Such a small word. But with such big implications.

We use it all the time. “Sure, I’ll just pop down the shops and get some milk.” “I’ll just call you tomorrow instead”. “Oh, it’s just a little scratch." It’s a normal word that everybody uses in any given sentence.

So why write a blog post about it? What’s the big deal?

I’ll give you an example.

Yesterday I wanted to contribute to an open source project on Github. The Readme file had some instructions on how to run the project, which is of course great and expected for open source projects. The Readme says:

"To get up and running with the app, just run the gulp command [...]"

Great, I thought, that sounds nice and straight forward.

Of course, you have to have Gulp installed. And to be able to install Gulp, you have to have Node installed. All these things I didn’t have on my laptop, so I started installing them. But I still couldn’t run the command. It was a Friday afternoon, I was tired, I probably missed something. Or did I need to do an npm init first? It must be something else… I kept trying different things but the error message was the same: the gulp command cannot be found. And somehow I started to feel a bit frustrated. The instructions sounded so easy in the Readme! And then I realised why. It’s that nasty little four-letter word: just.

Now, I’m not saying that every Github repo should come with instructions on how to set up your whole laptop. That’s not what I mean. People need to figure that out for themselves. But I think my frustration levels might have been a bit lower if the instructions hadn’t sounded so simple.

For me with coding it’s hardly ever “just”. If I ask someone for help with a coding problem and they say, just do that… it is not “just”. I will have to spend time on it and bang my head against the wall a few times, possibly sacrifice a goat, to finally get it to work. Something that is simple for one person, is not simple for another person.

When used in a coding environment, especially with learners (which I guess a lot of programmers consider themselves throughout their whole career), that little word can make a big difference. It can contribute to frustration. It can make you feel inadequate and stupid. If it’s so simple, why can’t I figure it out?

I try not to use the word “just" when I explain something to someone. For example when I coach at Codebar. Because I know that things which finally, after some experience, have become “just” for me, are definitely not easy for complete beginners. “Just centre that image on the page” - yep, definitely not simple if you haven’t done it a few times before. And if the word accidentally escapes my mouth and I notice it, I always try to correct myself. Because things are never “just” when it comes to programming.

I know this topic isn’t new. I remember last year I even heard someone give a talk about it. But after my experience with the gulp command, I felt like writing this blog post. Maybe someone who hadn't thought about the impact of "just" comes across this post and will be more conscious of using that little word in future.

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