Just Build It

December 28, 2013

A foolproof way to level up your development in a short amount of time is to just build something. Pick something away from the silo of your day job or client work (something different than what you work on daily will be more exciting!), give yourself a deadline, and just build it.

Find an idea

There's no need to make this complicated or think about how to turn it into a paid product (though that can be a nice side benefit). The goal here is to find anything you can create a working prototype for in a short amount of time. API mashups are great candidates, and your twitter feed likely has inspiration if you can't think of anything.

Make sure the scope is small

This is key - we're going to set a deadline of 2 weeks to complete this project, and do so using only free time. Choose something you can devote a total of no more than 20 hours to.

You don't have to get it perfect right away

Make sure to write tests, make it visually appealing, and write clean code, but don't spend too much time making it perfect. The goal is just to get something out in the wild, and level up your skills along the way. It can always be refined later.

Use something like Heroku so that you're not wasting time setting up a VPS. Use a front-end framework so that you don't spend as much time styling css. Where appropriate, use libraries that someone has already built so that you don't get bogged down in the details. This is not the type of project where you build authentication from scratch. Though it's not hard to do so, we want to stay focused on the core functionality of the app.

We will revisit the app you build as a refactoring exercise in a future post.

Use a planning tool

Make sure to break your app down into small chunks so that "ok, what's next?" is a phrase that never crosses your mind. Trello and Github Issues are great free tools to help with this, or you can use a todo app or handwritten list. It doesn't matter what you use, just use something.

I'll join you!

To give you an example and to show you that this works, I'm going to be building an app that will generate before and after screenshots from comments on Github pull requests.

I'm taking this idea from a tweet from Brian Cardarella:

Screenshot app tweet

I'm going to build this app and then do a followup post in 2 weeks detailing my approach from start to finish, and showing what I have learned.

Let's do this

Remember, we are going to try our best to finish our "Just build it" app in 2 weeks time, but don't get frustrated if you can't quite complete it. As long as you put some real effort behind it, you'll see the benefits. Worst case, you'll have something interesting to discuss with other developers at your next meetup (you are attending meetups right?).

If you take part in the "Just build It" challenge, let me know what you're working on!

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