Pause

Tomorrow will mark three months since I began what I’m calling a career hiatus. This is what I’m calling it lately anyway. Or just now really. It has been a pause, break, sabbatical, semi-retirement, probably some other things that I can’t remember but what it boils down to is that I’ve not written any software or really even opened Xcode in nearly 3 months and I still don’t know if I ever want to again.

I’ve been hesitant to write about this because I don’t want it to misinterpreted in a way that it reflects poorly on my former employer. I really enjoyed working with the people there. Really I’ve been fortunate that most of the people I worked with throughout my career have been very nice people for the most part. Also all my stuff is still in my desk back in the office so I’ll still need to be able to get in and get that once the office opens back up again. Though I am also holding a laptop for ransom.

Yesterday I was contacted not once but twice by friends on the lookout for developers to add to their rosters. This isn’t the first time that’s happened and it is nice to feel that I have a reputation as not being a complete idiot when it comes to writing software. And it kind of got me thinking again about where I stand and how I got to this point. I’m still no closer to understanding. Last year was certainly a year of years and maybe a psychiatrist could help me puzzle it all out and understand what role, if any, the events that have unfolded since November of 2019 and perhaps earlier, had to play in all of this.

It may simply be that I’m done because I’m wired that way and that’s that. That’s what my wife says anyway. She says it’s just how I am. When I’m done with something, that’s it I just move onto the next thing. This is true. I can rattle off a list of things, some of them that required a good deal of effort to get into, which simply stopped once I reached a certain point. Flying airplanes is one example that comes to mind. At some point I apparently reached a goal I didn’t realize I’d set for myself, stopped flying and never went back.

It seemed like software was always a little different that my other interests. I’ve been writing software in one way or another since 1982. Nearly 40 years! Although no one bothered to pay me for it until 1990. But development isn’t just writing “a software” and then you write that same thing over and over again. Each project is like a brand new puzzle to assemble which will likely have some missing pieces that you’ll have to create yourself once you have enough information to determine their shapes. Especially during the early days you were simple handed that box with the picture of what it was supposed to look like when it was done and assemble it in whatever way seemed best. There are some that claim that these were the bad old days of our profession and maybe they were from a management point of view but from a creative point of view, which is something I very much enjoy, it was wonderful.

To continue the puzzle analogy sometimes today it can feel like you’ve got a group of people over your shoulder advising you which way to rotate each piece or wonder why you’re not working on this section over here. Why would you assemble the edges first and not work from the middle out? And every week we’re going to talk about how many pieces remain in the puzzle and guess how long it will take to locate and place each one. Well this is a bit of sky so that piece make be a bit harder so we’ll can it an “8” and we’re missing a corner piece here so that’s surely a “1”. I mean maybe, who knows? Perhaps that piece has gone missing. And after you’re done placing each piece you need to get a couple people to confirm that it does indeed fit correctly or wonder if another piece over here might be a better fit. Worse yet you may encounter someone who insists you place a piece that very obviously does not fit correctly. Then another person to make sure that the rest of the puzzle didn’t explode as the most recent piece was added and then fill out some paperwork. Fun! In extreme situations it can become hard to continue care whether the puzzle works out the way it should and instead just focus on making sure you meet your quota of pieces.

It’s a bit of a conundrum because some of the process junk is definitely necessary because ultimately someone is trying to run a business and fashion some sort of plan. But I think human nature almost guarantees that eventually process itself become the most important part and the actual work secondary. Note the salaries of those whose job it is to track which puzzle pieces are being worked on as compared to those actually putting the puzzle together to get a sense of which is deemed more valuable. Kind of like HOAs maybe. What starts as making sure the neighbors front yard isn’t littered with dilapidated cars up on blocks turns into people roaming the neighborhood with clipboards and rulers making sure lawns are mowed to the proper length.

Again I want to make clear this isn’t my last employer but a general industry wide trend, at least from my point of view. In fact my last employer was quite good at trying to remove as many distractions as possible and allow their developers to focus on the work. And I don’t even know if that trend factors in my decision to take a break. Because, despite this, there are still plenty of those moments that we’ve all experienced (or at least I hope you have, if not consider another career), hopefully with some regularity, where the thing you’ve been working on with fingers crossed compiles and actually does exactly what you wanted it to on the first try. Those “holy shit it worked!” moments. Bonus points on those occasions where a co-worker remarks that’s pretty freakin’ cool. So even with the bureaucratic bits today there is still plenty of joy to be found in software development.

I’m not sure where I was going with all this except to say that, while the desire to write hasn’t yet returned, I sometimes find myself thinking that I know it’s what I was built to do and wonder if I’m not squandering a gift that I was so fortunate to be given.