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PHP, cheese reviews, and getting your hands dirty

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A long time ago I hand-coded a content management system from scratch using PHP and MySQL for a cheese reviews website. It wasn't a very good CMS, and it was a rubbish website. But I did it - it was probably the high point of my life as a coder.

Generic computer code

As I've developed my career, I've shifted towards content, engagement and management, and I've had less reason to look at lines of code. But although I've forgotten most of what I briefly knew about PHP syntax, I reckon I've retained enough to be at least an informed commissioner and client of development work. I know enough about what might be involved, what is and isn't possible, and sometimes I can even access some repressed memory to understand what a line of code does.

I like understanding how things work. I like the process involved in solving problems. But it's not my job any more to be looking at code. And I sometimes have to stop myself from getting sucked in to the detail when I know others are actually far better able to do it.

But I am a bit torn, because I do think I benefit from sometimes getting sucked in. And I want the people I work with to be practitioners too because it's such a practical medium that we work in. As a digital professional I do want to be participating personally in the detail because I think it actually might be essential to the job - I know for example, that any advice I provide about official blogging is much better for the fact that I write this official blog myself.

I've just started some professional coaching at work. I had my first session this week and I have high hopes for it. I think it will help me to think through and deconstruct my approach to work, in order to become more effective. I think I will learn a lot, and I hope I will become bit more productive as a result.

One of the many things that came up in my first session was this dilemma about how far to get stuck into the detail. I hope I can find the right balance because, while the cheese reviews CMS demonstrated conclusively that I didn't really have the aptitude to be doing that all day, I'm not sure I should resist the temptation to right click to check how things work.

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  1. Comment by Tim Lloyd posted on

    I agree with everything you say, but I can't resist a little bit of detail...can you share a link to the cheese website?

    • Replies to Tim Lloyd>

      Comment by Stephen Hale posted on

      It's long gone I'm afraid. had cornered the market.

  2. Comment by Simon Dickson posted on

    I've found myself wrestling with the very same problem, from the opposite angle.

    I'm a parent with two kids. I'm fast approaching 40. And if you'd asked me five years ago, I'd never have believed I'd still be spending so much time looking at a code editor. (Certainly not doing anything quite so advanced!) Really, I should be looking to step back a bit, be a bit more managerial. And maybe I will.

    But I can't see myself ever giving up the code for good. I need to know what's possible, and just as importantly, how practical it is, to be able to suggest appropriate solutions for people. Without hands-on experience, I just don't think you can have quite as good a feel for it all.

    Plus, frankly, it's more fun than meetings and paperwork. Computers are so much more compliant than humans... 🙂