Apprenticeship Patterns: Retreat to Competence

                Today marks the last blogpost I will make about “Apprenticeship Patterns” by  Dave Hoover and Adewale Oshineye. To finish off this series of posts over the past few months brings us into the unknown, of what is yet to come and may not even be revealed until the last second. Many of us reasonably fear the unknown, anything that cannot be controlled in our lives is unpredictable and may at time overwhelm us. This is exactly what this book has been attempting to get the reader to reconcile with and it is evident in the pattern “Retreat into Competence” that they realize just how overwhelming it is to venture into the unknown. Having a place to return to and gather yourself before venturing once more unto the breach is an important tool but should not be a crutch for your lack of knowledge in other areas.

                One might be an experienced Java developer and comfortable with the language and its many quirks and features, however they will one day be met with another language or toolset that is completely foreign such as REST APIs or C++ and C code. This is the rollercoaster of apprenticeship where the thrill of learning and the terrors of facing your vast ignorance coalesce. This however is all part of “Walking The Long Road” As described by Hoover and Oshineye. This vast ignorance is something you must expose and confront if you are to grow as a craftsman. (You can read more about exposing your ignorance here)  

                One of the most important things to overcome as a software developer is the fear of the unknown and sometimes one can benefit from retreating to something they know and returning with a fresh pair of eyes to their previous roadblock. Taking a break to refactor some Java code can be beneficial if the REST API portion is stumping you. However it is important to note that this tool must be used responsibly and not as a reason to avoid exploring new avenues that reveal your ignorance. Becoming an expert in something you already know is tempting however there is a risk associated with such expertise as the industry will eventually leave that technology behind for bigger and better things. Once this has happened you will find yourself in a situation where you know nothing about other technologies being used and even worse, have nothing to fall back on to recompose yourself should you being to feel overwhelmed.

                With this in mind, I would like to challenge the readers of this post to explore a new avenue of software development. Explore a toolset that you either have not used or, even better, have little experience with due to being overwhelmed the first time around. If possible attempt to either adapt a piece of software you created in another toolset or take a tutorial and create something new out of it. Learn its intricacies and, if necessary, take a break and return with a fresh pair of eyes after working with a more familiar tool for a while. Even if it is a small program, it will deepen your understanding and help to thin the overwhelming veil of ignorance that makes learning something new so daunting.


Hoover, Dave H., and Adewale Oshineye. Apprenticeship Patterns: Guidance for the Aspiring Software Craftsman. O’Reilly, 2010.

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