Bored of the nitty gritty in technology. What next?
February 12, 2018 8:52 AM   Subscribe

I'm fed up and bored of the low-level details involved with code and hardware and all the other things that come with computing. Management seems like the same thing, just one layer up. Any alternative ideas?

After many years of pouring over protocols, codebases, standards, tools, implementations etc I find myself less and less enthused about all the low-level details that come with writing and maintaining software. About 6 months ago I changed field in order to freshen it up and about 3 months ago I moved to hardware/software to freshen it even further but I'm left more and more bored and unenthusiastic. I've solved enough problems that I know given enough time, effort and background reading I'll be able to solve it. The thrill of working out how no longer seems to be a first-class principle of my work.

I've done management before and am doing some now as well. Management is OK but I think of it as just being one step higher in the stack -- it's still the same problems and issues we're trying to solve, we're just looking at them at a more macro level.

Has anyone here any ideas of what might be "different" areas where I might find the same sort of thrill one finds when starting out in tech? I considered marketing and business development for a few weeks but ultimately my character and temperament are not suited to it.
posted by gadha to Work & Money (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
A lot of this question resonates with me. I'm totally burned out on programming and I've been looking for work for about six months (and I got laid off a couple months after I'd already started looking, so yay).

On the management side I really enjoyed mentoring junior programmers straight out of college, in a way I hadn't enjoyed the actual writing of code, in quite some time. One challenge I've faced in my current job search is that too many companies still rely on managers to be line-level code contributors, or at least they have an expectation that all their managers are people who would jump in and contribute in whatever stack at a moment's notice. I'm still working on how to pitch myself, but in talking to recruiters I've realized that nobody uses the same leadership titles in the same way, which complicates the job search.

As a result I've been trying to talk about what I want to do in terms of the work and not the job title. To me the responsibilities of "software development manager," "software architect," and "product manager" are an overlapping Venn diagram, and I personally want to be where they overlap, not where "software development manager" overlaps with "head down coder." I want to help set requirements and design the solution at the top level, but not be in the trenches writing code. I enjoyed mentoring junior programmers so I'd be happy to help them write better code, but I'd rather be helping than writing the code myself. Are you me? What parts of the work do you still enjoy?
posted by fedward at 9:21 AM on February 12, 2018

A great group of people and a well defined mission can do a lot for this kind of burn out. But in my experience it is still worth it to plan to move on in 3-5 years as it can get stale.

But, yeah... I really hear you. I've been working full time in technology since I was 17, so 27 years now. I've done everything from desktop support to leading a build on a $40M datacenter to leading a large team of web engineers... and I'm tired of all this shit.

To me it feels like it has a lot to do with the "New Valley" mentality in tech. Revenue and process over people, the feverish disruption and optimization of everything without regard to human cost, etc, has changed what tech culture is (imo.) I used to love the work and now I hate it.

One thing that you might factor into your thinking is that tech is notoriously hard on people older than 50. Jobs are scarce and lower pay and prestige overall than they are for those 25-39. My point is that the industry doesn't really have a great through line to retirement, so if you're feeling the pull away from it there might be a goo strategic reason to do so, too. I'm working out an exit plan where I get to go back to school to be a therapist and to be honest I really wish I had done this ten years ago before I had two kids and a mortgage.

Best luck.
posted by n9 at 9:34 AM on February 12, 2018

Product Management? Project management? Program management?
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 9:36 AM on February 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

It's appears to be IT mid-life crisis week here on the green.

To some extent, it's all about stress. Stress caused by deadlines, changing technology, technical difficulty, and a host of other things. One thing that this particular post has in common with other similar posts is that the OP apparently works in big IT environment. It's big enough to have co-workers with all sorts of weird job titles sharing the task of getting some app to market. App development is a big group is very communication intensive: what needs to be done, who is going to it, who has done it, has it been tested, what bugs have been found, has management approved it, are there change requests. And, at the end, who owns the product? And is in any good?

I think you need a position with fewer co-workers, more ownership of the work product, and a better view of how the product benefits the company.

With reference to n9's comments about path to retirement, it's not really unique to IT. Both my father and father-in-law were chemical engineers. Talking to them, it was pretty clear that all the hard calculations were done by the last guy out of graduate school. At the end of his career, Dad's job description was "turn areas of concern into problems."
posted by SemiSalt at 10:42 AM on February 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

If figuring out how to solve seemingly unsolvable problems is what you loved, then working in research might make sense, whether in academia or outside it.

If solving problems on its own no longer feels meaningful enough, do you think it would help if the goal of the project were more meaningful? The satisfaction of solving problems would come second here to the satisfaction of creating something you think should exist in the world.

Another possible source of meaning or satisfaction is working closely with people in a way that contributes to them. So teaching, as fedward mentioned, or a UX type of role where you interact with users to determine how to design a product that works for them.
posted by trig at 11:16 AM on February 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I can definitely relate to this. Are you bored with solving the puzzle or implementing it? I realized that I still enjoy the solving, but was staying close to implementing/actual coding only because it seemed to offer more job security. I also wanted more human interaction, and I like helping/teaching so I've been moving towards a more 'solutions architect/sales eng' type role.
posted by littlerockgetaway at 11:48 AM on February 12, 2018

A friend of mine who works as a product manager at a large software firm likes to tell about the conversation he had with a plumber who was digging a trench in his yard for a pipe replacement. Turns out the plumber used to do computer animation, like my friend, but finally got tired of it and quit. He's loving plumbing now - loving it! - working 6 months a year and taking the rest of the time off.

My friend still hasn't quit his product manager job, though.
posted by clawsoon at 11:51 AM on February 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

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