In five years as a professional software developer, I’ve gathered quite a few pieces of knowledge that I don’t have the vocabulary to describe. These are pieces of knowledge you don’t have the words to describe but that make perfect sense in your head. When working with experienced developers, it isn’t a problem since they won’t question you. However, ever since I’ve started pairing more with junior developers, that lack of developer vocabulary started to become more of an issue.
I found myself stumbling across these pieces of knowledge and getting frustrated that I can’t explain these concepts clearly. I could also notice the dissatisfaction from juniors when my explanations were “it just feels right.”
How can I turn these “knowledge feelings” into teachable bits of information? After some time had passed, I came to a realization: my developer vocabulary was lacking. It wasn’t that the concepts I couldn’t explain were too abstract for words. It was that I didn’t have the words to describe them! With this newfound realization, I decided I wanted to improve my developer vocabulary.
I started keeping track of the times I couldn’t give a solid explanation for a decision I made. I then recalled those situations and tried researching to see if there was a “why” for the gut feelings I was having. It was great if I found something because then I just leveled up my vocabulary. However, this wasn’t always successful since I often don’t know enough to figure out what I don’t know. I try to store those cases in my memory. That way, if I stumble on something later, I can apply my knowledge to a lived example.
Since I’ve started actively trying to improve my developer vocabulary, I’ve seen benefits beyond mentoring other developers. It’s easier to Google problems I have since I know more specific words to put in the search bar. I’m more easily able to communicate with developers since I can effectively express my ideas. Finally, I’m able to give more descriptive names in my code since I have a broader and more specific pool of words to pull from.
There are still going to be times when the only way you are going to be able to explain a decision, is by saying, “It just feels right.” Sometimes years of experience and a strong “spidey sense” are good enough.
Here are some of the resources I’ve found to be most helpful in improving my developer vocabulary: