We all learn through our life, from our childhood to our retiring age. As children, we learn a lot from our parents or other family members, and later from friends, about socializing and other things we need to grow up. Later we learn through teachers in schools in many different subjects and after that, we choose to study what we need to know to be successful in our jobs. Life is impossible without learning. Live and learn.

As developers we actively learn through books, documentation, workshops, or just “by doing”, driven by our interests, curiosity, and the will to improve our skills. Sometimes there seems to be nobody to help or teach us during some stages in our lives and we have to take care to teach ourselves. Skills and knowledge are considered to be self-taught. After years of success and setbacks, we can look back at our accomplishments and a hard path that lies behind us in the past where we invested effort and time to enhance our abilities. Even during a strange year like 2020 there still was one or another achievement that made us better in what we do. Well done.

The other side of the coin

Of course, there were many people in our life who helped us to become better at our jobs, but too many seem to be convinced that it was mostly their effort that made them grow in what they are doing.

Unknown aides

What about you? I’m pretty sure you can name some people who influenced your growth and taught you some crucial knowledge about a framework, the language itself, or some good performance tweaks. But the truth is that there were many more people involved in your work-related progress than you can guess. People you didn’t meet in the past or even never heard of. If you ask yourself “How can this be?”, then I’ll tell you one name that helped me to come closer to PHP after I was looking for a new programming language to learn: Dieter Staas. I never met him. I don’t know what he looks like. While I’m writing these lines I even didn’t know that name a few minutes ago. He’s the author of a PHP book with the simple title “PHP 4”, a book about PHP 4.0 that I bought a very long time ago and that helped me in my beginnings of PHP when I wanted to write something different than C#, ASP or ASP.NET. I still have this book and after all these years I took it from the shelf just to see who had so much influence in my developer life that even affects me today because everything I know and do as a PHP developer was built upon that past.

But it’s not only about book authors (or blog authors). There were and are more people out there who have influenced your progress or your solutions. Yes, I’m looking straight at Stackoverflow. Has anyone ever opened the entry page of that site instead of accessing it over a search engine’s result page? There are so many people offering their help and solutions to problems and it became a regular problem solver for developers like you and me. It was so popular that it even became the target of jokes. Many of you might already have heard about the Exception class that creates a link with a search query to Stackoverflow. It’s a funny joke and I’m sure some created such an Exception class. Nevertheless, when I talk about what you or I learned from Stackoverflow, it was always another developer, another name that influenced your solution or decision. The same goes for any other source.

Who wrote that documentation you were reading in your attempt to teach yourself something new? Who wrote that blog post that made things much easier to understand? Who wrote that book that you used to study? There is no learning without teaching, explaining, or helping. Most cases where you thought that everything was self-taught are just another case of someone teaching you on your way. Even code itself or tests can (and should) be written in a way that makes it easier to understand and be a source of knowledge presented by a maintainer or contributor. But those names will be easily forgotten just as I forgot about the author of that PHP book.

Forgotten but never gone

I want to thank all the unknown developers who helped me to become the person I am today. It’s weird to share my appreciation in such a manner with you but, the sad truth is, we still will forget the names and internet aliases of those who were helpful on our path of improvement. This is going to happen even after realizing that we’re not as self-taught as we thought. But that’s why all that help can’t be taken for granted and before we give thanks to the unknown developer many years later, we should give our appreciation exactly when we learned something new or had other benefits by the help and work of others.

What we can do is:

  • Simplest way: Say/Write “Thank you”
  • Upvote a comment, blog post or video of the author
  • Write how the content helped you with your problem
  • Support their work

Or short: Make them aware that you liked what they did and that they made you a better developer, even when it just was in detail. And after that: Start to be helpful for others too.

Forgotten, but never really gone.