“Unfulfilling, banal, and, worst of all, pointless”: this is how I described my more recent feelings towards software development in a previous post. Displaying such public disdain towards a very key aspect of my profession, however, is quite clearly unproductive when seeking reemployment. Nevertheless, my words were intentional and truthful; I don’t erase past confessions solely because they have become present liabilities.
So, lets try and pin point why. It may be that the current software business culture is fundamentally incompatible with my personal goals and philosophies, or that a string of bad luck has seriously jaded my subconscious feelings about the profession. You may sympathize with the following, or dismiss me as a huge pussy that needs to suck it up. Whatever the case, it’s time for a rant.
But first, watch this: Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. If you’ve already seen it, watch it again.
Financially, being a software developer has netted, essentially, zero. Despite emerging from university a dozen moons ago with almost a year and a half of professional experience and free of debt, I have been unable to provide for my own living expenses since sometime in 2008. Being laid off twice in less than as many years has certainly not helped matters. Forget trying to make an impact on a team: being accepted in to team in the first place has never been anything short of near-impossible. Even before the market collapse, my first co-op position did not involve working with software development at all, and my second attempt yielded only a couple interviews, despite having extensive programming experience outside of school. Worse still, I’m paralyzed by a—perhaps irrational—fear that if I spend significant time in a field away from development I may never gain entrance again, especially having not yet made it past the “junior” phase of my career. Does it not, after all, signal that one is uninterested in pursuing programming as a career, and worse, that they might not be good enough? Of course, it’s also time spent not getting more experience; with professional experience apparently favoured above most else, people with luck like mine appear to be perpetually “inexperienced” enough to gain more of it.
That, however, is not the cause of my shift in attitude. Hang on to your tower of hats, because here come more words.
I became a programmer because I was intrigued with the idea of making computers do neat things. Not computing, as through toolkits, libraries, and frameworks, but computers in the literal, physical sense. I don’t mind having to know things like strides, fences, and word alignment; I enjoyed assembly programming on an 8-bit, single-accumulator microprocessor; I even once applied to be a firmware developer in Saskatoon. Saskatoon, for crying out loud. Alas, the modern software market has very little room for people with my kind of disposition, but that’s OK, because I kept myself occupied with mastering novel, shiny new things.
Furthermore, it frustrates me when job postings list “self-motivated” as a requirement, as if to deny any notion that programmers can—and do—derive motivation from the work itself. On the whole, the divide between what developers need to thrive and what management are willing to provide is still as wide as ever. For every story I hear about awesome work places and interesting work, I hear two more about micromanaging bosses, design-by-marketing, unreasonable workloads, or leadership by incompetence.
Finally, I have passions outside of hacking, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that none of them involve computing. There are things I can do to improve my chances of employment (spend all my time at a computer working on open source projects, move to Ontario, give up computing and go back to school, etc) but most of them, I feel, must come not as mere compromises, but by giving up some fundamental part of my identity. It’s a cost I’m not yet willing to pay.
I haven’t given up, though. Not yet.
Despite the unbearable tools and brain-dead designs, all the terrible stories, and all the depressing weeks not knowing how much longer I may have to make my savings last, I’m still trying my chances in the hopes that, this time, it’s going to be great; that this time, there’ll be interesting projects for years to come; that this time, I can find purpose in what I do that aligns with my own.
Will I succeed? Who knows. What I do know, though, is that I am no longer afraid to complain out loud.