Keeping up with Front-End Technologies

Given the speed that web front-end technologies evolve and change, it’s daunting for many to keep on or even just close to the bleeding edge, so I’ll let you in on a little secret: one strategy to keeping up with all the technologies is –

Don’t.

At least, there shouldn’t be a need to keep up with the latest and greatest all the time. New frameworks, libraries, compilation tools, and design best practices are always going to pop up; for something as malleable and as big as the web, it’s inevitable that there are a ton of things to choose from. Trying to keep up to date with everything would cause massive churn and paralysis.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you should kick it old school and target your code to IE6. A lot of the advances in the past few years were borne of frustrations from the old days of web development, but if you’re happy or used to these idiosyncrasies, there’s no real need to look for the newest stuff for the sake of getting cut by the bleeding edge.

I used to write plain CSS; then got tired with the lack of reusability and discovered LESS; then got tired of the mixin restrictions and moved to SASS. As I’m reasonably happy with the SASS framework, I stopped there instead of pursuing another 3-4 CSS libraries and more complete solutions a la Twitter Bootstrap. Similar arguments can be made for the current explosion of JS frameworks, and the new design directions some are pursuing. In fact, by not hopping around from new to newer, you protect yourself from flash-in-the-pan fads and allow competing technologies/philosophies some time to settle in (hopefully) production systems. It wasn’t obvious a year after jQuery’s initial release that it’d be ubiquitous, but if you pick up the JS DOM library now, you stand on half a decade of development and will stand a good chance of having it last another half a decade.

Find a good set of tools, and stick with them. Sometimes staying behind the head of the pack lets you coast on the tailwinds of progress.

I’m trying something slightly different, in repurposing some of my Quora answers onto this blog and dispersing it to a wider audience. The original question and answer is here.