I’m a senior web developer at a startup in Houston and I have a confession to make. It’s a confession rarely any developer I’ve seen makes.
Web development is not my passion
Every interview I’ve gone to and every interview I’ve conducted or been a part of had some kind of a note about “passion” whether it’s about the team being “passionate” about the product or the current Lead Developer being a “passionate” developer. Or that pretty much every interviewee is “passionate” about development.
I may have even said it, too and I may have believed it at the time. But it’s just not true for me.
Now that I’ve alienated every other startup out there that relies on underpaying but allowing you to use the “latest and greatest technology to fuel your development passion”, let’s dive into why this is. Let me tell you the truth of why I became a web developer. And I wonder how many devs hide behind this “passion” motto out of shame that their reason for coding is much different than what the media portrays and what they tell their (prospective and current) employers.
When I was younger, I experimented with programming and some web development but never really got far with it. It took a few years until I started freelancing (in my teenage years). The reason for my freelancing interest was simple: I could do it, there was demand, and it generated some measly revenue in terms of a few haircuts, chiropractic adjustments, (and many disappointments).
The true start of my programming career (beyond HTML+CSS) was when my close friend Raphael Caixeta and I reconnected half a decade after not talking. He was a web developer and a successful one. Having been featured on Mashable just a few years into his career, and selling his web properties at a nice profit, he was the business guy with the right skills at the right time. And it was a right time for me, too.
When we started talking, I was currently working at a department store doing menial work. I worked 30+ hours a week and went to college at the same time. The end-sum of my month was nice for a 19 year old but it was nothing compared to what he did. I remember one night when things truly changed for me. I had just gotten my minimum-wage-30-hour-a-week paycheck and was celebrating with a cheap cigar, browsing the web.
Raphael got on chat (AIM or MSN, can’t remember) and he told me about how he’s stressed out but excited. He had a client who wanted a WordPress blog but he wanted a completely different back-end. He hated the WP dashboard (but loved its functionality). So Raphael had 9 hours overnight to deliver a completely new back-end that was built on top of WP. Raphael argued with the guy but in the end, he was unable to convince his client to simply enjoy a nice reskin of WP’s backend. Luckily, the client had no qualms about paying the cost.
I laughed at Raphael, oh how foolish he was. I got to enjoy a good night’s sleep while he was up all night, coding for some guy.
Except, Raphael sent me a screenshot of his Paypal account the next morning. He said, “this is how much I made last night” and it was one and a half times what I made in a month. I spent 30 hours a week, every week, working at a department store. And what he accomplished overnight, I took 45 days to accomplish.
It was ridiculous.
Raphael had asked me multiple times about learning web development. “You liked it when you were younger, why don’t you pick it up now?” and finally, this last act pushed me over the edge and I started learning.
Fast forward a couple of months and I was (re) starting my freelancing career.
The point is: I did it for the money.
Money, money, money…ain’t it funny?
Throughout my career, money has been the top motivator. Not technology, not passion, not “impact” nor “product”. It was always money (and benefits actually. Benefits was a big one). I started my first full-time job not because I was excited about it. No, just the opposite. I dreaded working in an office! But I was greedy in some ways. I wanted the money, I wanted the stability, and most importantly, I wanted to move out of my apartment into a house with my best friend (now wife).
The first few months sucked terribly. I had lived with my best friend for over a year by then and we were not used to being separated for 8 hours at a time! I had worked contract work to avoid the soul-sucking desperation that comes with office work!
But it wasn’t too bad. Money and benefits made everything better. We were finally able to afford new clothes, buy normal food, and feed our dogs top-notch meat rather than the scraps we found on sale.
After some time, we realized how much we liked this better. We could go to restaurants, enjoy a few new hobbies that used to be cost prohibitive (like going to the gym or playing video games!), etc. Plus we had a nice big rental house. We went from nothing to everything with just one job offer.
My next few career moves were born out of both necessity to find a job and a pay raise. I quickly rose to double my income in a couple of years since my first full-time position and eventually tripled it for a while (until I settled for something with better benefits but at lower in pay).
Benefits increased exponentially, too from barely any time off to full-time work with guaranteed PTO. From no health insurance to full-coverage. And finally, from strict office attendance/attire environment to fully remote environment.
All of those benefits drew me to new careers more than any other aspect of a job. More than tech that was offered, more than “beer in the fridge”, more than company equity (which is a gamble at best). It was money and benefits.
I’ve considered jobs at big Java shops for enterprise companies, .Net shops, and just about whatever could bring in the dough and keep up my benefits. The fact that someone was running “Go on Docker with CouchDB and Cassandra” wasn’t as appealing to me as a job that allowed me to work from home.
But I do enjoy it
I enjoy programming. Don’t get me wrong. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have gotten where I’ve gotten to if I didn’t enjoy it. But it’s not my passion. Programming is my hobby. It’s a hobby that pays really damned well and that treats me well and enables me to do what I want to do that I’m actually “passionate” about.
One day, a few years ago, my wife asked me why I complain about work because it’s something I enjoy doing. Why complain about going somewhere and working somewhere where you do what love? I told her I don’t love what I do. I like it. She asked me then why I don’t look for a job doing what I actually love? Answering that question was difficult but one thing came to mind:
People shouldn’t resort to doing work with something they’re passionate about.
There is a saying that I’ll try to paraphrase but the basic idea is that what you do for work shouldn’t be something you love. You shouldn’t convert your passion into work because work will suck the fun out of it. You keep your hobbies on the side and you do the work you’d enjoy doing the most long-term.
That’s what programming is to me. It’s something I’m good at, enjoy doing, and it allows me to do lots of cool stuff on the side.
Find work that you can do well and for a long time. If it allows you to do what you love, even better.
That’s my motto.
What I enjoy about it
Development is fun for me because it’s an interesting puzzle. It’s like word legos except that you always find out about new pieces to use in your project. I absolutely love learning and it doesn’t matter much what it is as long as it can pull me in quickly. I spent days scouring Wookipedia when I found it, filling my head with useless information. Did you know that Tatooine used to be a rain-forest covered paradise until it was “glassed” by the Rakatan empire? source.
Tech is like that except the rabbit hole keeps going deeper and deeper. You can never really master it, and you can never really learn everything about it. It’s like the lore of a fictional universe where things keep moving. Moving so quickly, in fact, that you can never keep up even with the current-day stuff.
I love that. It’s fun. It’s fun that I can pull up 20+ articles today and learn something to use for my project for tomorrow. Did you know that ES6 allows you to use computed property keys? source.
So, I get to spend my time, my idle time, learning new stuff in an ever-expanding universe of programming and use that information for my day-job. Things keep changing so you never get bored and over time, as you learn more, new knowledge becomes easier to pick up.
There’s something about that.
So what am I passionate about?
Writing. Writing is pretty much my #1 passion in life. I’ve been writing short stories since I was in second grade. I’ve written comics, short-stories, novellas, novels, non-fiction books, blogs, and so much more. In fact, other than working, writing is where I spend most of my time!
Writing is why I even upkeep this blog. It’s not my development passion, it’s my writing one. But writing doesn’t pay well and writing jobs aren’t inspiring (at least to me). I can’t imagine ghostwriting for someone who doesn’t care about the content, copywriting for magazines I don’t care about, or just plain trying to find a good paying job. It’s an industry that I find is a much worse trade-off for me vs. development.
However, I wouldn’t say that I wouldn’t jump ship if a great opportunity presented itself. If one of my self-published books took off in the top 100 list on Amazon and I got contacted by a publisher, I might take them up on it. If, one day, I found a story so compelling that I’d want to create some kind of interactive book experience, I’d take it to Kickstarter and try to get funding. Hell, if I caught a lucky break like E.L. James, I wouldn’t hesitate in quitting the dev industry altogether. I’d still code, but again, that’s because programming is more of a hobby to me than anything. I’d easily switch industries to any of my other hobbies if they offered the same benefits (and who knows, maybe I will): music production, concept design, marketing, gaming, photography etc.
Passion is a little different than a hobby. A passion in something suggests a want for some kind of grandeur, a want to progress further and get better. To get some kind of self-satisfaction from your efforts. A hobby is something you do in your time off for relaxation or just as something “to do”.
Other than writing, I love my kid. I love spending time with her. I have friends that can’t spend any time with their kids because they work all day and commute up to an hour and a half a day to and from work (combined). When they get home, they’re exhausted. I’m not. I’m here. I spend my lunch with my daughter, I spend my breakfast with her. When I take a coffee break, she’s here, and when I get off work, I just open my office door and take a few steps to be in her vicinity again.
I also get to see her amazing moments. My wife will text me and let me know that she’s doing something that’s “once in a lifetime” (like a first open-mouthed smile!) so I run out of my office to see it and 9/10 times I get to see it!
Again, I can’t imagine being a teacher, or work anywhere taking care of kids but taking care of my own? My passion.
Passion isn’t everything
So you might ask, who’d want a developer who’s not passionate about development? I’d say that most companies. I’d wager that passionless developers can be much better developers than ones who live, breathe, and eat code. A passionless developer will toward his or her goal at work rather than trying to satisfy some inner need.
But then again, who knows? My employers have been (generally) happy about my employment in the past so that’s my only metric.
I work at my workplace not because I just absolutely have to satisfy some crackhead need to code (and here, I get to code in ES6 Node/Angular stack), but because I want the startup to succeed so I can keep doing what I’m doing. I like the product, too. The code itself is meaningless to me. It gets the job done, it works well, there are tests so I don’t have to worry about breaking existing functionality, and it has a good workflow. All of those are tools to help me spend less time fucking around and more time getting my job done. Yeah, it was fun writing it but it’s a means to an end, not much more than that.
I’d love to hear your thoughts
I’m wondering if I’m alone in this. Or if I’m alone in voicing this. And I wonder if you’ve met some bitter devs who don’t give a shit because they’re as passionless about it as I am.
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