Jay Little
My Career Misery is in the Eye of the Beholder

08/23/2023 20:30:27

It should come as no surprise to any dedicated reader that my career has left me feeling miserable in more ways than one over the years. I've been spending a lot of time thinking on this subject over the last month hence the lack of content lately. This post is my attempt to finally articulate how I'm feeling about it now and my thoughts on how to move forward.

Note: This post is basically a direct follow up to my post from December, "A Farewell to Arms" and my post from March, "Code Monkey Mid-Life Crisis". If you haven't read them, you should probably go ahead and do so now. Don't worry, they are not particularly long, at least not by my standards ;)

So the long and short of my career is this: My perspective and the actions it inspired have basically created a vicious cycle that is making me miserable. This has happened because when I am presented with a problem that requires a solution of some sort (usually in the form of code), I tend to figure out what the best abstract version of that solution could be and then get to work trying to build that thing.

That part isn't the problem. That's exactly what a professional coder is supposed to do. However the problem arises further down the line after that abstract vision is complicated, dumbed down and made less palatable because of pre-existing considerations, personal bias and conflicting opinions that tend to result in the many compromises our solutions have to endure and ingest before they can be built and unleashed upon the world.

You see, for me the joy of coding a solution doesn't come from coding a working solution. It comes from the relative distance between that abstract notion that I developed in my head and the real life version of it. The lower the distance, the greater the level of joy experienced. As you can imagine, this is akin to playing a game of Russian Roulette. Pull the trigger enough and you are eventually going to blow your own head off.

I have come to believe after much introspection that I need to scrap this approach. Of course things like that are easier said than done when it comes right down to it. However the first step in this long journey of rewiring my primitive ape-like brain is consciously recognizing this truth and integrating it into my thought processes. This blog post represents my first step on that journey.

I remember when I used to love coding merely because it empowered me to create things, regardless of how complex or simplistic they were, that I would otherwise have not been capable of building. I want to get back to that. I want to spend less time whining and twiddling my thumbs endlessly over the tools, techniques and team dynamics that factor into that process.

Why? Because I want to focus on the part of this that I know is absolutely capable of making me happy. Which of course is empowering the target users by giving them the tools they need to get shit done. If they are happy, and I'm not, the problem is with me. It's really that simple.

So what does this mean? Well it means that my intention is to stop blogging about the specifics of my on the job experiences, at least when it comes to the negative ones. This isn't because these blog posts have negatively affected my current job situation, because thus far they haven't. But rather its because I've decided that I need to "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive" and thusly "Eliminate the Negative" as the great Johnny Mercer once advised.

I suspect that this declaration will prove to be controversial. But you know what? I don't fucking care. I'm giving myself a license to try and carve a different path to the promised land known as happiness because at this point it's clear that my current approach hasn't worked all that well. As John Travolta's character (or maybe it was technically Nic Cage's since they had switched faces by this point - put that in your pipe and smoke it) said in the underappreciated masterpiece of cinema known as "Face Off":

When All Else Fails, Fresh Tactics!

So before I leave let me answer the most obvious follow up question that arises from this post. Do I regret leaving any of my previous jobs in light of this realization?

That's a tough one. Not going to lie.

When I look at my career as a whole and think about why I left each of the positions on my resume, my initial take away is that this incongruity has basically fueled the fire of dissatisfaction and allowed me to focus on other things at most of these jobs that were actually very screwed up.

So that being what it is, the answer is no. But there is maybe one exception to that deserves a mention and that exception is Paylocity. Of course this isn't quite that simple. Regular readers will recall that after I left Paylocity I attempted to go back right as COVID was kicking off in early 2020. I wrote an extensive blog post on this experience called "No Matter How Much You Want To... You Can Never Go Back".

Long story short: They didn't want me back. When I left, I left primarily because of the compulsion I have detailed in today's post. But when I reapplied it became clear that I was no longer the type of developer that they were looking for:

They don't care how technically talented, skilled and proficient I am or was. They only care if I exemplify the so-called corporate values that allow me fit into the cookie cutter mold which forms their ideal of what a Senior Software Engineer at Paylocity is supposed to be. And you know what? I don't fit into it. So they made the right decision.

Thanks for setting me straight Paylocity. I won't make this mistake ever again.

I stand by that statement. I left for the wrong reasons but it ended up being the right decision. I don't say that so that I can apply salve to my tortured soul but only to emphasize that I believe that this change of perspective that I am attempting to implement has more value when applied to future decisions rather than past ones.

In any event, I appreciate everybody who has taken the time to read this. As always there is more to come and I look forwarding sharing it with all of you. For me there is no other way to think through issues than to do it out loud and in a public forum.

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