Jay Shirley

Striving to be a man of gallantry and taste

Why I Do What I Do.

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There has been a lot of controversy in the software world. Lately, most of it is towards gender-bias and clear cut sexism. All the controversy is (mostly) irrelevant to the point I want to write about.

The side-effect of reading about such controversy is that it makes me think about what I do for a living. My upbringing was certainly not atypical, but it was probably less common for a software developer.

During my youth every adult hated their job. If they didn’t vocally hate it they still all complained. The only single exception I encountered was a guy who, I think, did electrical engineering. He never complained.

Then, I met a programmer.

I clearly remember when I first started to see exactly what programming was. It was very interesting and I was excited by how much control I could exert over a system. And this was just in BASIC.

At the local college, which I hung out at far too often, I met a guy who worked in the records department. He wrote software for them. Mostly just file transformation; by today’s standards his job was completely mundane but it was amazing to me. He loved his job, too.

I would stop into his office and he would show me silly programs. Things that would animate a cow walking across the screen. Different file tricks. I was amazed. Years later I would realize I was really amazed at how much fun he had at work. I wanted that.

Then, I was a programmer.

From that point forward it was my ambition to become a programmer. I had no money. Going to college was going to be a challenge but things were changing. In 1995, software was really exploding. It was possible I wouldn’t need a 4 year degree to do this.

So I started working on it. Every job I had I thought of software to make it better. This was hard when I worked at a restaurant, but I still thought about it. I think I nearly got fired at one of my first jobs for constantly pushing little programs I wrote. And, of course, not actually doing what I was supposed to do.

Eventually I made it. I was in the software industry. My inexperience was masked by my bold immaturity and confidence. I fooled enough people into hiring me and learned as I went. I even did pretty well.

Somewhere it became a job.

I met a guy who was a software developer for 10 years. Then a manager for 10 years. At the time he was a VP and doing well. He drove a fancy car. He didn’t love his job, though. It was pretty apparent. He said he loved programming.

From that point I worried I would be like that. I would get a great paycheck, drive a great sports car and hate what I do. Probably with an envious glare I would watch the young kids write their fancy code. I would then going home, feeling frustrated.

Right then, abruptly and magically, it all became a job. As soon as I saw this the mystique of what I did wore away. It became a job. I realized I’m either marching towards obsolescence or a job I won’t love.

But wait, maybe I will.

Back then I was really harsh about such a fate. Unjustly so, even. Now that I’m on the cusp of that life I don’t think it’s so bad. I’ve realized that what I really love doing is solving problems.

I love to produce things. I love to see people happy with that product. I don’t think it matters if I’m doing the work, as long as I’m happy with the outcome.

That’s what I really love, and software is simply a means to an end.