It’s pretty common to hear developers joke about how they get paid to Google things. Fun fact: we’re only kind of kidding. An enormous part of my job is Googling stuff.

Tech changes so quickly it’s just not possible to know everything. It’s definitely not possible to keep up with everything, and it’s especially not possible to know the entire tech stack a new job uses. No two company’s tech stacks are the same (we use AWS, play, Java, Ember, javascript, and bootstrap, just to name a few of the languages and frameworks in our app. At my last job we used spring, jetty/tomcat depending on the app, an internal front end framework, Facebook’s hideous sdk, and Flash (AS3) and Unity on the front end), and even if you did magically know all of those technologies before you started, given a few months it wouldn’t matter. No matter what you use right now, things are going to change. You’ll try out a new front-end framework, integrate with a new system, be asked to build a feature that requires a new library, something will happen that means you’ll need to learn something new.

two women of colour working together at an Apple laptop
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This is why developers spend so much time Googling. We have to learn new stuff constantly. Don’t feel bad about not knowing everything, no one else does either.

Even if your tech stack didn’t change, you would still get asked to build new stuff all the time and honestly, your problem is probably not unique. Even if you already have a plan, it’s not going to hurt to do a quick search and see if someone else has a better way to solve your problem. If you don’t already know how to solve it, Google is here for you. Why reinvent the wheel? You could call that laziness but honestly it’s inefficient to fight with a problem for hours when you could just ask Google for a hint. Work is not an exam, you’re getting graded on how much you produce and how solid it is, not the intellectual purity of your solution. Plus, next time you have to solve a similar problem you’ll remember what you did last time.

Now, you do need to make sure you actually understand the code you found (and that you’re not violating any licences or anything), but if you’re a professional you’re doing that anyway, right? If you don’t understand your code you’re just going to end up wasting time chasing down weird bugs. Don’t forget that software is at least 90% maintenance, you will touch that code again and you need to understand it when you do.

Of course, I’m being a little bit flippant when I say I Google things professionally. A big part of being a professional is knowing how to search, what to search for, and how to tell useful results from dead ends. Learning how to look stuff up is a real skill and it’s one that takes practice. You also need a bit of a knowledge base to tell good results from bad ones. That is, the more you know about, say, Java, the easier it is to tell a good solution from a bad one. A combination of having a feel for the way Java does things and knowing what good Java looks like makes it much easier for me to tell whether that Stack Overflow result is actually a clever solution or whether it’s a filthy hack. Sometimes you do need to use the filthy hack but you should at least know that’s what you’re doing and add a comment about it.

Software development is at least as much about knowing how to learn as it is about knowing stuff in the first place. If you can learn how to search effectively and are willing to brute force (seriously, a huge amount of my college education was banging my head against java until it started to make sense) the conceptual framework that lets you make sense of the results you’ll get when you search, you can be a programmer. It’s not all Google but honestly if you’re good at Googling and are weird enough to actually enjoy programming, you can do it professionally. We like to pretend we’re wizards but it’s mostly Google :)