Update: check out what Loren (the guy I mention in this post) actually is creating. Pretty awesome. The things I say in this post are still true, but I apparently either had Loren pegged wrong or this post may have influenced him in some way. He’s definitely building something cool right now and he’s putting a great deal of hard work into it.
I read the saddest most uninformed blog post on hacker news yesterday which somehow made it near the top of the front page.
It is basically the all too common story of “I quit my job because I got bored and I’m just going to do what I want and I’m so excited, please give me self encouragement in the form of follow your dream, live your passion, etc, so I can feel better about myself and not realize that I am just lazy.”
Unfortunately this kind of thinking and mentality seems to accurately embody much of the general ignorance and blatant stupidity of the next generation of software developers.
The best and the brightest
Hacker news is full of plenty of smart and talented young people. There are, of course, experienced veterans of the industry there as well, but there sure seem to be a lot of really smart people that, like brightly burning stars, will soon fade into nothingness.
It is really sad to see someone peak at 22 or 23 years of age and then go down the crapper from there.
It doesn’t happen because they work really hard and burn out. It doesn’t happen because, as they like to imagine, the world wasn’t ready for their genius. It happens because they don’t know how to work.
The sad thing is, we are to blame for this. We have painted the wrong picture for youth. We have glamorized the world of software development and programming and told them that they will be carried through life on their abilities and brain matter. We have somehow imbued within them the misconception that being smarter than someone or possessing more knowledge than another makes a person not only superior to that person in every way, but gives them the right to publically efface and hurl all manner of insults at that person in the name of science.
What we haven’t told them is that nothing of any worth is obtained by any means except for good old honest hard work.
You see, these young and bright minds are being mistakenly fed the tasty meal of McDonald’s french fries and double whoppers that says work should be fun.
Hard, boring work
The big problem is that “kids today” don’t understand the value of hard, boring work. They think that they can just fly through life choosing only things that interest them and as soon as the thing stops interesting them, then they can move onto something else.
And it is fine, you can live your life this way. And if you do, you may start out ahead of the pack. Your passion may at first carry you further than your peers. But, overtime you’ll find those peers of yours that were willing to put in the hard work and stick to one thing, as boring as it might have been for them, will overtake you.
“The race is to the driven, not to the swift” – North and South
This is an extremely sad day, because it is a day in which you realize that while others have been carefully storing away nuts for the winter and fortifying their fortresses against all attack, you yourself have lived the vapid life of a vagabond merrily traveling from pleasure to pleasure in life ever thirsting, but never being quenched, every tasting, but never consuming.
It is really easy to sit at your desk when you are supposed to be working and browse hacker news, injecting in your sarcastic wit and sly comments, believing them to be of value, believing that somehow that in this false self-affirming reality that you are actually creating something of value, when indeed all you are doing is destroying and marring the work of others to your own detriment.
It is easy from the cushy back of your Aeron chair, provided to you by the fancy startup you’ve managed to secure a job at, based on sheer intelligence alone and no other human quality of any worth, to indiscriminately write-off the thought of lesser mortals and set them in their place as you spout off your hard earned knowledge of the industry and of how the very world works which was granted to you as a gift to mankind—your divine providence.
The sad truth of reality though is that while you are providing your service and value to humanity in the form of your irrefutable and distinguished wisdom, others are hard at work ever so humbly providing real value through their—at times—loveless toil.
They are building bridges a carefully laid stone at a time. You are crossing those bridges without a thought about how they got there and upholding your position as the great explorer and master of bridge building even though you just traversed a path that was already laid out for you.
The easy path
So, to those of you who want the easy path; for each of you that can’t stand boredom and despise work without pleasure, enjoy your brilliance while it lasts.
As you take flight from project to project seeking out only what it is that entertains your for the moment, you will be receiving your reward as you have earned it. You are like the man without a dollar in his bank account until payday comes who then quickly and excitedly cashes his check and spends it in its entirety that very weekend.
Check out this quote from Nietzsche which sums it up nicely:
But there are rarer men who would rather die than work without enjoyment in their work: the fastidious people, difficult to satisfy, whose object is not served by an abundant profit, unless the work itself be the reward of all rewards.
It doesn’t matter how brilliant you started out or how much faster you exited the gates than everyone else, those who consistently get up every morning and direct their energies along a single path, no matter how boring it may be, will eventually pass you on each of the many roads you haphazardly travel.
It may seem that I am suggesting that a software developer pick a single path, a single technology and stick with it for the rest of their life. But, this is not at all what I am suggesting.
Instead, what I am really saying is that to have long term success at whatever endeavor you are currently pursuing—and it can change drastically and many times throughout your life—you must have the wherewithal, the grit, to hunker down and work hard well past the point where the work is enjoyable.
It doesn’t matter what passion you pursue, the passion will fade, and you will be left with cold hard work in its place. At this point many people will mistakenly make the choice to leave that work and assume that it is time to move on, but any person who has ever produced any great work or achievement knows that it is only by pushing through the pain, by continually showing up every day and “paying your dues” that anything of value is ever really achieved.
The myth of burn out
I’ve written about this wall or barrier before, that many developers and like to attribute to burn out.
Burn out is just a rationalization for giving up early.
It is just a way to make an excuse for yourself to say that since everyone experiences this phenomenon, there is nothing wrong with me and no shame in my giving into it.
As I’ve grown over the years, I’ve come to realize that it is more than just a barrier. I recently read the excellent book “The War of Art,” and in that book Steven Pressfield describes this avoidance of work as resistance. He give resistance all kinds of diabolical characteristics that paint it as the true enemy that it is.
Even as I type these very words, I feel the force rising up in me. I created this blog originally because I thought it would be fun to write about what I thought about software development; to share my wisdom and knowledge about the profession. But, like all things, that feeling soon faded. What I was left with was the choice to continue blogging, even though it now at times hurt, or give up and move on to the next direction my heart led me to go.
And I could have given up and instead perhaps started a novel that I would never finish, or maybe a web application that I would someday sell as a service, or… and the list goes on.
The point is, no matter what avenue I would choose to pursue, the passion would eventually die, and I would be again faced with the same choice.
The same goes for the work I do at Pluralsight. Just last week I finished the 20th course I created this year alone, my 46th course overall. Do you think I wake up every morning and say “hey, I can’t wait to painstakingly produce and record hours of content?”
When I first started creating my first course, I had that feeling and felt that energy, but to be honest, it didn’t even last through the creation of that first course. By the end of it, I was ready to give up. This online video course production is for someone else, not me, instead I want to… eh, but I stopped myself. I started my next course, and when I was done with that one, I moved onto the next one and so on.
Now have I been miserable this whole time? Do I hate creating courses and writing blog posts with all my energy and inner being? Some days, yes, but most days it is not that black and white.
There are things I like and things I despise and it varies from day to day. I am, for example, having quite a bit of fun with this post. But, for the most part the rewarding part of what I do comes at the end—the finished product.
There is not quite any feeling like that of success that was achieved from long hours and hard work and toil. Work that is constantly pleasurable most often lacks this quality.
I’ve got much more to say on this topic including how I’ve been able to overcome burnout and learn to hunker down and do hard work even when I don’t feel like it.
I’m currently working on a top secret product that will combine what I have learned about this topic and more over the years with wisdom and knowledge from many successful developers much smarter than I am. Sign up here, and you’ll be the first to know when it is launched.