Cracking the Code: Essential Problem-Solving Techniques for Today's Dynamic Developer Landscape

Cracking the Code: Essential Problem-Solving Techniques for Today's Dynamic Developer Landscape


For you as a developer, the ever-changing landscape of technology presents numerous challenges for keeping your websites operational. You will face website-breaking issues, such as updates to software, libraries, and dependencies, and need to deal with threats such as viruses and cyber-attacks! These difficulties, coupled with tight deadlines and reliance on premade components, plug-ins, and more, mean that maintaining and deploying your websites on schedule requires you to be highly resourceful! In other words, to thrive as a successful modern-day developer, you must embrace the MacGyver School of Engineering mindset, whose motto is "Improvise or Die!"

In this article, tech industry experts Matt Lawrence and Mike Karan defuse website-breaking crises by identifying and breaking down the issues that cause them. After analyzing these problems, they offer actionable techniques to help you overcome these challenges, transforming you into a tech-troubleshooting master!

Topics covered in this article include:

  • The Double-Edged Sword of Low Entry Barriers in Web Development

  • Essential Skills and Technologies for Modern Web Development

  • Abstraction Layers: Simplification and its Drawbacks

  • The Leaning Tower of Technologies Metaphor

  • Strategies for Troubleshooting and Problem-Solving in Web Development

Image of MacGyver from the 1985 TV series. Courtesy of ABC.

The Double-Edged Sword

While the low entry barriers of modern-day development tools help many aspiring coders secure jobs in web development, they also present a problem: acting as a double-edged sword! ⚔

Side one of the double-edged sword: The great thing about learning web development today is the low entry barrier to becoming a hirable developer! By mastering the basics (HTML, CSS, and JavaScript), familiarizing yourself with frameworks like React, grasping version control, navigating code editors like VS Code, including bash scripting and APIs, and taking advantage of the open-source ecosystem, you can streamline the development of complex applications without extensive programming knowledge. This enables you to start "cashing in" on the lucrative tech industry in a minimal period of time! 💵

Side two of the double-edged sword: The low entry barrier comes at a cost. Since you will be learning many technologies, gaining expertise in each will become difficult, making you a Jack of all trades, a master of none. This issue becomes evident when encountering errors that demand a deeper understanding of the tech stacks you're working with. 🚫

Navigating the double-edged sword of web development's low entry barriers requires a balanced approach. Embracing these tools' opportunities can launch your career quickly, but developing a deeper understanding of specific areas is crucial for long-term success. Striking this balance will make you adaptable and versatile and equip you with the expertise needed to tackle complex problems, setting you apart in the dynamic landscape of web development!

There is Much to Learn

Although there is a low entry barrier to becoming a hirable developer, there is much to learn once you're employed in the tech industry. To stand out and become a successful developer, you will need to acquire a wide range of skills covering many areas.

Essential Skills and Technologies for Modern Web Development:

  • HTML, CSS, JavaScript (foundations): The core technologies for building web pages. HTML structures the content, CSS styles it and JavaScript adds interactivity.

  • Frameworks/libraries: Collections of pre-written code that simplify development tasks, such as React for building user interfaces or jQuery for simplifying JavaScript tasks.

  • Server management: The process of managing and maintaining server hardware and software to ensure efficient and secure operations.

  • Deployment pipelines: Automated processes that take code from development to production, ensuring that software is built, tested, and deployed efficiently.

  • Containerization: A lightweight form of virtualization that packages code and dependencies together in containers to ensure consistency across environments.

  • Cloud service management (AWS): Managing and operating cloud services, like Amazon Web Services, to leverage scalable and flexible computing resources.

  • Serverless functions: A cloud computing execution model where the cloud provider dynamically manages the allocation of machine resources, allowing developers to run backend code without managing servers.

  • UI libraries: Collections of pre-made user interface components that can be reused to build interfaces more quickly and with a consistent look and feel.

  • Testing: The practice of systematically checking software for errors by executing it under controlled conditions to verify that it behaves as expected.

  • Databases: Organized collections of data that can be easily accessed, managed, and updated. Common types include relational (SQL) and non-relational (NoSQL) databases.

  • Authentication: The process of verifying the identity of a user or process, often involving login credentials or tokens to access systems or data securely.

  • DNS (Domain Name System): The system that translates human-friendly domain names (like into IP addresses that computers use to identify each other on the network.

  • All different types of hosting: Various services that allow individuals and organizations to make their website accessible on the internet, including shared, dedicated, VPS, and cloud hosting.

  • Backend: The server-side of a web application, handling database operations, user authentication, and application logic, often developed using languages like Python, Ruby, or Node.js.

Since the job role of a modern web developer has expanded significantly, it is challenging to become well-versed in each area. This has resulted in many developers becoming what Mike refers to as "shallow developers."

To overcome the issue of being a "shallow developer," it's important to keep learning and focus on specific areas. Choose parts of web development that interest you or are highly sought after, and get really good at them! Work on projects, either on your own or with others, that challenge you and make you deal with tough problems. Use online resources, courses, and communities to keep up with new trends and best practices in the areas you care about. The aim isn't to know everything but to be an expert in certain areas while still understanding the bigger picture of web development. This way, you will become a more skilled developer and be ready to handle difficult projects confidently and creatively.

Abstraction Layers

As Mike defines it, abstraction layers simplify web development by allowing you to use pre-made components, plugins, and similar devices, avoiding direct interaction with complex code. This enables efficient and streamlined application creation. However, heavy reliance on these layers can lead to challenges in troubleshooting when issues arise due to a dependency on external components. Recognizing the balance between convenience and potential limitations is crucial in effectively utilizing abstraction layers.

Matt explains that sometimes, you need to combine several custom components to create one new custom feature, a strategy referred to as MacGyvering! Although this approach might be a quicker solution to your need, as mentioned, every custom component increases complexity because it depends on other components.

Mike takes the MacGyvering tactic a step further by illustrating a scenario of diving into a troublesome custom component itself, hoping to fix it. He explains that due to the layers of dependencies involved, even a skilled coder would struggle to repair a custom component. Mike further notes that although it's possible to identify the creators of the custom components, reaching out to them for assistance might not be attainable.

As you can see, the use of abstraction layers offers a powerful means to build and innovate efficiently. However, they also introduce a level of complexity and dependency that can complicate troubleshooting and maintenance. To become a skilled troubleshooter, it is crucial to understand and navigate these challenges with a balanced approach to harnessing the full potential of these tools while minimizing their drawbacks.

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines MacGyver:

MacGyvered; MacGyvering; MacGyvers

: to make, form, or repair (something) with what is conveniently on hand

Leaning Tower of Technologies

In the ever-evolving landscape of web development, we often find ourselves standing on top of a "Leaning Tower of Technologies!" Matt introduced this metaphor, which paints a vivid picture of how modern development projects are structured. Like a tower built on layers, with each new floor depending on the stability and structure of the ones below it, developers work on projects built on layers of pre-existing technologies.

An example Mike provides is the way Microsoft Windows versions are developed. They are often built upon the foundations of their predecessors. This approach allows for innovation and the addition of new features, but it also means that any foundational issues in lower layers can become deeply embedded, presenting significant challenges to those working at the top.

Think of developers as architects and builders working on the top floor of a tower. They have to add new floors and features while dealing with the complex and possibly unstable layers below. Solving issues in these lower layers often requires a deep understanding of the base systems, which might not be easy for those working on the highest layer.

This analogy sheds light on a critical aspect of web development: the importance of understanding the foundational technologies upon which your work is built. While becoming an expert in every layer is not always achievable, having a basic knowledge of the structure and potential pitfalls can prepare you for the challenges you might face. It also highlights the importance of choosing stable, well-supported technologies as the foundation for your projects to minimize the risk of encountering unresolvable issues as you build toward the sky!

Tech Techniques

Knowing is half the battle! 💥

In this section, we'll discuss common problems you might face as a web developer and share strategies, including proactive steps, to help you solve them effectively!

You are never going to know 100%

In the ever-evolving tech industry, it’s 100% certain that you will not know 100% of everything, and that’s ok!

As a developer, you need to constantly learn and keep up to date (at least in awareness) with the latest technologies and threats!

Matt shares with us a situation in which a client of his was faced with a brand-new virus. The client was actually questioning his abilities because he was not already aware of it and how to resolve it! I believe we can all agree that this is an unreasonable and unfair reaction.

The takeaway lesson is that even experienced industry professionals will never know 100% of everything. So, a tactical approach for you is to prepare yourself by knowing that you will need to learn and overcome new problems as they arise.

Not everything is in your control

In web development, recognizing that not everything is controllable is essential. Unexpected software updates, new viruses, and cyber-attacks can disrupt projects. To minimize these risks, consider these strategies:

  1. Regular Backups: Automate backups for quick recovery after disruptions.

  2. Stay Updated: Regularly update your systems and test new updates in a staging area to avoid vulnerabilities.

  3. Security Plugins and Tools: Use these for early threat detection and protection.

  4. Strong Access Controls: Enforce robust password policies and limit critical access to essential personnel.

  5. Education: Stay informed about security threats and best practices to prevent risky behaviors.

  6. Response Plan: Have a plan for security breaches or outages detailing immediate actions and communication strategies.

These practices help build resilience against web development challenges, ensuring minimal impact from unforeseen issues and keeping your projects secure and on track.

Understand your limitations due to abstraction layers

A recurring theme in this article that you may notice is abstraction layers, such as pre-made components and plugins, come at a price. Although they will wield you with great power through the ease of use and their capabilities, you will pretty much be helpless if they stop functioning as expected.

Matt provides another real-world case scenario in which a website he created for a client broke due to a malfunctioning Webflow plugin. This particular plugin was dependent on a third-party service that went down. Although Matt’s client was livid, the solution to fix the problem was unfortunately in the hands of the third party.

Since using abstraction layers is the norm in modern web development, just being mindful of this vulnerability will prepare you for knowing where possible breaking points in your website's code could occur.

Use the right tools for the job

Now that you understand the strengths and limitations of abstraction layers, another tactic is to think minimally and not overcomplicate your code.

If the website doesn’t require a heavy framework, don’t use one to create it. A framework such as Astro may be a more suitable tool for the job. Avoiding unnecessary complexity in your code can help prevent complicated errors.

Utilize AI to resolve errors

Although you can proactively keep your code simple to try to avoid them entirely, like death and taxes, errors are unavoidable!

Mike provides an excellent modern-day tactic to resolve errors: using AI! To resolve an error using AI, provide the AI with as much context about your project as possible, including the entire tech stack. Then, provide the AI with the error. Even if you don’t get an immediate solution, you can now converse further with the AI, helping you get closer to one.

Keeping your skills up to date is the best offense

Sometimes, the best defense is a good offense! Keeping your skills up to date will help you in becoming a highly resourceful tech troubleshooter! To help guide you in your continuing learning journey, be sure to check out the following article, which includes plenty of FREE resources: Kickstart Your Coding Journey: A Guide to Free Web Development Resources

HTML All The Things

Be sure to listen to the episode!

Episode 290: Web Development Is a Mess: Do We Need Frameworks? Is There Too Much to Learn?

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Today's dynamic tech landscape for developers provides both opportunities and challenges, acting like a double-edged sword. While abstraction layers such as pre-made components, plugins, and similar devices make it easy to learn web development and lower the bar to land a job in tech, because of them, web developers as a whole are becoming shallow: a Jack of all trades, master of none.

The main challenge modern web developers face is that there is much to learn. You will need to master extensive skills and technologies, from foundational web technologies to advanced topics like cloud services and backend development. You must become adaptable and innovative and adopt a problem-solving mindset to accomplish this!

Abstraction layers in web development make building websites easier by letting you use ready-made parts and add-ons so you don't have to deal with complicated code directly. However, this ease of use can lead to more complex systems and dependency problems, making fixing issues harder. When you mix and match these parts to create quick fixes, often called "MacGyvering," things can become even more complicated because of these dependencies. Even experienced programmers might struggle to fix these custom parts because of the layers of dependencies, and getting help from the original creators might not always be an option. So, it's important to understand and manage the pros and cons of abstraction layers to use them effectively and become good at solving problems.

Matt's "Leaning Tower of Technologies" metaphor describes how modern development projects are built on layers of existing technologies, each relying on the stability of the ones beneath them. Although this setup encourages innovation, it can also hide deep-rooted problems, making it hard for those working on the top layers. In this metaphor, developers are compared to architects who must deal with these complexities and need a good grasp of the basic technologies. While it's not possible to know everything about every layer, understanding the basics and choosing stable technologies is key to reducing risks and handling future problems.

In web development, acknowledging that you can't know everything and staying updated on technologies and threats is crucial. Regular backups, system updates, using security tools, strong access controls, ongoing education, and having a response plan are key strategies to mitigate risks and maintain project security. Embracing minimalism in coding and leveraging AI for error resolution can also be an effective strategy.

In short, Innovation, adaptability, and resilience are your best tools for handling the challenges of the dynamic tech landscape. By embracing these qualities and strategies, you will not only gain a competitive edge in the job market but also become a standout problem-solver with MacGyver skills!

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