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Leave breadcrumbs for your fellow devs

jacobedawson profile image Jacob E. Dawson ・3 min read

For my fellow coders, especially the new ones dipping their toes into this great ocean of digital possibilities, I'd like to keep this one short & sweet:

Please, please, leave breadcrumbs for your fellow devs.

What do I mean by that? Well, as you begin your coding journey, you'll find that a large part of coding is debugging :) Sometimes the errors are loud & red, and sometimes they're deathly silent - something isn't working, but... nothing is complaining (at least not audibly) - yet your code isn't working so there has just got to be something wrong, somewhere.

So what do you do? Probably what we (slightly more experienced devs) did when we were starting out (and not so secretly still do every single day): we start searching for answers. Google the error message or, if there isn't one, try to explain the error in a string of words that you hope Google can somehow parse and lead you towards a solution (and not to a recipe for some kind of tasty-looking Thai soup).

Then what? Then you end up at Stack Overflow, or Dev.to, or Github, or Medium (at which point you get paywalled and have to open the article in incognito), or Reddit (honestly, it's getting pretty grim if you get to the Reddit stage). You aren't the first person to have hit this brick wall, and you won't be the last to question your sanity, or have to start retracing your steps through VS Code, or seriously start thinking about going back to study Dentistry.

If (it's a big if) - if you're lucky - you'll come across an answer full of breadcrumbs. Most of the time, though, I'm sorry to say you'll come across something like this:

Big Title with Description of The Exact Error You're Facing

Comment saying they solved the issue with literally zero information on how they did it

That ^, my friend, is a fellow dev who doesn't leave breadcrumbs. Many such cases!

Then what's the right thing to do? It's not about being spoon-fed code that you can just copy-paste into your file and get back to programming your Jamstack resume (although sometimes that's pretty sweet) - it's about leaving breadcrumbs for the devs that follow you. Even if it takes an extra minute or two, take that time to leave some helpful information that the next dev along can use to help them solve their issue!

If I'm forced to go on an "Everything is Broken and This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things" Google-spree trying to discover why that icon keeps wobbling crazily at the top of my animation loop, I like to keep the browser tabs open when I find questions that cover the same issue but don't have an answer. When I do eventually track down the solution (there's always a solution), I like to take a few minutes to go back and drop some breadcrumbs.

So, if you're just learning to code and surely going through the head-to-keyboard moments of struggling with an error, use the opportunity to journey out into the net and take notice of the devs that have left you clues from the past to help you on your way, and remember to take the time to pass the favour on! If you're a dev with a bit more experience under your belt - then do the needful and share some of that sweet info for everyone else :)

And that's that.

“With words we begin to leave traces behind us like breadcrumbs: memories in symbols for others to follow. Ants deploy their pheromones, trails of chemical information; Theseus unwound Ariadne's thread. Now people leave paper trails.”

― James Gleick, The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood

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