a companion discussion area for blog.codinghorror.com

So You Don't Want to be a Programmer After All


#63

@Andrew Hammer that’s a very entitled and dismissive position to take. Consider the confluence of events that made your current situation possible. You should be grateful, but blanket statements like “life is not that hard” make it difficult to take your comments seriously. For the vast majority of people life is extremely hard.


#64

@Andrew Hammer: “If you are a developer and you don’t think it’s the most awesome job in the world, please leave our field because you’re doing it wrong.”

This is actually very sound advice. It sounds dismissive and maybe that was the emotion that drove this choice of words, but it is very good advice.

Software development is simply too hard to do as a “meal ticket” or as a placeholder occupation.

Competitive issues and the workplace culture of programming are VERY hard on anyone who isn’t absolutely delighted to be solving little puzzles and building stuff all day long, learning the next product or tool, etc. You can’t fake enthusiasm and the work and the culture of SW development will drive you absolutely nuts when you don’t enjoy the activity, the learning, or the people any more.

I got out of SW development a few years ago for just these reasons.


#65

Jeff,
Thank you.

This blog article described my life perfectly. I graduate from College/University back in 2005, and even that was an ordeal with dropping out. After many years of working odd jobs, mainly call-centers, in southern Ontario, I was given the suggestion of using my computer science degree and become a code monkey - at least coding is easier than being yelled at by strangers. Of course after three more years of community college I graduate during a recession.

Now don’t get me wrong, I was good at programming, I just didn’t enjoy it. And even in a recession where computer jobs were still growing I couldn’t find my place. I eventually landed a menial html email template writing job and an internet marketing firm and I couldn’t keep it because the repetitive nature of programming drove me insane.

Fortunately I moved into a technical documentation role, that grew into project coordination, and now I am a certified ScrumMaster. I have the unique skill of motivating teams to adopt processes that will improve their productivity. I am now moving into product management, because in addition to coordinating projects, I want to understand the market’s needs and build products people want to buy.

At this point I still don’t enjoy coding. I code with the team, in addition to do everything from DevOps to Enterprise Architecture. Pair programming makes it much more bearable.

I came across this article because I am trying to move into the start-up environment and I was hoping this article would motivate me to be passionate about coding. Well it didn’t do that, but fortunately I feel there are other people like me out there. I have faith I’ll be a better coder eventually.

Thanks for the amazing article,
Fareed


#66

I disagree with the suggestion that burnt-out programmers should become sys admins. While the two careers have some surface similarities, the differences will quickly become apparent.

Yes, people in either career path work with computers, occasionally (or frequently!) write code, and solve problems. That’s all to the good.

Programmers are (or should be) encouraged to create things that solve problems. Sys admins, on the other hand, build systems using COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) software to meet business needs.

I have known programmers who became sys admins. They were miserable, because they invariably became frustrated with the COTS software they were required to work with, and wailed to anyone who would listen that they could write something better, just give them some time and you’ll see what they can do! Well, that’s not the job of a sys admin. A sys admin should be busy making all their systems hum, not writing tape backup software or EDI software or a content management suite.

If a programmer wants to leave the field, and yet still work with computers, maybe they should become a database admin. DBA’s can write small amounts of code, like stored procedures for example, and someone who knows how to write efficient code would probably do well writing efficient SQL.


#67

Passion is hard to qualify and quantify (although we know it when we have it). I’m not even sure that pondering passion, or whether we hate or love what we do to earn our bread and butter…is a good starting point. I think an awful lot of the way we feel about work has much more to do with the workplace and coworkers, management, and the tools we’re given to accomplish our tasks. I only say this because transitioning to work as a freelance .NET developer was nothing less than a revelation to me. Gone were tedious meetings, time-wasting chatter, and an endless hamster-wheel of phone calls and emails. I learned - very quickly - that the 80/20 principle applies to my current work milieu in an unexpected way: I can now do what used to take me an entire week…by late on a Monday night. I don’t miss out on collaboration: I ask team members for help, clarification, or more information mostly in real time. I certainly don’t miss the commute. I earn more, etc. etc. etc.

As a result, my attitude (Passion? Okay, maybe you could call it that) is increasing, my mood is much more positive, I’m able to spend time honing my craft (yes, I think it’s a craft), and I am more able to keep up with an explosion of information about the craft.

I suspect a new paradigm (jeez, how I hate that word) is needed in the workplace. As an independent contractor, I concentrate on solving problems, whether those problems have to do with the presentation of data, improvement / automation of business processes, or building something that makes the “young folks” “ooh and ahh.” If a project doesn’t look promising, I can go fishing or tinker with electronics (I’m a ham radio operator), or take a trip…or learn a new language (I’m learning Ruby and Node.js).

Work - and by that, I mean the work place - does not have to resemble the movie “Office Space.” There has to be a better way - I just happened to get lucky and fine my own “better way.”


#68

I have quite the opposite problem. I have been working in one or another of the list-o-non-programming-jobs for a decade and a half. Truth be known, I’d rather write code. I worry that I’ve been ‘on the bench’ so long that I won’t be able to perform if I were asked to.

I’ve done build engineering (ClearCase), and yes, it is hard. The problem with that is, once you’ve gotten it, that’s all you’ll do because nobody else wants to do it. I’ve escaped from that a few years ago because all the new projects have leads that want to do some version of “agile,” that makes the build guy much less important. Still, I have people coming over to have me explain some ClearCase thing that has them absolutely baffled.

I’ve done testing. As a matter of fact, I’m doing testing now. I’d rather beat my head against the wall over a DR that has been passed around from developer to developer, most of whom are better than I am, for five years. I actually fixed one of those with a single line of code (turned out to be a memory leak that has gone unnoticed for a long time) and it gave me a huge rush.

I wish I could believe that the industry values good testers like you say they should, but I’m unconvinced. I’ve been brought up to believe that support people are expendable, and I don’t want to be that. But maybe I should write up a resume on that basis and see who bites and possibly prove myself wrong, but I’d much rather be writing code.


#69

I should know CS as I’ve been there and as far as I know it’s mostly a math degree.Programming, algorithms and even some physics are sprinkled here and there, but make no mistake: the main meat of CS is mathematics (and lots of it). Some universities/colleges care, most don’t and mostly employ ageing teachers who don’t give a rat’s arse.It’s no wonder a lot of graduates enter and graduate “for the money” only to burn out in a couple of years, because, frankly they never cared about programming in the first place. They were just good at math and wanted a well paying job.


#70

Engineering is an artistic process. I compare it to being a musician or a painter. I think it should be reserved for people who were drawn to it and began practicing as teens or even preteens.


#71

I don’t know a great deal about programming, but I seriously doubt it’s more demanding than being a monk in terms of how much of your life it consumes. After all being a monk isn’t something you do, it’s who you are and a 24/7/365 way of life. And yet being a monk still doesn’t require passion, indeed historically monasticism has been much more interested in keeping passion on a very short leash. What monasticism requires is commitment, mind, heart, and soul. Commitment is related to passion, of course, since it’s hard to stay committed to a demanding job/way of life without enjoying that job/way of life, but commitment has more potential roots than passion, including a lack of good alternatives.

This leads me to guess that being a programmer, while it is a demanding occupation, similarly just requires the commitment to do what it takes to keep doing the work. (Ignoring for the moment all the reasonable questions about what it ought to take to keep doing the work. Some expectations come from the work itself while others are foolishly imposed on the work, but only the former are unchangeable.)


#72

You know what, get some career advice before you decide what university degree to do. You are simply going to go on a whimsical, magical, mystery tour if you sign up for a degree/career you don’t know anything about.


#73

Totally agreed! and im way younger… I think it just became hard to practise.


www.digitalfactory.mx

Good article - I’m 49 and have somewhat the opposite problem, I’ve been a programmer for a number of years, and love it. But now I find myself, for various reasons, unable to do it as much as I would like.

Not sure what it is - career opportunity, burnout, reduced capacity to concentrate, I live in a world in which it’s never been easier or cheaper to practise my profession, and now it’s getting harder and harder to do…


#74

I have a photo of my Mum reading the newspaper to me when I was still a toddler. When I was in kindergarten, I was smart enough for primary school. When I was in primary school, I was doing high school subjects. When I was in high school and my friends were playing computer games, I was programming games and graphics demos. When I was in university, I was thinking about a managerial career. At the beginning of my career I already had the experience of a senior developer. When I got older and my age began to reflect my experience, I just wanted to retire and spend more time with my wife and kids.

Always ahead of the curve, ahead of my time, a hostage to the arrested development of a system that didn’t cater for gifted children. I feel like a father who needs to stand still and wait for the kids to catch up. So I might as well enjoy watching over them and waiting for them, despite them telling me “daddy, you’re no longer a gun programmer! what happened to your passion for producing quality code?”.

An ex boss once told me, when you get older, it’s not that you become an old faart, it’s just that your priorities change

I love the people, love the work, love the environment, but if you “enjoy programming” then you haven’t yet discovered life.


#75

I have been coding since I was 11. During high school I did HTML, CSS, attempt at ActionScript, Javascript, there was even this thing called DHTML at some stage. Did some projects here and there during high school. I failed Maths and didn’t want to take a bridging course so I never did university level but I did get a job doing some coding work for an agency when I was 18/19. I lasted for about 1.5 months and didn’t enjoy it at all, the bosses not so good (turns out other people agreed with me so they quit after I did!), didn’t enjoy working in an agency environment and for a client (and since then, have actively pursued not being in a similar situation) and I decided that doing this on a ‘working for someone else’ capacity really isn’t for me. It’s like digital art - you can either work for someone else on it, work on an artist capacity, or just stick to a hobby. For me programming/coding is just something that I am passionate about for a number of reasons - being able to include it in a CV is a ‘small plus’ but it’s even better when this can lead to some very cool real world outcomes.

http://www.about.me/hannahsuarez


#76

So this question plagued me quiet a lot the past year, being in a dead-end job of a junior to mid programmer. I was never a passionate coder, i just liked computers and was smart so coding made sense, i had to work after all. After 4.5 years of no serious progress i changed jobs and it made all the difference.

All my competitive side came out and i probably learned more in 4 months than i did in the last 2-3 years. I’m still not a passionate coder, but i am passionate about getting stuff done properly and progressing my career until my soul asks for the next step…which could be project management, starting my own business or anything. But for the time being, i am close to happy professionally.

Bottom line, before you give up coding, consider a change of working envirnoment.


#77

Very crisp and clear . I think most of the programmers are in the same dilemma . We have to many options but we are not able to choose which one is best for us. So looking at the options one might argue that having six digit salary is not the only criteria . Confusion to choose between A startup? A small business? A big business? A consultancy? Freelance? are the repercussions of beign human being


#79

Hi, just curious, have you had success overcoming the challenge of being “stuck in boring dead-end jobs and can’t get out” since you made the comment? From your perspective, what do you consider when evaluating whether a company is worthy to work for?


#80

Sorry for not reading all the posts before writing my own. I’m sure I’m breaking the rules somehow here but I really don’t have the time to read all the other posts.

One job which might be worth listing for an ex-programmer to go in to is teaching. The difference between a lecturer who knows what they’re talking about and one that doesn’t is night and day. I had some of each and the former were always heroes in our university. If someone knows programming well then they could teach it. I’m considering this as a possible career move myself. Not because I don’t enjoy programming. I actually do enjoy it as long as I’m working on interesting stuff. It’s just that I think I enjoy teaching more.


#81

I’ve written a lot of code for about 15 years but I’ve recently figured out that I hate programming.

And by programming I do not mean writing code but what it stands for: being a code monkey; sitting behind code all day and fix whatever needs to be fixed.

Personally I’ve always thought of myself as an Engineer, a creative problem solver, a strategist, an architect, an engineer who sees programming as a single tool in my kit. (and not even the most used or most important one)

I think writing code on an engineering (creative problem solving) level is valuable and too much effort to do for a living.


#82

I have the same story as mentioned in the article but now my confusion is I do not understand from where should I start my career !

I have done bachelor’s in Software engineering and now doing Masters in Information Technology . I always wanted to be a Requirements analyst or a project manager but I am really not getting from to start :confounded:

Any suggestions ?


#83

If you don’t want work as a programmer any longer and have an interest in Psychology, perhaps you may be one of the first to blaze the trail as a therapist that specializes in the software field. I have always thought the need is great. I know there are many times when I could use some solid feedback to my head space. Which is why this article/postings drew me in. The software field lacks humanity. I can say this with confidence. Andrew Hammer’s post seems to illustrate this notion in spades. If one thinks they will have PASSION 100% of the time, everyday of their working life, I wouldn’t want to be around on the day when ‘that passion’ ends. If ones mother passes away, he/she is going to be coding with passion and glee 10 minutes later? Humans are not a perfectly consistent quantity. We change and morph through time. That is the nature of what being human means. If I have anything of value to add, I would say; don’t sweat the small stuff (and everything is small stuff). Look at the big picture. If you like participating in your work, you like being part of a solution, you have passion for it 51% of the time, and you are still interested in doing it “better” - that is the best you can expect. That is what is human.