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Ask HN: How do I find a meaningful software engineering job?
118 points by gregorygoc 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 84 comments
Currently I'm working as a Software Engineer in a consulting company whose primary expertise is AWS. My day of work is mainly composed of integrating with AWS REST APIs and "designing" scalable distributed systems. I'm quoting designing, because it's really just a matter of composing AWS Services to fit customers needs (provided clients are willing to throw money at cloud services - and most of the times they are).

I just feel that's not something I would like to double down on. I have always enjoyed digging into lowish level libraries like MapReduce or LevelDB and figuring out how it works with layers of abstraction peeled off. I would love to contribute to such a project and I always envy and look up to Jeff Dean and his opportunity to build such a beautiful low-level software and libraries.

Anyway, are there companies which have interesting technical problems to solve and not consider outsourcing them to other vendors? Maybe I should get a job in a company which has a well established product (preferably something used by developers) and has some room for creativity? What are those companies?

I'm a late-career software developer. 30+ years in the trenches doing this...

I've done "meaningful" work at companies that treated my like a consumable resource, and less meaningful work at companies that treated me like a person. I prefer the latter. My suggestion is don't jump at the first interesting work, look more for culture and career opportunity. You can find both, those jobs are not quite as rare as unicorns.

Good luck in your search.

I work at a midstage well funded startup where I'm paid well, treated nicely by my coworkers, have a great work life balance, and a clear career path for advancement.

But we do the typical tech wankery bullshit, and the banality of it eats away at you. Maybe the goal is to get accustomed to this and accept that my job is better than 99% of the world, but christ if I'm going to spend the next 20-30 years of my life doing this and filling it with hobbies that also don't have meaningful impact, why even bother.

The chance of you actually working on something that impacts society in a large way is pretty nil. Even billionaires are lucky if they can have that kind of impact.

For me, thinking smaller and looking at how I can have an impact on my family, friends, and local community is what I have found to be most fulfilling.

> if I'm going to spend the next 20-30 years of my life doing this and filling it with hobbies that also don't have meaningful impact, why even bother.

I understand those thoughts and feelings because I have them myself. That being said, why do you feel like your hobbies also have to be meaningless or have no impact? Volunteering can be a hobby. So can doing something like coaching a kids’ sports team (if you like kids) or mentoring someone or something else along those lines. For me, my job is a way to help my family and other people who are way less fortunate than I am.

Also, and I know this is a “typical” response around here: Have you considered the idea that you may be suffering from depression? Most of the time when the, “why does this shit even matter” feelings hit me it’s because I’m hitting the depression stage of manic depression/bipolar.

>Volunteering can be a hobby. So can doing something like coaching a kids’ sports team

I do volunteer, I'm active in tutoring underprivileged kids for their SAT/ACT's, and otherwise help immigrants fill out their N-100 forms. I take Arabic classes in my spare time, and I fill my free time with various other hobbies (rock climbing, hiking, etc). And that's great that I have an impact on a local community, but in the end, why does it matter? Any bozo with two brain cells to rub together can have an impact on their local community. Aren't all these hobbies just escapism from the fact that my life is centered around this 40 hours a week that I spend debugging gevent or rewriting yet another RPC service?

To me, the acceptance of the reality of "it's extremely unlikely that I'll anything that has a meaningful impact on a large group of people" is the saddest thing of all.

You may find value in studying some stoic philosophers. They have been pondering this question for a long time and have many insights that I have found valuable.

I call it "Nothing matters, everything matters" dilemma.

Every little thing you do has some sort of meaning (even those hours spent debugging) if you choose to give it one.

On the other hand nothing really matters on a large enough scale not the things Bezos, Putin, Musk or any other human does.

Everything is ephemeral as Ecclesiastes already found out.

I think I'd be even more depressed were I put Ozymandias shoes.

I go the route of Camus and absurdism:

Perhaps nothing matters, but I will carry on anyway because there is still a chance that something matters.

And really I just want to spite nihilism because it’s self-defeating.

There's something else here here. Sure, ultimately everything is ephemeral and futile. But still, there's some ordering to things. The ordering that makes me doing yet another CRUD form that will make some executive slightly richer at the expense of someone else strictly less meaningful and valuable than the stuff Musk does. So even though nothing ultimately matters in the longest of runs, we still have to do things, and we still end up valuing some kinds of things over another.

Very much my experience too.

The only thing I found that worked for me in the end was what I call the "just work less" approach.


Cut expenses to the bone, and then cut some more. Go contracting. Aim to work for money maybe three months a year.

I found the non-work portion of the year involved travel, reading, family, writing, and tech projects done for the hell of it. It worked, and my life felt much happier, and more in balance.

One of the biggest problems with the industry (aside from the generally meaningless nature of most of it) is the traditional 40 hour week. It just burns people out too fast.

I agree. I’ve also had both, and hands down I’d take the less than “meaningful” job where I’m treated like a human being.

I’m extremely fortunate as the job I hold right now is a decent balance. It’s not totally meaningless and I think we are helping people in a lot of ways but I don’t think we’re saving the world. However I do work with a great team and everyone treats each other with respect and the company leadership genuinely cares about retaining their employees and treating them well.

I must be rare because I wouldn't mind being treated as less than human. McDonald's was one of my first jobs- and one thing I learned there was that I can chose one of two things: (1)be upset that incompetent bosses are treating me like shit and move on to another job without having learned anything, or (2)I can simply not care about Michael Scott-type managers and just focus, like a robot, on getting really good at my job. Then, in the future, I can move up and become one of the best managers anyone has ever seen thanks to knowing what not to do.

In my opinion, people care too much about work politics. Yes people suck, but sucky people will be everywhere. Learning to cope with difficult people is a skill that everybody absolutely needs to learn at some point in their lives.

> Yes people suck, but sucky people will be everywhere. Learning to cope with difficult people is a skill that everybody absolutely needs to learn at some point in their lives.

I agree with that. And on the point of managers: I’ve had my fair share of shitty/toxic managers. So I guess I spent a decent amount of time being treated that way and eventually it wears thin and you start trying to look for a more humane workplace rather than chasing money or “impact”.

I'm also a late-career dev like the OP and agree with everything said.

I'm going to add that if you want meaningful work, work on a side project. Even if it doesn't pan out, it's a great learning experience and could open doors and ignite conversations with people leading to much better and fascinating opportunities.


The people you work with matter most, above all else.

Does it though? I've worked with a really fantastic team and manager before, but the utter meaningless of the work, day after day, got to me in the end and I pulled the pin on it.

This is an interesting dichotomy to present (meaningful versus friendly work culture). I imagine there are also people who prefer the former. I am not judging at all -- find the dichotomy pretty accurate.

20+ years in - I'm a data plumber. A plumber might be able to go home and build some sort of interesting miniature steam engine, but his work week is connecting pipes. Mine's the the same, just strings and numbers instead of water. I go home and do some interesting things, but I don't expect I'll ever do such things at work. Some people are, but not the majority. The colourful unicorns and thrilling hackathons and exciting conferences are all just a mix of marketing and untainted youth. Sooner or later they'll find they've been crudding for 20 years, and strangely the various ways of crudding are no longer sufficiently novel to make crudding interesting. I try to think of how bored my dentist must be.

haha - brilliant, and spot on!

In my experience, meaning comes from within: finding interesting problems that matter to you. If you know what that is then getting there is much easier.

If you think you really do like LevelDB try writing your own version of it from scratch. This will test your understanding of the fundamental principles. It will also test your motivation. Then try to explain to someone else how to do what you did.

Once you truly understand LevelDB then pick a thorny problem they are working on, propose a solution, gather feedback, and solve it. Wash, rinse, repeat. A couple years from now you could be the LevelDB expert you've always wanted to be.

Then a few years down the road maybe you'll find some key insight that everyone was missing and write your own database that solves that particular issue and you'll be the one that someone else is looking up to.

His problem though is not with side projects is it? It's the 40 hours cranking out meaningless crap in the office that's the issue here.

I've had no problem finding meaning in my side projects - the job I do for money though always seems to degenerate into a daily grind.

I think it does have to do with side projects if that's the avenue OP wants to take to find meaningful work.

> I would love to contribute to such a project and I always envy and look up to Jeff Dean

Instead of being jealous, be the Jeff Dean you want to be!

> Maybe I should get a job in a company which has a well established product (preferably something used by developers) and has some room for creativity?

I'm being glib but it's honest advice: one way to get the kind of work you want is to be the expert people need. Rarely does a team hire someone from outside with zero knowledge of a critical, low-level system and pay them to learn it. More often than not they want to hire someone with the skills and experience they're lacking.

The hard part is finding the motivation. A good chunk of line-of-business applications are valuable but do not require, "creative solutions." They need people who understand the problem domain so well that they can translate business rules into systems and can anticipate users' needs.

The low-level work is a lot more fun and personally satisfying for people but you have to be pushing the envelope to get it. If you have the personal motivation to be obsessed with LevelDB for a couple of years before landing that dream job... success may be much more likely.

meaning from the human perspective also comes from within, you can complain about the culture at a job, but you also have to recognize that you are a part of it, and if it's not meaningful to you, you can either leave, or learn about people and try to lead by example and determine if they can change with you in a way that respects your own experience and understanding and reflects theirs. This is so the culture can be community strengthening and building, and allows people to grow in ways they choose, enough to feel like they are more than a software component (cog in the machine, etc)

It sounds like you are trying to get meaning from your work. I struggled with this problem for a long time. I have seen two broad solutions solve it to varying degrees of success:

1. Sacrifice earnings and / or stability in favor of meaning. You must be willing to compromise and you may have to bounce around through a few jobs until you find something meaningful, or you may have to start your own thing.

2. Stop looking for meaning in your work, and find it somewhere else. The people I’ve known who make this work the best are parents. However, I know some who are not. If you live in the SF Bay Area and work in tech, there is pressure to make your work your whole life, and that means that if your work feels meaningless, your life feels meaningless. It’s not the only mode of living.

Number 2 is the way to go in my opinion.

There is a large focus on how you make your money in the US. Most people judge and are judged by the amount of money they make, how they make it, and what they spend it on. Instead of calling it how it is, people work under the assumption that doing 'meaningful work' makes up for that obsession.

If you happen to find work the is personally fulfilling, then you are lucky. I would suggest that instead of chasing the work for fulfillment, find out what actually makes you fulfilled and then find a way to achieve that.

For me, I am most fulfilled by 1) creating stuff, and 2) being outdoors. While coding/programming falls under 1, I prefer making studio art (painting). So I do whatever work I need to do to afford to make art and spend as much free time outside as possible. Camping, hiking, etc.

If you are fulfilled by helping people, you can donate your time to a local shelter/habitat for humanity/kids group/etc. If its parenting, then focus on building a killer family life.

Ultimately, and this is the cynicism in me, life is meaningless - therefore we are free to create meaning how we see fit.

Trying to shoe-horn the 40 hour+ work week into personal fulfillment is a hallmark fantasy. How do you keep people coming back and creating profits for a company, 40+ hours a week? Try to sell them on the idea that they are 'making a difference' and 'changing the world' and will be 'fulfilled'. It's all smoke and mirrors.

Number 2 is a big one.

I'm still trying to figure out my own way through it all, but a good example of this are people who live outside of the "hubs" and work regular, townspeople jobs. They earn mid-range incomes and do fine by engaging in life outside if it.

It's not a bad way to live— but it's a matter of priorities. Hell, I live in a major city, don't have a car, and work pretty steadily.

The people I've known who are construction workers, police officers, etc— they get out and around far more often than I do. And they can afford to.

Sounds like you want a job with meaningful technical depth. If so, I'll tell you what I would suggest:

1. Start scoping out companies that do something that you're interested in and monitor the job openings they have. We can't give you a recommendation because we don't know what you're interested in. FANG and the other megacorps offer the greatest breadth and depth for low-level work (Amazon in particular is still hiring heavily) but they are also the most selective. There are plenty of mid-sized companies also doing interesting work (Pivotal comes to mind).

2. Start shaping up your resume so that you fit the job openings at the company/companies you're interested in. If that means a bit of resume driven development, so be it. You can also attempt an indirect approach; if your expertise lies in the web space, try for a web job there and then do an internal transfer to the area you want.

3) Start shaping up your skillset to work on low level stuff. Firstly, that means having your CS basics down pat because when you're working at the low level, that knowledge is actually neecessary. (This will also help you get past the dreaded algorithmic interview questions.) Secondly, know the tech or software package you're interested in working on inside and out; usage and deployment, pros and cons, where it fits in relative to competing technologies/software, and at least the basics of the internal architecture.

4) Start applying to the job openings. Don't get discouraged if it takes many tries; you're making a significant leap.

Good luck!

The title asks about _meaning_ but the first question you ask is about _interesting_ technical problems. This seems to be a potential discrepancy to me. Unless you find deep meaning purely in the interesting nature of technical problems, then it might be worth considering that difference and why that word is hanging in the title yet seemingly not discussed much in the body of the question.

Try reaching out to professors or research labs at universities. I work with a professor who would love to hire more Software Engineers with industry experience. It is by far the most meaningful and interesting work I've done in my career.

There are tons of interesting projects going on within academia that unfortunately don't take advantage of any software engineering best practices. Many projects are prototypes hacked together in MATLAB and I know in our lab we are looking to build more robust products that are open source and extensible for other researchers to use.

As someone who works in a central service unit not directly affiliated with academic research, I was given the chance to touch the lives of probably generations of students.

Emphasis on "touch", not necessarily "change". Still, it sometimes gives me goosebumps when walking through the halls and seeing all the people who are "forced" to use my work.

Pay is not great, but conditions are otherwise excellent.

(Founder/ Dev/ Lead of an electronic exam infrastructure at a large German university)

I second this. A cursory glance of the faculty research pages of your local university's biology / physics / chemistry / etc departments will show you just how many half-engineered research software tools are in need of a dedicated engineer.

If I may suggest a life tip, stop actively looking for meaningful work at once. Or give your career a pass and work for a non-profit you truly believe in. Some jobs are meaningful; some are less; some aren't at all.

The more important part actually is to have people who appreciate who you are and what you do around them. Your boss and colleagues; but also end-users. If you ever get to meet end-users telling you how you much you've been improving their lives, that is certifiably fulfilling and meaningful. (If you don't take it from me, take it from Randy Paush.)

Also, consider building a family at some point. YMMV, but if you're looking for something meaningful to do in your life, I cannot find words to state how much more fulfilling making a spouse happy and educating a child is compared to work.

If i understand correctly, you would like to go from being the person who assembles the magical widgets for the customer, to being the person who makes the magical widgets in the first place. So, perhaps you could look at the magical widgets you use, decide which ones you admire the most, and look into the companies that make them, and their competitors and disruptors.

This isn't guaranteed to succeed. Lots of the widgets come from Amazon, which is a famously hellish place to work. Redis is great, but you might need to move to Israel to hack on it. PostgreSQL is amazing, but there isn't a company behind it, and 2ndQuadrant will probably only hire you to work on it if you're already a contributor! But there are many other magical widgets out there ...

> PostgreSQL is amazing, but there isn't a company behind it,

There are several companies behind it, and most of them are looking for people.

> and 2ndQuadrant will probably only hire you to work on it if you're already a contributor! But there are many other magical widgets out there ...

You don't need to have any sort of major contributions. It does help to have some small patch or patches in, that show that a) you enjoy working with the community with all its quirks b) that you are successful. IIRC the patch that got me my first job offers to work on PostgreSQL was a day's work or such.

I've felt similar cravings for meaning in work.

What helped me (may be different for you) is to understand my personal values and places to invest that aligned with those values.

For me, I realized I value - working to create sustainable/profitable companies - quantitative reasoning - proactive communication - goal oriented planning

From there, I worked for couple of small companies but left after I realized they were chasing billion dollar valuations and/or practicing irrational product management. Since then, I joined a small data engineering team in a medium sized cyber security company and started trading stock options on the side.

Overall, I focused on doing work in environments that aligned with my values. If there wasn't alignment, I moved on.

Great question mate. Best of luck!

Check out the U.S. Digital Service. Software engineers who change lives and work on really interesting projects.


(I'm biased, see username)

Do you think there will ever be an effort to expand the USDS outside of DC or even allow remote? It sounds like a great place to work.

Semi-related: have you seen the work the USDS does significantly affected by political shifts?

Look at Code for America. Also, look at positions at your local governments. Some city and state governments have been getting things together.

Meaning is incredibly fickle, certainly not an inherent quality of pretty much any work.

The work you do today seems to enable a range of businesses to get on with doing whatever it is they do by letting them leverage some incredibly powerful technology. That sort of enablement seems like something I'd find meaningful. But you're not me, and I'm not you.

If you want to work on more deep technical problems, for the sake of the technology itself (at the cost of being rather further removed from the real-world applications your work enables), go look for that, that's perfectly reasonable. But be careful about assuming that this will necessarily feel more meaningful.

I agree that this "meaning" is a hard thing to put your finger on.

But you know it when you see it.

I think it's maybe not so much about the actual work as how you feel about the work. I have worked on side projects that are not too dissimilar to the day job, but have felt far more meaningful to me - it's sometimes hard to define exactly why though! I used to think it was about helping others, and it is true that does feel meaningful, but I think there's more to it than that.

Who is to say interesting technical problems are meaningful? All of the amazing technology developed at google ultimately is meant to show people ads. Where is the meaning in that?

The meaning of a thing is derived from its use. Most software projects can be meaningful when a real effort is made to maximize the benefit to the user.

Maybe what you’re looking for is not meaningful work but interesting work?

> Where is the meaning in that?

Advertising business delivers extremely important value to our society.

1) Adverting helps customers and sellers find each other.

2) Advertising sponsors publisher businesses that otherwise would not be able to financially support itself.

If you find meaning from digging into low level libraries, that's great. Most people would think of meaning as having shared values with the business you're working for and it's end users / customers. Prioritize finding end-users who you genuinely care for and whose lives you want to improve is one way to find meaning.

What is meaning?

What caries meaning.

My realization has been that software development has very little intrinsic meaning to itself, it gains meaning when seen in the contexts of it's application. You need to find a field where you can apply your skills, that has more meaning.

The most meaningful work I do is open-source projects in my spare time (or occasionally at work when open-source projects I'm already interested in align with my wrkplace's goals). It sounds like you might already be in a position where you're getting paid well and putting at most 40 hours a week into your day job - have you looked into saving your mental energy for other projects?

This doesn't work for everyone, of course (I'm young and single so it's easier for me) but if it's an option for you it seems worth exploring. Even extremely technically challenging jobs are going to be constrained by either "We need to solve this incredibly boring problem so a customer can pay us a few million more" or "We didn't do that enough and now we ran out of funding for the technically interesting work, sorry".

Looking back from the wrong end of a happy 30+ year career in software development, I think the best you can hope for is to do stuff that you find the most engaging and enjoyable in the moment.

To me, a search for "meaning" in the now is mostly an expression of hope that you can someday enjoy some long-term retrospective pride in your work. Looking back at the fun I had 20-30 years ago, it all looks completely trivial (aka mostly meaningless) compared to where the world is today. I have zero regrets, but was my career "meaningful"? Not a chance. YMMV, of course.

Keep your arms inside the vehicle and do your best to enjoy the ride while you still can.

Meaningful jobs are hard to find.

You're better of working a less meaningful job that pays well, invest that extra money, and getting out of the industry (or FIREing) as fast as possible. Then you can work on your own stuff.

Cynical as it might sound I actually think this is a good approach. :)

Even if you can't RE you can go contracting and reduce hours dramatically, or do some other work outside of the industry.

Meaning is something you create or find, it’s not intrinsic to the activity.

Right now there is someone complaining about doing “boring front end crud stuff” - an established product - who wants your job.

There is also someone doing “boring detail level stuff” who wants your job.

To put it another way: why is a low level library more meaningful than yours?

I think you are right that it's not the work itself that imparts the meaning.

The interesting question is why does some work feel so much more meaningful than other, similar, work?

If you can figure that out bottle it please and send me some!

Okay, here is my process:

1. Get a lot of sleep

2. Drink caffeine

3. Take a moment to think about the larger social impact of what you do -- it definitely has some impact

4. Focus on the problem just ahead of you, get absorbed in how interesting it is from a certain perspective

And that's it. If you're doing anything remotely technical, these are usually easy. But this can be done even if you're trading commodity futures.

(Trading commodity futures is an important economic activity, and you're rewarded for reducing demand when its not needed and increasing demand when it is needed).

I would guess what you really want is to achieve something/create some project that will make you as respected and well-known as Jeff Dean. Your current day job is highly technical, but you're not getting the 'fame' or glamour that you want.

To get to that level of hype (not necessarily technical excellence) you'd have to find companies on the cutting edge of DB/systems/ML research.

I'm still early-ish in my career as a software engineer but currently I'm deriving meaning from pursuing mastery of my craft; trying to get better every day, tackle harder and more advanced problems. For me this pursuit feels meaningful. Most tech jobs are B.S. and you rarely are "helping" the world in any real way. But if you are constantly improving and being challenged you will A) have more fun on a daily basis and feel better about yourself, and B) be much better prepared to eventually execute significant, meaningful changes in the world from a position of expertise and experience. Just my personal outlook / strategy.

You will get to a point where that mastery is no longer enough.

I fully expect that but it's not an argument to not pursue it in the first place. A lot of people (myself included) seem to get stuck early on in life trying to immediately jump to some grand vision or purpose without figuring out the more basic stuff first. It's a stepping stone, not solely an end in itself.

How about fighting climate change? We are currently transitioning from fossil fuels to renewables. The problem now isn't the technology, but the scaling. How do we go from <5% renewables to >90%? Solving that scaling problem involves a ton of software, and we need all the smart software engineers we can get.

Previous post: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15127154

Also, here's my favorite climate change joke: "They say we won't act until it's too late... Luckily it's too late!"

The key is to find the place where interesting technical problems intersect with the immediate practical needs of the business. Then take the tech to the boss and sell it. I'm working on such a project now.

If you can't find interesting problems like that, you need to open up, because they're everywhere, for coders anyway.

If the boss won't buy it, either fire him and get another, or come up with a more compelling pitch.

You can do mapreduce on Lambda and S3, https://github.com/bcongdon/corral

Read up on Brendan Gregg's work. Start benchmarking your systems. The difference between science and fucking around is measurement - paraphrase of Adam Savage.

I worked for different companies including top companies. There's no such things as "meaningful" work when it comes to a project within a company (the size doesn't matter). A project is project and has a budget, as a deadline, involves expensive resources, several layers of management (at least one layer) looking for status updates, etc.

My best advice for you is to look for creativity outside of your work environment. Or, to signup for a PhD. Creativity requires no boundaries and your work environment has tones of boundaries. Does it make sense? Don't waste your time... pick up a job that requires not too much energy, maximize your income if you can, then use your free time to build things that matter to YOU.

> interesting technical problems to solve and not consider outsourcing them to other vendors?

> a company which has a well established product (preferably something used by developers) and has some room for creativity

> composing AWS Services to fit customers needs

Have you considered AWS? Look, I won't go and defend Amazon's reputation because there's lots of people who don't like it here. But lots of us do, and you might. You understand AWS well as a customer of it- there's lots of AWS dev teams who could use someone with that experience, and they pay well enough. Lots of stocks, which seem to never stop rising in value.

Bias note: I work in a totally different division of Amazon.

amazon meaningful? it's like the opposite of what the dude is looking for here.

From my experience in speaking with talented technical people. The greater part of the satisfaction of a job comes from the peers you work with and the people you are around with rather than technical solutions.

Have you tried searching for the right company with the right values and culture that would allow similarly minded people to flourish?

I am not aware of a service that allows you to find companies with interesting technical problems as of yet so I can't recommend you one.

I do know of keyvalues.com is a service that lets engineers find companies with the qualities that matter to them.

I am old and bitter and twisted so perhaps my opinion is now irrelevant, but I take most companies' stated values with a pinch of salt. Every company claims it wants to be diverse, gentle on the environment and kind to employees and small furry animals. The reality of most tech companies is it's a grind pure and simple. While they may grant you a day to work with your favourite charity, the rest of the year is coping with inbox explosions, crisis management, overwhelm, 60 hour weeks, and unrealistic deadlines!

Told you I was a cynical whatnot! :D

Look for better/more efficient ways to do your current tasks. There's likely a lot of boilerplate you have to create, a lot of process to follow for every client. Does it have to be this way? Can it be automated or optimized? Maybe there is an opportunity to apply a new interesting framework or programming language you always wanted to learn. Maybe there is an opportunity to create a library that can be useful to you in other projects or to other people in your company.

Try to understand that [unless you are doing something immoral or illegal] high salary means you are helping society (because otherwise society will not pay your high salary otherwise).

Composing AWS Services to fit customers needs could be quite challenging and exciting job. In order to gamify this job you can keep track of various scores: your salary, number of produced configurations, number of installations, number of users served against your servers etc.

> Anyway, are there companies which have interesting technical problems to solve and not consider outsourcing them to other vendors? Maybe I should get a job in a company which ... has some room for creativity?

2 points:

1. I hate getting involved in tech projects where someone got 'creative'.

2. The "interesting" aspect is definitely in the eye of the beholder - what's interesting to you may not be interesting to anyone else in that company.

You always have an option of doing something of your own. For me I waited and switched different jobs for 10 years before realizing that perfect job could be a myth. I was most satisfied when I was building my own tech but then I am back in the race after working for myself for 2 years.

I’d be curious to learn more about you. Shoot me a mail, it’s in my profile.

Same here. DM me on Twitter or email my username at Gmail if you can't use Twitter

Answering the question while ignoring your wall of text.

For meaning, look into yourself.

For a software job, research roles and prepare for those roles.

For a meaningful job, prepare for a role and look into yourself

The sad truth is that the most meaningful job will be the one you design yourself. Did you consider quitting your job and doing something on your own?

would it be worthwhile to get a job at orgs like AWS?

fulfillment is a really 'problem' to solve not just in career but life in general.

Have you considered open source work. Check out pachyderm on github. They are looking for people. Working with an employer that a building core system softwares is what you may be looking for.

why not just dive into open source and contribute your work on a project you care for ?... just let the day job pay your bills.

Sounds like you should go work for AWS.

Join FAANG and you will get to work on projects that will impact millions of lives.

> Join FAANG and you will get to work on projects that will impact millions of lives.

Yes but that doesn't necessarily you will find your work will be meaningful.

I work at Google and of the coworkers I've discussed this with, their motivation is to retire or support their family. There's a joke inside Google that you get paid to just move protos.

I worked at AWS. There anyone I talked about this said they worked there because it was good for their resume.

I work on a very impactful project but don't really find it meaningful; my immediate work is just a small part of what makes the machine work. Nevertheless, my work funds my other pursuits which I find meaningful. This seems to be true of nearly everyone I've talked to no matter where they work.

> Yes but that doesn't necessarily you will find your work will be meaningful.


> I work at Google and of the coworkers I've discussed this with, their motivation is to retire or support their family.

My plan is to retire early pure and simple.

> Yes but that doesn't necessarily you will find your work will be meaningful.

I agree with this sentiment. I work at Microsoft, in a customer-facing position, and finding meaning is a daily struggle.

Ultimately, it depends on what you make of your days in the broader sense of things, not the actual work you perform.

Protos = protobuf messages?

Curious what that joke means

Yep exactly

Try ecommerce. Build online shops for businesses that would otherwise go out of business. Enable them to trade nationally and internationally. Put the customer first and put in place excellent procedures and systems for customer service. Solve real world problems such as excess inventory, waste and getting products to market first.

This isn't to put shop assistants out of a job, get the website right and people will 'Google first' before stepping in store.

Ecommerce has only just got going and I got into it after my niche skills in realtime 3D meant that I only had options in military or computer games. I threw out all that good stuff I knew and started over, ecommerce being my choice as I liked retail as a kid and did a fine job of selling bicycles as a Saturday job. I figured that the 30 mins+ spent advising a customer in store could be better spent advising many more customers online. Also, nations that trade don't tend to go to war with each other and being able to trade is what enabled us to survive the ice ages that finished off the Neanderthals.

You can be picky with who you build websites for, you don't have to be selling widgets for the fracking industry, you can help sell bicycles instead. It is that simple.

The problems in ecommerce are not difficult. However, solving simple problems in ecommerce can have real world benefits. Much to my embarrassment at the time I once helped build a website for a fabric shop - yep, bits of cloth for women who make dresses and what not. Not really my bag. However, they now have no problems with staying solvent, the shop is doing very well and the new ecommerce department has grown to take on many members of staff.

One thing we did for this fabric shop ('we' I mean 'me' in this instance) is that we made it so end of roll fabric, e.g. when there is only 0.5m left, automatically went into the special section of the store called remnants. There you had to buy the whole remnant albeit with a 10% off incentive. Not only did this simple bit of code result in actually shifting the left-over-cruft, it also meant that we had a 'sticky' page, so customers would check in regularly just to see what was in the remnant section. Once they added that 0.5m scrap to their basket they might also buy some other stuff - lining, all the other bits of trim etc. Consequently what was once a loss making aspect of their business became a winner.

I did have to fix a few things on the customer orders - VAT going wrong and such like, however, in so doing I was quite surprised at how international the reach was. I also noticed that the Nigerian fabrics that had been 'hoarded' over the years by the owner were top sellers. Before they had just piled up in a back room, nobody knowing they were there. But online the demand that was never imagined was realised.

Most customers were essentially 'makers' and before they were not 'making'. With our efforts we enabled lots of people in lots of small towns to do things they were not able to do before. We also sold at a premium, there was no ambition to put every competitor out of business, however the result was a range of fabrics that small town shops would not be able to stock in such depth.

If you look at other aspects such as CO2, the online shopping meant that customers did not have to drive to the big city and back again to get bits and pieces. They could get on with what they were doing and order online without the travel. Being vegetarian I do have opinions on silk, leather, fur and whatever chemicals are used to process cotton, but on the website we were able to help people who had similar concerns with 'you may also like' suggestions. A great amount of colour theory was needed to auto-populate those things and that was fun to do.

I was almost ashamed to admit I was working on some poxy fabric shop at the time but looking back on it now I am quite pleased by what was accomplished. I know real jobs exist thanks to our efforts and the business is definitely viable in these times when the big names on the High Street are having a hard time of it. none of the software engineering was 'SpaceX grade' but the clients were lovely to work with and what we did for them was 'SpaceX grade' for their industry.

I would be here for quite a while if I was to write up all of the other case studies, but I think you get the idea. Ecommerce might not sound meaningful in the way that working for a save-the-world NGO might be, however, 'trade not aid' is meaningful. Think of the Neanderthals and what makes us humans special.

Find someplace that challenges you. When you don’t feel challenged, move on. Rinse and repeat.

I like this question because everyone has their own answer. It all depends what you want out of life.

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