In the apprenticeship pattern Breakable Toys, Hoover and Oshineye explore the effectiveness of learning through failure, and the dynamics of doing so in a workplace where failure may not be embraced. Essentially, they advise the developer to work on projects on their own time with the important distinction that they can safely develop without harming any other developers with breaking changes. They refer to these projects as ‘Toys’ because the developer should work on projects they find interesting or fun, which will make them more motivated to continue working on it.
This pattern, unlike some others in the book, is perfectly intuitive. “Practice makes perfect” is one of the more well-known clichés we echo, and this pattern is based on constant practice. In fact, much of the information I’ve learned about programming thus far has come from troubleshooting code I’ve written and figuring out why it doesn’t work. The only problem with constantly practicing a trade menially is a blurring of the lines between work and free time; however, developing projects of personal interest to the developer would make the practice far more engaging and feel less like work.
This pattern is not a particularly difficult one to implement, as developers are likely to build personal projects simply because they enjoy development. Yet if a developer uses their skills to build something they don’t care about, it only feels like work – instead, working on building ‘Toys’ feels more recreational and sustainable to implement in free time. To effectively use this strategy, the developer must emphasize the breakability of what they build and focus on using failures to improve both the project and their underlying development skills.
I hope to use this pattern throughout my career, but more specifically I plan to implement this pattern throughout my first development job. I will be exposed to many new technologies and frameworks in my new position. Using these technologies only at work would limit my comprehension of them. Instead, utilizing these new technologies in the failure-friendly environment of personal development projects will maximize my improvement as a developer.
Reference: Hoover, D. H., & Oshineye, A. (2010). Perpetual Learning. In Apprenticeship patterns: Guidance for the aspiring software craftsman. O’Reilly.