Rediscovering the joy of technical work?
October 18, 2018 2:58 PM   Subscribe

When I was young, I loved computing to the point I made it my career. And then came expectations, money, ambition and ruined it. I'm trying to get back into the joy of doing my work for itself, I could use some advice on how to approach this.

I'm not unique in this problem but I took something I loved, made it my career, loaded it with (unmet) expectation, money, prestige and ended up hating it all. I want to get back to enjoying doing my work for the sense of wonder, whimsy, curiousity and pleasure it brought me but these days I just feel very divorced from it all. Even when I sit down and try and do something technical I'm plagued with thoughts of "is this the best way to do it?" and "is this the best use of my time?" For those who rediscovered an old love in the work you did, how did you do it? How do I get down to basics and divorce the weight of all the third-party aspects around me which burden me and make me doubt every step and every approach?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
When I was a kid, I spent countless hours doing pointless technical work, just to learn and experiment. But as my career progressed, like yours, I found it harder to enjoy that sort of thing for the sake of it: messing around with new Linux distributions, or whatever.

But what allows me to find that same excitement again is when I have a particular project in mind that in turn excites me. There's nothing exciting about technology for technology's sake, I don't think. Every time I have been especially excited about a new technology, or technological work like programming, the excitement came from the problem I was solving, not the basic work itself. So find out what problem would be exciting to solve, and try applying those technological skills to that problem.
posted by tybstar at 3:39 PM on October 18, 2018 [4 favorites]

Oh hey, this is me. I rediscovered my enjoyment of technical work by
  • Saving up some money.
  • Leaving my job.
  • Spending about three months not working at all. Figuring that I was burned out on tech work and that if I felt inspired during that time to pursue a career change or go study something else I would go ahead and do it.
  • Picking up some part-time consulting work helping out a couple of friends build the platform for their startup.
  • Using that income stream to finance working part time and traveling for another several months.
  • Somewhere along the way, realizing that I was actually having fun helping the friends with their startup.
  • Moving to an area with a stronger job market and more choices for work. Finding another regular job again that I mostly enjoy.
When I left my job at the beginning I definitely thought there was a greater than even chance I would not return to tech work in any capacity. Somewhere along the way I gave myself permission not to love tech work OMG SO MUCH. I took the startup work mostly because I wanted to have some money coming in, it was travel-friendly, and it wasn't particularly demanding, but it turned out I had some fun with it too. It was enough to help me reconnect with what I enjoy about tech work.

The "saving up some money to pay for time off" step took years, and being able to leave regular work for that long and maintain a good standard of living reflects considerable privilege. It's not a path I feel comfortable recommending per se. But as far as resolving the problem you're asking about it worked for me, and I am very thankful that I was able to do it.
posted by 4rtemis at 3:45 PM on October 18, 2018 [4 favorites]

For me, the solution was to start writing commodore and atari games - i realize this sounds stupid, but i have an actual point with it, which is that the great thing about such an endeavor is that not only is it the same thing I enjoyed when i was younger, but it cannot possibly be confused in my subconscious for the thing that I do at work - it's an entirely different activity.
posted by jaymzjulian at 3:46 PM on October 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

For me, the solution was to start writing commodore and atari games

Similar, I started playing around with PICO-8 just yesterday, and it was a blast! Ostensibly, the idea is for me to collaborate with my little kids on making cute video games, but the few hours I spent yesterday screwing around with Lua and bouncing sprites around the screen was the most fun I've had programming in a long time.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 3:55 PM on October 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

So I grew up making, I started drawing when I was 2. I loved it. I wanted to make it my life. Then came art school and working a regular job while making art on the side, then making art my full time career! And then I started hating it because I was focusing on what I thought would sell, agonizing over style and technique etc etc and ran myself into a brick wall of artist block. So now I have a regular job again (marketing and graphic design) and it's taken the pressure off and I make art that sells just fine on the side.

do what you love for itself and make money on some less personal aspect of it
posted by ananci at 11:43 PM on October 18, 2018

For me the key is to do stuff that is new so I am always learning. Once I know how to do something I am kind of uninterested in doing it again and again. Only you will know whether there is a way to do your kind of work so you only have to do experimental or new-to-you tasks though. For me, working in academia is the solution, although only as long as I have enough research funding to hire people to do any of the stuff that becomes boring to me.
posted by lollusc at 3:31 AM on October 19, 2018

Maybe try teaching or mentoring? Teaching others flips the equation around and is very rewarding and fulfilling. Lots of nonprofits/projects around that need volunteers -- kids learning to code, school computer clubs, adult education.

Also getting involved in an open source project can be energizing in a similar way -- it can start with the tinkering/fun aspects like some people have mentioned, and once you're contributing, you become part of a thing bigger than yourself and are helping others -- even if you don't contribute code, you can help with docs, events, answering questions, organizing resources, etc.
posted by troyer at 11:38 AM on October 19, 2018

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