Surprising Lessons From Nine Years Of Coding

Surprising Lessons From Nine Years Of Coding

It’s August now, which means it’s time to get nostalgic and look back on almost a decade of living the good life, the coding life. Oh boy, what a journey it has been, the wars we fought, the people we fought them with, the stories we lived through together. Them were hectic years, stressful, mind-boggling at times. And thank the heavens for that, I don’t know if I would have survived a boring life.

So here are some of my surprising takeaways from nine years of programming, and about an hour of reminiscing.

I don’t like programming

It may seem weird to say this about not just a job, but a whole profession, but I never liked programming for a single day. I either loved it, or hated it, but in retrospect programming does not seem to have a healthy middle ground for me.

And worse still, I would not be able to tell which parts I loved most, or hated most. There were days when I volunteered for the tedious work because my head was smoking from all the heavy thinking the day before, and days when I rushed through my work in record speed and then begged coworkers to let me help them because my brain was thoroughly underfucked, forgive the expletive. Days when I thought about quitting, and other days when I would have accepted a pay cut if needed just to be allowed to keep working this nonsensical project.

It really do be like that, sometimes. Programming is a quirky hobby, perfect for anyone who at nearly thirty still lacks a clue in life what they actually want to do instead. If nothing else, a programming job gives you a baseline and lots of flexibility in your work hours to try out things left and right. I have a basement workshop where I craft and weld art pieces from old scrap metal, and that may just be the most sane way I have wasted waking hours. And I probably couldn’t if not for a job that gives me the flexibility to spend a lunch break welding five feet away from my work desk.

Programming makes a great day job and a horrible side job

I tried the freelancer life, and it was not for me. I am lucky that I tried it in my spare time instead of listening to the freelancers our company hired, with their endless „never work for someone else again in my life“ sermon. Yet somehow, they kept working for someone else, at higher rates with lower securities. With tons more overhead, plus all the things that I was doing as well.

To me, freelancing is like owning a house instead of renting, you take on a heap of extra responsibilities to get essentially the same life you could have gotten easier. The true freedom exists within the system, not outside of it, as weird and dystopian as that sentence may sound on first glance.

Plus, we have a lot of other options at our disposal if we need or want more money, and many of them are healthy alternatives to spending even more hours at our desks. I delivered pizza for a few months, and had a grand time with what is essentially a paid gym membership where you get paid to drive through the night and think your thoughts. Folding paper boxes at minimum wage during slow hours is honestly preferable to doing freelance coding projects in your spare time.

It’s all the same, just different

I always find it funny how similar the general life of programmers turns out, and how drastically they differ in the details. For example I find it hilarious how I exchanged my first job for the second, and the major corner stones are all the same. Same tech stack, same agile bullshit, I mean future of working, we even have the same obligatory wall of moss that supposedly swallows sound. But oh boy, does it feel like a different world regardless, from the different flock of people to the devil in the details.

I am now four months into my new job and everyday I wonder two things: How, and Why? There are days when I feel like I should just retire, since I’m obviously a horrible coder who can’t do anything, and then there are days when I question the sanity of whoever worked on this part of code before me.

Last week I was at a garden party – the horror! – and by luck one of the guys at the grill turned out to be a coder as well – and what a different life he lived! We shared a mutual distrust for Oracle and C#, but he’s with the military whereas I don’t even wear a uniform to work. I also never wear ski masks while I hack into „mainframes“ like they always put it in the news.

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I sincerely doubt that two programmers exist who do the same job, the same way, and that to me remains impressive to this day.

Coding is like 10% of programming

This may not be that surprising since everyone says it, but the extend of how much overhead goes into the programming life is still impressive. From the communication to the planning, the structuring to the refactoring, the bugfixes and release automations – there is just.so.much stuff to do.

And a lot of that is pretty fun, I found out by accident that I have a grand time mediating between techies and normies in meetings. I am not hardcore enough for the „real programmers“ and not normal enough for the normal people, but you may as well call me Charon and give me coins to bring you across that grand divide.

I’m not as much of a fan of documentation and planning workflows that take longer than the actual work, but sure enough I like me a sexy looking burndown chart as much as the next guy.

There is just so much that goes into the process of a lowly programmer writing a single line of code that it never ceases to amaze me how different professional coding is to private projects where you hack and slay before you really think about a greater plan.

I guess I suddenly like people?

In another weird turn of events I started in programming pretty much because it seemed like the cliche profession for people who don’t like dealing with people. I had a bit of a rough path through school and honestly looked forward to communicating only through email, ideally not at all. I thought I would sit down and code what others told me to, so that I could afford a life in a log cabin or on a very high tower deep in the woods.

But then, some nine years later, I am somehow the people person and the life of the party, whereas it would have been unheard of for me to even attend a party in the first place. I honestly still don’t know what brought on this change, but I am suddenly the guy with stories to tell, the guy who listens to yours, and yesterday I got a text from a friend asking if I wanted to come over and hang out for no real reason.

And really, all that came to be through programming work and seeing how much fun it is to sit in a room full of people where everyone has an interest in working together instead of against each other.

Yesterday doesn’t matter today

One of the fascinating things about programming is how quickly it moves, and how utterly unimportant things can become when they were last week’s highest priority. I spent the first eight years of my working life in an environment that was so fast paced that we would often receive counter-orders to the priority tasks even as we were still in the middle of implementing them.

Sometime near where I write this post the system that I maintained in my first job is supposed to get the shot to the neck, which means that nothing I did in the last eight years will still matter at that point. Does that bug me? Strangely not, but only because I understood that as a given of the life I lived, the job I worked. Better this way than my work becoming one of those that lived on for too long, and drive the next guy mad as he openly curses me for doing what seemed right at the time.

Was it fun? Sometimes, yes, and I sure uttered an ill word or two towards people who could have known better, or planned ahead.

I no longer think I will retire

I started in programming because I didn’t have a clue what I would rather do, it seemed like the right thing to do for a guy who was good with computers and little else. Then I stayed in programming because I wanted to save enough money to retire into the wilderness, and hopefully never touch a computer or write a line of code again.

But now that I look at things, I doubt that I will actually retire from programming, and quite likely I won’t ever retire at all considering the state of the world. So it does appear that I have found my Zen and my Zenity, the Ying and the Yang and the road that leads to tranquility base.

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