Now I focus 100% on helping people get jobs and build careers. Much of my coaching work involves convincing people that they are qualified for roles they felt were beyond their reach, or helping write a resume that will open doors that had previously been closed.
Sometimes my clients come back and send me a thank you note about how they have been offered their dream job or a raise that will change the lives of their family. Sometimes I just see a LinkedIn notification that shows a past client took a new job.
Being a resume writer is an odd career choice. It's not glamorous like writing novels or screenplays. But I can point to thousands of people that have benefitted from my work. That feels meaningful to me.
We build a machine that shaves of pennies from donations to orphanages and funnels them directly into hedge funds.
To do so we have to build a neural network! and in Tensorflow no less!
And here is the real kicker: I rewrote the interface in Haskell. If that isn't meaningful, I don't know what is!
1) Does the work have a positive impact on people in my community? (this could be a literal local community, or a shared interest community)
2) Do I feel energized by the work that is happening around me at my company? Not just what I am personally responsible for.
3) If I were to leave, would I still care if the product/mission of the company succeeded?
4) Am I making enough to support my family and provide myself with a healthy/active lifestyle?
5) Have I ever felt like I have directly contributed to, or worked for a company that has, deceived or taken advantage of its customers for the sake of profit?
Outside of these questions, I feel like trying to attribute any other type of meaning to my work would leave me anxious, depressed, and perpetually stuck in the "grass is greener" situation.
I am lucky enough that my current work checks all the boxes (1-4 as yes, 5 as no). With the bonus of having learn a ton and been given the opportunity for career growth multiple times over.
On the other hands, I often donate to wikipedia, supporting local FOSS communities and mentoring young students. Currently helping my friend with his air pollution measurement station project too. All that I won't be able to do if I take a lower paying job but more meaningful job (previously I was working as a civil engineer, building bridge and stuff).
May be you can find a different work which may pay a bit less but doesn’t create negative value for the society?
All other "meaningfulness" is just pure bonus. And no: I am not unhappy, nor unfulfilled.
Providing my family, doesn't have "any cost". It costs at least 50K€/year around here and, if my LinkedIn feed and the official stats concerning my domain of expertise are to be believed, I could slam the door any day and start at another tech company within a week.
But, assuming we are in a TV show, yes. I would gladly harm tens of thousands of unnamed, faceless nobodies and please tens of thousands of others if it helped me keep my loved ones out of the gutter. Especially if it meant playing with the cool tech at Palantir :-)
On a planetary scale? Universal Scale? Of course it doesn't matter, but what would be the point of caring about that except at length? We're not universal scale. I'm not a planet. I'm a human, and I care about other humans and the communities I'm part of.
There is a legacy app that I'm occasionally tasked to maintain or extend. It's still chugging along in production and it's actually touching real humans and providing a very useful and pragmatic service to the thousands of people that use it daily. That thing has kept me around but I'm starting to focus increasingly more on my own life and making my own meaning, now that this place that I used to love is showing signs of abuse.
So the work should be meaningful but somehow it doesn't feel that way to me. Between bad technical decisions, bureaucracy and a lot of schedule pressure I don't like my job. I think I would be happier working on a less meaningful product but in a more technically interesting and challenging environment.
There are other people who get a total kick out of helping people but somehow this doesn't work for me.
In my line of work quality is poorly understood. Code style, as in how to write code, is exceedingly important. Code style is basic literacy. This is a newb thing.
Actual quality is defined objectively outside the code. Does it execute quickly (performance)? Do blind people receive the same level of convenience and understanding from your product (accessibility)? Does the application fail frequently, leak data, or use a bunch of third party analytics (security)? Does the application have mountains of frameworks and dependencies (portability)?
Most places I have worked the developers are barely code literate and really don't give a shit about quality. They care about personal success (however they choose to define it) opposed to product success. That is extremely unfulfilling.
But I'm very grateful to work in a setting where I can solve exciting problems, get to collaborate and learn from really smart and passionate people, try (and fail) in designing software, and then sometimes find time for a hobby or two.
The 'safe 9-5 job' exists, and as programmers, we always want a fresh challenge, but in many cases it's in our hands to create the opportunities so it's not 'meaningless'.
Sometimes you get lucky like Apple, but the hard work was done by inventor guys like Kendall or a selection of electrical engineers in 80s.
In short, if it's not academia, it's probably 10 years outdated already if not more... or just a minor tweak. (Like high end 10Gbit routing, hardly life changing. Or yet another ANN architecture.)
Companies do not want a gamble and deal with science, they want instant gratification. (Except the few super rich like Google and Microsoft having small but great real research teams.)
Yes, it is a high bar, but a big difference between feel-good and actually useful and life changing technologies.
You could write a simple program, with 10 year old technology, that changes an entire industry. Imagine if no one applied encryption to eCommerce. Or imagine if no one wrote a messaging application that works over telecommunication protocols.
Famously, the effects of penicillium mould had been known since the 19th century, the mould itself finally identified in 1928. But it wasn't until it was implemented by a team working on the practicalities of mass production that it began helping people, all the way ahead in 1940. Without the research paper we would have nothing, and without the implementors we would have something, but nothing useful.
Your point about encryption is misplaced. Do not imagine impossible stupidity - even ancient Romans sometimes encrypted tax and military information. The difference is between brewing your own (common in 90s, crackable even then in a day of math or so) and using actual research.
As for collaboration, it is overrated. Best work generally is done by a few actual geniuses in the specialty. (I can name a bunch in a few fields I'm interested in, like acoustics and audio algorithms.) They do need support staff of course.
Usually the real ones are tenured professors with long development of a singular technology over the years.
As for penicillin, it was one quite genius chemist (Pfizer; Erhardt was a comfectioneer so support) who developed means of mass producing it. (Among many other things later.) They worked for a company which got major government funding during wartime, which makes it almost like a tenure.
Basically I write C++ that must provide mathematically correct end results, must not crash and must be fairly efficient.
It's a boring 9-5 job and there is nothing sexy about the field but I would find it very hard to call my work meaningless when I see the things the users of my employers application do.
As our requirements change I get to implement and learn new things.
As long as the end product provides concrete value, and/or there are new things for me to learn there is a definite meaning to what I do.
For whatever it is worth, position I have now is a lot of what I was looking for professionally and I can be 9-5. Thankfully, they want output and not butt in seat. It is not saving world and have no such illusions. But my work is occasionally useful to real people I know personally and I work in team of people I trust.
I don't understand that. That seems largely to be a generalization - I've work for non publicly traded companies, and we live and die and profit based upon the interests of our customers. Also, as we're publicly traded we don't have that impetus for profit - there's been discussions about starting up a pseudo-skunkworks to try and solve problems that may be dead ends without the pressure of needing to produce.
I know employed people who in past refused this or that job due to ethical considerations and who I am pretty sure that would not cheat. Cause they refused to cheat in the past.
So my knee-jerk answer would be, "no." However the salary + bonus + benefits from this job are providing me resources that will enable my family to be nearly debt-free in a year or two (mortgage notwithstanding). The pay is above tech start-up grade, even well-funded ones.
Sell-side finance (e.g. investment bank) is broadly declining in my view. Companies are cutting many positions, technology is enabling downsizing while making certain areas more efficient, and there's fee compression across the board causing many public market facing roles to see substantial revenue declines.
The trade that existed in the 2000's of trading substantial hours of your life for $$$ has broadly disappeared. Instead positions tend to offer compensation that's similar to many tech roles, but requiring substantially more hours.
And isn't the work very interesting? (at least for the first 8 hours)
I used to think my work was important. It is not. Ultimately it just pays the bills. I like my work, clearly, but I don't idealize it. Perhaps if it was not ultimately put to capturing and controlling society like a stupid herd, I'd feel different. I love entertainment, and our current entertainment industries are producing stunning human achievements. Switching to the security industry after 30 years in entertainment technologies has been enlightening, but continued a vein I was aware in entertainment.
I've spent my career in the United States, grown up here, and from my experience in all these "great jobs", the "metoo" movement is barely tapping the employee abuses and interpersonal abuses everyday people exhibit constantly. The anti-intellectualism of the US is a serious problem, perhaps the root cause of our worse problems.
If people really want meaningful lives, respect of everyone around you, up and down your social/power hierarchy is the path. Then it will not matter if you are the janitor, because within a respectful collection, everyone's needs are recognized and then this shitty disrespectful place that is the current United States will not be so crappy.
I joined a small startup because they had a product I really wanted to use. Now the product is used by many people.
But, even though it's meaningful, and I love my job, I still look forward to figuring out how to move on to something else. I've come to accept that, unless I'm financially independent, there's always going to be ups and downs with my job. That's just the reality of life.
I've also come to see people who are financially independent stick with a "stressful" job because they emotionally need the stress and ups and downs. They would get board if they quit, and get directionless if they tried to run their own thing.
It’s an amazing feeling and I reflect daily that I’m blessed for having a career that I excel at, pays well, and whole heartedly enjoy.
But gratz anyway
We provide tools for educators to get more actionable data about their students and then facilitate conversations between educators and parents, and it's a pretty great combination. If even a few students end up with a better life because of a teacher being able to reach out more easily, then I'd say that's meaningful.
If that sounds neat, check out https://schoolstatus.com
I'm not going to be a hypocrite and try to find deeper meaning in a job which basically means I'm making money for the business so that the shareholders can get their cut.
That is meaningful, but it's not a furtherance of the causes I really care about, but it is slowly putting me in a position to improve my own life and get into a position where I can try to work meaningful(as opposed to token) and lasting change in those causes that I do care about.
For me, it's mostly a nice opportunity to learn about the structure of this company, about how to model and represent this data, and I'm doing it in a new framework. It's fun, and I've got tons of freedom. There are more fulfilling jobs out there, but this isn't bad.
Sometimes working in Healthcare is annoying (Changes are slow and there are legal restrictions everywhere, e.g. any time you mention the word "cloud" the C-level folks yell "but HIPAA!" and refuse to listen), but it's still good to know we're doing meaningful work.
I worked for a former healthcare project manager in a completely unrelated industry and I would say 80% of her time was spend worrying about our industry's version of HIPAA. She viewed all new tech projects and software releases through the lens of "How does this violate our industry security standard?". The results were stagnated project releases and high developer turnover.
I don't think that HIPAA or these other regulations are a bad thing, just that maybe the way that some (older, entrenched) management approaches how projects work with those regulations is poor.
Same here. Instead of working through the issues management just panics and comes up with some weird approach that delivers less at higher cost and effort.
I agree that it is rewarding, and it doesn't feel that slow where I work. We cover more than half the hospitals in our country, and a couple of university-hospitals. There's plenty of change they want - and (surely the university ones) - have plenty of ideas of what they'd like to see.
For us "but HIPAA!" is "but GDPR!" for quite some time though. But we're hardly unique in that.
It's definitely a nice industry if you want to have a meaningful job. But it does come with some stress as well though.
EDIT: Fix my English :D
Since I started working for myself, I find it meaningful if only because I get to actually BUILD stuff.
But after all of the advertising I've done, I'd like for my next full-time job to be a net positive for society.
That's not me trying to be snide or anything, I'm in your exact position right now and whilst I can see a circumstance in which I end up in a full time job again, the goal is to make this the way I engage with the world and make money going forward.
I'm also not against joining a team that's building something really cool.
At least I'm not actively harming anybody and today in IT this is a huge privilege.
Whether the result of my work is meaningful for me or someone else, is a different story. But on the smaller and bigger picture of the whole universe, everything we do is meaningless at some point, so who cares.
Is it meaningful? Nope.
Does it help put food on the table? Yup.
I make rent and have something left over to invest. Can you ask for much more?
It is easy to deceive oneself that an app or a tracker equals health... better than pen and paper and minor instruction manual.
Now if you're actually working on safety critical health devices (say, insulin pump or oxygen meter or maybe a CPAP or perhaps heart monitor), then I hope you're working on cutting the price tag as they're super expensive for not really any good reason...
We were trying to figure out a reliable way to track sugar levels relatively nonincasively but found out that it was less accurate than a chart and simple alarm...
Sometimes being actually rational sucks, you see that your junk does not work or that you have to be smarter than super well funded geniuses at MIT or Stanford to matter. And have comparable fabrication and chemical analysis facilities and biolabs to even attempt anything.
Research is expensive. As in really expensive now in terms of hardware. As in some big universities not in USA being too poor to afford hardware.
That's not even counting lab space to actually house it.
Well, the program I work for is fully recognized by the CDC.
This thread is about finding your work meaningful, which I do. I'm not sure why you're being so condescending and hostile.
On a day-by-day basis it's easy to feel disconnected from the end result of what I do, since it is several layers of abstraction away from the end customers, but sometimes the customers will tell stories about their experiences and how it saved their bacon after a fire burned down their datacenter, or let them secure a critical service that was being attacked, or discover a vulnerability in their system before it was exploited, and I remind myself that I'm getting just a small fraction of the stories that could be told. I don't go cruising through the customer database, but in my normal work activities, I encounter schools, non-profits, governments, charities, normal businesses, all sorts of people who individually may be getting just a bit of benefit from my work, but on the whole, it adds up to a lot. I also find this a good motivation to sometimes put in just that extra bit of polish on my work even without being asked or having an explicit bug tasked, which is typically technical rather than visual-design oriented so you may not see it or feel it, but you might feel the absence of it.
You may want to take a certain mercenary capitalistic "value-added" view to the whole thing, because it's often justified. Working for a grocery store chain IT may feel unexciting compared to the wild exploits you read about on HN, but you are helping people buy food efficiently and ultimately more cheaply than they could if all the grocery stores had no IT. This helps everybody, and particularly helps those on the margins, i.e., the poor. Scheduling software for the professional trades brings efficiency and services to people on the margin who otherwise couldn't afford them. Factory-specific software brings wealth to society as a whole as it increases the capabilities of factories and such to bring wealth.
And let's be honest, a lot of those wild startup stories either don't really pan out and end up just being a waste of money, or end up a net-destructive enterprise as they monetize via piling one more brick up in our self-created surveillance state for the purpose of squeezing a few more pennies out of a "customer".
In fact, there's a great case to be made that the "boring" jobs at least tend to average being a net good for society. The "exciting" jobs have a much larger range of impact, but there's a lot more of the net-negative work in there, too.