LearnYou’re Doing It All Wrong


Josh Long
writes on July 17, 2013

When learning how to code, design or ship anything of note, it quickly becomes apparent that there are a thousand different ways to get to the same end product. No designer uses Photoshop in the exact same way and most developers have different frameworks, environments and strategies to solve the challenges at hand.

Many times we get the feeling that we’re doing it all wrong. We may even have some of our peers tell us the same thing. They might have a superior understanding of CSS Preprocessors or where the latest JavaScript library was first invented, but an underlying truth still prevails: they haven’t shipped a thing.

While it is important to stay up on current technology, it should never take more time than actually building something. Chances are you’re doing it wrong and that’s perfectly okay. In fact, I would encourage you to do more things the wrong way. Doing more things that are imperfect can be liberating.


Perfection can be off-putting, boring and sterile. You know what I miss the most in the newer music that I listen to? The imperfections. Studio engineers and musicians are now expected to use computers to attain a perfect, inhuman level of precision. That perfection leaves music feeling robotic or plastic. There’s no groove, no swing. Our designs, programs and art should have a human groove too.

Let’s not focus on perfection so much. Let’s get it out there. Let’s let it be real. Let’s let it be human. Let’s let it be vulnerable.


I challenge you, my dear reader, to build something right now. Record the entire thing, as ugly as it may be, and put it out there for public flogging. I would dare say that you will still be alive and that the only people that will criticize what you’ve done are the same people with two thousand ideas that remain twenty percent complete.

The other people that criticize you are the ones that are pulling for you. We should be ecstatic that we work in an industry that cares about giving back as much as ours does. Most industries are overly-competitive and would never help out their peers.

Being vulnerable means that you’ve shipped, and it also just happens to be the best way for us to learn. Show your scars and pull up your dress. We’re all rocking the same goods. We’re all scared but the people we admire have decided that their art is more important than their feelings.

Technology is the Vehicle, Not the Destination

We can get caught up in the technology without “seeing” our art objectively. We worry about Sass, Bootstrap, Backbone, Node, and Compass, or even worse, we take up valuable time learning them just enough to be on top of the industry. It’s not about the technology. Technology exists to make the creation of art easier. It’s not designed to be a constant distraction and deflector of real work getting done.


Musicians, artists, writers, all go about their art differently. They all use different tools, have different strategies, and deliver their work in different ways. “Different ways” means nothing. “Deliver” is all that matters. At the end of the day if you’re not delivering something you’ve got nothing out there.

Even if you’re doing it wrong, you’re still doing it. That alone sets you apart. Shipping is all that matters.


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27 Responses to “You’re Doing It All Wrong”

  1. You absolutely nailed it! Thanks for making my day. (:

  2. Alnoor Pirani on July 31, 2013 at 10:36 pm said:

    Josh, thanks for the awesome pep talk! I’ve recently released some websites into the wild and needed this encouragement.

  3. Dimitris Papageorgiou on July 23, 2013 at 3:05 pm said:

    great article…just great

  4. Tally Accounting Software on July 22, 2013 at 3:00 am said:

    Yes your right we do it wrong when we think too much . When we try the things in other ways it ends with wrong one or with a new achievements in our life. We keep on trying in other way but we don’t feel about others . It was true experience to me as it happens in every bodies life. Overall it was very well said and made article . All the best for your future Josh Long!


  5. Design Garl on July 21, 2013 at 3:35 pm said:

    Thank u. It is so much to me. I learned new technologies instead of using my existing skills. I will change my habit

  6. Aaron Farr on July 21, 2013 at 12:39 pm said:

    Thank you.

  7. Ali R. Tariq on July 21, 2013 at 10:27 am said:

    Timely advice! Our team is currently hard at work trying to deliver our beta product, but we keep extending the date because we feel it’s imperfect. At the same time, because we’re lucky to be surrounded by a lot of other startups, we keep hearing about the great libraries, frameworks and tools that others are using and feel the pressure to adopt those “best practises” as well.

    It’s tough to put out an imperfect product because we feel that the imperfection is a reflection of ourselves, somehow. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Delivery *should* be our top priority, not perfection. Thanks for sharing.

  8. matteld80 on July 21, 2013 at 10:03 am said:

    Very well said and I couldn’t agree more. I try to instill the belief that you’ll never reach perfection with my team and they stare at me like I’m insane.

    Sometimes you have to just let go and say good enough is good enough.

    I try to keep up with new tools and tech by combining and implementing what I know already and what I understand of the new stuff rather then mastering it all from day one. This seems to give me the the enjoyment and desire to keep learning something new.

    You must hit certain standards and quality but a certain level of imperfections wont hurt one project but will help the next to be even better

    People who criticise without offering help need to remember they had to learn this stuff once too

  9. ptpress on July 19, 2013 at 7:39 pm said:

    “Technology exists to make the creation of art easier. It’s not designed
    to be a constant distraction and deflector of real work getting done.” That’s the best part I’ve read in this article because this is so true. We should take technology to our advantage and not the other way around like most of the people do. Yes, it is okay to be imperfect because that’s how we are urged to learn more and be better.


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  10. Liberating post Josh, many thanks!

    Though I love all the tech-talk and recognize its value in the creative process, there is nowhere near enough of this kind of sentiment and encouragement happening in the wider world, generally speaking.

    We seem to forget we are ourselves a creative process in the happening and so of course our expressions, however technological, will always embody/have to deal with this ‘imperfection’ factor!

    Wonderful reminder : )

  11. Ducksauce on July 19, 2013 at 5:02 am said:

    Something we all seem to forget. I’m in the same mindset as Andy Clark. There’s a few things that bother me.

    Sometimes when you do put something out there you get a crapload of criticism your way which is pretty off-putting. Not just on the internet, which I don’t care too much about but probably more than I like to admit. 😉 But also in the company itself. Everything has to be perfect from the get go, first time right. It’s sort of saddening come to think about it.

    Which is also my second point; company culture. Everything has to be pretty much perfect so that’s fairly annoying. There’s little room to move forward and simply takes ages to develop.

    Either way; the feeling of doing wrong is easy to pick up. Depressing really, since it’s mostly between the ears 🙂

  12. Tom Ireland on July 19, 2013 at 4:30 am said:

    I am also a victim of trying to stay ahead of all the latest technology but not shipping.

    I’m trying to get my head round mobile first design, sass and compass at the moment for a site I’m building.

    I haven’t built much though!!!

    Thanks +Treehouse for helping me learn something new every day!


  13. Edward on July 18, 2013 at 7:06 pm said:

    Such a great article. I leave tomorrow for my first hackathons and I have very little coding skills BUT imma give it everything I got and if it looks/works less efficiently than a broken toaster then at least I’ve started and in the years to come I can show people and say “this is where I started 20 years ago… Look how far I’ve come. If I can do it so can you.”

    This weekend I WILL make SOMETHING. 🙂

  14. I think to some degree we all have a problem with shipping things that we see as incomplete or unpolished. That said, it’s weird we get so caught up in doing something wrong when the very nature of the web means we could, at any given point, be doing something wrong. The explosion of frameworks, processes, and tools indicate there aren’t any de facto truths in web development. The best practices of today could be the anti-patterns of tomorrow.

    Beyond the fundamentals of programming is basically uncharted territory. Every program, every script: an attempt to map it out. We are all figuring out this web thing. All of us. From expert to hobbyist, we’re all adapting to a constantly shifting landscape of tech. That’s why you don’t see a web developer with any degree of self-awareness claiming mastery of anything. Depending on our mindset, it can be terrifying or empowering. That could be the huge difference between those of us who can ship often and those of us who kind of dread shipping.

    I’ll admit I’m terrible about sending out anything I don’t feel is ready. I’m even worse about personal projects. There’s a ton of shit sitting on my hard drive that just hasn’t seen the light of a Github repo. I think we’re so caught up in presenting the image of being *insert language or framework* ninjas/gurus/buccaneers that we’re afraid to be seen as anything less. We’re so busy trying to out-expert each other that we can forget our way isn’t everyone’s way. At the end of the day, people are only going to see what you ship.

    Your knowledge of design patterns, modular architecture, and database management mean nothing if you can’t point to examples of it in use. I’m trying to get more comfortable with shipping, not just my best work, but my unpolished experiments. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with letting others see that we’re still very much students of our craft, especially if it helps us perform even better when we’re needed most. Damn if it isn’t difficult, though.

  15. Gooooo Treehouse!

  16. Andy Clark on July 18, 2013 at 3:05 am said:

    That’s what I needed to hear. I’ve been studying web design for a couple years now and I’ve not produced anything… Nothing. I’m terrified of failing and being critisized. And it doesn’t help that I started all this just as Responsive design was changing the game.

    Great article. Thank you.

    • Josh Long on July 18, 2013 at 9:12 am said:

      Thanks for sharing Andy and thanks for being honest. Keep me posted on the things you build!

    • Andy, it can be as simple as putting up one single web page. It counts!

    • I definitely know the fear of criticism, and the best I can tell you: next time you feel that way, take a deep breath and deploy anyway. The best way to overcome fear of failure and scrutiny is to expose yourself to more of it. Desensitize yourself until you recognize it as part of the process of growth. The worst that can happen is someone telling you it sucks, but constructive criticism is vital for checking our blind spots. Great work isn’t made in a vacuum. Trust us. We won’t bite.

    • Josh Sanders on July 25, 2013 at 12:44 pm said:

      As designers/ creatives… we should not fear criticism, but embrace it! Obtaining multiple sources of feedback on your designs is critical to improving not only those designs, but your thinking behind future projects as well. We design to communicate stories and ideas to the end user/viewer…their feedback can be taken with a grain of salt but is nonetheless very important. Everyone has that inner fear of failure. My advice is to embrace that fear and immerse yourself in everything that you create. Listen to what others say when they critique, try those options out, and if you don’t like it you can always revert back. In the end, it’s YOUR project. I’m a firm believer in the idea that the more input you receive on a project, the more successful and solid the end result will be. Enjoy the process, embrace the critiques, and good luck creating!!!

  17. Thankfully I’d come to this conclusion a little while ago. Learning at Treehouse was a big factor in this as it helped me to realise that what I considered completely wrong wasn’t at all, I just didn’t know AS MUCH. Now I’m a lot more confident in what I do. Thank you for this post; it reiterates the point and hopefully will set people on the path of laying their work bare.

    • Josh Long on July 18, 2013 at 9:14 am said:

      Hey Laura! Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. It makes me happy to hear Treehouse has helped you. Be sure to link me to the things you build next!

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