The illusion of being a “master”

One of my favorite things to do is go to conferences. I haven’t been to any of the big ones such as An Event Apart or even SXSW. Mostly I like to go to the local events like Made By Few, Barcamp Little Rock, and even Techfest in Memphis. I like to go to these instead of the big name conferences because I feel intimidated by the big names and feel like I don’t measure up to the standards set by guys like Jeffrey Way, Zeldman and the like. Being around locals makes me feel safe and at least somewhat confident in my abilities as a programmer and developer. The sad part is that I know I am doing myself a dis-service by not trying to stand next to the giants of my industry. I know from reading blogs that I need to be around them to get better but the fear of being in the presence of a master gets to me.

Let me clarify some things about the term “master”. First, my definition of master is likely not the same as yours. I define it as being someone who I feel has a complete dominance over a subject matter. In the world of PHP, there are a lot of names out there that get thrown around as masters. In the world of HTML and CSS there are many many more. As someone who dabbles in both I get to be intimidated by two entire groups at the same time. Fun for me.

Coming back around to my point, if indeed there is one is that the term “master” is an illusion for workers on the web. We borrowed it from kung fu movies just as we borrowed the term ninja. The truth is that we are all behind the curve somehow. Whether we have missed the coming of a new functionality in CSS or we didn’t jump on the functional programming paradigm fast enough. We are all coming short of being a master. It hurts to admit it, to admit that some kid somewhere in a basement can program SVG graphics and you can’t. To admit that one doesn’t know something is wisdom however. It is a sign that we know our failings and that we are not hindered by over confidence. The fact is that we are not dealing with martial arts, where the skills can be learned through repetition alone. We are dealing with a body of knowledge that will never sit still. To be a master of web technology is like saying you are a master of a river. Yeah you can understand a river, even see where its flowing and how hydrodynamics work. But in the end you are no more a master of it than a fish is.

To my coworkers I am a wizard. I go in my little office and pull off astonishing feats of programming skill. To me I am the same guys sitting in Starbucks piecing together code from various sources and looking up function calls. I feel like a beginner, like I am so far behind what it is to be a master that I may never catch up. I hope someday to go to a big conference and be known there. It may never happen and I know that but I damn well will shoot for it. Master or no master.