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Article

How Not to Get Overwhelmed as a Web Developer

By Tim Evko

In the past week, I’ve worked on projects that have required me to write HTML, CSS, Javascript, and PHP. In working on those projects, I’ve had to employ various technologies, including responsive design, AJAX, WordPress theme development, API integration, and modular javascripting. Let’s not forget that most (if not all) of these projects involved a preprocessor, build tool, or method of version control. Does that sound a lot like your week?

Truth be told, in today’s world of web design, development, and software engineering, you’re expected to know a variety of languages, tools, technologies, and coding methods. This field is fast paced, frequently changing, and incredibly complex. It’s no surprise that so many of us have felt the growing burdens of Information Overload.

How do you identify Information Overload?

For me, IO is the feeling of being overwhelmed with the large amount of information I need in order to stay useful as a web developer. Other times, it manifests itself as a feeling of panic when a new tool, language, or project is announced. IO can go on to cause fear when you feel that you’re failing to keep up with the industry, or even make you upset when a new tool leads you to consider changing your workflow. IO can lead to avoiding new technologies, not fully enjoying your career, and feeling inferior to those who have more experience than you in a certain area.

IO causes real problems

If you have or are currently struggling with IO, then you probably understand the side effects it can cause. If you tend to overwork (as I sometimes do) IO can lead to more hours spent studying code, reading articles, and making demos. On its own, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but too much time spent working, combined with too little time spent eating or sleeping, can lead to a burnout. If IO is leading you to resent your job, depression and anxiety can also be common side effects, perpetuating the general feeling of being overwhelmed with your work.

Solutions

Stacks

Although keeping up to date is an expected requirement in the field of web development, IO doesn’t have to be a consequence. For me, the most helpful solution to the problem of IO has been to limit the number of languages I aim to be proficient in. I call it a ‘stack’, and it currently consists of HTML, CSS, Javascript, and PHP. Outside of my stack, I’m able to use other languages if a project requires it, but I won’t be looking to gain an expert knowledge of them.

After establishing what my stack languages are, I suddenly don’t need to pay attention to every popular tool that comes my way. If it doesn’t involve one of my stack languages, I don’t need to use it! It’s important to note here that, even if it does involve one of my stack languages, I still don’t need to use the tool. Tools are not mandatory, and should only be used if they help you be more productive, or become so popular that the industry expects you to be using them. For example, I work with PHP quite often, but I’ve never used Laravel, because I simply haven’t needed it yet.

Filters

Podcasts, video blogs and articles are a great source of information, but again, trying to read, watch, and listen to every single one will definitely leave you feeling pretty overwhelmed. My solution to this has been to set up a rather extensive feed, to which I add every educational resource that I find. The catch of course being that I only allow myself to spend a half hour a day looking through it, ensuring that I don’t try to read all 500+ unread items on my list at once. Worried about missing something? If it’s really important or groundbreaking, more than one source will cover it, and you’re bound to see it at some time. Frontend Feeds is a great place to get started. Don’t forget to take notes on what you learn. Putting pen to paper can help you retain more information, while also serving as a great way to quickly look up information when you need to remember something you previously learned.

After reading up on new and relevant information, I’ll likely come across a topic that requires further exploration, which is why I always set aside an hour or two each day to make a few demos, get better at using my stack languages, and talk to other developers in the community. Side projects are another great way to keep up to date, because they provide a space to experiment with new tools and techniques.

Breaks

In a typical five day work week, I make a conscious effort to set aside one day where I don’t spend my evenings working on a demo, side project, or reading articles. This isn’t always easy to do, but its importance cannot be overstated, especially when struggling with IO. Eliminating the impulse to work during the weekend is another important factor. Deadlines and difficult projects will always require extra attention, but those challenges will be much easier to solve when you’re well rested, and not feeling overwhelmed.

I work around 60 hours per week, while maintaining side projects and doing what I can to keep up to date with the industry. I’ve felt IO before, but thanks to organization, intentional rest, and great time management, I’ve been able to relax and enjoy what I do once again.

Conclusion

Being a web developer means long hours and hard work in a fast paced environment, and battling IO and the urge to overwork can be a challenge that takes serious effort. If you’re currently struggling with IO, hopefully the system I’ve outlined above can serve as a way to help you get organized, while moving you closer towards a stress free balance between work and home life. Also, be sure to check out Burnout.io, which offers resources and advice to those who are feeling overwhelmed.

  • http://www.aptugo.com Aptugo

    Great article. Curious why you didn’t mention Frameworks, and almost required techs like be in good standing with pagespeed insights, use less or similar, compress your javascript and the bunch of time-takers.

  • Erik Garza

    Agree, Defining the stack technologies it’s the key.

    Great article!

  • Mario Cisneros

    Great article Tim! You hit the nail on the head because I’m in this very predicament trying to learn AngularJS, AJAX and JSON in order to improve my overall toolkit and market value. I’m an expert in HTML5, CSS and JavaScript, but so many employers and projects require an ever expanding list of tools, frameworks and libraries that it’s damn near impossible to keep-up and have a personal life too.

    However, I agree that you need to have a stack that your comfortable with and within reason trying to keep-up with evolving technologies without driving yourself crazy!

    Thanks,
    Mario

  • Tatsh

    Stacks are good but the problem is when you look for new work and the job market these days is often looking for people with a much larger stack than the one you gave. New jobs are also often not willing to train you other than absolute basics to get you started. This is especially the case with contract jobs where you are not working alone or if you are not the person who starts the project.

    • Tim

      Thanks for the input Tatsh! I keep a point to pay attention to unsolicited job offers that hit my inbox, and I have found that most of them ask for skills related to HTML, CSS, Javascript, PHP, and Ruby. What other languages have you seen?

      • Tatsh

        I have seen Python and Java often (Jave more-so). Often Java is used for ‘big data’ (due to influence from Hadoop; seemingly people do not realise you do not have to write your code in Java; any VM language works too, like Jython). Python is usually in conjunction with frameworks like Django and Flask.

        • bl4de

          You’re right, but I agree with Tim: if you’d like to catch a job as a web developer in ANY of stacks, trying to follow up ALL stacks is impossible. 60 hours a week is enough to follow only one stack (HTML/CSS/JS/PHP or JavaEE/JSP/JSF for example) and it’s still quite hard (as Tim mentioned, there’re a lot of new articles, tutorials, conferences’ records on YT or Vimeo every single day)

          There’s one thing ‘d like to add to Tim’s post – sometimes I felt something called FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). “Oh God, I need to read this, and this and that and that too, because I will miss something really important!” Result was that I read as many articles and tutorials as I could, but, to be honest, I did not remember and understand almost any of them :) So I’ve started to choose these ones that occurs more than once (exactly as Tim wrote – if something is really important and worth to know – it shows up more and more in many of feeds, newsletters and so on).

          • http://dada.theblogbowl.in/ Shaumik Daityari

            What about the people who do not like a certain stack? (For instance, I really don’t like Java because there’s just so much to write!)

          • Tatsh

            The answers we seek when in critical need are quite often on Stack Overflow (or one of the sites on Stack Exchange). Usually the best answer cites sources, sometimes linking to a blog post that we may have in our feeds but never read.

  • lewdev

    This article was a sign of relief as a junior developer because I’m often reading the advice to always learn more languages, frameworks, etc. and it was overwhelming me. It makes a lot of sense to be strong in the stack you’ve established yourself in because if you have strong Java background, why worry about getting a job in PHP? This is given that you have you have established a stack that is in demand in your area. And more likely than not, you’d be able to adapt to a position if a job asks for x framework experience.

  • http://dada.theblogbowl.in/ Shaumik Daityari

    I prefer Pocket for links that I will read later. I don’t have a specified period every day, but I go through them whenever I feel I don’t have anything better to do with my time (like waiting in a queue, or travelling in a train).

    • http://timevko.com Tim

      Pocket is a favorite of mine as well

  • bl4de

    Great article, Tim :) Nice to know that I am not the only web developer with exactly the same problem :D

  • Steven Leggett

    I like your point about stacks. Everyone needs a base set of tools in their toolbox.
    When is it time to replace that screwdriver with a power drill? The screwdriver is still needed and has its place, careful precise work, but a power drill has obvious benefits like getting a large amount of work done quickly (think MVP) without tiring the developer out. I’m not suggesting you try a huge series of power drills since there are so many brands; dewalt, bosh, makita. But if you at least tried one of them you’d expand your mind to know the tool exists and where you can use it.

    Trying new technology out isn’t about mastering it. It’s about understanding the pros/cons and how to re-think about your existing stack to make sure you’re not missing out. Putting a deck together with a screwdriver isn’t exactly best practise.

  • http://evanbyrne.com Evan Byrne

    Taking breaks is huge. Do not work a lot of overtime unless have an extremely good reason to. Chopping up your work during the day into segments and not working for more than a few hours straight helps too. Lastly, workout and eat right. Improving your overall health is obviously beneficial for a multitude of reasons and should not be underestimated. Software developer burnout is a real thing, but it can be avoided!

  • viktoriana

    Though it would help immensely, if Adobe apps, Apple iOS and OS, CSS spec, W3C HTML versions and WordPress wouldn’t get updated all at the same time, together with the latest of Wacom hardware ;D

  • codenathan

    The world of programming has been a never ending learning curve and the part about stack is so true :) great article Tim, this will be a good read for all those who are thinking or have started to come into the world of web development

  • equan_pr

    Thanks for the article Tim! but sometime it’s really hard to take one day off. For me information just like addictive food for me.

  • M S

    Nice article.
    Short and quick to get trough.
    1 done, 5000 to go…
    NEXT!

  • M S

    If only people who make all these new tools and frameworks, could do a bit more than throw up a webpage saying noting but:

    “BLORP, the new amazing thing that everyone is using now! To find out what it does, just download it, install it, configure it, and play around with it 24/7 for a week. *download-link*”

  • SteveMcArthur

    I need to ask the question: why is it acceptable for web developers to work 60 hours a week?

    • Tim

      The web is powerful, complex, confusing, and always changing. People who have the ability to keep up in that environment will always be in high demand. Not to mention, those environments typically attract people who enjoy working hard and solving problems. I don’t work that much because I have to, I work that much because I love to

      • SteveMcArthur

        I guess with a lot of web developers there is a thin line between their hobby and their work. So in that case your not really working 60 hours a week.

        • http://meta64.com/ Clay Ferguson

          I don’t think computer programming is something people can really do “as a career only”. you gotta love it, or go find something else to do. Anyone not passionate about it and totally loving it will completely suck at it.

          • SteveMcArthur

            Yeah – I think you are right. But as you get older and have kids and so on it becomes a bit more difficult or desirable to spend the amount of time on your passion as you did before.

          • http://meta64.com/ Clay Ferguson

            Agreed. That’s the problem with today’s rapid moving change. It would be a “full time job” just to try to keep up with the changing technology in the app development world. But everybody also has “a real job”…so it’s truly impossible to do both. And if you have a family, that makes it 2x worse because you’d really have no time for them, IMO as single guy.

          • http://pedrolima.io Pedro Lima

            I feel like taking that beautiful statement and pin it to my wall! :)

  • http://danicfilip.com DanicFilip

    Loving the “stacks” concept!

  • ChoboBot

    Great article, I am having this problem since I am a novice trying to pursue a career in front-end development and feel like there is so much information to absorb and I am trying to do too much all at once. I guess there is a fear I am have that I will be missing opportunities in the job market if I don’t learn my chosen stack quickly.

    • http://timevko.com Tim

      Feel free to send me an email at TimEvko(at)gmail(dot)com if you’re looking for some assistance

  • Peter Rietveld

    After my move from dotnet developer to frontend developer my stack is very big, but for now I can handle it. My wide knowledge becomes very useful nowadays. I develop from front- to backend. Every language has its own dialect, but at the end the way of thinking is always the same. If you program for a long time you know the bad sites of every language, so changes are very welcome as you understand why it has changed.

    My believe is that the last years things are not changing because it make things better, but more out of hyping things. First everything had to be strong typed, now it has to be low level and javascript (and free). CSS script kiddies think they can program in sass , programmers think they can write good css on the site. But nobody seems to know exactly why. Why do I need SASS when I wrote many portals without it? Why do i need css frameworks? Why do we move from inline queries to stored procedures to ORM’s? Why are we changing from normal methods in BLL’s to webapi’s? Just keep asking yourself why do you have to change thinks without looking to the amount of forks made of something new.

    But at the end you don’t have to keep up. If you can think as a programmer you only have to think in objects. Ones you understand what OOP really means it’s only a dialect. Just embrace that what you are comfortable with and know what the downsides are, so when you are moving from one thing to another you know why or…why not!

  • http://ricardozea.me/ Ricardo Zea

    Having Information Overload and a bit of stress about it is a good problem to have in my book.

    I’ve met an s-load of web professionals that couldn’t care less about this industry thus making my Web Design/Front End Dev job miserable, because I was only as good as the least worst programmer they assigned to implement my HTML mocks.

    Let’s not even get into Project Managers that had no idea about the web industry, yet they were running major web projects.

    None of those people cared nor wanted to learn more about this industry, nor cared for doing the right thing so the pages/site/microsite/apps would load faster, be more usable and be helpful for the end users.

    None of them read, none of them asked questions, they thought that the little they learned years ago or their ‘common sense’ told them, was enough.

    I would love to be in a team where there’s plenty of Information Overload, where my team members are hungry for knowledge, sharing, asking, demoing, implementing, testing… so on.

    I overload myself reading, reading and reading. And then reading some more. Creating demos. Implementing new ideas. Improving the way I write CSS (SCSS that is). Learning new techniques. Learning new tools where feasible and worth the time. Then sharing that with others where possible.

    Yeah, I love Information Overload. I’m grateful I have this problem :]

    • http://timevko.com Tim

      I’m glad it works for you! I think success happens when we use our obsession as an advantage

  • ashour

    Much needed article and great advice. Good to hear from another developer in the trenches.

  • http://www.codepunker.com Daniel Gheorghe

    This is a good article my friend. It’s really comforting to know that I am not alone!

    Thanks a lot!

    • tevko1

      Thanks Dan, and keep up the great work

  • http://twitter.com/emjayess emjayess

    “I make a conscious effort to set aside one day where I don’t spend my evenings working on a demo, side project, or reading articles. This isn’t always easy to do,…”

    Lol, I just stopped reading there.

    • Hafiz Khan

      Can you please explain why ?

  • http://timevko.com Tim

    Lots of wisdom here. Thanks for your input!

  • vikrantsingh47

    really good points

  • PHW

    I read that about only 3% of the market has been filled too….it could be a factor of high work hours….but it should be something all coders love.

  • Justin Reynolds

    Thank you for an interesting piece. If I may sound a contrary note to most of the comments here: the fundamental reason why so many designers and developers feel obliged to work 60+ hour weeks – as the rule rather than the exception – is because they have no means of standing up to exploitative employers. Because that is what the requirement to work long hours is: exploitation, pure and simple. If one is contracted to work 40 hours a week, then that is what one should work. Additional hours deserve additional pay.

    IT is not the only sector where there is a culture where long hours are expected without adequate compensation. This is a blight spreading across many fields of employment. But there are still workers in other industries prepared to take collective action to stand up for their rights. They are able to secure pay rises and limit the hours they are expected to work through worker representation on company boards, and, if necessary, industrial action. They are members of trade unions, who stand up for them. This is how employees in fields such as health care and transport continue to maintain decent working conditions and pay.

    I realise this language of ‘workers rights’ and ‘industrial action’ sounds wholly alien to many working in IT. That is why it is easy for their bosses to make undue demands upon them. They have no means of collective organisation, and therefore no means of defending themselves against the expectation that their work should make such demands upon them.

    Of course many younger IT workers may well be prepared to work 60 hours weeks, year in year out. But as one or two of the other commentators have noted, that is not a sustainable position for people with families. Or indeed anyone who dares to have real interests outside their work. If we want a monochrome IT industry dominated by young graduates prepared to sacrifice themselves for their companies, with no place for older people wanting a proper work-life balance, or indeed anyone who wants to lead a full life, then we just need to continue in our present direction.

    • http://trycatchlarry.com/ Larry

      I absolutely agree. I love making web applications. But lately I’ve had to spend at least 10 extra hours during the week and 10 hours or more on my weekends to just barely meet work deadlines and pursue my own projects. I have interests outside of the web development world but I haven’t been able to engage in any of them lately. Work life balance is wrecked. Teams distributed over non overlapping time zones make it worse.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/christophermregan Christopher Regan

    Stack? Amen.

  • Dudeman

    The IO point makes sense – its a real thing, and can be burdensome. However, most of this article isnt very good advice – for one, staying in the PHP stack is a sure fire way to alienate yourself from major developments in the rest of the industry. Also saying “why try out framework X, I dont use it?!” is just silly, cuz experimenting with different frameworks allows you to become a better programmer by experiencing many idiomatic ways to solve larger architectural problems. A PHP dev afraid to dabble in Ruby is someone I would never hire.

    Its much better to pick and choose what to learn and master based on career plan, rate of adoption in the industry, and personal interest, than to slave yourself to every single buzzword that plows through your RSS feed. Choosing the opposite strategy – “limit yourself to 4 technologies and learn nothing else” makes you a great lap dog for a couple of years, then deprecates you pretty rapidly.

    All in all this reads like a front ender who thought pixel pushing wasnt going to involve this much engineering discipline. Web dev is to the world of software engineering what tattoo shops are to the world of fine art – its really not that hard and anyone can do it, it just requires a lot of passion and talent to be really successful.

    Web dev does NOT imply long hours, and doesnt necessarily require fast paced work. People who plan poorly, or submit to s*** jobs, experience those things. I havent experienced more than 40 hours in my workweek in the last 4+ years of my career (with the occasional big 42 hour week here and there…).

    Most of the info in this article just comes from a limited perspective… this stuff really isnt that hard.

  • Chris Raymond

    I feel the same thing as a web designer in an academic setting. I am asked to be productive in the visual/graphic design “stack,” the human-computer-interaction/interaction design/UX/usability stack, the css/html/Wordpress php/RWD stack, the content strategy/content marketing/SEO stack, and oh, yes, now also instructional technology/instructional design. Trying to keep up on best practices and new approaches in all those areas and switch hats multiple times a week: I’m mentally exhausted. At this point in my worklife, I’d prefer to be able to hone my craft in some related grouping of domain knowledge, not flit from discipline to discipline.

  • Matt

    You don’t know how much this article helped me, thank you Tim.

  • Alexa Steinbrück

    Thanks for this article! One idea that I take with me is to put your learning energy on strengthening your knowledge of languages instead of frameworks. A language like Javascript will not leave us for a while, whereas frameworks/libraries like JQuery, Angular and friends will loose their relevance over time…

  • Jonathan Banks

    Is web development the hardest most unclear profession with the least reward on the entire planet? Ive been doing this for a year straight, and I still have absolutely no idea what my objective is, or what I am trying to build for: who,what,when,where and how. I cant begin to tell you how frustrated I am. Hope its been been better for others.

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