Career mobile Programming

I Used To Make Apps

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Credit: Flickr / Jo T

In my copious amounts of spare time, I’m been playing with iOS lately (some actual coding posts coming soon, I hope). It’s fun, how quickly I can pull together a framework for an app. The satisfaction of something appearing, that didn’t used to be there. It’s that feeling of making.

I miss it. I miss the instant satisfaction, the gratification, of here is this thing that is now there, that wasn’t there when I started this morning.

I miss making things pretty.

Because I don’t make apps anymore, not in my day to day job. I made some moves, most of them deliberate and strategic, to broaden my technical focus. I (kinda) got to grips with Android, did a bit of Javascript, and lately I’ve been all-server-all-the-time. I talk about things like “updating configs” and “pushing to prod”.

I used to talk about the App Store, although I don’t miss that. I used to be BFFs with my UX designer; we used to pair program together. I do miss that.


There’s often a general distain for front-end work amongst “engineers”. In a cynical mood, I might say this is because they don’t have the patience to do it, so they denigrate it as unimportant. My focus had started to seem career-limiting.

I felt like I’d learned most of what I would – I’d architected and lead and built an app from scratch, seen it from the change that initialised the project through to shipping (3 months) and feature parity (6 months), did some things to push the boundaries of what we considered “good” test coverage, and after that, then what? Do it again on a slightly larger scale?

I put some thought into my long term career goals – I wanted to be able to run a cross-platform mobile team. It was clear that I didn’t know enough to do that, yet, and what I needed was a broader focus.

Things I’ve Found

It’s been hard, to feel like I’m starting from scratch in many ways. To feel day after day that I am barely competent at what I’m doing. I’ve learned a lot about my known-unknowns – the things I knew I didn’t know. But a surprising amount about things that I knew, but didn’t realise I did.

A lot of that has come from finding an environment where despite my questionable competence with certain aspects of technology, it’s expected and believed that I can make meaningful contributions. Where I can ask questions without being seen as an idiot, but also voice opinions and have them carry weight.

I’ve found ways to create value – becoming the expert in an expensive test was a pain, but dramatically reduced the need for manual evaluation. I ran (with two other people) a design sprint. Used my web of contacts to connect people to people, and people to opportunities.

And it turns out, I still know how to take a problem and break it down. How to stay calm in the face of new information that may change everything – but often doesn’t. My experience leading technically, and mentoring stands, even if the technically changes.

And now that I don’t always get to see what I produce, I find even more satisfaction than before in unit tests.

I don’t know what I’m doing. But I do know what I’m doing – I’m becoming a better technologist and engineer, a more empathetic mentor, a stronger leader. Being brave enough to step into the known-unknown, and smart enough to pick the right place was the first step.

6 replies on “I Used To Make Apps”

Nice article Cate. I have the same issues coming up in a career change of my own. Very well articulated.

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