Last weekend, during the ending Q&A session of PhpDay Italy, an attendee asked the speakers what would be their best advice for other developers. This can sound like a "cliche" question, because there are a few obvious answers we can think about, like: "keep learning", "contribute to open source projects", "be open to new technologies", and such. Don't get me wrong: these are all great and very important advices. But I think all developers already know that, even those who don't put said advices in practice.
That's why I felt amazed by what I considered to be a quite unexpected answer, from Jordi Boggiano. He advised us to practice empathy. As he said, many people don't even know what empathy means.
Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Empathy can also be described as the ability to place yourself into someone else's perspective, and try to understand how the environment surrounding that person can influence their feelings and behavior. Empathy is all about emulating another mindset.
And why he advised empathy for developers? Mainly because it's easy to forget that there's another human being, just like us, in the other side of that comment box - whether if it's a blog post, a tweet, or a pull request on GitHub.
But it's not only about how we interact with others - it's also about how we comprehend the world around us. It's hard to see beyond our perspective; but if we don't, we are fated to a very limited viewpoint based on our own experiences.
For instance, if you are a native English speaker, you have a different perspective of what it takes to learn programming and keep updated with new technologies - because pretty much everything tech-related is in English, at least when it's first released. Everybody knows: English is the official tech language.
I kept thinking about this after having some conversations with Italian developers. From what they told me, the IT market there is, in many ways, very similar to what we have in Brazil. And Italy is a first world country. The language influences in terms that the average developer won't learn a new technology as fast as you - as a native English speaker - would. It will be an extra effort, specially for beginners - imagine how outdated can be a programming tutorial in other languages than English? Of course this will influence the market.
So here is my perspective: being in an international conference as a speaker, presenting in English, is quite surreal. It took me a big deal of effort to just believe I could present a talk in English - that was the first step, believing. I think I could only do all of this because I didn't wait until I felt ready to start - the truth is that we never feel ready. I will probably never be able to express myself in English the same way I can in Portuguese; but I do what I can with what I have.
Two weeks before PhpDay, it crossed my mind that, since Rasmus Lerdorf would be there, there was a very small chance he would see my talk; this thought got me extremely nervous. I cleared my had of it, because certainly that would not happen. So, when it did happen, there was no time to overthink the situation, and everything felt just... normal. After that, I had a change of perspective. It's not because I don't have fear anymore, or because I won't get nervous. It's because I know I am able to overcome it.
I'm only telling all this story because, ten years ago in my hometown in Brazil, I would love to read it, as a young developer with big dreams. There are no limits for what you can accomplish, it will only depend on you.
I didn't take the microphone to give an advice that day, but I will do it here: start before you feel that you are ready. Be a doer and try to see the world through different perspectives. And as Rasmus said (not in this exact words, but that's what I got), don't let people put you down; for each Internet troller and individuals with no capacity for empathy at all, there are at least 10 good people who will help you with real feedback and words of encouragement. And I think he really knows what he is talking about.
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