Giles Bowkett published a post titled Two Flaws With “Time Off From Programming” that disputes some of the thoughts in my recent article The Technology Cliff: How Time Off From Programming Affects Your Chops.
The first point he disagrees with is that leaving programming hurts your coding skills. Giles took a similar leave from programming that was similar to my foray into management, except he became a “starving artist”:
…what I lost in technical knowledge I gained in perspective…After that period, the code I wrote upon returning was more compact and more powerful. The things I built were more inventive, more original, and more worth building in the first place.
I can’t dispute first-hand experience, but I have a hard time agreeing that leaving coding for 2-4 years to become an artist is going to leave you in a better place to come back and hit the ground running writing code. Leaving for a short sabbatical is fantastic; want to throw clay pots for 6 months? Awesome…I bet you’ll come back more motivated and energized.
But the premise of my article was that becoming an artist, a manager, or a shoe salesman for several years is going to take its toll on your coding skills; I don’t see any way around it.
Next, Giles comments about my statement that “4 years could include 2 or 3 new releases of your language”:
Consider how different this sentence would be if Rob wasn’t assuming that you use one language, you choose that language, you settle on that language, and four years later, even though you haven’t written any code in it over the past four years, that language is still your language.
4 years could include 2 or 3 new languages you might use.
Suddenly it sounds like fun!
This is true; if I came back to programming after 4 years I would consider switching to a new language. But I don’t see how this changes the conclusion.
Whether you try to learn the past 2-3 revisions of a language you know, or try to learn one from scratch, the learning curve is going to be similar. I would argue that if you are an expert in a language (I don’t mean in the syntax, but the class libraries, architectures, standards, style, etc… a truly deep expertise) and you come back in 4 years, you’re going to have an easier time returning to your expertise in the language that you left, as opposed to something completely new.
Learning a new language is fun? Definitely. Easier to transition into? No chance.
Finally, Giles concludes with:
If you want time off from programming to be good for your programming skill, choose a way to spend that time off which will be good for you in general…Time away from programming is very, very healthy, and you should definitely take it now and again.
I agree with him here. I’m a hearty proponent of sabbaticals, long vacations, and lots of travel. Short times away from programming have always done me good and allowed me to return to work refreshed and with new perspective. But stepping away for multiple years is going to take its toll on your expertise, whether through new technology releases, or simply memory loss.
[tags]programming, sabbaticals, coding[/tags]