A less cynical Dunning & Kruger might conclude that new knowledge is best attained when the vast landscape of "things you don’t know” is mostly invisible to you, otherwise you'd be staggeringly overwhelmed all the time. But this is where I find myself, repeatedly.

The sea of things I don’t know, even within an area so confined as ‘UI development’ or ‘JS' is now too much to reasonably handle. So, like everyone, I pick a select group of things to focus on, and I pray that those chosen don't inflate beyond attainability or die of obsolescence before I can grasp them.

The ever mutating ‘front end’ field is now a massive treasure chest of things I don’t know. There’s just too much candy to handle. It’s very well, knowing Backbone or Knockout, but before long you need Angular too, and Ember… and React… and Polymer. You tell yourself, it’s cool, you have a solid grasp of the guiding principles behind these abstractions so you needn’t bother with their nuanced APIs… but actually, wait, this isn’t your grandmother’s MVC or MVVM or MVP, and your productivity depends on those nuances. Almost everything is opinionated, so you must agree or in abstinence risk obsolescence.

You’ll invest a couple months learning that thing you should have learned a year ago only to be told, “oh didn’t you hear? Those pre-compilers are defunct… and inline styling is now a best practice!”, or some equally disappointing variation.

"The world is changing. Keep learning!"

This is fair, but learning is hard, especially if you’re only chasing the curve so as to keep up with it. Surely, you should want to keep up because the knowledge itself is enriching? And maybe that’s the crux? How can you divine useful knowledge from passing fads or needlessly niche lexicons? It doesn’t so much feel like knowledge attainment. It feels like an API. And another API. And another one. Dozens of competing abstractions and concepts, opinionated and divided. Pick one, and pray it’s the right one. Or hedge your bets by half-knowing several.

The early days: Grit

What originally sold me on all this lovely stuff was the grit, the scrappiness, the openness to hacking. It was a very low barrier to entry, with a real sense of healthy cluelessness and worthy toil. I loved it. There were very few best practices. Very little was solved, and for every problem there were a hundred solutions that held their water… Nowadays, every library or framework has its own logo, a conference, an army of employed open-source contributors pushing its agenda. For a technical niche, this is what maturity feels like, maybe. There is still a persisting love of grit and hacking, but it feels sidelined or masked beneath layers of marketable-framework’y-kool-aid.

I miss hacking around, and when buy-in was cheap. Despite this I still love the wonder and passion of it all though, and while the modus operandi of this niche is now one of professionalism above amateurism and certainty above scrappiness, I will always try to engage with the grit.

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