Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Ask HN: I’m not cut out to be a programmer. What are my alternatives?
68 points by throwaway_acct on Dec 27, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 66 comments
I’m not a programmer. As in, I’m pretty certain this is the wrong career for me.

I’m in my early twenties. I'm a coder at a great software company. The company is successful, growing, and treats its staff well. They pay well. I have stock options. No pointy-haired bosses. Thing is, I don’t like it. I’m bored.

At school I was always good at math and science. And I loved computers; I loved building them from components, customising Linuxs, but never really programmed in my spare time. I got into a good school for college, found the programming course options pretty easy, and majored in Computer Science. So the default choice was a programmer, right? Well, one year out of College, I’ve realised; it's not what I want to do.

"If today was the last day of your life, would you want to do what you're about to do today?" -- Steve Jobs

I can’t help but think - is this it? I get up, and go to the same old desk, and write some stupid code. Whatever.

I love technology. But coding just doesn’t exite me. I could never get worked up about the subtle nuances of programming languages. I’m definitely not the sort to learn Haskell or Erlang in my spare time. Hell, or even code at all in my spare time. I just enjoy playing with the latest Apple product, watching TV, and reading Hacker News. What kind of life is that?

Should I quit? I make way more money than any of my non-coder friends, and that would be really hard to give up. I know there must be something more fulfilling out there. I have other, less geeky, hobbies and interests outside of tech, that I’ve let fall by the wayside. Perhaps I could combine the two into some sort of startup? I've also better social skills than the average coder (not bragging, just true, many coders can be quite socially inept), and I wouldn’t want this talent go to waste . Starting a company seems like the obvious answer, except, I’m scared, and I don’t have any good ideas.

So, HN, any suggestions?

About a decade ago, I had a QA job that I hated and that made me hate my life. Like you, I also didn't have any good ideas about what I could do instead. In fact, I felt kind of trapped, because I wasn't sure I was capable of doing anything else. It was a black-box QA job, and I'm not the sort of person who writes code in my free time, so the skills I'd acquired in college atrophied and I didn't feel like I had anything to offer employers anymore. I was depressed and scared about my future.

Around that time, my manager's manager bought a copy of a book called _Now, Discover Your Strengths_ for everyone on his team. That book changed my life forever. The current edition is called "StrengthsFinder 2.0": http://www.strengthsfinder.com/home.aspx

What taking the StrengthsFinder inventory did for me:

- It helped me understand my personal talents better than I had ever understood them before, and it encouraged me to develop them into strengths. Prior to reading the book, I had focused on being "well-rounded". This was very eye-opening for me and it completely changed my attitude about my career.

- It encouraged me to find ways to play to my strengths in the job I hated, with the goal of finding a way to enjoy it more.

- When that didn't pan out, it gave me the courage to start looking for roles that might suit me better.

To make a long story short, since then I obtained a graduate degree that would help me develop the talents the StrengthsFinder identified, and I've had two quite different roles that both played very well to my strengths, to the point where I would call them dream jobs. It's difficult to describe just how much happier I am now than I was ten years ago.

In short, if you are looking for ideas, consider the StrengthsFinder. It seriously pulled me out of a rut, and I've seen it do the same for others as well.

As for the question about whether you should quit... consider sticking with it until you figure out what else you want to do. I didn't stay in the QA job I hated, but I did stick with QA while I was working on my Masters because it paid the bills.

+1 on Strength's Finder. It is an amazing concept for finding out the words to describe what you already know: those things you love doing where you start something, then look up an 6 hours have passed by. My company has everyone do it and even sponsors a couples course to bring in the significant other of employees to take it. Does wonders for marriages too. good luck!

+1 to your +1. Strengths Finder was eye-opening for me. It clearly identified some areas to explore that well suit my intellectual curiosity, in a way I haven't thought of before. Mind you, I haven't done anything with this knowledge, but at least I know what I'm not doing now!

+1^3. I worked for Gallup for several years. There were regular discussions about your strengths and how you could be approaching tasks/coworkers using your strengths and theirs. These conversations were insightful and spot on, made working there a pleasure.

Before giving you specific advice, there are a few general principles:

1. Happiness at work frequently has more to do with your circumstances at work than with what you do at work. The three major factors are Freedom, Mastery, and Purpose.

2. Unhappiness at work can usually be traced to missing one or more of those factors. You want to identify which ones you're missing, and come up with a plan to gain them without sacrificing the others. One major mistake people make is to make a career change that, e.g., gives them more Freedom but takes away the learning opportunities needed for Mastery.

3. Generally speaking, Freedom and Mastery are functions of how long you've been at a job. You get better at your work and gain more autonomy the longer you stay in a specific field. Purpose is usually a function of company culture. So if you feel like your company is doing great things and you're learning fast but the job is too restrictive, the best option is usually to stick it out and "pay your dues" until you have more autonomy. If you feel like you have plenty of autonomy and are good at what you do but your company is evil, then it's time to join something else.

So of those three factors, what does your current job give you, and what does it fail to provide?

For more on this topic, see self-determination theory: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-determination_theory

I found the Flow book a much better "happiness model" than what you describe. It is less strict and concise, but gives the reader a lot of room for his own thoughts. Such simplifications make thing worse, (n-rules guides toward improvement,etc.) he really should discover his own way.

Flow is great, but it's a very different concept from happiness at work. Flow refers to one specific mental state, and different people want different amounts of flow in their lives. But it's completely possible to be passionate about what you do and love your life without ever experiencing flow.

I agree that oversimplifying can make things worse. There are really dangerous simplifications out there, such as "just follow your passion!" or "do what you love and the money will follow." But Self-Determination Theory[1] is a well-developed field backed by research and experimentation-not something pulled out of thin air like most happiness advice.

[1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-determination_theory

I don't think Satvik realizes that he's actually talking about self-determination theory.


Autonomy, Competence, Relatedness.

You're right, I was talking about Self Determination Theory. I just wanted to spend my post directly addressing the OP's concerns as much as possible, rather than write several extra paragraphs explaining the theory. "Freedom, Mastery, and Purpose" are also common terms used to explain SDT outside the Psychology community, even though they're not exactly the same as Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness.

> Happiness at work frequently has more to do with your circumstances at work than with what you do at work.

It's not just work, but the rest of your life. This is something glossed over by a lot of people, particularly in the HN demographic. But I'd look at engagement with family, non-technical hobbies and interests, health and fitness, relationships, community, travel and vacation, and the like.

Work does matter, but it's only a part of the puzzle. The advantage of additional anchors outside the office is that these are often areas in which you have more control. You can be self-directed and cannot be fired in your hobbies, interests, and health (though relationships can and do end unpleasantly at times).

My suggestion is to provide more bases for your self-worth and engagement.

Aren't you guys kind of ignoring his question? He didn't say that he's unhappy with his life and wants to quit his job, he said he doesn't want to be a programmer anymore and needs help figuring out what to do next. People spend a majority of their waking life at work, they should be doing something they enjoy.

I went through something similar a few years ago. I didn't get a computer science degree but fell into programming on my own because I picked it up easily, but I didn't want to spend the rest of my life being a programmer and I saw that I didn't identify with other programmers that loved their jobs. I've always done some design with programming, worked around a lot of designers, and eventually switched to becoming an interaction designer (which allows me to be analytical with my work but spend a limited amount of time in code).

If there's a way for you to try something else at your current job, don't be afraid to talk to your boss and your peers about it. I thought I would get a lot of flack for not wanting to do the job I was hired for, but everyone in my company was extremely supportive. If you're a good employee, you can be as good doing something else and people want to be supportive of that (and keep you, no matter what you do).

an interesting 8 min video of Daniel Pink talking about SDT


You aren't bored from coding. You're bored from what you are (or aren't) making with code. You're not seeing accomplishments from the time you're investing, so your brain is moving on. I'm the same way.

You need to find a project that lights your fire. Code is just a tool, and it alone will not keep you going. I don't know anyone who likes to code for the sake of writing code. Find something that you can use your tools on that are exciting to you. Find purpose.

"I don't know anyone who likes to code for the sake of writing code."

I have a different perspective to offer. I found that for a fair few years in my teens, I loved writing code for the sake of writing code. Any project would do, and it didn't even matter if I finished it, I just loved writing the code.

I don't think the fact that I failed to finish most projects impeded my learning much. I learnt an unbelievable amount, and didn't even realise it because I was having so much fun.

This is true. Coding isn't necessarily the fun part (though you certainly should not dislike it) - it's what you create with your code that I find to be motivating. Hopefully solving some relatively complex problems along the way. And then seeing people use the final product? Now that is a pretty cool feeling.

Well said, I feel completely the same way. At the start, I just wanted to build things. Then I wanted to be good at coding for the sake of being good... and I got bored fast. Now I just want to build things again :) this took the best part of four years to figure out, though.

I'd suggest you consider product management. At the right company, product management is a good overlap in the venn diagram of "thinking up cool stuff", "tradeoffs & problem solving" -- ideally with exactly the kind of technical insight it sounds like you have -- and "making shit happen".

Given your lack of inspiration, I'd strongly suggest not starting a company just yet. Wait until it's a calling.

If you pick a company who makes products that interest you, that seems like a win. Ideally one where you can get some mentorship in product management as well.

Stick with coding. Reasons being:

- Most jobs are boring, especially after the first couple of years.

- Don't underestimate the importance of good pay.

- It doesn't sound like you have anything better in mind to do instead.

Like OP, I like being around technology, and I'm pretty socially ept, and here, I make a case for my chosen calling -- technical recruiting. Unlike many others in recruiting, I didn't fall into it because I didn't have other options. It was a conscious choice. I left engineering to do this, and I haven't looked back.

I spent almost 5 years working as a software engineer. I knew, when I started, that this wasn't really going to be a lifelong thing. I'm pretty good at programming, but I don't love it. I even do it in my spare time sometimes, but only stuff where there's an immediate positive feedback -- I hate struggling with problems or figuring out the most efficient approach. When I went to bed at night, I'd berate myself for not hacking on the weekends or becoming an expert in my field. I'd read Hacker News and feel guilty for not being one of those people who builds crazy data visualizations in their spare time. I'd worry that one day the jig would be up, and everyone at work would figure out that I just wasn't one of them.

Over time, I organically fell into a role where I was filtering resumes, interviewing people, and so on. I was enjoying it, but I didn't really let myself think about that too much -- the idea that this could be a job didn't really jive with my sense of self, so I ignored the signals. One day, my lead told me that if he were to start a company, he'd want me to do this for him. I laughed in his face.

But the idea wouldn't go away. It kept resurfacing and then retreating under the weight of cognitive dissonance. If I weren't an engineer, how would I introduce myself at parties? I didn't want to be one of many HR girls because then I wouldn't be special anymore -- we all know that girl engineers enjoy a certain status, and I didn't want to let that go.

And then I saw this Einstein quote somewhere in my Facebook news feed: "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." And it stuck and the pesky fucker wouldn't go away. And then I realized that, shit, I could plod along and be a decent engineer for my whole life and always feel guilty and avoid reading Hacker News. Or I could be what I actually was, fill a niche that not many people other than me could fill, and actually be happy and self-actualized, not in the hippy dippy bullshit sense but in the way where your actions are consistent with your insides.

So I gave it a shot. I got to meet a lot of smart people and have good conversations with them, I got to make snap judgements about people, I got to have to quickly learn about new topics so I could discuss them at some depth (wtf is this on this guy's github? I guess I'll have to learn a bit about it before we talk), I would be pretty unique in that there aren't many recruiters with a strong technical background, and I could run my own business eventually (for now I'm running tech recruiting at a startup, though I'll be going off on my own at the start of 2013).

And, you know what? For the first time in my life, I'm happy professionally. So there's that.

Take some of your developer pay, pack y'er bags, and start looking for your place in society.

In my experience working 9 a 5 job makes you numb, in one way or the other. Comfort-zone's a bitch.

Start living frugal, read less HN (start writing), try making things with physical components, and work out. Endorphins do unexpected things to your mind.

If your not happy now, make small adjustments till you find yourself happy with the new situation. And then; disrupt.

There is no answer to happiness. Find the philosophy that works for you; live it.

Try product management. If you can understand both people AND tech aspects of making software products, you'll be golden there.

+1 on this one. The best product managers I've ever met were former engineers who were good developers, but wanted something broader. That background (and a true love of technology) will make you a stellar product manager. But, be sure you really love the technology industry and are ready to give up day-to-day coding.

Product management, when done right, complements development and is a great career path for well-rounded individuals.

-1 On becoming a PM. There's thousands of people who faked their way into developer jobs. Then they saw it's a lot easier to not have to deliver anything and decided they were going to be people persons.

Not being a developer is prime evidence that a person is NOT a good developer. Everybody who tries to make this play claims they're a good developer that moved on but kept their skills. 90% of the time they didn't have the skill to begin with. There are people in PM roles claiming to be developers that, at least on paper, wrote code for literally six months.

That's true; there are lots of different paths people can take into PM, and you'll find all types.

Like engineers, there is such a thing as a 10x product manager. I hope everyone at some point gets to work with an outstanding product manager.

Maybe the original poster will make an outstanding product manager. It's certainly worth exploring.

How would anyone be a 10x PM? Do they 'leader' real hard or go to 10x the number of meetings? I was just reading something about what makes a good PM, and one of the items was similar to 'shows leadership in funding projects.' Virtually every measure of a PM is just business doublespeak about leadership or something that the PM does not actually do like 'shows technical leadership in shipping software.'

Your background in coding and understanding of technology is a boon to you in many different areas of the technology field.

You say you enjoy 'playing with the latest Apple product, watching TV and reading HackerNews'. Unfortunately, I don't think you're going to find a job where those are the qualifications. However, dig deeper and you might find something.

Unfortunately, you haven't really told us enough to help you find where you fit, but look at the different jobs within your company, and maybe ask if you can shadow a few people for a day or so. Spend some time in Marketing, Finance, etc. etc. The non-programming roles that require an understanding or programming are often in Product/Project Management.

When I was 20, I was fortunate enough to work for a large company and they would ask me to join different teams about twice a year. So within a few years I had experience in Retail (in-store, warehousing and purchasing), finance, customer service, sales, marketing, PR, event management, product development (non-tech), and finally IT.

I don't think enough people spend time learning about the other careers within the company they work for, and miss out on finding something more suitable for them.

> Spend some time in Marketing, Finance, etc. etc. The non-programming roles that require an understanding or programming are often in Product/Project Management.

If you want to stay in a technology related field, just not programming, I think this is the right thing to do. Talk to your boss and explain your stance. As a company, they are probably more willing to keep employees because you already understand the products, processes, and the people you work with, and you would offer a good point of view in a new department.

Some options could be developing or giving training, high level support, sys admin, db admin, product management, project management, marketing, sales, etc.

If you don't want to stay with the same company, it might be difficult to convince another company of a career change without experience in it.

+1 to Pete's answer.

Since you are technical & have social skills, you might want to focus on trying out "hybrid" roles (e.g. growth hacker).

Being a programmer doesn't mean you have to be excited by programming languages in and of themselves; and not wanting to learning Haskell doesn't make you a 'mediocre programmer', it just means you have different fascinations than those that enjoy that sort of thing.

A parallel - I'm a 'designer', but I hate the idea of shipping PSDs for someone else to code. I love diving into the programming rabbit hole, but again I have no interest in being the best Rails & JS guy in the world, I just like to realise the interactions I design as code rather than flat files.

There's wealth of things to do with code inside startups that don't involve Erlang, as there are a wealth of things to do with design skills that don't involve Photoshop.

(that's not to say you shouldn't just move to a beach in Thailand or work on a farm or something, but if you enjoy technology you should explore other options that are only a slight pivot rather than a total life change)

Starting -- actually, building and running -- a company isn't for everyone. It's hard; at times, soul-crushing, ego-killing, depressingly, hopelessly hard. Sometimes it's also wonderful and glorious and fantastic. But, starting and running a company is probably best left to those who are absolutely determined to do so, IMO.

Do you have any idea of what general fields you're interested in? There are still a ton of fields that can benefit from people with strong technical skills that can also get along with other people.

You can't base an emotional decision on rational arguments. If you're going to be rational about it, you're never going to leave your golden handcuffs.

Unlike you, I love coding. I've learned Erlang, Lisp, Dylan in my spare time just because I really enjoy programming. I try to learn a new language every 6 months. But it wasn't always like that.

A few years ago I was a senior network engineer at a leading networking equipment vendor, made more money than all of my close friends together and had no pointy-haired boss. But, like you, I was bored most of the time. I didn't particularly hate my job, I just knew that I wanted to get excited about something. So I quit to work on a startup with friends.

I didn't start coding right away. Despite having majored in CS, I couldn't write a line of code to save my life. Hell, I couldn't even write HTML. Besides, I hated programming at the time. But I wanted to be part of the creation process, so I needed to learn the tools. I learned HTML, then CSS, Wordpress, Ruby, Python. Somewhere between HTML and Python, I realized that I actually enjoyed coding; it grew on me.

Fast forward 5 years, I still don't make half of what I used to make as a network engineer. But I'm way happier.

I guess what I'm trying to say is: don't be afraid of exploring. You don't have to be 100% certain of what your passion is in order to take the plunge and a startup is a great place to explore, since you get to wear so many hats.

BTW, it's not too late; I was 27 when I quit.

any tips for someone struggling with trying to learn Python? Im struggling motivation wise, dont have much direction. I hear its good to learn through a project or something you want to build, but I dont know enough about the language to really have a good idea of a project or goal I can aspire to

One of the best decisions I made (programming-wise) was to find a local Dojo. Really, just look for a Python user or interest group. You'll get lots of ideas and a motivation injection every week.

Also, you should start a project that's slightly above your current level. Anything will do, even if it's a clone of something that already exists. It doesn't matter if you're building it by googling and copy & pasting everything. At your level, what matters it to actually ship something.

Finally, read other people's code. Github is your friend; find an interesting library, go back to the very first commit and start reading the code base as it used to be. If you find a function/routine that you don't understand, just type it line-by-line in your repl (bpython or ipython in this case) and inspect the outcome of variables/function calls (use python docs/stackoverflow as reference). You don't need to read an entire library, it could be just a small piece of functionality. You'll grow by leaps and bounds just by doing this.

Good luck and if you need any help, shoot me an email, I'd be glad to help.

You might want to try support at your company for a period of time. It sounds like your company may be agreeable to it, and it's easier than you might think.

After communicating with users for a length of time, you might find that you're passionate about it. You may also respark your love of building things, now that you've interacted with users. You could also find that you hate support and user interaction -- figuring out what you _don't like_ is just as important.

Very interesting post. I'm on the business side of the coin and I am struggling with the same issue. I'm in my early twenties. I graduated from Umich in april. As an undergrad everyone around me worked at top corporate firms so i followed suit and interned for a prestegious bank during a couple summers.

I learned very quickly that I hated doing the same thing for someone else every day. I always felt that anyone could be doing what I was doing.

On the other hand I worked on a startup at school and i loved it. I felt like I had a purpose creating something new that nobody else had seen or worked on before.

Unfortuanetly that startup didn't work out because the team wasnt right. But I'm not giving up on my dream to create. I wont be working at a coppration anytime soon. Ive been working on my own startup since graduating and It's been working out quite nice. I just raised a seed round from a great development/incubator firm based out of nyc.

I'm looking for a cto to manage our development team if you are interested. Email me at davidmspi@gmail.com. You'll never have to code for us!

Be glad you have a secure job currently.

Keep your day job . . . you just need a side project to get excited about that you can turn into a business.

First watch this . . . David Heinemeier Hansson at Startup School 08 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CDXJ6bMkMY

Then listen to StartupsForTheRestOfUs.com they have good advice for starting your own business. Start a google doc to take notes/ideas/create a plan.

For starting your own business start saving money so you have runway when you decide to make the leap to your own business.

Before you get started review your contract and see if there are any issues with you starting your own side project/company while employed. It shouldn't be an issue but it's a good idea to check that you don't have a clause in your contract that says any IP you create belongs to your company. Never work on your project at work on company time or on a company computer.

Have a long term plan to create a SaaS app or product with a subscription component that solves a pain point for businesses with software.

Good luck in 2013.

My thoughts:

Instead of "What do I want to do", try "What do I want to do that people are willing to pay me an amount I'd be satisfied with?"

If you're in your early 20's, you don't have a lot of experience to judge from. Pointy-haired bosses come in all shapes and sizes.

"I just enjoy playing with the latest Apple product, watching TV, and reading Hacker News." Lot's of people enjoy that. No one's going to pay you to do it. It's called work for a reason. People pay for something they want, not something you want.

Starting a company isn't the no-brainer you seem to think it is. You have to convince people to buy something at some point.

8. Ask yourself frequently, "Am I having fun?"

    The answer needn't always be yes. But if it's always no, it's time for a new project or a new career.
From "Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully - in Ten Minutes" by Stephen King

If you can ... try and go do something else for a while. Explore a little bit, until you find something you actually like.

Its very frickin scary, but its absolutely worth it. I did the same thing when I was much younger, but its the single best decision I've ever made in my life.

You might be more of a devops guy or sales engineer than coder. Happens all the time. From the sounds of it, all you need is a little bit of time doing something you really like and things will fall into place.

Just be smart about it. Save some money before you make the leap. When I did it, I had $30 to my name, I was just lucky to have just paid rent so that gave me a month to figure out my next move ... but that was one of the most nerve wracking months of my entire life as an adult.

Stick with it. After your first year, if you're any good (and you should be if University level stuff was easy and you did well) some interesting work should start to come your way.

I'd go with some consulting. I personally found that working with developers all day doesn't do it for me (I did it for 3 1/2 years).

Of the people that I really enjoyed working with the most, a common theme emerged. They all had a background in customer facing consulting type roles. So I gave it a try... real customers with real problems that my programming/software design/architecture skills can solve, that's working for me right now. Sure, I still work with developers daily, and at some points in the project, I work as a developer. Mostly though I all sorts!

I didn't like coding until I started dabbling with Ruby.

In university I did a fair bit of C and Java. With these two it was always very laborious to try to have fun while coding. I focused more on networking and security until I had a lecture on Smalltalk and fiddled together some scripts with Ruby at the same time.

Haven't looked back since. Working with Ruby just feels way less clunky to me when comparing with with e.g. Java. I get things done way faster, it all seems more consistent and I don't feel like I have to constantly jump though hoops. This makes me actually enjoy coding.

Maybe it's just the tooling that you didn't like so far? Enterprise software can suck the fun straight out of coding :)

I've had that thought about going to the same old desk writing stupid code... typically just making rich companies richer and not making the world a better place in any way. Totally unfulfilling. BUT.... there's a difference between not liking that and not liking coding.

If you were to work on a coding project that was filled with interesting problems, and fulfilled some core value of yours (maybe making the world better in a way you care about) would you still say you don't care about coding? If so, then yeah, look for something else... If not, then the answer is simple. Find a new job that's inline with your needs or start your own company.

You've struck a chord there.... I graduated from a college and got a high paying job in a big enterprise, the pay was good so, I stuck to it, I am a mediocre developer, I faked my way and moved up into the organization, now I am Group Lead and pretty good at it, I love working with people. However, I'ev recently developed an itch and really want to code. Now with 10 years of "experience" behind me, I am not getting the roles of developer, as in India, there is very high importance attached to the number of years of experience. I want to make a move and start all over again, but again the pay is too good to quit.

If money wasn't a consideration, what would you spend your life doing?

This question assumes that people have some sort of innate passion or obscure talent that they wish to pursue, which is not always the case. For instance, I have no objectives in life other than to maximize income and leisure, and to pursue ends that necessitate said money. If I did not need money, I would sit home all day drinking coffee and reading voraciously. I think many other people have similar desires. Not everyone is happy pursuing some arcane dream for little-to-no money.

Your self-description resonated with me: good at physics and math, never really programmed much outside of school, saw some coolness in it, sort of enjoy doing it, a little, from time to time, but not enough to really do it as a career.

Nearing 50, I've been a consultant (information security, mostly government space), a development manager, a system architect, and a developer.

I love, LOVE, solving customer problems. I'm really, REALLY good at it. But I don't like to code. Not for more than a few minutes at a time.

I would NEVER hire me as a developer: I'm just not good enough, not productive enough. I write relatively error free, bullet proof code, but I am very, very slow. So the value isn't there, even if the code can be left alone for a long time. There are markets for that, but not in the languages at which I excel, and I have zero interest in learning others. Less than zero.

I would, however, hire me any day of the week as a system architect, especially one who had to work with non-technical people and translate vague requirements into something that could work.

I would also hire me, any day of the week, as a software development manager, senior manager, or VP (sorry, don't want the job, consulting is too sweet a gig): I am very, very good at estimating (design, development, test, documentation), organizing all of that, and managing it, and managing the people who manage it. I've been a pretty good shit-shield for my staff, keeping away all organizational disruptions.

I excel with mixed bag teams where I get to set architectural direction with the assistance of a few really bright people, and set organizational priorities for that team, and for the broader team: What we develop is what you sell, what you need to sell is what we will develop.

Perhaps your path lies therein, somewheresomehow. If you have technical skill and people skill and vision and strong sense of what could go wrong and how to mitigate it, there will be places for you.

(I hate sales. I like the product management aspect of marketing, and some of the branding aspects, but despise a lot of the rest. Operations? Bleagh. Of course, I do all of that as a one-man-shop, but as a necessity to enable what pays the bills. YMMV, of course. If you want to lead a shop, learn those, you'll need to understand them.)

Good, honest question. A couple of years ago I was in a similar situation. Always liked math/science, fell into programming but didn't like it enough to spend free time on it, not super happy at work, more social than most programmers, etc.

Here are a few things that happened after that first year that helped me become much happier with my job as a developer.

1. Experience/Seniority After a year of being low man on the developer totem pole, I finally started to gain some expertise and real value at my company. I had some degree of seniority over a couple new hires who would come to me with questions and for help. For whatever reason, this made me feel far more invested at work and made it a lot more enjoyable than being an apprentice. It's just a lot less fun to be the new guy. I might also mention here that it can take a long while to acclimate to the 'real world' outside of college. It might be the case that you won't enjoy working in any field as much as you enjoyed college (especially if you're social). Something to consider at least - it at least might be worth giving yourself some more time to see what level of granularity your dissatisfaction is: specific job, programming, or just "Job" period.

2. Expertise It's enjoyable to be good at something. Going hand-in-hand with #1, I found myself enjoying my work a hell of a lot more once I was no longer stumbling around in the dark, but had started developing strong skills. A while back I started blogging and working on side projects, which made me more invested in my growing skillset. Most jobs are un-fun when you're a novice.

3. Work friendships After 9 months or so at work, I started interacting more with members of other teams and going to the gym over lunch with coworkers. I forged a few reasonably close (by work friend standards) friendships at work, which made going to work more of something to look forward to. It's amazing how something as simple as looking forward to share something you read on HN the night before with a friend can make going to work more palatable.

Anyway, I would suggest not giving up just yet. A year really is not all that long of a time period to make the huge transition from college to working adult. Try sticking in there a bit longer, committing yourself to things you don't currently find appealing (side projects, blogging, etc.) and see if the passion comes.

Good luck!

The first couple years are either boring or terrifying for many people once they hit professional programming. Give it a few more and concentrate on saving money.

Have you considered consulting? More high level, less in the weeds. Accenture, etc, look for people with technical backgrounds, you might look into it.

As someone who recently moved into consulting more seriously, I second this. I'm absolutely in love with consulting right now. It can be as challenging as you want it to be, and at the same time you get to live outside most of the rules and bureaucracy of the companies that you work for. As an example, I work for companies that don't allow employees to work remote, but I've never even been to the office. Also, when I worked for companies in the past on a full-time basis, it was very difficult to have any recourse when coworkers didn't meet our internal agreements. As a consultant there is usually a legally binding contract sitting in between me and the company I'm working for. This allows me to hold internal employees accountable for their deliverables just as much as I am accountable for mine.

Wow, a lot of walls of text. Here's my one suggestion:

Have you looked at being a PM? Product managers at companies like elgooG almost all have a hard CS background, but their day-to-day is talking to people, designing features, researching customer needs and usage patterns, checking out the competition, etc.

If processes and organization is something you would consider interesting, try the management path. You can either stay more on the technical side (sw/solutions architect) or go towards business (concentrate on req. management/business problems).

"I love technology. But coding just doesn't exite me. ... I just enjoy playing with the latest [...] product, watching TV, and reading Hacker News. What kind of life is that?"

Have you considered something in systems administration?

Have you thought about moving to the sales side of the business? I would suggest pursuing a sales engineering position. You get the best of both world- technology and meeting new prospects/customers.

Warning: this comment turned out more "ranty" and longer than I hoped. However, I've noticed too many pre-mature conclusions (I wouldn't call them mistakes as they're very corrigible) that either I or my close friends have made that have -- at one point or another -- led to bouts of intense misery.

I am going to say "stick with it"

0) "Well, ... I've realized that's not what I want to do?" How do you know that you will want to do whatever is it that you now think is interesting a year after you start it?

1) Really, you "don't have any good ideas"? There is no itch that you have that you want to scratch? I find that really odd: what constitutes a good idea in your mind?

I am not saying you should do your own company, in fact I'll probably go ahead and state that you should not: you start a company because you strongly believe you can build a product that has (or will have) a great market, not because you want to "follow your dreams", "be the big boss", or simply don't like your current job.

It's just that it's very strange that you can't think of any product you'd like to use. Just writing this comment made me think of several: a plugin for chrome that lets me use an external editor (there were several for firefox, can't find any decent ones for chrome), a "preview box" for hacker news, and other forum markup languages, a tool that tracks replies to my comments on different sites; these may or may not have built before, but these are all products I'm not using now and would like to use.

2) A "boring" job you don't completely hate is better than no job or the job you hate.

That said, take this impulse with a grain of salt: "a pain I already know" is a bad approach to life. However, you don't have any "aim" in your career, so you might not know what constitutes a job/career that you are likely to like (see point 0).

3) You are (probably?) talented but you don't yet have either (as other commenters stated) autonomy or mastery. Frankly, the examples you've mentioned (learning new programming languages as the pinacle of programming passion) are indicative of that. Programming languages are just one aspect of programming: some people get worked up about nuances of programming languages, but others are more interested in hardware/software interactions, low-level systems programming, scientific computing, machine learning, data analytics, etc...

You are just one year out of school. Did you have any internships? If so, why did you chose to stick with programming despite the experience of your internships (does this reason still hold?)

If you did not have any internships in college, whatever job you have, is very likely extremely entry-level and isn't a good starting point from which to draw conclusions.

4) Product management is a great career, but best product managers are former software engineers: the role of a product manager should be "do all it takes to get a product shipped", which may or may not involve writing code.

I greatly respect product managers, but specifically for the reason that they are capable of doing technical work (whether coding or something else) and usually love it, but are willing to put that love aside and do "boring" work (sending email, getting "highest people in the room" to agree on product requirements, talking to customers) that is required to ship a product.

Seriously, if you think programming is boring, see what product managers (real product managers who have shipped products, not self-styled "product guys" with no qualifications who think that a turtleneck makes them the next Steve Jobs) actually do day-to-day.

With all this in mind, here's what I advice:

1) Identify N people at your current workplace whose jobs you think you'd like to have. Talk to them, see what they actually do day to day, learn about how they got to their current role and what it would take for you to follow their path.

2) Identify N growing skills within the software industry that you think are interested, but (here's the catch) aren't something you find regularly on frontpage of HN (i.e., no node.js, MongoDB, or other trendy technology of the week). In other words, think at a deeper level ("high-performance distributed computing" and "data analytics" instead of "Hadoop"; database internals" and "distributed systems" instead of "NoSQL"). If you are at all interested in any of those fields, start to slowly dip into them (whether at work or at home).

This is similar to Cal Newport's advice of "become so good that they can't ignore you": http://calnewport.com/books/sogood.html

This is what Steve Jobs actually did instead of what he said he did, i.e., this is why you are able to enjoy playing with the latest Apple products.

3) Talk to somebody in med school or pharmacy school: not because you should be a doctor, but to see what it takes to join most any other viable career-- 18 hour rotations, crying because you're being constantly yelled at and verbally abused, insane competition, limited number of degrees that can be granted, low-paid long-hours during residency, etc...

4) If you don't already, read fiction and/or study philosophy: this should help you answer "really, is this all there is" question -- no job will help you with that.

Sounds like you should just start with some consulting with someone with some bizdev/marketing chops and work with some cool companies. From there you can always stumble onto a good idea.

"I just enjoy playing with the latest Apple product, watching TV, and reading Hacker News. What kind of life is that?"

What about becoming a tech journalist/blogger/analyst?

I am going to offer a straight advice.

How about Tech Journalism. I think you are more of an observer for now (and its a good thing). It will suit you (my guess).

If you pick up other specialties, enjoy hardware and enjoy the larger view, go for systems engineering.

"Life without enquiry is not worth living for a man", think that's Socrates.

Good luck, I remember doing a 3 months internship at Agilent Tech yeeaaaarrss ago where at the end I was like - "No way am i ever working in this Dilbert socially backwards environment" Not to say it was a bad place, just not for me.

Since then, I've had 6 or 7 real jobs, in 4 or 5 different industries, travelled round the world, asked loads of questions, tried loads of things and still not satisfied.

It's a tough one, everybody's different and very few people figure 'it' out, hence why you most advice is stupidly simple, short and unhelpful like 'be yourself', 'do what you love', etc... the list goes on.

'Wear sunscreen' https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTJ7AzBIJoI

there is a good line in there

"Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives, some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don't."

My 2 cents:

- try everything while still young and while your responsibilities are small, and monthly nut is small. It's much more difficult to have a mid life crisis when you need $4000 a month for mortgages, cars and kids.

- don't chase the $$$ - you'll never be as good as the guy who's doing it cause he loves it

- most people aren't satisfied with what they do, which is why books by Tim Ferris and Chris Guillebeau sell so well, they sell the 'dream'

- as far as happiness... others have already said this, purpose tends to help, as well as self expression, the ability to create something is pretty fulfilling too

- ignorance is bliss

when you said "enjoy playing with the latest Apple product, watching TV":

I'd suggest trying out UX Design / Front End Development

UX Design is becoming more and more important, and so is front end development as browsers are getting faster and faster.

Apple has amazing user design, maybe that's what you love about their products, how they feel.

- get good at javascript / html / css

- build a few things in backbone.js

- dig into user design

- redesign some current applications into what you'd like them to look and feel like


- build a UX / front end portfolio

- watch these talks






Leave an email here.I will solve your problem.And no, I am not joking.

wow you have lots of good feedback here in this thread... probably still requires you to parse through it all though... i have a feeling though this question has been asked multiple times by different people on HN

i'll just add some thoughts (though it will likely be redundant to large degree) because I empathize with anyone who's seeking for guidance on life decisions (I know what it's like)

1) agree that you should think about product management where technical and social skills combined can be powerful but I'd recommend you do (2) below first

2) based on how you've described your state, inclined to agree that you should take a real hard look at what is the source of discontent with your life and not jump to conclusions that it's being an engineer (as suggested, it can be the project, company, other parts of your life, lack of challenge or growth, etc)... maybe it would help to take a vacation to an international destination in the developing world & rough it (no nice hotels or restaurants etc), live among the local people and think (suggested to get you out of your comfort zone)

3) people who say they are "bored" (even if just trying to simplify the communication in summary form) or describe a lack of passion for anything as an alternative... frankly, those are warning signs that you should iterate on (2) above for a bit. no one can tell you this though, you'll need to be in tune and aware enough to search your own gut for what's going on inside you

4) though self-help folks like Tony Robbins generally make me puke (my first reaction, though i know it can be unfair), he has an interesting mental framework for you to iterate on (2) and navigate why you're so-called "bored" and what to do about it as a TED talk: http://youtu.be/Cpc-t-Uwv1I

5) in my past, i've read a lot of stuff on career guidance (what color is your parachute, blah blah) but none of it was useful to me. the best thing i read was this HBR article. key takeaway is that finding meaning through work for those that lack direction is a cycle of test & learn (similar to the lean startup approach)... it's more geared for biz types but the principles can apply more broadly: http://www.insead.edu/alumni/newsletter/january2003/herminia...

6) Well, you probably already know. But classically speaking, the type of person you're describing isn't the type to do a startup successfully. The classic type is someone driven to make change because of some kind of passion. Not that you couldn't do it and be successful because it seems there are all types of people who do "successful" startups. But on the surface, IMHO signs don't seem to point to this option as a good one for you to quit your job for at this time.

Good signs would probably be that a) you work on side projects solving problems that annoy you b) you are actively engaging and talking about ideas with good people (at work or not) who you could be co-founders with

More than anything, if after mulling it over, you realize that what's lacking is challenge (or possibly the meaning or value of the bigger goals you're working on with your technical skills) then also realize you don't need to be the idea person. You can join someone who already has the passion and an idea and rally against that vision by being part of a solid, small 2-3 person team. Or just find a co-founder and work together for 6 months, build something with some traction and then apply to YC! :)

Or you could join another company (working for 1 company might not be enough data for you to know that coding isn't what you want to do no matter how good you think the current environment is) assuming early 20s means you only worked at 1 place

7) Listen to Bezos talking about his decision to do Amazon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwG_qR6XmDQ

Good luck!

When I was about your age I went through a similar conundrum. I quit coding, and started to learn graphic design to become somewhat successful at this new endeavor. Would I do it again if I had the chance? Hell no! Sure I love to have had a visual education, but that wasn't enough to keep me from getting bored. What did I do? I've started to code again. But this time, instead of doing boring business coding as I did before, I went to do graphics programming. Now I have much more fun. What should you do? In my experience don't be blind and quit coding to do something else. I guess my advice is this: don't take myopic decisions; instead, take what you know, and mix it with what you like to reinvent yourself. Just learn a new craft and try to merge that to programming.


+1 to systems work. I was a programmer, then a manager, then an Oracle dba (each for 4-8 years). working with databases is by far the most rewarding and challenging, and I still get to code tons of useful tools.

Grandparent got deleted, but it suggested that you may be interested in systems administration.

I was also a Math geek, and hadn't programmed a lick until sophomore year of college. I graduated with a CS degree. Programming was interesting, but I much more enjoyed the hardware aspect, so I went to IT. I'm different than my sysadmin coworkers because I can read source code, write decent chunks of code, use databases, etc. The CS background can be very helpful in figuring out why something works like it does, and then you can start optimizing from both sides (writing better software for the hardware, and fitting the right hardware to the software).

Great question! It is one I had been wanting to write on HN myself for quite some time in the past actually. I feel I had been in a similar boat. While I did not major in Computer Science like you did, I had, for the past several years, attempted (Unsuccessfully) to become a programmer.

To make a long story short: I realized, much like you, that programming wasn't for me. And yet, like you, I had an interest in technology.

What has ended up working for me is: I gradually moved into the role of system administrator / IT specialist. This role now allows me to be a "Jack of all Trades", be around technology, and help people by solving their problems (The social aspect).

The fact that there is always something new that comes up every day in the life of a system administrator means I don't have much time to get bored. And, when I feel that I might miss coding, there's always something that can be automated by scripting in Powershell (Or your language of choice if you are on Linux, etc).

Have you considered becoming a system administrator? It might be that middle ground that you are seeking.

Edit: One important thing I forgot to add is: The years I spent trying to become a programmer have helped me as a system admin. I can better relate to the development department when they need something set up a certain way, etc. I can understand their language. Therefore, all of that knowledge you have accumulated over the years will only benefit you as you go forward.

What do you think about algo trading?

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact