Social Media for Programmers

A friend of mine has been accepted to DevBootcamp and I’m pleased to see the coursework is beginning even before classes. He’s not so pleased — really, he’s puzzled by the emphasis on social media:

So far the hardest part of this entire Bootcamp experience is looking to be the social aspect of it.

The endless chatter on facebook that I have to pay attention to in case someone leaves a comment of actual importance. I had to create a twitter account for the application and now that is being reinforced with Socrates but I’d be surprised if I’ve checked the twitter account more than one in the last 3 months. They also want me to use Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Quora. I feel like I’ll have to spend 2 hours a day looking through the social media instead of actually working. [...]

Is this just a necessity of the field? Do you actually use all of these?

Wow, that’s tossing a lot of social media at you. I guess they want to be really sure that you guys talk and form a community. :) I think you’re experiencing a clash between the stereotype of a programmer as an extreme introvert who hides away in a dark office and the reality of programmers as a friendly, collaborative, argumentative community..

Yes, I use a lot of these tools, probably an hour or so a day of reading and chatting. It is not surprising that you might spend two hours if you have to look everything up along the way. :) You’ll hear about new techniques and tools, get help finding bugs, learn how other people have approached problems, see industry trends, and more. It is an investment in your future.

Actually, a lot of programming is keeping up with trends. I suspect web development moves faster than most programming sub-topics because we’re all online and we can build our own communication tools.

If you go work in a cave and stop paying attention to the outside world you’ve got about four years before you’re not familiar with current tools and will have trouble finding a job. The foundational skills of programming all stay the same (and those *will* be improved by reading the articles you find on social media), but tools turn over fairly rapidly. I didn’t think I’d bring it up until you were a couple years into your career, but the book The Passionate Programmer has excellent advice on how to build and maintain a good career.

You need to pick one consistent username for all these sites. Not only is it easier for you to keep track of, it helps people learn about you and hire you. Mine used to be ‘harkins’ or ‘malaprop’ but neither was unique, so I’ve moved to ‘pushcx’ to echo my blog. Opaque handles like this are really uncommon, most people use a variation of or wordplay on their name.

So let me go through the sites you mention and I use one-by-one:

Tumblr: I only browse this; there’s not much programming content. But if I ever want a cute animated gif or porny art, sure, I suppose. This is the only one in their list that seems odd to me.

Quora: A Q+A site that’s popular for biz/marketing topics. They were a social media darling a year or two back and are a decent place for finding info, but not a lot of code talk. I expect them to flame out before 2015.

LinkedIn: Facebook for business. A great way to find jobs and help friends find jobs, a must-have. I am probably shortchanging my prospects, even though I’m happy with my job and network, by not being on the site.

Gravatar: An avatar that can appear on every site you use the same email address on, generally only supported by small sites. Includes a broken movie-style censorship system. Incredibly annoying if you have more than one email address.

Twitter: Very popular among programmers. You should follow me, @pushcx there. Lots of links and community-building stuff happens here, this one I use actively. Though it’s really hard to separate signal from noise; some of the best programmers post also most the most random annoying bullshit. Exists because Twitter is increasingly terrible assholes to people who build Twitter clients and services. If Twitter goes full-evil everyone will move here, but it’s safe to ignore it completely until then.

StackOverflow: Programming Q+A, an absolute must. You will find their pages showing up in search results for all sorts of programming topics, and you can ask questions here. This is an amazing resource.

Hacker News: Code + startup news. The comments used to be a goldmine, but in the last year or two they’ve sunk into general bickering. Worth keeping an eye on (nicer interface: Hckrnews) for industry events and the occasional tech post.

Lobsters: Tech-only Hacker News; sadly only has a tiny fraction of the traffic. Recently interviewed me.

Reddit: Don’t visit yet, it’s an incredible time-sink of humor and brain candy. There are a couple small subforums (“subreddits”) worth following, but that’ll keep until you’re done with DevBootcamp.

GitHub: Required. A really nice set of tools on top of git, a tool you haven’t seen yet for tracking work as you go and collaborating. Nearly all web developers are on the site. After a personal blog, this is where you can best build a reputation for yourself.

Because I am a voracious reader (and because I procrastinate by finding interesting things to read), if I read a good blog post I tend to subscribe for a while to read more posts, and I always have a technical book or two around. So in addition to interacting on the above social sites, I’ll spend at least an hour or two a day reading more about programming. I’m pretty sure it’s uncommon to read this much, but I really enjoy programming and care about learning everything I can.