Ride Your Own Ride

If you’ve heard me talk at a WordCamp, you may have noticed that I tend to close out my presentations with a slide that says “Ride Your Own Ride.” This is a bit of wisdom I picked up from the motorcycling community. What it means in the motorcycle context is that you have to make your own decisions; go at your own pace; know your boundaries of what’s safe; know your environment, your bike, your skills; and don’t let peer pressure drive your decisions. When riding a motorcycle, that advice can literally save your life.

But I also find this is very applicable to learning to be a web developer. Often times you will hear of a tool or a process that “can save you time and make you awesome” or some such thing. It’s the latest thing. It seems that everyone is using it. The people you look up to are using it. So obviously that’s something you need to install, learn, and start using for everything you do.

My response? All in good time.

I distinctly remember when I bought my motorcycle that I spent time looking over all the bikes on display, studying them for how they were built, how they were different from each other, what made them “better,” and what type of riding and people they were designed for. Therefore, I looked at everything. The salesperson of course noticed and asked me what type of riding I liked to do. I had no answer; I had never ridden before. Being a good salesperson, he of course said “you can ride any of these bikes that you’d like.” Have you seen the bikes in a Harley dealership? Some of them are rockets and some are half-ton luxury machines. I remember thinking, “No, no I don’t think so.”

We were both right.

I probably could ride any bike in the building at this point. But I’d like to ride some more than others and I now know which ones they are and why I prefer them. However, I didn’t know that at the time. I was still learning. I wanted – no NEEDED – to start small and relatively safe. I needed to learn some fundamentals and get some miles under my belt to know what worked for me, what I prefer, how I like to ride. There’s no way to know that in advance. You have to get on a bike and ride to figure it out. It’s going to be different for everyone.

And as much as friends and salespeople were encouraging me to “go big,” I’ll never regret starting small. I can’t always keep up and sometimes my bike is missing a few “necessities” (saddlebags come to mind), but I’m now comfortable on my little Harley and am in a much better place to know what bike will suit me best when the time comes to try something new and go big(ger).

I think the same is true for web development. There’s always something new to learn. There are new tools, new languages, new workflows, new frameworks, new designs, and new OMG-this-is-so-cool stuff all the time. But it comes back to “ride your own ride.” If there’s one lesson I’ve learned from my motorcycle, it’s how one “upgrade” can totally fuck things up (see the handlebar story).

So I’m sorry if I’m a little cautious and go a little slow. I have this habit of making my own decisions and basing them on information that I’ve gathered for myself. It might be the greatest bike or the greatest web development tool you’ve ever seen, but I need to be able to ride my own ride. Because in the middle of the journey, when I’m out there all alone, I’m the one that’s going to have to deal with the potholes, the wind, and the traffic, or the coding, the deadlines, and the troubleshooting to get where I need to go. And I’ve only once had someone come and pick me up when I’ve fallen.

My advice to salespeople, whether for bikes or software tools, is please consider the situation of the person you are talking to. What’s right for you is almost guaranteed to not be right for them. You’re the expert, they’re the noob. They don’t even know what questions to ask, much less understand the answers you give. Figure out where they’re at, what they do know and are comfortable with, and where they want to get to next. It’s also important to know where they want to get to in the end, but often that’s overwhelming and scary and just too much to take in at the beginning. Focusing on what’s next helps build skills and confidence, and that’s what makes for a better rider – or developer.