Reflections on a shitty coding job that I still loved to death

Reflections on a shitty coding job that I still loved to death

I spent eight of my nine years in coding in a job that has to be considered objectively bad. As an apprentice I worked under people who were better programmers than teachers and would yell at me for asking questions, then I worked twice as hard as I should have for below market rate wages and had full responsibility for a program that needed at least two developers, and honestly wasn’t a task a company should put a junior dev on for their own sake.

Eventually I got out of there when things got too wild even for my taste, but until then I just loved to hate the job, the company, the work and the people. There were some great folks I worked with and nine days out of ten I could absolutely enjoy the hectic and chaotic mess that resembled a drama TV show more than a professional work environment (is there even a difference?). It was a wild ride, and I miss it as much as I don’t, and today I want to take the time to reflect on a job that I will tell stories about until the day I die.

I can’t imagine anything worse than a boring coding job

My new job is more regular hours, everything a bit more professional, but otherwise things have stayed pretty much the same. Same tech stack, down to the tools used, same general idea of agile work environment, and still plenty enough drama to go around.

Which makes me happier than the increased wage or the new episode in my life, because there was a 9/10 chance for me to be stuck in a dead-end, boring programming hell. I nearly became a soldier of fortune, a hired gun for the highest bidder, and I am thankful that at least one of the offers that I had available seemed fun (and turned out to be!).

You learn quickly under pressure

I still remember the day when the system I was tasked with suddenly went belly-up because it relied on an ancient version of Microsoft Server (2003?) in 2016 and Microsoft decided to hell with anyone who still relied on that old piece of authentification.

Every day that this system wasn’t running cost about 13,000$, and while I had some help most of the work suddenly was mine to fix, and I had absolutely no clue. I was fresh-faced enough to do some maintenance and administrative tasks on this system, but nowhere near skilled enough to rewrite it. But after just four days and nights I had somehow acquired enough knowledge to move the tool to a more modern server and adapt the things that were needed to get it running again, and I even got the obligatory thank-you email from the boss.

This set a precedent for how the rest of my work life was going to look like, this scrambling to get a foothold on a rocky surface while somehow also drowning and trying to keep my head above water. It became a habit, then an addiction, and now I am bored whenever I have properly documented processes and enough time to think before I start writing code.

The people we met along the way

I have never been much of a people person, until I suddenly became utterly fascinated with some of them. By the time I left this job I was part of a network of workaholics who basically kept the whole system of systems running. I was part of secret chat groups that fixed the things the bosses had kicked loose, I was part of the projects that mattered and thanks to my system being almost-critical I was privy to almost everything that went on above and underneath the table. During lunch I was part of the undertow of rumors and news, and during the evenings I would walk deserted office floors as the select few who still operated banded together in empty offices. Them were the days.

I doubt I will ever get a job like that again, simply because nothing in that company was normal. I was on paper a lowly junior dev and I should have had none of these things, certainly not to this extend or with this much responsibility and influence. I shouldn’t have been solely responsible for this system, and I shouldn’t have ever sat in a room with the CEOs and other heavy-weights to discuss project planning. But I didn’t even have a boss for the last year that I worked there, it wasn’t really clear which team my system belonged to so I just belonged to none, under no one. I had an office one door over from the department boss for some reason, and a great view out into the ugly city.

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It was just so quirky and weird that even the downright insane stuff that went on was fun to be a part of, the more the better. I volunteered for the shitty jobs because after a long day I was still hungry for more, it was that good of a shitty job.

And all that only started to dwindle and fade away as more and more of us realized that it was time to move on, and the great team slowly became the bunch of veterans slowly dying off. I left when too many others had, and the hard workload of old was getting too close to insane, and the connections started drying up. It is one thing to tackle ill-planned projects with minimal notice, but a completely other if you don’t have the people on short dial anymore who know what to do or keep you sane by inviting you for a much needed coffee.

And so it became time for me to move on as well, and forever cherish the chance I had at pretty much living the entirety of corporate life from the lowest lows to the highest towers and cocktail events. Not to forget the late evenings and weekend days of tired work sessions, you get to know people in a completely different manner. So here’s to the days of old, and the people of old, may y’all live happier lives than we used to.

I never thought I would feel old at 28

I have a new job now, an objectively better job, and better paid. But I always knew that I could get that, that I just had to reply „yes please“ to the endless stream of recruiters on Xing and LinkedIn and that I would find new work within the month. I could have gotten out five years earlier, right after my apprenticeship ended, like some of my classmates rightfully did.

But I did not, instead I got sucked into the life until I could probably write a book about the effects of Stockholm syndrome – and I have no ragerts as they say.

I do, however, face the problem of having seen it all, lived through it all. I breathed the glass and chrome lifestyle, I sat at hardwood tables in a meeting room you can’t even book because it was reserved for the high and mighty. I made errors grave enough to get one fired, and fixed problems large enough to get me promoted if there had been any form of hierarchical structure. When the mass-exodus started I got a substantial raise that I did not even ask for, and I even stayed on for another five months to profit from it.

Every week of my work life was a story worth telling, be it hilarious or just crazy. And now, when I sit at my desk I feel like I have grown old before my days, I sometimes drive by the old building and wish that I could still key myself inside, and drink a lemon-lemonade from the fridge in the break room, talk to the coworkers of old between two meetings.

And when I reverse into the parking lot of the new job I struggle with that feeling of content and unthreatening life that I now live, nobody has even sabotaged my bicycle and disconnected my breaks since I started working there. I am a programmer now and feel like I am starting to become worth my money, but oh boy is it a different world. I drove an unreliable race car for eight years, and now I am a train conductor where five minutes off-schedule are a reason to be alarmed, and if things go off-rail even just once it might be declared a major disaster.

I mean, we even have a working release workflow now, instead of same-day hotfixes on the project that isn’t even the high priority that it was yesterday anymore. Monthly releases, and just the rarest case of weekend work for anyone, anywhere.

I miss the mission and the missionaries, and the martyr-like Kamikaze programming that I grew up in.

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