I'm 23, and I've had an objectively great programming job for six months. Part of me wants to quit and become a barista or something. Am I crazy?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (57 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I started programming midway through college, when I had an idea for a web app and quickly figured out that the only way to get it built was to build it myself. I loved making my idea into a working application, but I'm no longer so sure this meant I loved coding. To be honest, I hated every technical roadblock, and my glee upon fixing nasty bugs was 90% "FINALLY, I can move on!" and only 10% "Ohhh, I get it now!" I think I might be a non-nerd--if my code works, I don't care about why. If it doesn't work, I just want to reboot my computer and have it magically fixed. I'm sure that sounds incurious and spoiled, and I'm also sure that most programmers feel that way sometimes. But... I basically feel that way ALL the time.
And that's kind of horrible. I have a real job now, at a small company where the only other developer is my boss. There is SO MUCH to learn, but I only care about any of it for extrinsic reasons.* Some days, this is enough--I'm on task most of the time, efficient at writing simple code or cobbling together the solution from Google, and/or lucky enough to be consulted on product matters where I actually have thoughtful opinions to give. But most days, I'm fucking around on the internet and doing the bare minimum to look like I'm trying. Unless I seriously change my attitude (and please, Jesus, advice on that if you have it), I am never going to excel at this job.
I've always had a terrible work ethic when I'm doing something that 1) requires mental energy that 2) I don't want to give. When something is intellectually difficult and uninteresting, concentrating on it hard enough to understand it often feels as impossible to me as benching twice my bodyweight. (I was always a mediocre student.) And yet... I focused intense mental energy on my app almost every day from the beginning of junior year until graduation because I wanted to see it built.** I'd have coding breakthroughs while hanging out with friends because the app was almost always the top problem in my head. On school breaks, I'd sometimes code all day long, only pausing to eat or jog around the block.
I wish I had even 10% of that drive now. I feel so much guilt--primarily, over screwing over my hardworking, amazing boss with my spaciness and apathy. But also over stagnating intellectually. As it stands, my real motivators are my paycheck, fear of letting people down, and the near-certainty that by quitting, I'd be throwing away an amazing opportunity I'm currently too young, stupid, and privileged to appreciate. My mom is finally proud of me. My boss has invested an insane amount of time and effort into training me, and it would be a serious dick move to quit now. Also, my mom actually got me the interview because her friend is very high up in the company (though the technical side actually made the decision to hire me). I don't want to burn the bridge between me and this amazing connection, or cause any resentment or conflict between my mom and the connection (though that part's minor, since I doubt the connection would actually fault my mom for something I did).
So what do I WANT to do? I'm not sure. But having this job is making it hard to find out, because it's not a 9-5/M-F. Everyone is under tremendous pressure to put in extra hours--I typically work six days a week, and I know my boss would be delighted if I worked seven like he does. Currently, I sort of really want to be a comedy writer--I've got a hilarious web series pilot in my head--but I feel so drained most of the time it's hard to dabble, much less dedicate myself. (Yes, I know my chances of making it are slim-to-none no matter what I do.) I also frankly miss my app but I REALLY can't bring myself to code in my spare time. Part of me just wants to quit and become a barista or something--struggle with the learning curve for a few weeks instead of FOREVER, develop some small talk skills, have most of my mental energy to focus on creative pursuits, know I could quit at any time if some exciting opportunity arose. The other part of me is screaming, "NOOOOOOOO YOU SHITBAG DON'T RUIN YOUR LIFE!!!!!!!!"
I have $50,000 in my bank account, no student debt (my dad died when I was 8 and he had life insurance), and health insurance through my mom. And I know I'm so, so lucky to be where I am now, but I also really want to be lost and aimless for a while. Because right now, I've got all the direction in the world, and it's breaking my privileged little heart.
Insights? Verbal kicks in the pants? Throwaway email: likeastagnantstone at gmail dot com. If it matters, I'm female.
*I know extrinsic rewards are totally legitimate reasons to work, and realistically the primary reason anyone has a job. I just can't seem to convince my Intense Focus Brain of that truth, and I speculate that in a less intellectually demanding job, perhaps that'd be more OK.
**The app never did get fully built (I knew literally nothing about coding beforehand and it was HUGE for a first project), but I guess I got maybe 65% of the way to a decent beta launch.