Developer ups and downs

A friend of mine had questions about how feasible it is to start programming as a career and what it’s like. This excerpt addresses some of that.

One thing that is kind of tricky about seriously learning to be a developer is that it can be hard to assess whether it is “right” for you. For me, it was fascinating and promising at first but then I hit a big drop where it just seemed like it wasn’t worth it.

After about two quarters of it in college, I thought I might actually hate programming. I stuck with it simply because it was the third major I was on in college. I felt like I had no options left. Gradually, I felt better about it, but by graduation, I still didn’t really want a career in it. (I was really fascinated by the process of making music at that time.)

After college, I reluctantly took a job that the company sort of thought of a “farm league” for developers. Because I had nothing better to do, I dug into that job and became a developer a year later. It felt good simply because of the external validation. I learned a lot of new stuff and made parts of a product that survived in the wild. I was excited about being a developer.

A few years later, I got frustrated with the conditions of that workplace. Then later at another job, bored with the work itself. When the iPhone came out, I was excited again about the possibilities of programming.

Currently, I’m not particularly excited about iOS, but I do like programming in general. There’s plenty of interesting stuff to get into now, like previously awkward server side stuff and data visualization. And of course, there’s plenty of ways to make games in a reasonable amount of time. (That said, I still have not shipped my “totes sweet indie game.”) Partly because of an increase in skill and partly because of convenient modern frameworks, programming feels good as an artistic tool and reasonably stimulating as an occupation, if you find the right job.

Those ups and downs probably don’t happen to everyone, but I thought I’d warn you about them. Not being 19-25 will probably help with keeping a more even keel about it, as will working in sane environments. (There’s quite a few other things you can do to mitigate them, but I gotta get this letter out.)

Regardless of all love/hate jibba jabba, being a developer did pay the bills, and I had no trouble finding work.

Maybe your best course of action, if you can clear the time for it, is to spend a few months coding and reading up on programming for 20 hours a week and see how it feels. Also, there’s a large variety of technology jobs that involve little or no coding, so maybe those are worth thinking about, too.

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