Do It Yourself

A question came up about an earlier post on how I construct my grids shown in a few examples.

Now as you can see, it looks like a table, acts like a table, so it must be a table right? Well it isn’t. It’s actually done with divs and styles, something I’ve worked hard on getting right since moving to MVC.

I’m not bagging on the question asked because I’m probably a mutant and the only person that thinks the way I do (and have written below). I just have a philosophy that if you can do it yourself, do it yourself.

For starters, I’m not against new stuff, I think that’s pretty obvious. I’m also not completely against third party stuff seeing as a lot of my newer posts deal with jQuery. I do, however, avoid third party tools I don’t need, namely grid builders or things of that nature. I figure that if I can do it myself, I’ll do it myself. This kind of hits on the debate of using Visual Studios’s drag and drop feature for designing pages or not. Sure it’s easy and for the most part works, but you are really doing yourself a disservice. Why? Because most of the time you can get away with it, it’s those few times that it just won’t do what you want it to do that kill you.

When you use helper tools, you could be cheating yourself out of knowledge

Now I’m not saying that you should develop your own tools for rendering 3d graphs. Some things you just don’t have the time or the ability to create, but when it comes to simple things like markup, do the work. The knowledge you gain from this is substantial. Hell, I used to hate style sheets. I used to hate javascript. Quite frankly, they were a pain in the a– at first. However, taking the road less travelled has given me a new perspective on both. I no longer fear them and in fact would rather just type the markup out myself than trust some third part thing that I can’t fix when something goes wrong. I know that if I have to create a quick mock up that looks like the real deal, I can do that with notepad and a browser. I know that if I have to teach someone how to use style sheets or javascript, I can do that without just telling them to go to some page or to use some random tool. I have confidence in my knowledge.

More time now, less time later.

Now I know in Perfectworld, there is always enough time allotted to doing what needs to be done. In Realworld (Not the stupid MTV show) everyone is running around, heads a blaze. So the biggest excuse to not learn proper markup is that there isn’t time. A company isn’t going to pay you to learn when things need to be done. Well sure, but flash forward a couple months when someone tells you that you have to adjust the grid you didn’t build yourself to add something you have no idea how to add or else the world is going to end. Last thing that person will want to hear is “It can’t be done.” In fact, most business people have some crazy allergic reaction to that phrase that causes them to turn really, really red. It’s weird but happens a lot. At this point you can either:

Laugh and lose your job.

Go on the forums and hope there is a solution.

Die a quick and painful death.

Always expect people to want 20% more than what was originally written. Unless you have one of the best project managers that says the phrase “Work request form” on instinct, you will run into this situation. That’s where doing it yourself comes in real handy. It may have taken you a while to figure it all out, but you will for certain be able to fix the issue quickly.

You never know when you’ll actually have to know how to build things from scratch

Tech Interviews. When looking for a job, you’ll probably run into these. Best way to be prepared for these? Have the real world knowledge. How do you get that? By doing a lot of the work yourself. I have been through interviews where I was given a simulated work item and told to produce code for it on the spot. Some of it had to do with the actual markup needed to display the data. (This was before MVC days, WebForm stuff) The people were far more impressed that I was typing out the mark up than if I had just done drag and drop stuff. Why? Because there is a stigma, fair or not, that drag and drop people are displaced VB Weenies, and the real programmers don’t bother with it. Knowing how to hand code mark up on the spot is far more impressive than using visual tools or completely blanking out because you’ve had to rely on third party software.

At this point I realize I’ve mostly talked about markup, but this whole idea extends to a lot of the programming world. Digging in and forcing yourself to do the work will substantially improve you abilities over time. If you can’t do this at work then find some time on your own to work on a side project to learn. Build your own error handling system. Build your own pager creating method. Build your own Url creating method for MVC. I promise that you will be in a much better position.

Final Note

You could argue that coming to a site like this and using copy/paste is against my spiel. Fact is, I’ve copy and pasted plenty of code to get to where I want to go. Difference between this and third party tools is you can learn from what you copy and paste. Actually I would argue that you have the responsibility to learn about what you are copying before you do anything with it. If you copy AND you take time to understand what you are copying, that can be just as helpful. If nothing else, it’s better than just using some third party method.