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Ask HN: Experienced dev having career lull
85 points by throwawaydotcpp on Aug 16, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 72 comments
Hi folks, throwaway account obviously.

I'm a dev with a bit over 15 years experience. Right now I'm a senior dev working in "cloud computing infrastructure". I've hit a point of malaise and I need help.

Admittedly, calling my problems problems is a disservice to real problems. I get that. But I hope you can empathize with the fact that anyone in any situation can become unhappy and want to feel happy and fulfilled again. So, hear me out.

I need change. I'm not burned out. I'm bored, maybe. Confused, perhaps?

Problem 1: My comp is high (total comp > $200k last year), to the point where almost anywhere else I go will be a step down I feel. Having said that, I know if I randomly jump ship to another BigCo, I will keep that comp at least the same, and also pull down probably close to $100k in signing bonuses. So do I just bounce somewhere to pick up a pile of money?

Problem 2: My seniority is decreasing "hands on keyboard" time, which is what's made me happy since I started programming in second grade. So I feel like my reward for accomplishment is to diminish what makes me happy. Some weird version of the Peter principle...

Problem 3: I literally have no idea what I want to work on. I've worked on lots of different things over the years, and I'm at the point where I look at the landscape out there - and it's just "meh". I don't see much changing on a day to day basis from where I'm at now. Nothing is exciting me.

Problem 4: I don't want to go into management, and I'm having a hard time understanding how to grow anymore as a developer.

Has anyone ever been here before? How did you get out? The tl;dr is "don't find satisfaction in what I'm working on, look around, don't find anything appealing or any motivation to choose one thing over another." Is that it, have I just arrived at my professional plateau?


You should take a sabbatical right now.

I had a similar bored moment who rapidly turned into a destructive burn out situation that almost destroyed both my relationships and my reputation as a good developer.

When started showing depression symptoms I took care of the situation and made some changes in my life.

- I resigned my job;

- I convinced my wife to join me in a 3 week retreat in the woods w/o phone, tv and internet. Just books, wine and conversations.

- I took a really long vacation period away from keyboard/internet (sure, you won't lose the next big thing if you turn off a few weeks - the internet, HN & Reddit are always recycling their contents)

- I went to some US universities just to hangout with people, I managed to know a bunch of nice people just hanging near the MIT campus and even visited a couple of labs.

- I started taking small weekend-trips to places that I've always wanted to visit but never had time.

- Managed to get a new job with amazing people.

- Adopted a crazy Dog.

Now I know I'm still not 100% but every day I fell better than yesterday.

Sabbatical is a great idea.

Try and do it cheaply as well. The places you end up staying as a result puts you on an interesting path where you can meet some very interesting folks.

I try and do a 1-3 month long snowboarding trip each year. Buy a season pass, find a room in a hostel and hang out with the other seasonairres. The total cost is only slightly more than a 1-2 week holiday in a hotel. I've meet some awesome, crazy, fun, random and right-down good folks from all around the world.

The imagination gets fired and after some time, I actually really look forward to coming back home and working on something.

Second the sabbatical. I thought I had grown to hate programming until I took one. I ended up doing nothing but programming--but on things I was interested in--during that time. And learned along the way that it was working in constrained office settings that was what I hated.

I have never tried the sabbatical but would advice for the same kind of approach. Big breaks lets you rest and think without noise, that let's you step back, and see the big picture of what you want your life to be.

I would also recommend this avoiding of network communication, they are far from essential and the source of a non negligible stress.

Your money is a microscopic magnetic domain of bits on a hard drive on a computer in a bank somewhere. If you acquire twice as much, you didn't even get a new bit, because you prolly already had at least 32 allocated, if not more, just one of them flipped its spin orientation to represent a "1". It's pretty stupid.

Money is an addiction, like a high score for the world's oldest, most fucked up MMO called "capitalism". This MMO has been patched so heavily that it's totally unmaintainable, incomprehensible spaghetti code. The gameplay is wretchedly paced, totally unbalanced, and unfair due to the ridiculously silly positive feedback loops strewn everywhere. It rewards people lavishly for bullshit work that doesn't really benefit our species much less the species we're busy exterminating through neglect. It really needs a total rewrite from the ground up, but that's called "revolution", and it's generally bloody and awful and no fun.

So the fix is to stop playing the game. Ween yourself off money. You don't need much of it to get by. The lower you get your burn rate, you'll find the happier you get. Bills put a lot of subconscious burden on you.

And do something deeply satisfying. Cloud computing infrastructure isn't that for you anymore. Move onto something that resonates deeply. Get into the import/export business and take what you've learned to an entirely new field. Which field to pick? Try something you dreamed of doing as a kid. You were more honest with yourself as a kid.

Thanks for the eye-opening analogy!

"Try something you dreamed of doing as a kid. You were more honest with yourself as a kid."

Don't think I agree with the socio economic commentary a whole lot - after all, the capitalism MMO is what brought me my childhood dreams - but the above statement is deeply true. It guided me for part of my career. But I lost my way.

It's not just commentary. I'm a game developer (http://davetaylor.name). I assure you, capitalism + our national laws + the international treaties our nations have agreed to is a game. It's the Old Game.

Catch is, the rules (laws) of the Old Game are such a complex mess that we have to hire expensive lawyers at hundreds of dollars an hour just to interpret slivers of the rules that apply to our particular situations. It's not fair to those still at level 1 (in poverty) still learning to play the game and who can't afford to pay people just to know the rules. Even at level 100 (extreme wealth), no one likes that they have to hire armies of attourneys just to protect themselves from being the targets of lawsuits.

This is poor game design. We learned years ago that players don't read manuals. That's why games don't come with them anymore. We learned they can't even stand tutorials. What they want is intuitive gameplay and gentle pacing, so that their minds aren't blown with the whole wad at once, and so that they can get a sense of steady progression and accomplishment. That's definitely not what the Old Game has to offer today. Perhaps it once did, but not anymore.

Today, the Old Game essentially tells us: "Congratulations. You've graduated high school. Maybe. Now, the rules moving forward are... incomprehensible. Don't suppose you have a few law degrees? Oh no, that's right. High school. OK. Better get a job, or you'll be homeless and will starve. Cool? Oh, unless you're rich, in which case, don't worry about it. You have no obligations." You haven't played any games like that because they wouldn't be compelling.

Worse, the Old Game has evolved to a point where it now tries to place a monetary value on all things. Its precept is that all your problems can be solved with money. Need new laws? Spend money on lobbyists. Need new politicians? Spend money on their campaigns. Need a date? Spend money on a dating service. Need excitement? Spend money on travel. Need new cloud infrastructure? Spend money on coders.

What modern game has a single currency that satisfies all your desires? It's hard to think of one, isn't it? That's not by accident. I assure you, we tried it. It doesn't work. We discovered empirically that money just isn't that satisfying. You need things that can't be bought, like random loot drops, level ups, status, new goals, friends, exploration, surprises, emergent behaviours, challenges, defeats, victories, romance, and more. We've even learned the importance of breaks. Too much is too much.

The Old Game is losing its competitiveness. It would have flopped long ago if it were not for the fact that playing it is mandatory. You need it to clothe yourself, eat, shelter yourself, and receive medical treatment to not die.

But read that list of items more carefully. We have 3D printers marching steadily towards finer-grained resolutions with more materials and can now build just about whatever we need, even tools, homes, and clothes. We have the ability to automate the gathering of our own energy, the ability to grow our own food (you can eat healthier with a fish tank and some algae than you can visiting most supermarkets now), the ability to diagnose and even treat ourselves.

The costs of living are plummeting. We are approaching autonomy. These things subvert capitalism, because they subvert your need to change the spin of more magnetic domains on your bank's hard drive.

You are in an incredibly enviable position. You have an enormous amount of potential excess income, probably a decent savings, and certainly a valuable skill set (for now- you know you can already feel the competitive heat from younger, cheaper minds than yours). You can continue to play the Old Game while scaling back your dependency on it so that you can transition to a new game of your own choosing.

I get that it's frightening, but I assure you, it's mostly your addiction to money that makes it frightening. The Old Game certainly hasn't kept up with the times, but it does know how to addict its players, and it keeps us playing by frightening us with scary potential consequences if we stop playing it.

I don't want to trivialize the risk, but to put it in context, the outcome is the same for all of us. Game over is death. You don't lose or win. There's no high score or prize. All we can do is decide what games we want to play getting there.

I don't recommend playing the Old Game anymore than you absolutely have to. It's just not well designed.

Money is an addiction, like a high score for the world's oldest, most fucked up MMO called "capitalism". This MMO has been patched so heavily that it's totally unmaintainable, incomprehensible spaghetti code. The gameplay is wretchedly paced, totally unbalanced, and unfair due to the ridiculously silly positive feedback loops strewn everywhere. It rewards people lavishly for bullshit work that doesn't really benefit our species much less the species we're busy exterminating through neglect. It really needs a total rewrite from the ground up, but that's called "revolution", and it's generally bloody and awful and no fun.

You win the Internet for Saturday, August 16, 2014. That is all.

I switched from programming, where I didn't care about the domain (business), to bioinformatics, which has an inherently interesting domain to me (biology research). I have a deeper sense of purpose now.

Find a domain that interests you, is a greater goal of mankind (maybe your malaise is not being part of a 'greater good') and needs people good at solving problems with computers.

Try and build the better world you want to see when you're an old man. Want to see less people die on the roads? Maybe work on self driving cars. Or clean energy, or robots to do dangerous jobs. Or analyze data to improve aid efficiency, or health services, etc etc.

Find a big problem that is interesting and going to grow.

Learn in your own time. Grow your skills.

Step sideways into a slightly different role as the field expands and your skills are needed.

If you haven't already start a family and you'll stop being bored. You will wish you had the time for malaise and boredom. And you will create happiness for yourself outside of your career.

Good advice, I took it about 6 years ago, and now I've got a great kiddo sleeping one room over from me. We had a pretty awesome wiffle bat sword fight tonight :)

Find a well-funded post Series A or B company that you really believe in. Make it clear you want work as a technical contributor who writes lots of code (they will like this). You'll still make $150k and have equity in place of the extra bonus cash. But, if you like the team and believe in what the company wants to do, and you write code every day to help push the company there, you'll probably be a lot happier.

I spent 21+ years at Microsoft. From college hire to partner level. Finally got fed up and left for a smaller company 2 years ago. Sure, I'm making less money but I'm working with great people, building cool stuff, and not wasting my time on bureaucracy & management. Don't get hung up on the $$ if that's not what makes you happy.

Yeah. BigCo bureaucracy and management is killing me. If you don't mind me asking, what smaller company did you go to, or what does smaller company do?

It sounds, from his comment history, as if he moved to Valve Software. Gabe Newell (founder of Valve Software) is a former Microsoft producer.

If you like working hands-on, pick a company which highly values that, even at the senior level.

In my experience, you'll have a hard time doing ONLY tech stuff at a company with <10 people even if you're not a founder, but you might find an acceptable level of deep-problems.

I'm really enjoying being in a 50-250 person company (CloudFlare; it's around 110 right now). It's big enough to let people specialize, but not so big that there's a lot of bureaucracy. You wouldn't get near $200k in cash comp in a company of this stage (outside maybe sales), but equity upside can exceed $200k/yr total comp easily.

You probably have to live in a top-tier city (SF, maybe NYC, maybe London) to have a large choice of different 50-250 person companies which highly value senior devs (without forcing them into management), but there are individual companies in all kinds of random places which do; it's just that you're locked into a less competitive job market and switching costs can be higher. I'd recommend SF for this reason, even though I personally hate SF.

Get outside yourself and go help someone else out. Donate to a charity, go teach code to high schoolers, go help your neighbor paint their fence, go volunteer at an animal shelter, go visit the elderly, spend time with your family, run a marathon, run for office, plant some trees, help build homes for the poor in Mexico - get out there and do stuff that doesn't involve YOU!

Few questions:

1. Are you making more money than you actually need?

2. Are you happy with the amount of decision making power you have? Or do you frequently have to subject your own judgement to corporate policies, management, marketing and bottom line considerations?

3. Are you really really sure that there's nothing you want to work on?

I broke out of a somewhat similar situation last year (10 years in very nice, well paid, senior but eventually boring position) and I've done spectacularly well since, if I say so myself. The only difference between you and me is #3 -- there were so many things I wanted to do but didn't have time for. So I specifically negotiated for a new job that gave me oodles of free time, even if it meant a temporary drop in compensation. As a result, I've done more things in the past 12 months that I had in the past 10 years. The boredom's all but evaporated!

So whether anything further I have to add will help or not, depends entirely on the nature of your problem #3.

Another approach by Hunter S. Thompson: pick your way of life first so you're guaranteed to enjoy what you do. Then pick the gig.


I recently (just over a year ago) relocated myself and my family to the SF Bay Area. I couldn't ever explain (other than the OMG Bay Area salary/big name company aspect) why it mattered so much to me, but reading that Hunter S. Thompson letter really hammered it home for me.

Thanks for the link!

Welcome to the Bay! Yeah, thought he expressed "life is about the journey" particularly well.

I just noticed something after I posted my previous comment. Your username -- throwaway.cpp -- I'm assuming you're a C++ programmer or have been at some point? Then you and I have a lot in common. C++ is a great language, but after about 10 years, you can reach a level of mastery where there's not much more interesting things left out there for you to learn and play with. If you're someone who started developing because you enjoy it, this is around the point where you should probably consider rebooting yourself into a completely different technology stack (or stacks). I did this and it worked out very well. Not only that, after working with something like C++, almost every other language is a cakewalk (and also more pleasant to code in).

Haskell might be a nice challenge. I had several years of experience, but learning Haskell felt exactly like the first time to me.

I hear you. I'm just at 15 years professional experience as well. Did a startup early on in my career, was acquired (more of a firesale) and I'm still there. Things are OK, but not great. I've learned new languages (Scala, Javascript, Go), but still feeling unfullfilled - I think I'm more after the bigger picture, and regardless of what language, frameworks, etc, if you just aren't into the big picture (anymore) it gets old.

You are lucky though with such a high salary. I'd think you could quit and take some time, travel a little and perhaps rediscover yourself.

And a bit unrelated, what localities does one have to live in to pull in $200k a year? I'm a bit sheltered living off in the sticks I guess.

> And a bit unrelated, what localities does one have to live in to pull in $200k a year? I'm a bit sheltered living off in the sticks I guess.

Probably either NYC or the Bay Area. In either place, $200k really doesn't go very far (what I pay for rent on my 1-bedroom in NYC would buy me a mansion in the sticks).

> Probably either NYC or the Bay Area. In either place, $200k really doesn't go very far

I don't know about NYC, but I'm from the bay and $200k can definitely go pretty far with decent money management skills. It might be a stretch on $100k, but twice that should be enough for anybody to live comfortably with savings here.

> I don't know about NYC, but I'm from the bay and $200k can definitely go pretty far with decent money management skills.

Sorry, I didn't mean to imply they'd be scrimping. On $200k you can certainly live a comfortable lifestyle in NY or SF, but it's not nearly as luxurious as some of my rural friends assume it would be. $200k is comfortable in NY/SF, but it's not rich.

True, though nothing short of hitting the lottery (either in the traditional sense or through a large startup exit) would really produce that kind of 'rich'.

Then again, my family comes from a pretty modest background, so anything in the 6-figure range would be considered reasonably rich to me, but nobody's expecting you to be Donald Trump wealthy either. So in coming from that background, it still rubs me the wrong way when even reasonably well-off people downplay their success and potential freedom.

> True, though nothing short of hitting the lottery (either in the traditional sense or through a large startup exit) would really produce that kind of 'rich'.

I wouldn't go that far. A doctor in most parts of the country probably meets that kind of "rich."

I make 6 figures, but I'd never even think about being able to afford a luxury car or any of the things which people usually equate with a 6-figure salary.

Especially when you factor in taxes, the picture looks a lot less rosy. On $150,000 your take-home is really only $75,000. Factor in $5,000/m for expenses in SF or NY and that's only $15,000 of savings a year—at that rate, it takes many years to even save up a good emergency fund.

Don't get me wrong: my family also comes from a very modest background, so I feel incredibly lucky to have the excess income to do things like help my dad buy his first house (in a cheap, low-cost area).

When I was in similar situation my solution was: 1) travel, 2) opensource, 3) meditation.

So I would suggest you to leave your zone of comfort, learn how your mind and body works and use them properly and give more attention to details of your life, turn off autopilot mode.

I recommend you read Richard Feynman on how he went from burnout to Nobel prize https://www.physics.ohio-state.edu/~kilcup/262/feynman.html.

Step outside of your domain and learn something new entirely. If your job takes up too much of your time with 'busy-work', find another one that emphasizes a better work-life balance (it's worth taking a pay cut for this). Or alternatively, gather some savings and go on a sabbatical. Just do whatever you can to go off and study music/painting/writing/photography/design/cooking/whatever, and then take on a totally different branch of programming (like games or front-end work) to explore some new challenges, or abandon programming as a career altogether and save programming only for stuff that you're actually passionate about.

Starting a business is also an option (like others have pointed out), but while it isn't exactly 'boring', it can become grueling if you're not passionate enough about the specific idea you're working on. But whatever you do, make sure it is a major shift -- don't expect that just changing where you do the same 'dull-work' will suddenly make it feel like 'awesome-work'.

I'm not as experienced as you are but I completely understand your situation. I'm 26 years old and I was making $190k+ / year - bur I was bored! I was doing more and more management and I was slowly loosing my passion for computer science. After interviewing with a bunch of companies, I found one that I really liked and I joined it. I can't tell you how happy I'm. I'm working on interestong problems, doscovering new technologies (there is still a lot of computer science related problems not solved yet), slowly learning about machine learning, working with talented people, etc.

My salary is lower but still very good compare to a lot of people outside of the silicon valley and my passion is coming back extremely quickly.

Find something different, forget your $200k, money is here to help you, and it is clearly not helping you here. Go outside, on interviews, talk to startups, big companies, who ever you want. A lot of interesting things are going on!

Thanks for your thoughts. I look back on a lot of the random jumping around I did earlier in my career - and I never thought twice about it! I always did what interested me and it was never about money, or wondering what my "career arc" would look like. And yeah, if I had tried to "climb" I might have been better off, but instead I have some cool accomplishments under my belt and I'm proud of my work and have learned a lot. Now, I guess it's unsurprising in the late 30's, to be thinking - will this sustain/increase my employability, will this be sufficient for my retirement, etc -- none of the carefree exploration I used to do on a whim. I'm glad you were able to shake yourself out of a rut, even if it was a golden rut.

Maybe visit Thailand...? And I don't mean a "Hangout" style, Bangkok only trip, but more like travel across, see all ends of it, observe the people and their attitude towards life, look into what do they consider problems... Then Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, India if you got used to Thailand.

It's really transformative. (while not even very expensive)

The Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia is too easy; too many people speak (some kind of) English there.

My (totally subjective, anecdotal only) experience has been that a lot of developers who have moved away from day-to-day coding tend to have less of a sense of what's new and interesting in technology. This would make sense, given that the pressure of keeping up with the latest and greatest is removed somewhat when you don't have to work directly with new technology and compete with other developers and their experience.

The main downside of this could be that you'd slowly develop a jaded feeling, and start to think that nothing is really new and interesting, or worth working on. I think the only cure for this is likely to get back down into the trenches and start working on a coding project at the same level as more junior developers, who may be less skilled, but might also be able to provide you with a connection to new areas that will interest you.

Or you could do what most experienced programmers seem to end up doing, and write a book or two.

Not sure if I'm jaded or not - just feel like my internal compass is on the fritz. Nothing is singing to me. I think plenty of products are cool, sure (like - slack.com for example - love it) - but I wonder - what will I learn there? What new problem will I be able to solve??

Even if I'm not hands-on at work, I still dabble with new tech at home. I've always had side projects at home in my spare time. I don't trust developers that don't.

Focusing mostly on #3:

Might be worth interviewing or just chatting around at a bunch of different places (big companies, startups) and see whether something grabs your interest. Passion is often a bit contagious.

I've been pretty happy changing teams every year or so at Facebook, so also consider whether your employer has any internal transfer options available.

Focusing on #4:

If you don't think you have people to learn from in your team or sufficiently close to you in your company, you should move - either within the company or without.

If your company doesn't offer an IC-only track, you probably should make a move elsewhere.

#1 - you'll only really find out about comp once you've got an offer (and then negotiated on it), so you'll need to get out there.

#2 - Tell your manager what is eating up your work time on things you don't enjoy. If they can't make a difference on that, look around. And also just opt out of things. Also might be useful to be more clear here on what is eating up your time.

What does "IC-only" track mean? I am assuming it means that you can keep advancing in a technical field without moving into management, but what exactly does it mean?

IC: Individual Contributor, examples are Staff Engineer, Architect, Principal Architect, Distinguished Architect...

Well, the examples at Facebook are: Engineer, Engineer, Engineer, Engineer.

I get "Staff Engineer" (some seniority indicator, which we don't have at Facebook on purpose), but "Architect" seems more like a change in role and in expectations rather than advancing on your existing path.

Chill man !

A lot of us on HN would love to be pulling down >$200k. My guess is it's like golden handcuffs, you have gotten used to the lifestyle it allows and won't contemplate earning half of that. I think that's what's blinkering your evaluation of the many brilliant suggestions here by other readers of HN.

Go find a well-funded and growing startup building a product which interests you.

Most startups really need people who can write lots of code effectively, so if you go that route it can be entirely possible to get great compensation without going into management.

Yes, there will be a minor hit in cash comp initially (you'll probably pull around $150k at a startup), but the equity upside allows for more interesting growth than in a BigCo. Importantly, the growth factor in startups also means you can grow in comp (equity & cash) without having to move up the management chain.

If you can't find any interesting startups, take some time off to build your own ideas.

(Pure self-promotion, but if you do want to go the startup route I'm currently hiring: http://cafe.com/developers)

I feel there's an important amount of context left out for anyone to give you sound advice. Do you have a wife/husband? Children? Ages? Any other commitments? A mortgage, car payments, other debt? What fields have you been in? Then, there's the personal side. What's on your bucket list? Could you earn half of what you're used to and live comfortably along with any dependents you may have?

Also, what's wrong with management? For that matter, what's wrong with being bored or confused? It seems like you have a certain sense of urgency for change, but is work where change is most required in your life?

What do you want? If nothing, then at least learn to be content. This is not advice, just me repeating what I often find myself contemplating.

For some reason, our cultures generally put a negative spot light on boredom. In hindsight, I've found boredom to have the reverse effect - it has always been the germination of some new phase, something deeper and more satisfying always crops up.

So ... be more excited about the unknown stuff that's now going to flow your way!

As I read your post, I was reminded of Richard Feynman's tale of how he idly began playing with the physics of an object on a spinning plate that was thrown by someone in a cafeteria (am wondering whether my recall is right) ... and ending up with some very interesting physics that got him the Nobel.


Thank you everyone for all the amazing feedback. It's so helpful after you get stuck in your own head with your thoughts. Very good stuff to ruminate on here.

I probably should have mentioned for context - for people recommending radical alterations to my life, or wondering why I'm not on the verge of retiring - I'm a divorced dad. I have my kiddo 50% of the time and still write his mom large checks every month. So, no spirit quests for me nor moving somewhere cheaper, etc.

Just saw this, but I don't see it as an excuse for not travelling. I also have a son in Hungary, still I left to Japan when he was 3. I'm also writing checks (not too large ones from my perspective, but still...) We were not married ever though, neither did we permanently live together.

It was 7 years ago. I've never been back. During this time we found out he has Asperger's syndrome, but I just can't regret leaving them.

I married a 38rys old Thai lady ~5yrs ago; I'm 37. She has a daughter (15yrs old) studying in Thailand and visiting us in Hong Kong whenever she has a school holiday. Before that we worked in Singapore and she visited us there. While I regret we can't live together, it's not sin not to. You should not treat it as such a hard constraint.

"I have my kiddo 50% of the time" cries for some clarification.

1, Does it mean you _have to_ take care of him every second day, week, month or year?

2, Or maybe - knowing the ridiculous laws - it's actually just the grace of the jury that you _can_ see him/her, _if_ you want?

3, Or is it the other way around that your ex-wife is actually not capable of taking care of the kid, _but_ the jury still granted her 50% of the time?

If the kid's age permits, you should bring him/her with you to Thailand when school holiday kicks in.

I don't see how your self-sacrifice is really beneficial to anyone really...

Were you born to get tanked with your life after all that effort you put into what's your passion was? All the potential you carry in yourself can help not just your kid but many more people on the long term, young or old.

Having a break of a month or 2 can only be beneficial to your whole family.

I'll chip in another view; and that is to read the book "Flow: The Psychology of Happiness."

It's based on a lot of research about when people find them selves to be happy and builds it into a logical framework that's so simple and obvious you'll wonder why we don't teach this in every high-school.

After reading the book I'm quite confident you'll know where you're going wrong and what is the best, most effortless, way to fix it and get back on track.

Also +1 for Sabbatical

I'm in a similar situation right now and think I'll again make a sabbatical.

It helped me a lot when I found myself for the first time in such a situation. When I came back I was deeply relaxed and highly motivated to start working again. I was so lucky to sign the new contract before I started the Sabbatical - therefore everything was really chilled and relaxed.

I can really recommend it - take some pressure from yourself and find joy in life.

I'm curious what other people would say about #4. The only two answers I've ever heard are to become a chief architect (that seems to be the only seniority path that isn't management), or just go into consulting.

Facebook (and probably many other companies) maintain an IC (individual contributor) track that doesn't entail becoming a manager or becoming some sort of architecture astronaut.

There are a few flavours of seniority for ICs - deep domain expertise, deep skill set, high productivity, high flexibility, able to design and communicate and drive large-scale changes, mentorship, and non-technical organisational leadership like running a training programme, improving hiring, and so forth.

Maybe find a co that you like, and if they can't offer you the 200k+, bargain on extra vacation.

And then use your vacation to get out. I find I sometimes fall into a lull if I don't balance constant tech out with other things.

You probably have some savings. Quit work. Take a few weeks or months off. Pick up some old or new hobbies. Then decide.

Start your own company.

I concur. I was in a similar situation at the beginning of the year. Started a new company with a couple friends, and it's rekindled my passion for programming and forced me to grow not only as a developer, but in numerous other areas as well.

The challenges associated with starting a new company will be varied and entertaining, drag you outside of your comfort zone and demand the most of you.

Build something cool. Build value for yourself and others. Find other people that believe in you and want to work with you. Very little is more exciting or rewarding.

Become a professor at a university and research. You wont feel constraints and also share your knowledge with students who are about to start their career. Guide them and together make something meaningful.

I'd second that

After 10 years of cpp this was happening to me also. I switched gears to new projects in Scala and I'm now happier and productive.

Why not think about startups?

Maybe seek fulfillment outside of work? Family, charity/service work, etc.

Don't work for the man. Work for mankind.

I'm 31 and have been in technology for almost a decade, so I can relate to this.

There are two kinds of boredom. There's the acute, dangerous kind which is a form of anxiety. That's when you physically can't do the work, because it's so menial, and fall into a dangerous feedback loop of underperformance, anxiety, burnout, social stress, etc. That sort of "emergency" boredom is a different beast, and I won't address that because it doesn't sound like you're facing that. Instead, you seem to be fighting the nagging, "I could be doing more with my life, but I don't know what" kind of boredom that all of us get, from time to time.

The good news is that the latter kind of boredom, alone, rarely transmutes into the acute, emergency kind. There's always that nagging fear that it might, that you might wake up one day and say, "I can't do this", but it rarely happens that way. Emergency boredom (the early stages of sudden-onset anxiety and depression) either involves a biological mental illness, or low social status, and it doesn't seem like either is a problem for you.

Some people are advising sabbaticals. I'm sure that it works for some people, but the problem with that approach is that many people try to "find themselves" and come back with nothing, but are six months of savings poorer. You typically find out what you want to do when you're trying to do something else. Getting out of this kind of lull is like falling asleep. You can't consciously "find yourself". You have to let go and let it happen on its own time.

I'll address the four problems by line item.

Problem 1: High compensation may reduce your options somewhat, but that's a good problem to have. Why? Because the myth is that companies slot people to appropriate roles and status levels and then pay accordingly. The reality is that most of the important, high-status people have no idea how good you are, so they work in reverse: they look at your compensation (and compensation history, and titles, and how your carry yourself) and assume that to be "your level" and find appropriate work based on that. With no prior experience of the sort, you could be a VP/Engineering or VP/Research at a startup tomorrow, just on the credibility conferred by your $200k salary alone. You might be taking a 10-20 percent pay cut to do it, but if the startup is genuinely interesting, it might be worth it.

You might think you have fewer options than at 23, because of your compensation history (and justified desire to stay at that level) and the pyramid shape of this industry. In reality, you have far more good options. You've already won. At 23, you have a lot of shitty options. At 38, with a decent professional history, you have a small number of better options. This can still be problematic if you lose your job suddenly (it can happen to any of us, even if not especially the best) because the smaller job pool does make searches longer, even if what is found is usually of higher quality, but it sounds like you're employed.

Problem 2: you probably wouldn't be happy as a junior developer, churning tickets and dealing with problems you've already seen before, while using technologies that are new and different but generally not better. Nostalgia and the fact that you were new to the craft makes those junior years seem better than what they actually were. In reality, the percentage of people, at any rank, who get to spend more than 2 hours per day on real coding is quite small.

Your best odds might be with taking a 9-to-5 that doesn't tax you too much, and getting your hours of real programming in early mornings, weekends, or evenings. If you can block out 2 hours each morning, and 8 hours each weekend, to work on projects you care about, then you're doing more real coding than 95% of professional programmers.

Problem 3: That's a "going to sleep" problem. You won't find it if you consciously look for it. There are plenty of things worth working on: alternative energy, cancer research, even making social games more engaging and less manipulative. The problem is that it's damn near impossible to get paid to do them (especially if you're not already a "brand name" domain expert). Corporate capitalism is dying (slowly, and it'll probably be 50 years before it's definitively dead) and generating all sorts of incentives to do pointless work while systematically neglecting the long-range R&D work the country (and world) so desperately needs.

A month on vacation will get you to the point where you have the opposite problem: there are tons of things you want to do with your life. Getting paid to do them is the nasty, ugly, stupid problem that no one should face but, while corporate capitalism persists, we all do. Committing to one, and actually seeing it through, is a secondary, internal challenge. (Committing to exactly two projects-- the day job and one side project-- is even harder.) Most people end up committing to the one prospect that gets them paid, even though that tends to stop being rewarding after a couple of years.

My advice would be to find smart people, work with them, and learn things. The upshot of this career is that there's always new stuff to learn: machine learning, GPU programming, new programming languages (Rust, Haskell, Clojure), and plenty of cool, slowly-changing stuff (compilers, operating systems, algorithms) worth a refresh as well. I doubt that MOOCs and online resources will "take over the world" (they're tailored toward highly motivated, intelligent 25+ year olds who want to accelerate their knowledge and who don't need the social context of immersive education) but there are a lot of great free resources out there for us. Get a Safari Books subscription if you don't already have one. Make contacts, learn cool shit, and level-grind. That has you doing more than 95% of your peers. Read papers and books, go to conferences, and do this on company time as much as you can (by your late 30s, you should be politically adept enough that you can work nearly exclusively on your career goals without getting in trouble, and that approach is more rewarding and less boring than regular-ol' slacking). You can't force yourself to find something worth working on, so just make the contacts and learn the skills that'll have you prepared when the muse comes.

Problem 4: The bad news: as a traditionally managed developer, you're well past maxed out. Most of Corporate America is manage-or-be-managed and, now that you're the eminent senior and "tech lead", there are very few places (effectively zero, because you can't get into them without contacts or a Stanford PhD) where you'll learn anything technical from the people telling you what to do. If you stay on your current path, you'll probably be stuck as an interface between non-technical management and the programmers you'll envy because they get to do "the fun work" and seem to be progressing while you stand still. Unless you can work directly for someone Peter Norvig or Jeff Dean... you're going to stagnate as a managed programmer. In truth, you're at risk of backsliding as new-ways-of-doing-old-shit keep emerging and eroding your relative status. You can still be a programmer post-45, but as a traditionally-managed programmer, you're just fucked by that age.

My advice would be to go into management, not because it's great but because it's better. It will give you credibility and status and a bird's eye view into the social and technical aspects of the organization. Try to leapfrog over the lower-middle management stage (MacLeod Clueless) where you have responsibility without power or status. Those jobs are traps and don't lead anywhere better. You may have to change companies, taking a lower-upper-management job (Sr. Director or VP) at a smaller company. But get a job where you have autonomy and some executive control, smart people under you (who you can learn from, because the people under you will know more about their domains but you can get them to teach you) and enough status and leverage that you can cut away a couple hours per day to keep current on the parts of technology that interest you. It's not like executives can't code. No one says they aren't allowed. If your eventual goal is to have your own startup, then orient your 1:1's toward learning as much as you can from your subordinates (and, if you're willing to play that way, ask them to investigate technologies you're curious about, but don't personally have time to look into).

The perception that management is "hard" comes from two sources. The first is complain-bragging, because executives don't want people to realize that they have better work lives in all dimensions (respect, autonomy, flexibility, compensation). They dog-whistle it, so their jobs sound easy to their peers (projecting status and competence) but painful and sacrificial to those below them. The second is that middle management is often a trap that leaves you cleaning up messes made below and above you, and doesn't confer much status or respect. You're best to jump over that "uncanny valley" and into a role where you get to make actual decisions. With 15 years of experience, you're more than qualified for those jobs. (You were probably more than qualified several years ago, to tell the truth.)

That's enough for one post. Good luck!

You make 200k+ a year, you should invest in me.

But you're notastartup!

Your question has already been answered by your own post.

Quit. Pack your bags, move to low cost of living area and just code.

Seriously, if you're > $200k comp last year and this year should be at least equal to $200k comp and you're not at the point of being able to retire with already 15 years of work behind you then you're doing something wrong.

Saying "Seriously, ... you're doing something wrong" when talking about someone else's financial situation when you don't know about their situation (single income family, kids, supporting parent(s), paying partner or kids through university, medical situation) is not particularly productive.

Is this meant for Hacker News Onion?

Not everyone can just pack up and leave. Especially with family. Plus, low cost of living places aren't always the most pleasurable places to live even if it means getting to spend the whole day coding.

So if you make $400k over the course of two years you should have enough money to retire? Well, taxes could wipe about half that out, depending on what state you're in. And if you have a family... well that will eat up a nice chunk of what's left.

It's the same post as yesterday https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8177259.

Developers that probably have close to half a million on the bank account complaining that they don't know what to do. It sounds a bit like you want to self-actualize yourself, but you don't want to put in the work. So if you want self-actualization, you need to work hard for it. That's the whole reason why self-actualization is so satisfying, because you have worked so hard for it.

Don't know how you can conclude what I have in my bank account, and you're way off. Sorry :(

Moreover, not sure how having money in your bank account helps with professional ennui. I don't want to take a trip, I don't want to take cooking lessons. I want meaningful work.

You just cast some light on a major misunderstanding.

It's irrelevant whether would you like to take a trip or not. It's like medicine. Many of us know how it works. You should try taking it even if you don't feel the urge. Based on what you said so far, it's very likely to be effective.

For example I went on a 5 weeks, inter-Europe trip in 2004 with MPlayer A'rpi when he was heart broken. All of my friends said I'm crazy to recommend such a remedy, but it worked! :) We were ~27yrs old only though...

I would be delighted to talk about meaningful work with you. I see soooo many problems in the world unsolved... many just in software land. The amount of knowledge required to evoke the help of hardware of software to solve real world problems is just ridiculous and very prohibitive for people who otherwise understand the problem domain well and have probably good ideas for solutions.

We will never know though whether their ideas were good solutions or not, because it's just beyond their capacity to learn all that bullshit we call "programming" nowadays.

Rebol, the http://easiestprogramminglanguage.com/ showed a possible direction. A friend of mine is pursuing that direction by writing a modern incarnation http://www.red-lang.org/ He gave up his job, retreated from Paris to Montenegro and in the past 3 years he was living on donations, then just moved to Beijing recently for incubation at InnovationWorks. He is your age too...

Would you like to become an Angel Investor? I have been working on my startup for about six months. There is a chance I may need a little more runway next month. It is a PaaS built around Docker containers. You can email me at ithkuil@gmail.com.

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