, I put up two hooks, one for “Our Side” of the street and one for the “Other Side,” to remember where the car was physically parked, and then made calendar events for the street sweeping days. It’s now a simple matter to make sure I don’t accidentally give any more money to the City of Somerville.

If you had one piece of advice to give your 18-year-old college self, what would it be? 

Don’t worry so much about what other people think. This is particularly problematic in film school, where peer acceptance is seen as the key to success. There is no one key to success. You can only control the things within your control, so work hard and care about your work. The rest is out of your hands.