OK, Boomer – Musings From a Software Developer

I was struck by something I read on a social media platform about the “OK, Boomer” meme. What am I, as a member of a younger generation, doing to assure that at some point down the road, I don’t have “OK, Millennial” thrown back in my face?

Screenshot of a social media post by Sam Firke on November 1st, which says "thinking more about ok boomer: A lot of us are exempt as late Millennial/Gen X. But the challenge remains, what will I do to not be rightfully subjected to the same in 20 years?"

A Boomer Developer

It was unsettling to think that, in terms of my career in software development, I AM the Boomer generation. I began my career just as the web was taking off as a platform, with personal computers becoming affordable and commonplace. At the time, the ability to sling a little HTML and CSS was enough to carve out a career. I’ve expressly benefited from the explosion of the internet as a primary source of capital and being in the right place at the right time.

After the wild west of early software development, we seem to have settled into a cultural knowledge about the “right way” to produce code. We let testing drive our development. We break up planned work to be Agile. We separate concerns and write functional code.

But the world of software development moves incredibly quickly. Accepted practice five years ago is unacceptable today. What was all the rage last year will be another abandoned GitHub repository tomorrow. And of course, the trend that fell out of favor a generation ago has come back around and is cool again.

As a consultant at Atomic Object, I’m exposed to a lot of different tech stacks and development practices, but I still have blind spots to new techniques or shifting opinions in the industry.

A gif showing a scene from the show 30 Rock where actor Steve Buscemi, dressed in youth clothing and holding a skateboard, says to some children by lockers, "How do you do, fellow kids?"

Who Writes HTML Anymore?

An example I’ve encountered in multiple instances recently is junior developers lacking proficiency or being completely unfamiliar with writing HTML and CSS. Specifically, the intricacies of semantic HTML elements and the complexity of positioning those elements on a page are just not skills that CS grads have developed upon entering the workforce.

This seems crazy to me! How can you be a web developer and not know how to make a webpage? That’s how everyone gets started with programming!

OK, Boomer.

With tools like Squarespace and Webflow enabling anyone to make a website without writing a line of code and frameworks like React and Ember to build dynamic web apps, CSS is about the last thing you need to worry about.

In fact, if you’re happy using pre-styled component libraries like React Material-UI, maybe you don’t need to worry about it at all. The rules of Cascading Style Sheets may still be important to learn, but their primacy these days has certainly diminished.

Who Needs Servers Anyway?

The rise of JAMstack looks to upend our entire notion about how the web is built and delivered to its users. In a recent debate with some developer friends about the “serverless” web, I found myself reacting strongly against these ideas.

Obviously, you need servers. Relying on all of these third-party APIs is eventually going to get us into trouble. This doesn’t fix the problem of modern web development complexity. There are too many limitations for these systems to scale to real enterprise apps.

OK, Boomer.

What other strong opinions about software development am I holding that I may need to let go? In my next post, I’m going to dig into the “JAMstack” concept in an attempt to reframe my view on the subject. In the meantime, I’ll be alert for other opportunities to practice a growth mindset and be conscious of whatever direction this industry might head next.