Hello 2019

I can’t remember where I read this (probably Quora), but it was pretty recent; Some people were discussing online about how difficult web development is, despite the lowest barrier to entry.

I never actually thought about it, but it hit me real hard when I read the argument (to sum up what I could remember): Web development is ever-evolving, making learning a never-ending task. Javascript evolves over the years. We have to learn new frameworks (React, Angular) and drop old ones (jQuery, Bootstrap) if we want to stay on top of the trend and market demand. New tools come and go too (Grunt, Webpack). Customer base (when it comes to freelancing) is so diverse that it is especially difficult to find a gig if you “only know Javascript”.

The landscape of web developers is so divided, it is almost impossible to find two web developers with a similar set of knowledge even though their job title may be similarly called “Web engineer”. We are further divided in UI/UX, front-end, back-end, full-stack, dev-ops, sysadmins… and probably more. In short, being a successful web developer means we have to be at least an expert in one domain (in my case, front-end), and an above-average competency in the others. I can’t just say “I know how to convert mockups into actual websites”, as employers will also expect that I know “how to set up a server, deploy the website, write REST API”, and more. Heck, CMS’s (e.g. WordPress and Joomla) are also a subset skill of web development that I don’t have, but is sought-after by a certain group of clients.

The discussion above was compared to traditional software development — Just write desktop or mobile apps, iterate, release, and that’s it. It’s all in a closed environment. Software like painting programs, games, desktop applications, are written with languages that have matured and been around for a while, meaning there are seemingly finite amount of knowledge to be gained before they can plateau and live comfortably as an expert. An example would be C++, where the language itself never really evolves too drastically, or at least, for the companies that heavily rely on said languages, they risk a lot if they decide to rebuild their apps in a completely different language or framework. But this is not the case for web developers. We’re always expected to learn new things and forget old things over the years.

It made me realise that all this while, all my self-depreciating thoughts, thinking that I’m a terrible programmer despite my years of experience, is due to the fact that I never stopped learning — that every time I think I’ve gotten better, the web landscape decides to change, and I have to learn something new all over again. It made me realise that I’m pretty much in a situation like Sisyphus, the guy punished to eternally roll a boulder uphill that will inevitably roll back down.

I don’t know where I will be in 2019, but I really want to get back into traditional software development. Y’know, the kind of development where your past experiences in the language is still useful for at least the next 10 years. In short, making games.

End of 2018

I can’t believe how fast time flies. Where was I when I wrote the last blog post, and where am I now? Since we are approaching the end of 2018, I figured now would be a great time to add an entry to this seemingly-abandoned blog.

Just a note before you continue reading — this will be a long post that isn’t related to programming. In fact, my recent posts have become more personal, but I’ll try to make future posts more code-centric.

Today, I am a full-time React developer at a geolocation service company, working 100% remotely. I’ve had the opportunity to pick up NodeJS (writing proxy APIs) and Selenium (for UI and end-to-end tests), which has been a great step towards my goal of being a full-stack developer. Ironically, I had been job-hunting since more than a year ago, and failed over 30 job interviews, and this company just appeared out of nowhere, headhunted me and hired me almost immediately.

Professionally, I have learned so much over the past 7 months at this company, compared to the 1+ year I spent at my previous company. I guess, we improve better when we’re in an optimum environment, and perhaps in my case, I work better when I have a sense of ownership over my work.

I have even started thinking seriously of actively updating my Github portfolio to brush up my skills, and to help potential future employers to assess my skill better. Unfortunately, as you may notice if you clicked my Github link, I have hit a roadblock and have not been making any new commits to my first mini web project for the past few weeks. There was a good lesson to be learned from that, fortunately — In that, I should have planned my project much better on paper, before I sat down to commit to implementing the features.

Now, a little into my personal life — I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before, but I am most proud of one thing: I have been consistently studying Japanese every single day since May 1st 2016 (yes, I remember the exact date, because that was the day I resolved to do something about my life, no matter how small it was).

Today, I can probably read at least 3000 different kanji, and can recognise probably around 6000 different words. I even managed to pass the JLPT N3 test last December. My point is, I have been depressed for the past few years, due to various personal circumstances, and I have luckily made it a habit to study Japanese as a way to cope and forget about my depression, and I have come a long way (but I have a lot longer to go).

I’m just glad that despite zero encouragement from people around me, I managed to get where I am today (at least, in terms of learning a new language). It made me realise something: “We are not alone, but we are on our own”. That is to say, we have friends who will be there for us emotionally, and occasionally help us along the way, but there is nobody in this world, I dare say, who can help us become a better person, because the onus will always be on ourselves.

One might ask, why did I study Japanese so diligently, since it is likely not related to my career? Honestly, I don’t know. I could have been doing something else, but I just happened to pick up “studying a new language” as a habit. Of the many good things that came out of studying Japanese (besides being able to play JRPGs and read elementary-level Japanese manga now), I managed to meet my Japanese partner. The overall relationship had opened my eyes and made me think really hard about my future. I had never thought about marriage or family seriously, let alone marrying a foreigner and living abroad. I can’t say that my life has a more definite goal now (I could assume “starting a family in Japan” being a goal, but what comes after that?), but at least I have a milestone to look forward to now.

What about game development? I still think about it occasionally. With some recent news of large companies shutting down, work crunches and the various problems I’ve read on the news regarding the game industry, sometimes I breathe a sigh of relief that I now have a stable job with a good salary. Sure, life is more exciting and “free” being an indie developer, but as I’ve stepped out of the gamedev circle over the past 2 or 3 years, I’ve gained a better idea of what I feel about the whole situation — and that is, admittedly, I liked the idea of being an indie gamedev, but I am naturally an uncreative individual. I work best when I’m given a direction. In essence, I need an “idea guy”.

I wish I could still make games, though. Recently, I discovered Overcooked!, and it made me accept the fact that I can only dream of ever making a decent game. For now, my life and career takes precedence. My hobby is no longer “drawing” and “making games”, but “studying Japanese”.

I think I’ve completely changed over the past 2 years.

And it’s not as bad as I thought.

Fun with programming!

So I came across this guy’s channel,¬†Mattias Petter Johansson, who has been making a lot of videos explaining programming concepts in about 10-minute chunks, and I thought it would be worth sharing! His explanations are easy to digest (IMHO) and he speaks slowly and clearly, making it easy for non-native English speakers to pick up. Plus, he looks like a really nice guy.

He recently quit his job at Spotify and has started a Patreon page full time. And he seems to be doing well with his fans, so surely the quality of videos is somewhat assured! ūüôā

Boilerplate React App

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I started¬†learning about React from Facebook’s official tutorial page, and it was fantastic. There was zero configuration, and I got straight to developing and experimenting with React.

But I’ve always wondered what was the bare minimum I would need to get a React project up and running. So here is the result — a boilerplate project.

Of course, the boilerplate lacks the following, which I thought was important:

  • Mocha/Jasmine/Jest/etc. – no test frameworks.
  • Flux/Redux – no state management.

Returning to front-end web development

For the past 4 months or more, I was introduced to my first front-end project in the company (after working partly on Visual Studio/C# and CI/CD-related tasks), and I was really glad to be able to work on something more relevant to my skillset and interest.

The new project required us to split an existing¬†C# project (which had front-end and back-end code) into two parts — Javascript+React (SPA/single-page app) for the front-end, and C# (likely .NET, but I didn’t ask) for the back-end.

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The good thing was, it was Javascript. Despite my inactiveness in web dev for the past¬†2 years, it didn’t take long for me to get back into¬†it.¬†The unfortunate thing was, I hadn’t been keeping up with the quickly-and-ever-changing web technologies.

In my previous job, I spent so much time with Bootstrap, jQuery and self-written native libraries, that I didn’t realise how much tech I had been missing out on. Thankfully, this project made me realise that I have so much more to learn, and I am glad I was given the opportunity to learn as I work.

Thankfully, I also had the opportunity to work with two experienced UI guys from the UK team, and I have a colleague sitting beside me who had started 2 months earlier on the project, to guide me through the project’s code, and explain its concepts.

I’m sure you can easily Google up articles about React, so I won’t elaborate too much about it. In a nutshell, I really enjoyed¬†using React! And the concept of Redux was pretty hard to grasp at first, but once I got it, it felt really familiar, like I was writing game code (based on the idea of immutable states).

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Regrettably, in my previous company, my ex-boss had stressed on the importance of testing, especially for web apps, but I never got around to learning or using them. Dear Andrea, if you’re reading this, I’m really sorry I skipped around the task and focused too much on writing the application code, instead of dedicating some time to write tests. I’m sure the tests would have helped shave a lot of time off discovering and fixing bugs.

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But, now, I have had the opportunity to write in React, Redux, Jest and Enzyme. And I see the power of frequent, automated tests. I finally understood what unit, component and integration testing means. I now (sort of) understand why some people are so concerned about test coverage. I’ve learned so much in the past 2 months and I intend to pick up more relevant tech that complement the¬†project, such as¬†Webpack, ESLint, Selenium and more.

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Thinking back of my life journey up until now, I think it’s been quite a strange ride. I went from C++ to Visual Basic, to PHP,¬†to Actionscript2/3, to Javascript, to C# (Unity), then to Haxe, to NodeJS, and now I’m back to Javascript (ES6/JSX).

I’ve come to realise that “programming skill” isn’t exactly about the prowess in the language, but rather, the ability to use as many complementing libraries as possible, effectively, to create¬†the end-product. Heck, even non-project related tech knowledge¬†would help a lot, e.g. Git commands, integrating CI/CD¬†into the project, or using Powershell scripts to automate¬†build and resource provisioning.

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On a side note, finally learning and writing tests for the React app made me realise that it must’ve been really difficult to write automated tests for games. Although Riot has written an article about how they tested their game (League of Legends), I imagine it must’ve taken some effort¬†to get the initial tests working.