The Life of a Professional Programmer: Reflections from 26 Years on the Job
As a journalist, I have interviewed many professionals in various industries, but rarely do I come across someone with such a long and diverse career as a programmer. In a recent post on Hacker News, a professional programmer shared their reflections on marking 27 years in the field, with over 40 years of programming experience overall. The post reveals the evolution of their career, moving from small companies to big corporations, from being a programmer to a manager, team lead and CTO, and back to a programmer and software architect again.
The author, like many other programmers, struggled with the management aspect of their role. They found that they did not enjoy managing people, meetings, and paperwork and preferred long periods of focus. They discovered that their stress tolerance was low, and they struggled to focus when life outside of work was not in order. As a result, their ability to focus on their work decreased, and they ended up doing more “people work” instead.
The post reveals a struggle that many programmers face when navigating their career path. The author loved coding and problem-solving but found that they were exceptionally good at getting technical people to communicate with each other and integrating their work. They tried both programming and management roles, but with time, they became aware that their passion lay in building real-life usable software and seeing people get value out of them.
The post resonated with many others in the community, generating multiple comments and discussion among other professionals in the field. Some agreed with the author that programming was addictive and that once someone had experienced the flow of programming, it was hard to give it up. Others shared their struggles with middle management roles, and how they had to refuse to transition back to programming roles, sometimes quitting their jobs to do so.
Some commenters shared their insights on the importance of good technical leadership, and how it was essential to have experienced developers writing code and guiding others. Others shared their experiences of being pushed into management roles despite their objections, and how it was often challenging to navigate technical problems in leadership roles without coding experience.
The post painted a vivid picture of the life of a professional programmer, the challenges they face, and the joy they get from their work. It revealed the importance of self-awareness, of being true to oneself, and finding a balance between work and other interests in life. From the discussions in the comments, it is clear that programming is a special kind of career, and as much as it can be addictive, it is essential to find the right balance to avoid burnout and to enjoy the journey.
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Author Eliza Ng