Andrew's Blog

Random Thoughts of an ASP.Net Code Monkey

Software Development - Job or Career, Passion, Vocation

August 23, 2011 22:48 by Andrew Westgarth

My name is Andrew Westgarth and Software Development is my passion! Is the role you're in just a job to you or is it your Passion /Vocation and Career? Do you enjoy what you do and are you fulfilled in what you do? I think one of the biggest requirements for a good developer is a passion for what they are doing, in order to be a good developer you need to have a thirst for learning and a desire to improve.

I've been thinking about writing a blog post about this topic for a few weeks but not had time until now. Prompted by a conversation on Twitter today about the distinct lack of good, passionate developers available at present I thought I'd put down a few of my own notes on this topic. I have worked in software development (primarily web) for over ten years and have been on both sides being both the prospective employee and prospective employer. I have been involved in the UK Development Community for many years, running User Groups (NEBytes and previously VBUG), speaking at User Groups and Conferences and am now putting together the very first Developer! Developer! Developer! North.

Software Development is a career that you choose to go into and for me personally it is more than just a job, it's my passion, it's a vocation and it's my hobby. I am always looking to learn even more, every day is quite literally a school day, if I've not learned something new every single day then I'm disappointed. My passion drives me to get better and better with every opportunity. Be it looking to make sure that my code compiles cleanly and has no errors, or that I'm building the best user experience or looking at how new language enhancements can improve the performance of my applications.

Money has never motivated me, as long as I've got enough to have a reasonable standard of living and can pay for my season ticket then I'm happy. What really motivates me is an opportunity to learn and to work with equally passionate people. The most enjoyable and highest quality work is always completed when a team is passionate about what they do. I've worked together with fantastic developers and designers to produce fantastic results. The infectious nature of passionate people rubs off on the others in a team and carries them along and reignites that spark.

I've been thinking about why there aren't more passionate developers available/in the industry and have my own opinions on why that is the case and here are some of my thoughts. Some developers don't see software development as a career they see it as a means to an end. They come to work at nine and finish at five and are not interested in learning anything other than what is directed by their company. Some developers are happy to work with older technologies day in day out and are not interested in raising their head above the parapet to take a look at what's going on in the world outside. This creates problems for them and the teams they work with because in the long term they will become obsolete as do the technologies they are working with, and it causes divisions as teams are held back from moving forward and the passionate developers are held back.

Some developers see training and personal technical development as something they should get paid for and something which should only happen during work hours, they will only attend events if their company pays for them to go and gives them time off to go. This attitude is seriously flawed when under hard times the first thing that is often cut is a company's training budget, so hence personal technical development stutters and stall.

Other developers are passionate about software development and see their role as a long term career which they are always looking to build on. Some developers want to work with code all day every day, some want to move towards architecture and beyond. They spend huge amounts of their own personal time learning, reading blogs, RSS feeds, tweets, journals, attending User Group events and community conferences, taking part in online seminars. They will bring this enthusiasm back to the team, distribute the information and hope that their enthusiasm and passion rubs off on the other developers in the team. Even better if there are a number of passionate developers within the team they feed off each other and drive standards higher and higher.

So we have roughly three groups, the 9-5ers who just see software development as a job, those that see their own technical development and progression as the responsibility of their employer and not themselves and finally there are the passionate developers who want to share their passion. So why are there so few of the last category both in the industry and available?

The possible options are that:

  • The passionate developers are employed in teams of equally passionate developers by employers who recognise that passion and how to nurture it
  • Those developers who once were passionate about software development have been taken advantage of by colleagues and employers who rely on those individuals to provide training and technical development for the whole team, and have now lost their passion
  • They have left the industry/country and taken their passion elsewhere.
  • ???

I'd really be interested to hear your views on this topic so please leave comments below and I'll follow up this post based on your comments. One group of developers who I haven't discussed in this post are graduate/student developers but that would be a complete post on it's own.

Comments (13) -

Anthony

There are developers with passion who have become bogged down in a job with passionless colleagues using old technologies who cannot bring themselves to leave. Many would consider it a form of madness to leave a job that pays the mortgage in the midst of what is basically a recession. So they try and satisfy their passion as best they can outside of work hours, and end up running themselves into the ground. no easy answers on this one because idealism does not pay the bills...

Anthony | August 24 2011 05:43

Terry Brown

hey Andrew,

I'll start out by saying 'lets get this money thing out of the way' - I certainly wouldn't do this if I didn't feel I was being suitably rewarded for it - I'd either find another employer or I'd find another career.  I think money for me is one of the importants because I have a mortgage and now 3 kids and all of them seem to be good at haemorrhaging any money I have!

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, onto the agreement part Smile

It's odd, about 7 years ago now I was made redundant from a role - I was (from a technical perspective) spot on for the role, and it wasn't like it had to be that role - it could have been any one of about 7 people - though at the time I was most expensive, and (more importantly) I'd gotten lazy - I used to do the core hours, I never really did anything away from the office, I never pushed to be above and beyond the others.  I was made redundant, and rightly so.  I panicked, and at that point thought 'I will never allow myself to be in this situation again'.

Within 2 weeks I'd secured another job, and my whole attitude had had the kick it needed - my passion was back, my desire to be better, my desire to deliver top quality product while being the absolute best I could be at my craft.  To start with it was hard, of course it was - it takes a great deal more effort (imo) to build up to be that sort of person than to maintain it.

7 years down the line, and I'm a senior dev/project lead (with occaisional nudges back towards team lead which I resist strongly!) - I love what I do - I love coding, I love architecting solutions, I love being part of the community, I love the fact that my peers see me as someone with knowledge.

I'd estimate this effort costs me probably 50hours per week (some weeks more) - that's including my day job - it's not a massive outlay.

Any why do I do it? well, of course I do it because I love what I do - that goes without saying.  Though if I'm ever in a redundancies situation again, I can pretty much bet I'll be one of the last to leave because of what I bring to my employer.


Great post fella - though I suspect those who actually arrive at this to read it are already part of the choir, not the group of people we wish to convert - shame really.

Terry Brown | August 24 2011 08:08

Phil Hale

Very interesting post. I've often had similar thoughts myself. I've enjoyed software development for a long time, but I've only really considered myself passionate about it for the last 2-3 years. I used to be one of those 9 to 5ers, but that changed when I finally did 'raise my head above the parapet' as you put it. As soon as I did that I realised how much there was to learn and how little I actually knew. Since then I've been somewhat obsessed with learning as much as I possibly can, and you know what, I've found it makes me enjoy the job more! The extra work pays off, the more you put it, the more you get out.

Phil Hale | August 24 2011 10:01

Aidan Garnish

Really interesting post Andrew. I think this extends beyond just developers and into all walks of life. You have people who are happy to do a 9 to 5 then go home and leave their work at the office. Sometimes this is justified by the saying - "I work to live not live to work". I feel sad whenever I hear this because it means someone is spending around 37 hours of their life every week doing something they don't enjoy or at the very least would rather spend doing something else.
I love developing, I love building things, creating something from nothing with only a suite of dev tools and the ideas in my head. It is even better when I get to share that with equally passionate people.

Aidan Garnish | August 24 2011 14:23

Dave Lodwig

I'm going to come at this from a completely different perspective, that of a passionate 9 to 5 er.  Life isn't just about writing code and building apps, if like me you are doing this because you enjoy solving problems then there is plenty of things going on to take your intrest.  I think if we start saying now that the only good developer is one who comes into the office and then go's home and stays up studying, learning and potentially working; then what we end up with is very narrow life focused individuals.  I totally get that people enjoy what they are doing and really want to do more of it, but there is a world out there and it's worth experiencing.

I could quite happily work 60 hours a week, but you know what that would get in the way of my other big passion, scouting.  Scouting is something I am never going to be paid for so, should I just write that off to concentrate on being a really good developer.  Probably not as the experience of managing groups of volunteers and producing great activity programmes transfers to my working life as well.

In terms of training, yes I do believe work should pay or at least subsidise some of the cost, they after all get the direct benefit.  we get so little holiday which is time to mentally and physically refresh ourselves why waste it on working.

At the end of the day you can spend every waking hour perfecting your craft, being the best you can be; but if you burn out by 40 what use is that.  I'm passionate about what I do but I'm not prepared to miss out on the rest life offers.

Dave Lodwig | August 24 2011 17:47

Aidan

Nice alternative perspective Dave. I think we may be in danger of confusing two different things - passion on the one hand and time/effort spent on the other. I agree with you that it isn't a prerequisite for being a good developer that every hour is spent perfecting your craft. I read 9-5er in this context as simply being short hand for the people who just turn up and take a pay cheque whilst putting in the minimum effort and clearly lack any passion or enthusiasm for what they do.

Aidan | August 24 2011 21:06

Andrew Westgarth

Thanks for the comments, some really good viewpoints raised and I find them all interesting.

@Anthony - I've seen many developers, indeed I have been in the situation too, become bogged down with trying to raise the game of others and being relied on to drive forward immense change, often this is a problem of management as well as individuals.  I agree during time of recession sometimes one has to sit tight before looking to change things.

@Terry - yes I fear mainly the already passionate will read this but I'm hoping management and those who are trying to build great teams read this and hopefully take it on board.  Money is important and indeed I appreciate that mortgage and commitments take on greater importance.  This is one of the reasons that I have always resisted contracting for example.  I am the only income in my house, I don't think anyone's found jobs for cats Wink, so my initial priority is to ensure the roof over my head and my car is paid for so I can spend time doing the things I like.  My main point is that I have a baseline for what I require and after that my main criteria is a fantastic passionate team to work with backed by management that recognise and nurture that passion, providing great opportunities.

@Phil, I think you're comment about "the more you put in the more you get out" is spot on, and I think it encompasses many roles and careers, if all a person is interested in is take, take, take then very few will be interested in interacting with them on a long term basis.

@Aidan, I recognise the comment about work life balance and my view on it is that I don't live to work, because I want to spend my spare time pursuing my hobby and increasing my skills.  My interest, hobby and passion for software development is not just work to me, it's my Passion Smile.

@Dave - I hear your points and I commend the work you do with the Scouts and I know it's something you are passionate about and put in a lot of work, in the same way that I do with regard to NEBytes.  I am also not saying that 9-5ers with passion cannot be good developers, what I am saying is that to differentiate there has to be that passion and desire to learn and get better.  It is possible to be great by spending a nominal amount of time working to get better, it doesn't come overnight, what I am rallying against is those who don't want to put in any effort at all and who believe everything should be given to them.  Employer subsidised/paid for training is important but often not available.  I personally don't think it's good to blame the lack of advancement on the company alone, I believe every individual has a responsibility to invest in themselves.

Andrew Westgarth | August 24 2011 22:48

Terry Brown

@Dave - really interesting point.  I would agree with Aidan on this one, and it's a discussion we've recently had at work because we mention that we're not a place where '9-5ers' will fit in - we've obviously realised the error in what we're saying because it's very much an attitude to your career more than the hours, and I think the two get muddied when the term is used.

9-5'er for me is (as Aidan puts it well) the guy who isn't driven, isn't interested in being the best they can be, and doesn't want to hone their craft.


From attending an awful lot of conferences, and talking to an awful lot of people, I think those with a passion who attempt to take these things forward are in the minority.  I had a very interesting conversation with a microsoft employee (I won't name names or job titles as he'd be too easily identifiable) about a year ago who'd been going out onto client sites, attending conferences, etc. for many many years.  We had a discussion about developer passion, and he very firmly was in the camp that nigh on 90% of the UK software development workforce were in this '9-5' attitude.  The people who cared, who pushed, who wanted to know more were such a small minority.

I'm lucky, my current place of work has a number of people who care about what they do and they are certainly in the majority, though in most other places I've worked the above has been true.

Terry Brown | August 25 2011 07:43

Graeme

Hi Andrew, an interesting post that seems to be very relevant at the moment, if you expand the question to work in general not just in the IT profession, (and i may be showing my age a bit) but I seem to see an expectation from a younger generation that turning up for work warrants a good salary and some luxuries in life, regardless of there output or cost benefit to the company.I have always been thankful of the career i choose mainly for the reason that after 25 years I still expect to learn something new each day.

Graeme | September 8 2011 22:06

Steve

I agree with Andrews first comment. I think becoming a good developer takes real time and effort and often the rewards for all this effort is a below average salary and higher expectations from managers.  


Steve | September 9 2011 17:34

Aidan

@Graeme - I don't see this as an age thing. I have worked with plenty of older people in the IT profession who are just turning up at work and taking their salary with no effort to stay current or learn new things. The idea of lazy entitled young person and lazy entitled older person are both stereotypes and I don't think they really help this discussion.

@Steve - I agree, definitely takes time and effort to be good, the same as anything I guess. Not sure about the below average salary though...if you are comparing with the national average and you work as a developer with a couple of years experience and are earning below that then you're "doing it wrong". As for high expectations they just push me to do better work...bring 'em on! Smile

Aidan | September 10 2011 13:09

Graeme

@Aidan - going to have to disagree with you here and again show my age! During a long period of affluence in this country (now at an end) people were expected to have a job. When I left university jobs weren't easy to find and if you had one you made sure you did it well. Maybe those times are coming back. Don't get me wrong there are a lot of skilled younger developers...but there are also a lot of developers. Having been through the recruitment process a couple of times over the last 6 months, you would be amazed at the standard of some people calling themselves developers. I think IT as a professional vocation is no longer the case. The skilled passionate people are still out there...just difficult to find or snapped up quickly!

Graeme | September 11 2011 19:49

Aidan

Ooo - just stumbled back across this. I think you missed my point Graeme. I'm not saying that there aren't poor developers out there but I think you would find they are evenly distributed across the age groups.

Aidan | January 19 2012 08:42

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