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The passionate developer: I do like my profession, I don't like my job (jonasbandi.net)
69 points by jbandi on Sept 14, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 26 comments

I think have become so burnt out that I am now lazy and am not "passionate" anymore. I think it's because I hear my employers telling me that they want me to be "passionate" and, like any jerk, I do exactly the opposite. They say to me: "We want someone who is passionate enough to spend the weekend working on something cool [that they can then give to us]."

They assume that my passion for code or building things (or whatever it may be) should translate directly into work for them. This is especially true of startups. I'm starting to think that I have had more freedom to do what I want in a boring corporate cube farm. I don't want to work for people that want to own my 20 self-improvement hours anymore.

So a startup should be about doing it your way. Working for a startup just means being another cog, doing it someone else's way, except that you are stuck working insane hours for less money.

Just in case you didn't already know: your employers are idiots.

Know that you know that, you know how to process data from them.

It's not a problem going to work for idiots. Lots of good people do. It only becomes a problem when you allow them to determine how you feel instead of deciding how to feel yourself.

If you're burnt out at the moment, solve that problem. But don't lay it off on them. They aren't capable of earning that much blame.

Couldn't agree more. I feel the same and sometimes I wonder if I did the right thing joining a startup. I agree it is different when it is YOUR startup but on joining one that doesn't have time for your ideas it's pretty painful. In the evening I am shattered...can't put in the hours for my own stuff and all I do is watch it die. Biking (to save money) through the city watching the skyscrapers which housed my office once can't stop me from wondering: wouldn't it be better or easier if I would be stuck in one of those and having been paid 5 times as much for a fraction of the work I do now? I could still break the door at 5:30 and by 6 to do my own stuff relaxed...not mentioning that between the meetings at starbucks on the top floor I would be planning my work for home?

If it is your startup that is a different story I think...but I am feeling burnt out and seriously thinking on taking the easy way cause it might be more productive...less of a good story maybe but the goal is still there. And a startup is to reach it...but if it's not your startup it's someone else's tool and well said: you're just another cog.

Same case here. My first job was at MegaCorp but the pay was good and the hours were great. I would be home by 4:30 with lots of energy and time in the day left. I left because of the slow work pace and bureaucracy.

Then went to MediumCorp where the pay was less because I thought I would be happier with the work and would have more opportunity to contribute. I didn't really find much difference and ended up being unhappy that I was making less.

Now I'm at a new company. I have more influence over my work and no bureaucracy but I'm still trading time for money. One good thing I've learned is how fast they get products out there which has been a good lesson for me.

I've also done freelancing full-time which is better in that I get to set my own hours and work with multiple projects but it is not ideal for me.

After a few years in the workforce, I now think the smart thing to do is to find a job that pays the most amount of money for the least amount of work so that I have lots of time and energy left over for working on my own thing.

There is something wrong in a profession in which to do better/more work you need to make less money...

In retrospect I made some poor decisions as a result of my inexperience but I agree with you. I have found that if you are more productive you are just given more to do. The X-hour work day is a horrible system for programmers that tends to lead to mediocrity over time. Unfortunately I don't have a better solution outside of starting one's own business.

Working for a startup taught me more of "how not to screw it up" than anything positive I saw the existing company/founders do. There were some great lessons learnt at the expense of my personal time.

I think there's something wrong if a profession has so many people jazzed about it, but so many are unhappy about their jobs. I also think there's profit potential in this.

I think YCombinator is a solution to that problem. They're profiting by finding talented people that are unhappy working for someone else.

I think most startup founders would like to avoid hiring a programmer who was burnt out. While it might help the programmer who was burnt out, that's not really the goal of hiring someone. Someone who has felt burnt out in the last several months is likely to have much less stamina than someone who hasn't.

I'm not even sure if working for a startup is one of the best ways to recover from burnout, in the early stages of recovery. In many cases, the recipe for curing something is different from the recipe for preventing something. Not coding at all for a few weeks might be a better way to undo some of the damage caused by working in an unmotivating environment than trying to jump into a more intense job.

I see a lot of people advocating taking a vacation for the sake of vacationing (not just recovery) as a way to deal with burnout. While I haven't tried it myself (my last couple of trips were to conferences) I've heard the advice repeated enough that I'm willing to give it a shot.

I can work hard, but I need regular vacations. This is from my experience, your mileage will vary.

I think the trick is to take vacation before burnout feelings. Otherwise, you spend a month just staring into a wall.

If you get vacation a bit more often, then you can do something nice instead (travel is always good; try e.g. scuba diving, wind surfing or hang gliding).

That vacation will probably be a memory for life.

(After writing this, I'm going to go book a vacation for February! It will also give me time to get back into functional programming again, I love that it is becoming popular.)

Yeah, if you let yourself get burnt out, even if you plan fun activities while you're on vacation, the burnout will probably take away from it. I went on a sailboat tour while I was on vacation while feeling burnt out, and I remember alternating between enjoying the ride and feeling sad.

I'm glad I helped you remind yourself to book your vacation. :)

Working for a startup can mean a lot more than that if you're not trapped in a mental state of idealism and arrogance. The last startup I was apart of failed (partly due to technical ego), but as a whole it was my real life MBA; a great experience and contributed significantly to personal growth.

Certainly not my place to judge you but if you're so sick and tired of working for someone else — what are you waiting on? If you think working for a startup is challenging, try being the founder of one. Most people can't cut it outside of ~12-24 months.

> Certainly not my place to judge you but if you're so sick and tired of working for someone else — what are you waiting on?

Well, what I (think) I am saying is that I have no time or energy for a startup of my own while I'm working at someone else's, and that something has to change to allow me to work towards my own goals. As it is, there are simply no hours left in the day, and even if there were hours the boss wants to own everything I do at any time. So, yeah. I'll work on it.

"We want someone who is passionate enough to spend the weekend working on something cool"

Tell them you want more cash and equity for your hard work. If they don't give it to you, quit.

Why are you putting yourself through this torture?

It's very convenient to think that we could realize the perfect solution, if only we could do things our way...


Why do you think so many of us want to do start-ups? For the money? The long hours? The isolation? The family and social conflicts? Hardly.

Many of us are so sick and tired of participating in squandered corporate opportunities that we are frustrated into doing it our own way. We are right. And eventually, we have to do it our way.

Nothing selfish about it. Precisely the opposite. Who wants to go through life wondering what they could have given?

Do mechanical and chemical engineers have this much mental anguish over their professions?

I have often wondered that myself. It does seem like engineers have less angst about it because they have been trained since school to play by all the strict rules, standards, and best practices that have been drilled into them.

It's possible that software development attracts more creative, nonconformist people than engineering because there is a much higher barrier for creativity and self-direction in engineering.

success, failure, performance and ability are all easier to measure in physical engineering disciplines than in software.

Sort of, but engineering is more measurable. If you can reduce a component's defect rate, then the company will likely go with your new idea. If you can't reduce a defect rate, then you won't have any lingering feelings that your way would have been better.

Engineers also tend not to have blogs to rant about this stuff, so if they do have anguish they don't publicize it. It's all kind of a generalization though, so YMMV.

Wait, you mean we're not engineers? (us Software Engineers, that is)

The original article used the word developer, so I just used engineer to refer to the other type of profession. I wasn't trying to suggest anything, just being more concise while writing a comment.

In my case, it was MUCH worse. I have a BSME and worked as a Product Engineer for 2 years at a spark plug company. I hated it so much, I worked like a dog to get into IT. (There really wasn't much of an IT program at my school when I started and computer engineering was basically mechanical engineering with a computer...sigh) Most engineering work, especially automotive, is extremely boring. I'm sure an M.E. at Nasa is considerably happier, but these types of jobs are extremely rare. Moving to IT was one the of all time best decisions of my life, but it wasn't easy to make the transition.

I know that doctors and nurses often do.

As far as I know, No. I think the reason is not beacause there are more bright people in Software (would love to think that though :)) but that they have less choices.

How often do you hear a mechanical engineer leaving work to start a new company or doing a 'Mechanical' start up and selling to for big money?.

I think when you have few options and when people you identify with are doing what you are doing, these feelings of not contributing/not doing anything else are less.

The word "passionate" has become a meaningless corporate buzzword

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