Curated by: Sergio A. Martínez
Being a software developer is a pretty sweet gig. There’s something to be said about a job where you get to work with the latest technology, solve complex problems, and see your work used by people all over the world. It has challenges, of course; burnout tends to be common, and with the ever-changing landscape of software, it can be easy to feel like you’re constantly playing catch-up. However, even with these situations, software development is a career where it’s easy to feel passionate and find a niche where your skills can shine.
And one of the great things is that there’s always something new to learn. Whether it’s a new programming language, a new tool, a new framework, or a new way of approaching a problem, keeping your skills sharp is essential to being successful in this field. This is why some people think that being too comfortable in a software job can be bad for learning and innovating. After all, if you’re not being challenged, it’s easy to get complacent and fall behind the curve. Right?
The common idea seems to be that, when it comes to creating software, you need to get out of your comfort zone to progress; many developers look for a constant challenge, striving to grow their skills as much as possible, and mastering lots of different disciplines and technologies for the thrill of it. However, there’s also a lot to be said for having a solid foundation of knowledge and experience to build on, which leads us to the question: Is it bad to keep a comfort zone in software development?
“It comes down to what somebody wants out of a career”, says Helena Matamoros, Head of Human Capital at Scio, about the context behind a comfort zone. “It’s definitely not wrong if you are only interested in having a stable and well-paying job where you are skilled, deliver the expected results, and can manage a pretty defined work-life balance. If you are good at what you do, who’s to say that’s the wrong path to take? Being comfortable in the job can lead to greater creativity and innovation, as you’re more likely to take risks when you’re not constantly having to worry about making mistakes.”
The skill behind developing skills
“Comfort zones” are usually misunderstood, giving them some of the negative qualities that many people give to them. A comfort zone, after all, is an important concept in psychology that refers to a behavioral state within which a person feels relaxed and comfortable, a necessity when people are interested in learning new skills. The first time you try something new, it’s easy to feel anxious and uncertain, but as you become more familiar with the task, you are more open to taking risks and trying new ideas, which is essential for learning. In the words of the Psychology Spot article “What is the Comfort Zone – and what’s not?”:
“[Comfort zones are] a ‘space’ that we know completely and in which we control almost everything. The habits that we follow with assiduity are those that allow us to build that comfort zone since we know exactly what we can expect from each situation. By minimizing uncertainty, we feel that we have everything more or less under control, so we believe we are safe.”
Some of the negativity around comfort zones come from believing that the “comfort” part equals “complacency” or “stagnation” instead of “control”, or the feeling of knowing exactly what you are doing in a given situation, pretty important when performing a job that requires as much focus and understanding as software development. How can a person expect to take a risk if they feel uncomfortable about it? Or learn everything there is to know about a subject if they are not willing (or able) to stay focused on it for a significant period?
“I’m not interested in people getting rid of their comfort zones“, says Rhonda Britten, a bestselling author on the topic of fear, as quoted by this WebMD blog. “In fact, you want to have the largest comfort zone possible — because the larger it is, the more masterful you feel in more areas of your life. When you have a large comfort zone, you can take risks that really shift you.“
In other words, the idea of “stepping outside of your comfort zone to grow” might not be a useful framework to understand how people acquire and develop new skills, it’s more about knowing where your talents lie and making the most of them when given the chance. A different approach might be useful, especially if you, as a developer, are interested in learning as much as you can, with a rock-solid foundation that lets you push through every new challenge.
Carving up your comfort zone
When used properly, comfort zones can be a positive force. After all, it’s only natural to feel more comfortable working with familiar technologies and tools, and it can be more efficient to stick with what you know rather than attempting to apply something new every time you join a project. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to learn new skills if you feel confident enough in what you already do. For example, if you’re already an expert in a particular programming language and can fall back into it if the need arises, why not learn a new one? Or go a step beyond and go into different parts of the software development process, like QA or Project Management? This way, you have two possible outcomes: you either learn a new, valuable skill you can use, or you discover an area that is not right for you and can go back to what you are good at.
“If your objective is to grow within a company, climbing up positions and leading a team of people, a comfort zone in the classic sense will not help you”, continues Helen, describing a bad application of a comfort zone. “It’s more of a personal preference about how you apply your skills, and it doesn’t mean complacency or a ‘quiet quitting’ situation. It’s about building a rock-solid base to take new risks and opportunities, extrapolating what you are good at into other areas where your talent might shine. Being comfortable doing so is an advantage, not a bad thing.”
Ultimately, whether being comfortable on the job is good or bad for learning and innovation depends on the individual and the situation. There’s no question that comfort is important in any job; if you’re stressed out and uncomfortable, it’s going to be pretty hard to focus on your work. But when it comes to software development, focusing on honing your existing skills and becoming an expert in your field is different from being constantly pushed to learn new things and innovate. While it’s important to push yourself occasionally, there’s no need to completely overhaul your workflow every time you hit a snag.
Of course, there’s a balance to be struck here. You don’t want to be constantly stressed out and on the verge of burnout, but never being challenged or forced to step outside of what you are used to doing is not good either as you may find that your skills start to stagnate. Enjoying what you learn, applying it, and mastering it as a skill is never a bad thing.
The Key Takeaways
- One of the best things about software development is learning new skills and growing as a developer, but there are some misconceptions about how that’s achieved.
- Typically, comfort zones are seen as something negative, but that’s because they tend to be misunderstood.
- Comfort zones, when used properly, can give you the confidence to learn new skills, take risks and open yourself to mastering all kinds of technologies.
- Being comfortable in your skills is never a bad thing, and in fact can be a great starting point to always learn something new.
Scio is an established Nearshore software development company based in Mexico that specializes in providing high-quality, cost-effective technologies for pioneering tech companies. We have been building and mentoring teams of engineers since 2003 and our experience gives us access not only to the knowledge but also the expertise needed when tackling any project. Get started today by contacting us about your project needs – We have teams available to help you achieve your business goals. Get in contact today!