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Posted by: jsonmez | September 14, 2010

I’m a Career Developer and That’s OK

Sometimes I feel like Greg Focker in Meet the Parents.

liedetector

There is a part in the movie where Greg goes to the breakfast table to be greeted by his girlfriend’s sister’s fiancé, Dr. Bob, and his father who is also a doctor.

They ask him what he does, and he says he is a nurse.  They think he is joking at first, but then they realize he is serious.  They assume the MCATs were too hard, but he tells them he prefers nursing, because he can work in several areas of medicine and not have to deal with the bureaucracy that doctors do.

“You are a programmer?”

“Yes”

“Didn’t you want to move on to become an architect or manager?”

“No, I like writing code and solving hard problems.  And I don’t want to deal with the bureaucracy that architects or managers have to deal with.  I just want to write code and keep getting better at it.”

What exactly is a “career developer?”

The closest thing we have to this title is a Software Craftsman, but that seems a bit presumptuous.  I am OK with being called a “career developer.”

It means that I don’t consider advancement to be something beyond writing code.  Becoming a manager or a high level architect is not something I consider to be career advancement for me.

Even becoming a technical lead is not something I strive for in my personal advancement.  Leadership is something that can never be assigned, but is always earned by reputation and willingness to help others.

It means that I consider advancement to be becoming better at writing code, learning more about best practices and implementing them.  I measure advancement in terms of breadth and depth of knowledge in the field of software development and the ability to get things done.

A career developer is someone who values the process of learning and advancing their skills at programming and software development in general over a title, and, unfortunately in a large number of cases, pay.

Although, it does not mean that "career developers” will not be paid well, it just means you have a harder time finding the right company that will recognize the value that you can bring and pay you accordingly.

Why?

I can’t speak for everyone, but for me it is about staying true to the reason I got into programming in the first place.  It is the feeling of pure amazement and excitement, as you realize you can make the computer do what you want.

It is hard to match the satisfaction of seeing all your unit tests turn green, knowing that you wrote those tests before writing the code.

There is no novel that compares to the joy of reading through well written code clearly revealing its intent.  Just as real as a character in a book.  The greatest joy is when it is your own code.

There are not many things more exhilarating then facing that really hard problem that seems impossible to solve, not knowing if you actually will be able to solve it, until you finally break it down to small bite-sized pieces, and when you look down at your plate, you see the problem is suddenly gone, and you have emerged victorious!

What else can stimulate the mind in so many ways?  What other activity can challenge you mentally to the same degree that programming can?  What other act of creation allows you take take virtually nothing and make it into something real?

Where can you exaggerate so much, but in a blog?

Yes, perhaps I go a bit far, but at times what I say above is completely true, at least it seems that way to me.  And that is precisely why I choose to keep slinging code.  I’m looking for my next programming high.

Don’t let the man get you down

There is nothing wrong with striving to go into management or into higher level architecture instead, but you have to make the choice yourself, and you should not make the choice lightly.

One problem in the real world is that not many companies realize that there even is such a thing as a “career developer.”  There is not really a job title for it.  Senior Software Engineer doesn’t quite cut it.  There are plenty of those out there.

Don’t be discouraged though, if you choose to go the route of the “career developer.”  There are companies out there that do recognize the value of a developer with 10 years experience versus a developer with 1 year experience 10 times.  There are many companies that want to hire exactly the kind of programmer that only want to be programmers, and will pay them well.

I’m fortunate enough to have found such a company.  And I can’t be happier that I did.

As always, you can subscribe to this RSS feed to follow my posts on Making the Complex Simple.  Feel free to check out ElegantCode.com where I post about the topic of writing elegant code about once a week.  Also, you can follow me on twitter here.
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Responses

  1. Very well put. I have a scary feeling that I’m destined for some sort of leadership role, I’ve always just been that kind of person. But I hope that it won’t kill my coding skills, if I do end up going down that path I’ll try my best to maintain proficient coding skills and try to dedicate some of my time to coding.

  2. GREAT POST!! Well said. This is the same way I’ve felt for years now, but I haven’t seen so well put (and haven’t attempted to write it myself either).

    I’m going through this right now. Trying to figure out how to take on more responsibility, but still stay close to code. The company I work for wants to promote me and is asking what I’d like to do (which is actually great of them – better than some companies with the rigid career plan). So I’m trying to figure out what would be additional responsibility while still staying nose deep in coding.

    As a more general rule though, it always seemed backwards to me that a lot of companies will promote their best developers to management. You have someone that is great at writing code and you basically yank them away from doing that and make them manage people which requires a totally different skill set. I always wonder if there’s a way to fix that anomaly.

  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I completely agree.

    Last year I tried being a team lead (as a kind of promotion) but I didn’t really feel the same kind of satisfaction of writing code and solving hard problems. After eight months my manager and I agreed to put me back on my old position, full time developer. The sad thing is, my company has fixed rules about salaries for a job position (local govenment) and I am at my top. Making more money means switching to an unwanted position or to another company. A hard decision.

    • Sounds like you might want to strongly consider switching to another company. Growth is pretty important, and it sounds like you are bumping your head on the ceiling.

  4. John,
    You need new friends. This is the second time I lande don this site and this time, based on the title, I knew it was going to be you. Last time was your VI article. I feel like your peers are judgy and pretentious. Maybe you live on the west coast (we don’t take kindly to those people) or maybe your young and you hang out with young “hip” guys. Either way , there is a better owrld out there.


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