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State of Flow: Wear Sunscreen::journal

Wear Sunscreen

Channing Walton - Sunday June 11, 2006

A twist on The Sunscreen Song for developers…

Do testing.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, testing would be it. The long-term benefits of testing have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of dynamic languages. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of dynamic languages for another decade. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at code you’ve written and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous it could have been in a dynamic language.

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to write a distributed processing system in Visual Basic. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 a.m. on a support call.

Do one thing every day that interests you.

Play a game but don’t get obsessed.

Don’t be reckless with other people’s code. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.


Don’t waste your time on religious debates. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old email and code. Throw away your old bank statements.

Learn something new every day.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of caffeine. Be kind to your eyes. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll develop something new, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have successful projects, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll become a manager at 40, maybe you’ll still be hacking the kernel on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your mind. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Get involved in an open source project, even if a few people find it useful.

Read the documentation, even if you don’t follow it.

Do not read marketing brochures. They will only make you feel annoyed.

Get to know your colleagues. You never know when they’ll be gone. Be nice to your peers. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that colleagues come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in languages and concepts, because the older you get, the more you need the people who shared the same ideas when you were young.

Work in the financial markets once, but leave before it makes you hard. Work for the government once, but leave before it makes you soft.


Accept certain inalienable truths: New languages become old. Companies behave badly. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, code was cool, management was noble and graduates respected their elders.

Respect elder developers.

Take time to think a problem through before jumping in to the code. Listen to the old guy, he’s probably been here before.

Don’t expect your employers to support you. Maybe you’ll set up your own company. Maybe you’ll buy shares in the next big thing. But you never know when either one might fail.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the testing.