When I was 8 years old, my parents bought the family an IBM PCjr. It was a great computer and one that I’ll always remember fondly. My brother showed me how to get to the BASIC interpreter and my parents bought programming books. And boy did I program. You name it, I built it. I programmed more than I probably should have at that age. Some boys knew the euphoria of hitting a home run… I knew the euphoria of getting a program I wrote run and do exactly as I instructed.
When I got to high school, I had the opportunity to actually take a class in computer programming. My public school had a math teacher do the instruction, but his part-time programming experience couldn’t match what I learned over the last previous 8 years. It was a given that I would continue to study computer programming in college and make a career of solving problems and getting high on working algorithms. Somewhere in the middle of college, I realized that my love for programming had started to die. I didn’t really realize it was at the time, but there was simply too much theoretical paper work, where you wouldn’t get the joy of actually creating something. After four years of this, I started to rethink whether I made the right choice.
At the time I thought it was too late to do anything else. Programming was all I knew. My math skills didn’t pass the test of multivariable calculus. My high school English teacher, Mrs. Paige, did everything she could do convince me to stay from the written word. I should have known that I could do a number of other things, but I pushed forward with software development.
In 1999, just a few months out of college, I hooked on with a hot Internet company. Suddenly the joys of programming had come back to me. I could make something that literally millions of people would see and use. I could go home and show my mom, “This is what I do!” I was in heaven until late 2001 when bad times came to the industry. My entire department had been let go to save on costs. For awhile after that, I bounced around a few jobs. Each time, I would start the company to hear about layoffs in the first week. Finally things eventually got better, but in the last year, they’ve been the worst they’ve ever been before I finally had no drive to program any more.
I thought I was unique in this thought, but I’ve found that others feel the same way. In fact it almost seems to be a universal feeling amongst many developers. I was talking to a friend who I used to work with about it last night. We went on for 3 hours about many of the problems in the last job we worked at together. It was an extremely insightful conversation. I’ve started to realize that it’s not simply everything about programming, but just some of the more common pitfalls that I have problems with. If I can find a job that is similar to the ones I loved in the past, perhaps there’s hope for my career as a software engineer.
I’m praying that is the case because we talked about something else last night – the market for software developers in the Silicon Valley is the best it’s been in some time. This has made me think that maybe I’m leaving money on the table by not working. Perhaps I’m leaving a lot of money on the table. It made me update my Monster.com profile this morning and think about getting another software engineering job. I’ve said it before, but I want to retire in my 40s. Perhaps a steady job is a better than starting my own side businesses.