I’ve been thinking about becoming a programmer recently. Two of my friends transitioned into the field and immediately got high-paying jobs. A part of me also wants to be “In demand” on the job market. It also seems exciting to work in tech. That’s where most innovation is happening today. Wouldn’t it be great to be a pioneer, to build the next Spotify, or at least to understand how phenomena like Bitcoin truly work? Yes, it would be fantastic. But perhaps not for me.
I spent yesterday trying (unsuccessfully!) to move three WordPress pages from one web host to the other. A simple task for an aspiring programmer. But for me, the migration process provided the backdrop for the most frustrating day I’ve had in months. And I mean cursing-at-the-computer-out-loud-frustrating.
In turns out that this arguably simple task, for me, was one of the most annoying tasks I can imagine. I even used a plugin to do it for me! Migrating the pages was supposed to take two clicks, but instead it ate up my entire day. I am still not finished.
A future programmer would arguably find enjoyment in technical problem-solving. I did not enjoy any of this. They would probably accept that they needed to look up information about SQL-databases and media libraries. I did not feel very accepting.
A programmer would find some value in coming up with solutions for the problem of a WordPress-migration gone wrong. The essence of coding is, after all, getting something to work that currently does not. It’s finding that obscure thing that is ruining the rest of the code. It’s testing different assumptions about the problem until they find the fix.
To me, as I learned yesterday, all of these things are just frustrating. I don’t like technical problems. I want technical things to work, so I can use them to do non-technical things. All I want is for my pages to work again so I can write on them, do marketing on them. I don’t want to be thinking about their form. I want to focus on content.
Fortunately—after washing off my frustration in the shower—I had an insight last night: The idea of learning to code has been occupying my mind for several weeks now, using up space, and blocking out other projects. Naturally, I had not really started coding anything. And yet there is a part of me who concluded that I should.
Facing that simple coding-related problem reconnected me to reality. I kept imagining how great my future career as a programmer would be—ignoring its nature of the skill, and how it (mis-)matches my own disposition. In twenty eight years, I never programmed anything. I wrote a lot, read a lot, learned a lot. But never about programming. That is not to say that people don’t change. But I probably had my reasons interested in other things.
In my head, then, I compared programming to writing. I love writing, and I always have. When you write, there are nuances. A text is a text. It’s either better or worse. Code, on the other hand either works or it doesn’t (although there are levels of elegance to it, too). It’s binary and at least from my perspective, less organic. When you write, you have produced a text. It might require editing, but at least it starts out being a text. In that sense, it accomplishes its fundamental objective right away. But code that doesn’t work is useless. In a way, it almost ceases to be code.
Texts can also not work, of course. A text might be meant to sell a product, but doesn’t accomplish its goal. And yet, the process of working with text, to me, seems to be more natural, more flowing, or simply more human.
This is not a value judgement. I simply find that things that are natural, flowing, and human are more interesting to me. In contrast to most men, I am more interested in people than in things. I appreciate a well-working app just as much as the next guy. But for me quality often only becomes apparent when things do not work as expected.
If you read enough self-help, you’ll find that most advice will tell you to work with your strengths. And all advice will tell you to stick with the things you enjoy doing. I learned this again, yesterday.
It’s easy to get inspired by trends or the success of other people, especially when you—like me—have a wild imagination to begin with. That’s a good thing. But it’s important to remember what truly floats your boat. In most cases, you already know what these things are. You have known them for a long time. It’s the things you do freely, on your own time. It’s where your curiosity drives you when you don’t think about making a living.
For me, these things are writing, marketing, psychology, and spirituality. These are all things that have to do with people. They are fundamentally human. The only thing I do not really enjoy in my psychology degree is learning about statistics. I can see why they’re necessary, and they are good to understand to make decisions. But inspiring they are not.
I’ve spend years with a step-dad who took sports cars apart and put them back together. Not once did I ask him to turn in a screw. I never cared about his Porsche.
Without a doubt there is value in working on our weaknesses. But strengths are first in line. If you know what you good at and what you enjoy doing, you should focus on that.
Sometimes we don’t really now what we like to do until we actually try it. The internet is great because you can try almost anything without having to pass a costly entry barrier. Take advantage of that!
I had already applied for university courses in coding without ever really having coded at home. I assumed that I will probably have a good time doing it. But perhaps I won’t. The horrors of yesterday were rather indicative of that possibility. The take-away from my suffering is this: don’t make assumptions. If you think you want something, find a way to test it first. This applies not only to careers, but also to countries of residence, or moving in with your partner.
Do an internship in the field before you apply for a degree. Borrow your friends tent and sleep in your garden for a night before you spend two thousand dollars on camping equipment. If you think that organisational psychology sounds interesting, find out what the term really means before you write your resume.