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How I accidentally become the team expert in less than a month (part 2)

Nov 18th, 2023

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Staying up to date as a software engineer is difficult, but it doesn't have to be. In my previous post, I discussed some basic, yet effective ways of achieving this and in this post I'll continue by describing some of the more fun habits that keep me comfortably up to date.

Immerse yourself in the ecosystem

You can't truly understand any technology or practice unless you understand the history and people behind it. Conference talks are my favorite for understanding these. Attend them in person if you can, but if you can't, watching them online is also valuable. They act as time capsules, vacuum sealing the state of the art, pain points, and public opinion of the time. Once you consume a few spread over several years, you can see a trajectory form.

After coming to a general understanding of the field, newsletters and blogs provide ongoing insight. Starting with one like TLDR is perfectly fine. Newsletters and blogs often link to each other so starting with one will lead you to more. After a year or so, you'll follow a sizable amount. What I wish I knew when first starting was that these are easily Google-able. Just search {some tech you like} newsletter and be surprised on how much you will find.

If that isn't real time enough for you, Twitter, Mastodon, Discord, and Reddit are all sites worthwhile to survey public opinion. Just be careful of the trolls, scammers, and jerks.

Find mentors

Please. Find. Yourself. A. Mentor. If I could go back in time, this would be one of the first things I tell myself about career progression. Mentors, if you find competent ones capable in the area you desire growth, have astounding impacts on your progression not just because they can impart wisdom onto you, but they can break you of bad assumptions or habits you didn't even know you had!

Check if your company has a dedicated mentorship program, but even if it doesn't it's totally ok to ask someone for mentorship. Outside of a company, I'm not sure how to procure good mentors, but let me know what works for you.

If you're more senior, you'd be surprised at how much you gain from mentoring someone else. Apart from forcing you to learn fundamentals again, it's eye opening to see what it's like to learn something from scratch again. It's great practice in communication and simplification. It also provides you hints on what is needlessly complex e.g. if you have to present a power point just to explain how your custom dependency injection framework works, it's way to complicated.

Side projects

I've found a curious correlation between excellence as an engineer, and a habit of tinkering with things during free time. This makes sense to be a causal relationship as working on side projects is another way to deliberately practice one's craft. I've found this to need qualification to be an effective strategy in practice, however.

Rule number one is your side project should not be related to your work, else you risk burnout - hard. I've had side projects that overlapped too much with my day job which consequently just made me feel like I was working overtime. Rule number two is that the side projects should be short else it will, again, burn you out hard because it will feel like a second job. For me that means projects that are completable within a month, but you do you.

What you do is really open to you, but I've found open source, blogging, and my personal website to be excellent projects to work on. Even though they don't overlap with my job, my job still benefits because many skills are still transferrable. They're also gyms to exercise my skills, theories, and philosophies.

Toilet time

Track your screen time on your phone. Seriously, track it. You'd be surprised at how much time you spend scrolling on social media. Now imagine if that time was replaced with something more productive. If you're like me, you'd become a software super star overnight!

Jesting aside, I still use social media to unwind and find some memes to share with my wife, but I'm sure to fill most of my time with reading newsletters, articles, and blogs. I get through a surprising amount just from toilet reading alone! I'm not the only one either. Google has had their Testing on the Toilet program for almost two decades.

At first, I thought immersing myself in tech instead of zoning out on Instagram would make me feel more overworked, like I never left my desk, but I've actually been happier being off of social media. My mental health improves and I feel greater self esteem.


Many people find books to be great sources for career progression, but I've only found reading books to be useful for learning abstract or timeless concepts e.g. books like the Pragmatic Programmer or Software Engineering at Google. Books about specific tech become obsolete too quickly to be useful.

That being said, invest in audio books! Just like reclaiming a portion of scrolling time to aid the effort, reclaim your car/bus rides, gym time, or anything else that requires active hands but a passive brain by listening to a good book. There's tons of good books on product management, software engineering, management, design, productivity, etc. that can make excellent use of that time. Personally, I've seen fantastic gains from this habit alone.


I've listed out, to my knowledge, all of my habits that trip me into the team "expert" role. When listing these out, I was surprised how many of them were low effort, but not surprised by their common threads - dedicated time and focus. Getting good at a skill takes dedication, but I hope I've shown that it doesn't have to be tedious.

Some of what I've presented might resonate with you. Others might not even be possible. Whatever you do, find what works for you and share it with others. Heck, you might find books and courses work way better for you and mentorship is a waste of time. Just promise me you'll set up good work life boundaries and have fun 😊.

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