On Having a Job
Monday, June 30 2014

I started programming always thinking I’d eventually have one of those programming jobs. You know, one where you’re stuck in a little cube on some floor in some building with a big shiny metal sign outside that also occasionally makes the evening news.

Big dreams for a twelve-year-old.

Now that I actually have such a job, I sometimes stare at the ceiling late at night and wonder whether my twelve-year-old self knew what he was doing. Sure, it’s not a job but an internship. And it’s not a cube but a sweet open-air workstation. The floor — and the building, while we’re at it — is far from stuffy. The coffee pot in the break room is always half full.

I’ve learned more in the last month than I have for three years in college. I’ve experienced more coding horrors (two days tracking down a single concurrency issue) and coding highs (that feeling of elation when everything just works) in a single work week than I usually do in an entire semester. Certainly this is what I’ve been preparing for ever since middle school and my first feeble attempts at for-loops on my scientific calculator.

But something’s missing.

I’ve always been able to find a certain amount of joy in programming. It’s why I do it. For some soon-to-be college students choosing a major is difficult, but I’d always known computer science was it, through and through.

The thing about programming is that it’s raw creativity. You sit down in front of a blank screen, an empty terminal, and you just start typing. The bits are your canvas. You can make those pixels dance. Having never been a particularly artistic person, or musically inclined for that matter, programming is a close as I can get to the likes of Beethoven or da Vinci.

So after a long and utterly boring day in school, after all avenues of socializing had exhausted themselves, I could always find some measure of happiness just hacking on something.

Coming out to the internship, I fully expected to continue this routine, but I was wholly unprepared for how different a full-time job would be. Now, at the end of the day, the last thing I want to do when I go home is look at a computer screen; 8 hours is more than enough for a single day. And how can I think about side projects when I have a huge one due at work? What fun is there in free experimentation when I get paid to do it now?

Every once in a while I’ll spot a story floating around the Interwebz about a programmer leaving a solid well-paid job to make a startup: a risky move by any standard. Maybe even three months ago I wouldn’t have considered it. But now? Now…now I see faint glimmers of the light.

To any aspiring programmer who has not yet taken on a “real” job: don’t give up. It is everything you think it is, and a whole lot more. But if you happen to feel the same creative stirrings that I do when you code, hold on to those feelings for as long as you can and don’t let anything — job or otherwise — steal them away.


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