Four years ago I got my first job at a start up. It was a very proud day. I called my dad from a Starbucks holding the offer letter in my shaking hand, and already imagined myself taking the metro the following week and walking down to the new shiny office building downtown and feeling like a grown up city woman, finally entering the field I had struggled for two years to be taken seriously by, building up my portfolio bit by bit. I was told many times that specializing in a front end framework was the way to go, and it wasn’t until much later that I learned about front end framework cons.
I still remember it fondly, but what I hadn’t foreseen nor had anyone really warned me about was that it’s a lot harder to stay on the cutting edge of new technologies once you are actually employed. At the time the cool new front end framework was AngularJS, and I embraced the opportunity to master the framework, since a) the job required it and b) it seemed like something that would stick around for a while.
Now I wasn’t exactly wrong about it sticking around, but I didn’t expect that four years later I would still be working with, not just the same framework, but the same VERSION of the framework. For those that don’t know, the newest version of Angular today is Angular 8, and it is VERY different from AngularJS. So different in fact that learning it is practically like learning a new framework entirely. Then there is also React, a framework which has rapidly gained popularity and actually become more widely adopted than Angular. On top of that, there is also Vue, which isn’t as popular but is quickly gaining traction as well.
I hadn’t intended to get pigeonholed into AngularJS, but it happened because for the last three years I’ve worked in a city where there are a lot of government related jobs and a lot of enterprise companies that move slowly and use outdated technologies like AngularJS. I also typically found that by the end of the work day, I didn’t have a lot of juice left to teach myself other frameworks. As a person who doesn’t just live and breathe my day job, if I was going to code outside of work I wanted it to be coding games or working on creative coding projects with Processing or other generative art technologies (if you’re interested in this, I wrote another blog post about it here). I imagine there are other people reading this blog who have that itch to express themselves creatively that feel the same way.
Many developers will tell you, its hard to work in this industry and maintain a hobby. But without exercising my creative muscles I feel like part of my soul is missing, and when all is said and done I still have that urge to express myself. To be fair, front end development does allow for some creative expression at times, especially if you are working at the ground level of a startup and get to have a say in the user interface of the application or website. But overall I still had the urge to express myself creatively when the work day was over.
What I didn’t always have is the energy leftover to learn the latest and greatest framework, because coding all day can really suck that out of you. So at that point I felt stuck with this specialty in AngularJS, one that is no longer particularly desirable in a field that is ever changing, but also one that is hard to break out of now that I have four years of experience with it.
I don’t want to end on this pessimistic note, because thankfully my hobby creative coding projects like making games also help to show prospective employers that I have the ability to teach myself other languages and frameworks, even if they are outside the front end tool set. However, I don’t think this issue of getting pigeonholed into a framework gets talked about enough.
There are many articles about breaking into tech and getting that first job. It is also true that the next job is always much easier to get than the first. Still, it’s also easy to become complacent once you’ve broken in, because there is a lot less external motivation pushing you to keep learning and breaking new ground. This complacency is hard to guard against, but guard against it you must, because otherwise you may find yourself stagnating professionally, unmotivated and unhappy.
I’m curious to hear comments from other developers if they experienced any front end framework cons to specializing. Have you found yourself pigeonholed into a specialty in tech? Front end or back end? Do you wish you had more time to pursue creative coding projects? Think there are some pros to specialization I am leaving out? Leave your thoughts below or tweet at me @nadyaprimak!
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