As often happens, this article didn’t go where I expected. I hope you like where it went.
Because I Can
One reason for doing my long series of game articles, where I replicate an old game, or write a new one in an old style, is probably “Because I Can”. There are so many things in the world that seem beyond my scope to improve, and it’s nice to have something to do that I’m a bit good at, and that might, just conceivably, be helpful to someone, if only as a Bad Example.
Programming is Important
I think that programming skill is important, for reasons I’ll mention below. But we’ll move beyond that here, because while I consider programming skill to be essential, it is neither the only important thing, nor the most important thing. Be that as it may, I don’t see how one could be happy doing software development if one weren’t pretty good at it. Otherwise, every day would be full of frustration with oneself. And the world usually gives us enough reasons to be frustrated.
Team is Important
The people we work with daily are important in at least two ways. First, they are as human as we are, and so they deserve the same good things we wish for ourselves, and they don’t need us, or anyone, making their lives less good. Second, our own success is perforce entangled with that of the team. For any of us to succeed, in this place, all of us need to succeed.
Work, then Bail
There is a way of working that tries to deny that those around us are important, and it is the pattern of working somewhere for a year or so, then bailing to somewhere where there’s more money. That scheme, I suppose, lets us treat others as the rungs on the ladder to success, but while it might get us more money, it won’t get us much else.
Money is Important
We need to have “enough”. I’ll not try to put a figure on that, but surely we need a buffer for emergencies, we need to build up enough to retire someday, and we may have an important medical need for a Lamborghini. Who am I to judge? But I can tell you that among all the people I’ve known, the ones most worthy of attention or caring were not the ones who were primarily motivated by money. In fact, the more money those people made, the more hateful they became. But we do need to have enough.
Satisfaction: More Important
The way most work has gone is that we dedicate 8 hours, 10 hours, or more, to going to and from work and being there. That trend may be changing, with more work-from-home, but even so, to earn a decent amount of money, we’ll be spending a big fraction of our waking hours doing “work”.
“Do what you love,” they say, “and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Good advice, unless what you love is collecting sand or something equally down-market. Then you’ll likely starve. But there’s value to that saying, because if our 8+ hours can be satisfying, our lives will be a lot happier than if they’re not.
Skill, at developing, or at whatever our work is, can provide satisfaction during the long days at the mine face. When we set out to do something, and do it, we get a jolt of joy.
Jolts of joy every six months aren’t much good, even if they’re big jolts. Much better to get small jolts, every month, every week, every day, every hour, every ten minutes. Part of what draws me to programming is that I can have great control over how often I get those tastes of glory. I can learn to commit working code five or six times an hour. I can learn to avoid long debugging periods, and to see features coming into being, bit by bit. That gives me joy.
Upward Lengthens Cycles
For me, in management, of which I’ve done a lot, those jolts of joy were much more rare. I suppose I’m not a very good manager, but one way or another, it was long periods of waiting, working to make things better, with very few jolts of joy. And, honestly, I never felt the same kind of satisfaction when my team built something great, that I felt when I was really part of building something great.
That’s just me. But the higher we go in the organization, the more danger there is that our jolts of joy will stretch out. On the other hand, maybe they’ll give us more money, or a company Corvette. (Yes, I had a company Corvette. But I didn’t have much short-cycle joy.)
People Joy is Best Joy
As much as I simply love creating software, I’ve found that the joy we make with others is greater. It’s not always short-cycle, and it can be difficult to sustain, but it’s great. Whether that’s the comfort of growing older with someone you’re compatible with and love, or the kick folks get from raising their children, or the joy to be had from helping the sick or elderly, the joy we find with people is the best.
As a very focused “technical person”, I’ve still had plenty of people joy, but as I look back, I’ve caused people sadness too often, and found people joy of the wrong kind, in the wrong places, more often than I should. I don’t much do regret, because it is our mistakes as much as our good decisions that make us who we are today, and I’m happy with who I am today. But I hope that anyone I’ve ever hurt has healed from it and grown from it, and while I rue the chances I missed, I’m shaped by them into a person who’s happy where he is.
Preparing for People Joy
Those who know me will laugh, but I am in fact a Dale Carnegie graduate, and while the course is hokey in some ways, and was dated even back when I took it, it had great value to me, in two regards. First, it involves lots of public speaking, and while I was never afraid of that, I learned ways to do it better, and I learned that folks who do fear it can get past it and thrive. Second, it made me think about how better to get along with people. Not in a fake way: sincerity is important, and the joke notwithstanding, you really can’t fake it.
There are innumerable ways to work on one’s ability to get along with people, and I’m no expert to listen to. But you can read, listen, view, or take live courses, and investing in ways of really working well with people will probably pay off. Not how to exploit them, no, not that. Working well with them.
But, Do What You Love
When my kids were young, I advised them to choose work that they loved, because they’d be doing a lot of it. I should have mentioned that choosing work that paid well was possible, but no parent is perfect.
I still think that’s good advice. We’re going to do a lot of it, and, for me, working at something I hate, just so I can live, tired and depressed, in a nice house with a nice car in the garage just isn’t the right balance. I’d rather work at something I love and come home energized and feeling successful, to a nice house with a nice car in the garage.
If I had to choose, I’d take the less-nice house, and the less-nice car, for the day-to-day satisfaction.
You, of course, get to do what you want.
Do It With Others
And, do it with others, with real love and affection for others, those you work with, those you see at the store, those you see in your home. Maybe even the ones you see on the road, blocking your way.
Do It Well, With Others
Imagine being with people you care about, and who care about you, doing work you can feel good about.
Now stop imagining, and make it happen. You have that ability.