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btilly (5037)

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Journal of btilly (5037)

Tuesday May 22, 2007
10:49 AM

No longer a programmer

[ #33333 ]
I never intended to be a programmer. By personality I'm a poor fit for being a programmer. And now I'm somewhat officially no longer a programmer.

It has been an interesting trip.

About a decade ago (only a decade ago? Seems longer) my wife and I left grad school and she entered medical school. I needed to make money. I had no work experience and so was willing to take any job I could get. Given my math background, and the fact that I'd be living in New York city, I figured that my best options were to be an actuary, something in finance, or a programmer. Of the three I thought that the least likely was to be a programmer. I'd done some programming when I was younger, and had never liked it much.

It took me a month to find a job. And the first job that I found was as a programmer working for a churn and burn consultancy. I can't say enough about how horrible the experience was. But I did wind up learning databases (mostly Access) and VB, and I was given the opportunity to learn Perl. While programming still wasn't a perfect fit for me, Perl was a good fit. And so, less than a year later, I went to another company.

At that company I had the fortune to work with an extremely talented programmer named Frank, who went from someone who was consulting with the company, to a fellow programmer, to my boss. Along the way he, directly and indirectly, taught me most of what I know about programming. (Note, not most of what he knew about programming.)

That job ended several years later because I moved. When I moved to the west coast I considered either a finance or a programming job, and found the programming job first at an excellent company named Not too long after I joined, we were purchased by eBay. I've done well here, and can absolutely recommend this as a very good place to work at. Certainly the best that I've worked at. In fact I'd recommend that anyone good who wants to work in Santa Monica should ask me how to apply there.

Along the way I joined some online communities, made friends, learned a lot more, and generally enjoyed the experience. And I've become a competent programmer. However an ongoing issue is that, no matter how capable I might become, I've really got the wrong personality to be a programmer. The key problem is that I'm too extroverted. Sit me down to work on any significant project, and before long I need to surface for air and talk to someone. After a week of this I can feel my motivation level slip. Which means that I actively avoid projects with long periods of heads down development. For similar reasons, unlike most programmers I know, I simply don't wind up taking on personal programming projects.

Despite this issue I've been productive. And there are ways to accomodate me. Certainly Rent has bent over backwards to do so. However how many companies will do so? And when I combine that with the ageism that some older friends have experienced, I've long doubted that programming is a sustainable long-term career path for me.

The problem has been what could come next.

Well at Rent I've wound up in a reporting role. This works out well for me. Lots of people need data. They don't always understand what data they need, so they need to talk with someone who can talk their needs through with them. And most of the time finding ways to get that data tends to be a short project with immediate results. In the process I've wound up learning a bit about how business decisions actually get made.

As this has happened, I've slowly drifted away from programming. That is not to say that I don't sometimes write or modify programs. I do, and that is unlikely to change. However I'm doing a lot less of it, and things like becoming better at programming or staying in touch with the current best environments, modules, and practices is feeling ever less relevant to my life. This is one of the reasons why I've drifted away from communities like Perlmonks. (A bigger reason is named Sam. It is amazing how much spare time vanishes when you're a parent. It is worth every moment, but it is still a lot of time.)

But what has happened unofficially has now become somewhat official. I've just given notice at This was a very hard decision for me. I love the company, the organization, the technology, etc. However I have an opportunity to work with friends much closer to home at a company with good opportunities (but admittedly also with some problems) which will give me more of an opportunity to explore how much I like being engaged with the business side. So, with considerable regrets, I'm going from an official title of senior software engineer at eBay to reporting architect at Pictage. To me this is the clearest milestone in my slow drift out of programming saying that I'm no longer a programmer.

Ironically I actually will be programming more (at least at first) in my new role. There is a lot of basic infrastructure that is missing and I'm going to have to create that. But this will be a fairly limited project. And, if all goes well, I'll wind up doing less and less programming over time. And I will no longer be reflexively describing myself as a programmer.

For whomever reads to this point, thank you for letting me ramble.

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  • so, are they hiring? -Andy
    • Frank's company? I dunno, but I have his contact information. If you don't mind working in a Microsoft environment in NYC, I'd highly recommend working with him. (He's figured out how to model structured finance deals using MDX, which is normally used for data warehouses. The best implementation happens to be SQL Server. The fact that he'd even think up something like that, let alone make it work well, gives you an idea what he's like.) He happens to particularly need a good sysadmin at the moment.

      • Um, will work a little longer than the address. :-)

  • But fare forward.
  • I've had to re-invent myself a few times in my career, and things have generally gone well. I'm not surprised that you're becoming more involved in analytics in the business side. There seems to have been a trend in the last few years to find people that can make sense of data. I've been doing a lot more of it myself.

    Good luck, and please stay in touch!

  • I'm sorry you're giving up programming, but I certainly understand. All the best!

  • Hi,

    I know what you mean. I've been programming for maybe 15 years. I've come to the same decision as you, but for slightly different reasons.

    For sure, the nature of the job - staying indoors, at your desk for long hours in front of the computer; and with other people doing the same (!) has never been very comfortable for me.

    I've always had the optimistic dream of working in a development team where we all have shared values, goals and working styles, but it's never happened. Currently I'm at a job that's