Take This Career And Shove It

May 20, 2007

OK, maybe it's a little harsh to put it that way, but after 25 years or so of being a software engineer, I'm having trouble wanting to do it any more for a living.

I still love to write code, especially creative and inventive stuff; it's doing it as a career that just plain sucks. Writing boring applications, going to boring meetings, writing the same stuff over and over again (even though I've tried to avoid that as much as possible), dealing with office politics, silly rules and environments, and working in companies where the only real advancement is moving into management.

Other irritating things are dealing with recruiters, looking for jobs or contracts (and then not getting paid), having to endure endless interviews where everything you have ever done and everyone you have ever worked for are meaningless, and finding what seems like an ideal position, discovering it's really the worst job you've ever been in. Did I mention dealing with weasely recruiters -- oh wait, that's the next post.

I started writing code in high school and probably haven't gone more than a few weeks since then not writing something. The creative act of writing code still excites me but the act of doing it for pay no longer does. It could be that I am losing interest in the corporate world of programming where I have worked for the last 9 years or so, either for a consulting firm or direct employee (and some contracts). I've always preferred riding the leading edge, solving problems with no known solutions, working on new ideas and generally being more entrepreneurial than many of my peers.

At this age though, it's tough for people to think I can still be like the 27 year old me. It's also tough for me to realize the world is not the same as it was when I was 27. The opportunities are still there and in fact are much easier to do today than they were in 1984. The issue is connections, all of mine are no longer interested in anything beyond a mere job, and I can't do it alone. When I started Data Tailor to build Trapeze (see my post) I could call on friends to help start the company and get to work. I even found capital through other friends and their connections.

So I have the fire to do stuff but no wood to burn with. The alternative is to work for some big company (most programmer employers around the Dallas/Fort Worth area are big) and have no fire. To quote Guy Kawasaki, "Gag me with a steam shovel".

I got burned out on my own company in 1994 and moved for a year to the Bay Area. It was fun (working at Remedy, Lotus and Apple during the sucky period) but not home. Nothing I did was all that exciting though and I returned home, right before the whole dot com explosion, missing out on all the madness.

I have looked at trying to work "on the road" as a consultant but marketing is not my strong suit, and not getting paid for work I did hasn't made me excited about it either. All of this makes me wonder that my career is in need of something different.

Over the many years I have worked the industry itself has changed a lot. In some ways things are much more mature now, the tools and frameworks and languages are all much better, and there is some science in computer science now. Yet too much of the industry is wedded to standards, imagination is lacking, and passion is hard to find in most jobs. I guess that's what it has become: a job, like slinging burgers or roofing houses. Maybe I am bizarre but I prefer being passionate about what I do.

Even with all that depressing verbiage, I still love to code, to create, to teach what I have learned, to imagine things that are not there yet, not unlike that 27 year old me. You would think I would fit in perfectly into a startup environment but they are fairly rare in my home area, and most startups aren't looking for "vintage" programmers (and since they usually hire via connections, my connections locally aren't useful). So I am into career decision time, what now?

Perhaps I should go into management despite despising it over the years (like so many programmers do) since I see so many management folks (both former programmers and not) making much more money for much less work (with the rare passionate manager who works too hard). Not a great thought either since I still love the act of coding and know how to do it well. Maybe it's better to work a "job" and leave the coding at home.

Another option is to go with writing (this humble blog has been a lot of fun) which is creative and (usually) more free but it's tough to make a reasonable living at it.

One option I know is to continue working on my technology projects at home, they might eventually be a good income but are not far enough along to matter yet. That's the type of coding I like best, using my creative gifts to build something of value. Sadly printing money is not one of my gifts.

Maybe I shouldn't shove my career quite yet, but I can't imagine doing it for another 25 years so perhaps it's time to look around with different eyes.

Johnny Paycheck would understand.