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Coding in the wind

By sugarman in Technology
Tue Jan 02, 2001 at 05:25:57 PM EST
Tags: Round Table (all tags)
Round Table

At the end of the day, how much satisfaction do you take home from the work you do? The IT industry, like many white-collar industries, leaves little tangible evidence of its passing. There are no monuments, no skyscrapers, no inukshuk to say "We were here."

This effect can be exacerbated in the IT industry, where code can be tossed and forgotten completely. How do you cope with the lack of a physical real-world product? Or is it not an issue for you?

The IT industry, perhaps more so than any other, is an industry in which there is often no physical end product. In contrast with trades of old, it can be often difficult to step back and say "I made that" as did the stonemasons of yore. The project will have moved on, your hard work will be scrapped as a move is made by management to migrate to a new environment, language, or methodology.

Now there are exceptions. The shiny, shrink-wrapped boxes lining the walls at the Electronics Boutique are evidence of this. But as many wide-eyed novices discover, the majority of programming work is not done in making games, but in more menial, mundane and transient tasks.

I'm asking this partially due to this diary entry. While I'm not under the same stresses, I have felt them before. In my case, it meant changing jobs regularly, using the novelty to escape the "spinning my wheels" feeling. But in the end, you can only run for so long before you tire of the race.

However, everyone's limit is different, as are the ways in which one copes. Do you feel the need to cope by doing something that is not related to coding in your spare time? Does the lack of a physical, tangible product bother you? Is creating programs (or web-pages, scripts, etc.) enough for you? Or are you somewhere in between?


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Do you need to make something tangible?
o Yes 28%
o No 28%
o Depends. Does music count? If so, yes. 14%
o Hadn't thought about it 12%
o Waiting for nanotech so I can make code real 4%
o Making my own real, tangible shirobara in the basement 12%

Votes: 64
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o this
o Also by sugarman

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Coding in the wind | 29 comments (27 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
I've thought about that too.. (4.25 / 4) (#1)
by bearclaw on Tue Jan 02, 2001 at 04:02:18 PM EST

I've also given some thought to the idea of a tangible thing and how it might relate to my jbo satisfaction. I haven't come up with any conclusions, but I would like to hear other's views on it. I was also surprised that people took the time to read and comment on my diary entry, which kind of took me by surprise. Thanks to everyone who posted a comment.

-- bearclaw
Code can be thought of as tangible (4.25 / 4) (#2)
by Mr. Excitement on Tue Jan 02, 2001 at 04:06:58 PM EST

If you're in the business of coding, then you're dealing with a lot of abstract concepts, in ways most people never need, nor try to. Once you've embraced that mindset, and you watch your carefully wrought lines of code make their own magic in the box, can you really see it as anything other than real?

The satisfaction of knowing I've made code that is both beautiful, functional, and if at all possible, elegant, is enough for me.

On the other hand, stonemasons don't need to make frequent backups of their work. :)

1 141900 Mr. Excitement-Bar-Hum-Mal-Cha died in The Gnomish Mines on level 10 [max 12]. Killed by a bolt of lightning - [129]

There is no spoon. (3.66 / 3) (#5)
by elenchos on Tue Jan 02, 2001 at 04:22:12 PM EST

I built houses one summer and it was very satisfying in a tangible way.

In the USAF, helping support air-lifting injured kids from Bosnia to US hospitals (and then back to get the other leg blown off because we don't want the lousy free-loading foreign beggars over-staying their welcome do we?) was very satisfying also, albeit in a bittersweet way.

Now I'm learning to write code and the satisfaction from finally getting a program to work the way I wanted is like, well, a drug.

But no matter what, you need variety or you'll get burnt out, that's for sure. And young people these days need to slow down and realize that they have more years of life ahead of them than any previous generation, so WHAT, I would really like to know, is the big hurry? Stop trying to make so much money so fast. Instead realize that you have the job-market negotiating power to design a lifestyle that fits you perfectly and balances all the wonderful things that life has to offer. If you approach that in a one-dimensional way, you will peak early and suffer through an embarrassing mid-life crisis when you are only 25, which if you do the math, means you will DIE from stress-induced diseases at age 50. Not a Good Thing.

You have to be good to yourself


Working Fast (4.50 / 2) (#23)
by Fred Nerk on Wed Jan 03, 2001 at 06:20:34 PM EST

I'm one of those "young people", and I've been a full-time programmer or sys-admin for 4 years now. I have loved programming for as long as I can remember. Since getting a job programming, it's kind of lost it's appeal... I spend all day tapping away at code that really isn't inspiring at all, so by the time I go home, I no longer have the mental energy to do anything I really want to, like finish off one or two games that have been half finished for years.

A little while ago, I considered a career change. I thought of moving into management, but after a brief discussion about it, I realised that I actually don't have the people skills required. I would also love to be a Chef.. I love cooking and I'm not too bad at it, but unfortunately I've become used to the pay from a programmer job, and I don't think I could handle spending a few years as an apprentice Chef.

One of my first jobs was a labourer for a roof tiler. Now that was a great job. There was no stress, no worries about deadlines or people hassling you. I just loaded tiles onto the conveyor belt, 5 at a time for 8 hours a day. The pay is reasonble, as in any trade, but in the Australian sun, I will end up like my boss at the time - major skin cancer by the time I'm 30.

So, my plan is: Get enough money to buy a house and pay off my car, become debt-free as soon as possible. After that I can go work in a shop or something. A workplace where I get to talk to people, or at least say more than "I'll send you an E-mail as soon as I get the reply back from X"...

Point? Well there isn't not much of one really...

[ Parent ]

Not so different (4.20 / 5) (#6)
by spacejack on Tue Jan 02, 2001 at 04:25:24 PM EST

If you work in the creative field it's not so different -- the projects are typically fast & furious and a lot of quality work simply gets trashed at the end of the day. Usually it's up to you to document or keep copies of your work. If you work collaboratively on large projects (like multimedia/web jobs) it can be just as tricky to take home something you can show later at any time. But you can usually do it to some extent -- record it operating on video if you have to. Otherwise you might find it difficult after a couple years to find any traces of your work to show elsewhere.

I do recommend doing it though. It may not always seem appreciated, but so long as you're not stealing company secrets, I say make copies of your work cause the company won't do it for you.

It's worse for Security professionals. (4.00 / 4) (#7)
by FreeLinuxCD.org on Tue Jan 02, 2001 at 04:31:00 PM EST

I do web application programming, but part of my job is securing a dedicated server running Linux.

When I am doing development I can show that programs I wrote are working as they are supposed to and my supervisors will be happy. Their encouragement gives me a feeling of accomplishment as well..

However, when I am working on securing the Linux server, they never know what I am doing. The only way I can prove that I am successful at what I am doing is if the site is never broken into. I know that I have accomplished a lot (becasue I run tests against it) but they have no idea. Hence, nothing to encourage me. I don't even think they consider the security tasks I perform when they evaluate my performance in the job.

I imagine it would be tougher for people whose sole job function is providing security. I certainly hope all security professionals work for well educated bosses who'll know what those efforts are worth.

Oktay Altunergil

Tangible vs. intangible results (4.00 / 5) (#8)
by pmk on Tue Jan 02, 2001 at 04:46:26 PM EST

I have often had similar thoughts in my career, but at least, being a software guy in a hardware company, I can point to the hardware and claim that I had something to do with making it useful.

Satisfaction can also come from observing the end products of our customers. They do fascinating things with our gear, and I help make that possible.

In the long run, though, we're all dead. The hardware becomes quickly obsolete and the software goes wherever dead software goes. We carry forward the lessons and skills learned, though. One source of satisfaction after the end of a project is skimming through one's notes and saved e-mail. Keeping a journal now will pay off later in refreshing your memory.

If Cliff Stoll had simply tracked down a jerk hacker, his satisfaction, I think, would have been less. Since he kept a detailed log, he was able to write a paper (and later, a best-selling book) about his experiences. Most software people could tell interesting tales about their work, if they kept notes.

Thoughts from a software developer (3.80 / 5) (#9)
by jfpoole on Tue Jan 02, 2001 at 04:46:41 PM EST

I've been writing software professionally for a few years now, and I do feel like I'm creating something tangible. It's a neat feeling when you realize how many people are out there using software that you helped create -- it does give me a nice feeling of accomplishment. Heck, even when I write software in my spare time, I still feel like I'm creating something tangible (even if it ends up being used by a much smaller audience).

Of course, if I ever feel the need to do something somewhat more tangible (if not tactile), well, that's why I've got a few LEGO sets lying around!


I'm happy! (3.71 / 7) (#10)
by joto on Tue Jan 02, 2001 at 05:12:15 PM EST

I'd say we're pretty lucky compared to most other occupations out there. Compare our situation to someone sitting behind a reception or counter desk, someone working at an assembly line, someone doing purely maintenance work (ooops, that's almost all of us, I guess), someone just trading goods, etc..., and you'll see that programming is in fact extremely rewarding.

At least we can build something. And if someone replaces some code I've written, that ususally means they've got something better, so I'm happy to see the improvement. Seeing improvement is about the only thing that drives me as a programmer. Whether it is improvement in the actual product itself, or just improvement in my own skills. Seeing improvement is the only thing that drives me as a programmer. I am happy as long as I feel I do something meaningfull.

Good point you mention (5.00 / 2) (#13)
by amokscience on Tue Jan 02, 2001 at 07:52:10 PM EST

As long as I feel that I have actually improved on something, I feel I have accomplished something. The occaisions that I get absolutely nothing new done are the ones I try to avoid at all costs. They may pay the bills but they certainly aren't interesting or rewarding for me.

For me I enjoy the process and anticipation more than any finished product. I find the challenges of design, debugging, and final delivery immensely frustrating and (therefore) enjoyable. As an end result of my tendencies, I'm always wanting to work on new things. I never suffer through a 'downer' after finishing a new product. The knowledge that what I made is helping others do their work/enjoy life is a good feeling.

I'm also always working on something completely work unrelated at home on my free time. So far it's worked out great and been rewarding and fun.

[ Parent ]
I'm not a professional (3.40 / 5) (#11)
by Qtmstr on Tue Jan 02, 2001 at 05:34:24 PM EST

I'm not a professional coder (although I plan to become one), but I do enjoy programming greatly. For me, programming is not about what is produced at the end, but what is put into it, e.g., the satisfaction of finding an eliminating a bug, or seeing a program go from a makefile alone to a full, working program that saves me time later.

Kuro5hin delenda est!
My take (1.75 / 4) (#12)
by kagaku_ninja on Tue Jan 02, 2001 at 06:10:55 PM EST

My current job sucks. None of my 4 other jobs have been truly fulfilling either. However I am making good money and have stock options. By investing that money, I can buy my freedom later in life (due to the recent market crash, a bit later than planned, but I will get there).

After getting burned out on my previous job, I quit and bummed around for 6 months. Played lots of games, hung out in the middle of nowhere making music with friends, worked as a college radio DJ, and generally enjoyed life.

This is the freedom that money gives you.

Not all about the credits (4.00 / 4) (#14)
by greenplato on Tue Jan 02, 2001 at 08:58:56 PM EST

The shiny, shrink-wrapped boxes lining the walls at the Electronics Boutique are evidence of this.

I'm still glowing from the one product that has my name in the credits. But that's not what keeps me coming back to the keyboard every day.

When I go jogging, I don't do it to get somewhere, I do it to bask in the sunshine, wave at my neighbors and listen to the birds sing. It's the same with coding/haking/sys-admining work. I do it because I enjoy it. I enjoy the hoops that I get my brain to jump through and I enjoy helping/entertaing/communing with people.

There will always be enormous stress in the computer industry, but I don't need anyone to pat me on the back, I can do that myself. It's easy to find effort rewarding when it's something you enjoy doing. The paycheck helps, but wouldn't most of us be doing this stuff anyway?

frontpage (4.00 / 4) (#15)
by Refrag on Tue Jan 02, 2001 at 09:57:36 PM EST

It's a shame this didn't make it to the frontpage. I often think there should be another factor that decides whether stuff makes it to the frontpage or not regardless of the flavor of +1 vote it got. Maybe quality of posts over a short period of time or something would promote stuff to the frontpage.

I rarely look at anything that isn't on the front page.


Kuro5hin: ...and culture, from the trenches

Strange tension (none / 0) (#16)
by slaytanic killer on Wed Jan 03, 2001 at 07:37:13 AM EST

You know, that's a weird tension... I generally want more stories posted because that represents an increase in information. On the other hand, placement of the stories has a definite effect on the comments, which can decrease information. And a lot of people only read things when they're in the submission queue.

I dunno what any solution would be, if there is any.

[ Parent ]
solution? (none / 0) (#17)
by Refrag on Wed Jan 03, 2001 at 09:30:03 AM EST

I think that the users should have a toggle in preferences as to whether or not they choose to participate in moderation of submissions. I'm sure a lot of people just want to come here to read stories, and don't want to even be bothered by seeing the Moderate Submissions option.

I think that that would lend to an overall more polished (and professional?) look for the Website. It should default to not being interested in moderation, and only users that change it ever see the option.


Kuro5hin: ...and culture, from the trenches
[ Parent ]

I Make It Tangible (4.00 / 1) (#18)
by gauntlet on Wed Jan 03, 2001 at 09:53:20 AM EST

If I code something that I'm proud of, I print it out. I put it in a binder, and I put the binder on my shelf, never to be touched again. When I feel like I'm not actually doing anything, I take a look at my collection of binders, and I consider that I have expressed my intent through that code in the same way that a novelist expresses their intent through books. How many books would I have published by now?

Into Canadian Politics?

Tangibility (3.00 / 1) (#19)
by tzanger on Wed Jan 03, 2001 at 11:14:09 AM EST

I know exactly what the author is talking about, and it's exactly why I do not like doing just code. I design embedded systems and the only time I'm truly happy is when I have both the hardware and the firmware designs to do. I can show my four-year-old stepson the widget and he goes "ooh". I can then plug it in and the firmware makes it come alive and he goes "ahhh". :-)

IT White Collar? (5.00 / 1) (#20)
by DeepDarkSky on Wed Jan 03, 2001 at 11:31:42 AM EST

The only thing I really want to address is that IT is not as "white collar" as it might seem. In fact, me and my friends usually refer to IT as blue collar work, and this being not so much the physical nature of the work, rather, it is the philosophical nature of IT work that makes it non-white collar (Perhaps grey? ring around the collar?).

By the way, the reason why so much of the programming work is in "more menial, mundane and transient" tasks is because of lack of good practices. There will be varying degrees of this kind of work, depending on how quickly and efficently you can accomplish you work and how much code reuse you've done. To me, three things that I could think of (but not limited to these three) has helped the developer community (though not all of it all the time):

1. XML - XML embodies many concepts and is so powerfully flexible and so large in scope that most people only see one or a few sides of it. To me, XML is useful for programmers for two reasons: generic data parsing and interprocess communications interface definition.

2. Open Source - The open source movement allows sharing of code and programming ideas and algorithms, etc. This is one of the places where programmers can achieve semi-immortality/fame - a program created in the philosophy of open source and/or free software takes on a life of its own. To some degree, it is even beyond the total control of the creator of the code. But most importantly, the work done is more cumulative and inclusive than the exclusive nature of closed-source/non-free software.

3. Microsoft's COM/DCOM/COM+/COM whatever. What Microsoft has done with this "technology" is enable binary "code"-reuse on the world's most popular PC platform, enabling the platform to develop massive amount of programs (quality notwithstanding) by reusing binary components. That the Gnome project is attempting to achieve the same in Linux flatters Microsoft enough to not simply dismiss it. You may not like the OS, the company, or even the technology - but it accomplishes a lot and saves programmers a lot of work (and at the same time created a lot of jobs for programmers good and bad).

What was the point? Oh yeah. So the idea is the the sense of accomplishment is achieved by doing as much work as possible without reinventing the wheel constantly. Programmers may or may not be able to point to something and say "I did this" and be proud of it, but I think that being able to finish projects while doing minimal amount of redundant and mundane tasks and maximizing the use of problem solving skills of the program may be rewarding enough. Contributing to open source can always help that anyway. Good practices and the three items mentioned above can help the programmer along.

Just a paycheck (none / 0) (#21)
by punciw on Wed Jan 03, 2001 at 04:41:30 PM EST

Sometimes I get satisfaction from the code I write, but not usually. That doesn't bother me, though. I write code for a paycheck and the pay is good. If I get the satisfaction I should from my personal life, it doesn't matter if I get it from my job.

RE: Just a paycheck (none / 0) (#25)
by odaiwai on Thu Jan 04, 2001 at 04:00:59 AM EST

A nice paycheck is all well and good, but do you ever feel that you're wasting your whole week at work with no satisfaction?

Unhappily for me, I'm having a period of burnout which co-incides with a viciously political atmosphere at work and a new baby.

-- "They're chefs! Chefs with chainsaws!"
[ Parent ]
Re: Just a paycheck (none / 0) (#27)
by punciw on Thu Jan 04, 2001 at 09:11:09 AM EST

Yes, I often do feel like I am wasting my weeks at work. That is the main reason that I don't think that I can be a programmer forever. In the long term I would like to do something that effects something more than just a bottom line. Know what I mean? However, for now it allows me to do the things I want to do with my time outside of work. I hope that your situation at work improves and good luck with the new baby, Dave. Thanks for the response. Aaron

[ Parent ]
Can't get no satisfaction ... (3.00 / 1) (#22)
by thomp on Wed Jan 03, 2001 at 04:43:03 PM EST

from programming. Well, at least very little. Back in the late 80s I worked for six years in a small shop building nets for commercial fisherman and fish farmers. I would go back to that job in a minute if the wages were better. It was hard work; but there was such a great sense of satisfaction watching my product go out the door. I don't get that feeling in my current IT career. My work is never done; I never hold the product in my hands.

Maybe the Amish are right ...

I agree 100 % (3.00 / 1) (#24)
by BuzzKill on Wed Jan 03, 2001 at 06:45:49 PM EST

I've been writing code for the man for 16 years now and before that I worked in pizza places. You know when I was happiest ? When I worked in those pizza places. I mean, I feel very fulfilled now especially when I write something really clever or hack together something that I never thought I would be able to create. But every now and then, I go back to "the old neighborhood" and visit the pizza place and just offer to sweep and mop the floors during closing for that sense of immediate gratification of a job well done. Sometimes you just have to crawl outside your mind and do something physical to get that feeling.

[ Parent ]
Passion (none / 0) (#26)
by slaytanic killer on Thu Jan 04, 2001 at 07:05:16 AM EST

I think the best way is to find a company that remains passionate to its product. I had a friend who left Sun a while ago and went to Apple, then Jobs arrived. In both jobs, he felt stifled and bored, thought about starting a bar or something. Red tape, especially at Sun. But Jobs does bring a certain passion to his work, and now my friend considers his job really awesome and said that if I wanted to work in Cupertino, I would really enjoy it. Perhaps one really must feel like they're changing the world.

Embedded Programming is different (5.00 / 1) (#28)
by bluebomber on Thu Jan 04, 2001 at 10:15:21 AM EST

As a firmware engineer, all of my code DOES end up in a physical product! At the end of the day, I get to ship a product that I can actually hold in my hand (and I can even walk through the stockroom and see INVENTORY for those products).
Why am I coding? (none / 0) (#29)
by MoonJihad on Thu Jan 04, 2001 at 06:55:59 PM EST

There is only one reason why I am programming everyday(even if I'm not getting paid for it... I'm still a student). I like it. Give me food and a decent comp and I would code for free. I'm not in it for the money, I'm not in it for the glory, but I'm coding for fun. So there is nothing to touch at the end of the day. I prefer to have nothing in my hands at the end of the day than hating my life and having something in my hands.

Coding in the wind | 29 comments (27 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
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