Working on the Right Things

Every year around this time, as the weather warms to encourage the first indications of the coming hay fever season, I find myself becoming more creative. Winter doldrums are no joke and these can make even the most interesting projects look mundane, but the beginning of March tends to cast the negativity aside so that something new can be discovered. This has certainly been the case recently as I invest more time into Journals, the blogging side of the 10C v6 platform, as well as move into more of a mentorship role at the day job. However, one of the many questions that I ask myself during these resurgences in creativity is whether I am working on the right things or just the interesting things; the two are not always the same.

Most people know what "the right things" tend to be as the resulting efforts will impact other people. Paying taxes on time, submitting paperwork, and completing the tasks asked of us by management at the day job will certainly appear to be "the right things". These are often the least memorable activities that we'll accomplish because they require no imagination whatsoever. Are they important? Probably. Will we feel a sense of pride for the effort? Probably not. So it should come as no surprise to anybody when people who feel the need to get creative channel their passions into something interesting.

The problem with interesting ideas is that they're often a font for ancillary and equally compelling ideas. While working on the Journals project I have considered numerous additional features that would require building out the software to include some of the work I had done for previous projects – with additions. Searching the iTunes Podcast directory to look up specific episodes of shows to obtain an audio file URL, for example, or rebuilding the digital Bible API project to have a more dynamic referencing system available to people – mainly me – who will be examining specific chapters and verses. Ideas for replacing the RSS mechanism to supply "transactional feeds" rather than entire articles in a chronological order have certainly been on my mind recently as well as the need to support seldom-seen operations such as JSON Feeds. All of these are interesting and all of these receive some portion of my time, be it for conceptualising or coding. But are they the right things to work on?

Having spent a great deal of time building platforms that present words to people, an argument can be made that anything that can encourage better or more complete ideas to be conveyed would be the right thing to work on. For the longest time I have tried to simplify the means of entering text into a database and having it presented to readers in a consistent, nice-to-read format. With the Journals project, I'm tossing much of that out the window and developing something that will allow people to create a far more nuanced, much better formatted article. This project will require me to take everything I've learned about different programming languages and database systems over the years and devise something that is beyond anything I've done in the past … which is saying quite a bit.

Work as hard as you possibly can on at least one thing and see what happens.
— Peterson, J.B. (2021). Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life.

Every time I work on something that I believe is interesting, all of my energy is brought to bear. Anything that's interesting not only deserves to be seriously considered and worked upon, but it demands that effort be spent. There's no denying that just about everything I create has already been built by other people in one way or another and all that needs to be done is to put the pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle and hope there are no conflicts along the way. I could probably read and write a great deal more by adopting this common development strategy; to "configure, not code". However, this isn't how I like to do things. By really thinking things through, then coding the solution almost completely from scratch1, I am able to understand the problem and work through a solution. Sometimes the end result is not viable. Sometimes it exceeds expectations. Either way, the process is a learning opportunity that encourages continued growth and a better appreciation of the problem. With Journals, much like the textbook projects or LMSes I've worked on in the past, I will work as hard as I possibly can … just to see what happens.

Will the effort pay off? Most likely. Will this bring me one step closer to a return to self-employment? Certainly not. Given the degree of interest and the lessons that I'll learn along the way, however, this is the right thing to work on.

  1. I generally make use of the FontAwesome icon set and … that's about it. Everything else on many of my most recent projects is coded line by line, for better or worse.