Jake Worth

Luck Played a Role

Published: August 15, 2022 2 min read

I believe that luck is part of every professional journey. Here’s a sampling of the luck I’ve had.

A passage I recently read caught my attention:

“One of the first things [Stewart] Butterfield [(founder of Slack)] wants to know about when interviewing candidates for a position isn’t which programming language they know or where their computer science degree is from. It’s whether they believe luck played a role in getting them where they are— whether they think their success is a product not just of merit and talent, but also good circumstances. His goal is simple: to build a team where people don’t assume they’re special.” — Sara Wachter-Boettcher, ‘Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech’, 190.

I’ve been lucky. I want to work with people who believe that about themselves. If nothing else, people with that humility are easy to work with.

As an example, my timing entering the industry in 2012 now feels fortuitous to me. Two hallmarks of that year: there were no bootcamps so I had to teach myself, and you had to be a full-stack engineer to get things done.

Before Bootcamps

Something that distinguished 2012 from today: no programming bootcamps. 2012 was the year Dev Bootcamp launched, leading a wave of programming education options. Because bootcamps didn’t exist, I taught myself using anything I could find— MOOCs, books, video courses, code katas.

It was challenging and had some downsides, but one upside was that I learned how to teach myself hard things from the very beginning. I couldn’t lean on a curriculum or classmates. Teaching myself gave me self-reliance and some dumb confidence that carried me a long way.

Before JavaScript Dominance

In 2012, the web was server-side-rendered applications with sprinkles of JavaScript. These apps were pretty easy to extend and conceptualize. To survive in that era, you had to be at least somewhat full-stack.

Most of the devs I knew wouldn’t have called themselves front- or back-end engineers. There weren’t enough distinct pieces of a stack to justify that distinction. If you wanted to be productive, you had to be scrappy everywhere.

Today it’s common to meet frontend engineers who have very light backend skills, and vice versa. The rise of JavaScript client-side-rendered applications made it much easier to specialize. Today I feel like devs like me, who are competent at the frontend and the backend, are rare.

My timing also let me ride the wave of client-side-rendered applications, learning them slowly as they gained momentum. New engineers today are dropped right into this maelstrom. I feel lucky to have had that time.

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Blog of Jake Worth, software engineer in Maine.

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