Jay Little
Code Monkey Mid-Life Crisis

03/12/2023 14:42:25

Compared to most coders I work with, I've been coding a long time. Specifically since my father and uncle gifted me and my siblings an Apple II in 1985 when I was six years old. We also received a book called "Computer Fun" which attempted to teach BASIC programming to children. So despite all that youthful enthusiasm why do I feel like this career may not be for me anymore?


If I hadn't gotten that computer, that book or if those items hadn't resonated with me, I may not have ever become a professional coder. Fast forward almost 38 years and I'm at a different sort of crossroads. As it stands now, I'm seriously questioning just how long I want to and thus can keep slinging code as my profession. I'll turn 44 this year and I honestly don't know if this is the profession that will take me through to what I hope will be my eventual retirement.

This is the point at which most of you are surely saying, "Yep he's having a Mid-Life crisis". I can't deny that, because that's almost certainly what this is. But just because this is a named thing that some people go through and some percentage of those affected end up making drastic changes to their lives as a result of it, doesn't guarantee that's how my story will end. But it is a consideration and it's something that I am acutely aware of especially when the forlorn sense of confusion that comes with it decides to rear its ugly head.

Nevertheless, I have spent a lot of time over the last few years debating my future in this profession. There are a lot of reasons for this but it probably started with my disdain for everything shifting to the cloud. This is more than just a trend, its a complete re-imagining of how tech works and operates. As a slight aside, its also an ice pick shoved squarely into the eye of the vision of decentralization and resiliency that inspired the creation of ARPANET (aka the Internet), but I digress.

This has created a situation in which I've gone from being a well-rounded tech professional that could juggle coding and systems tasks to one that is deficient in what is now a very important area. Sure I've done some basic Azure integration using Azure AD authentication and posting messages to Teams and I host this website on a VM I have at Linode, but beyond that, my cloud experience is exceptionally lacking at the moment.

Then of course five months ago I changed jobs. Part of my new job entails doing a large amount of work in a proprietary low coding system called OutSystems. I don't like it very much. I have technical reasons for not liking it, but the truth is I mostly dislike it because it forces users to write code visually rather than with text and it neglects to provide a very important data structure, known to most as "the hash". If you don't understand why that matters, feel free to educate thyself.

Needless to say, it hasn't helped that I'm now working on a project in which the tech stack makes me feel like I'm coding with one hand tied behind my back. In addition to that there are other factors related to the position and the project that haven't helped curtail my ever-deepening sense of being an imposter and being incompetent. However I won't be discussing any of those factors today as they aren't directly relevant.

In any event, the question remains: What should I do? I don't know the answer to that. There are things I could do however. I could choose to find a new profession. I could choose to grind it out and work to fill this gap in my knowledge that I believe is primarily fueling this crisis. I could also choose to ignore these feelings and realize that I am still capable of providing value professionally, but perhaps not in precisely the same way as before and find positions in which the skills and knowledge I have fills a real need.

I won't lie, at various times I have preferred every single one of those options over the others. Technically as it stands right now, my new position is basically my attempt to pursue the third option. I'm not sure that was the right choice as that choice has basically made the malaise I have been feeling even worse in the short term. But for now, I'm going to stick with it.

I don't think I'm the only one feeling this general feeling, as several of my compatriots have tried and are currently trying to transition their careers from that of Code Monkey to Herding Other Code Monkeys (aka management). However one thing I do know for sure is that path is not for me. I'm not a people person. In fact by all available metrics I rank somewhat notably on the asshole scale. That's not to say I don't get along with people, but just that I tend to prefer dealing with tech rather than people. I have worked for enough assholes and am self-aware enough to know that nobody deserves the punishment of working for me. I hold myself to almost impossible standards at times and I have no urge to export the sense of discontent that comes with that to anybody else.

Maybe I'll end up grinding it out like my old man did. He'll be 70 years old next year and he's still slinging code, though he is planning to retire then. That's quite the accomplishment and at this point, I'm not sure I can or will be able to do this until I reach that age. Even at the age of 43, 27 years still seems like a very long time to me. Especially when I look back and realize I have probably created thousands of business line CRUD screens since I started coding professionally in 1999. How many more can I churn out?

For now, I'm going to stick with my current gig and try to find some balance. I think that may be the hardest possible thing to do as rather than further altering my circumstances, I'm choosing instead to embark on a path that requires me to alter myself.

Now that's one hell of a grind, unlike this recreational one I choose to engage in. Please wish me luck!

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