What makes a developer happy with their life?
Over the past few years, I've written about career and happiness a great many times. (And honestly, if you're one of those people who thinks I care about your dislike for posts like this, just stop reading and move on.) It's interesting how many time things have changed since I started this blog more than two years ago, and how I'm still not entirely able to answer the question: What makes a developer happy in life?
Early 2004 was an interesting time for me because I got a contract to write a book. That was an amazing experience that I treasure, even if the sales were mediocre at best and I was dissatisfied with the publisher's marketing efforts. Amazon still runs out of it from time to time. Being a technical author and playing with the newest stuff was a very rewarding experience, even if it didn't do much to pay the bills.
Contract work was fascinating too. That's what I spent most of 2005 doing, and it was exciting to take a lead role in an interesting project. Where it became less interesting was the point that I was the most experienced person on the project. I don't mean to second-guess myself or take away from my abilities, but it suddenly becomes a lot harder to get better at what you do when you're not a genius and you're the most knowledgeable person in the room.
I spent almost six months where all I did was coach high school volleyball, and loaf the rest of the time. That was during the long separation prior to my divorce (which just became final last July), and while it wasn't a productive time in terms of career, I had a lot of time to ask meaning-of-life questions and really work things out in my head. So at least in my personal life, I feel I know myself better than ever.
This year I took a salary job at a start-up (relatively speaking, the company is six years old), and the work is interesting with a lot of very smart people. I'm still not used to the structure of the "daily grind," but I do get a lot out of it. There were times when I wanted to run for the exit out of boredom or frustration, but I'm surprisingly settled right now.
All during this time, and since 2000, I've also had my "business" in the background. It makes enough money that I could make a Wal-Mart manager living, but you know, I'm used to the J-Pizzie lifestyle now. I've got a million ideas in my head about what I could do, but no actual business plan. It's mostly by accident that I have a bunch of Web sites that generate ad revenue at this point. I wonder if I could do better.
So in two short years, I feel like I've experimented with all kinds of different career modes, and I'm still insanely uncertain about what I want to do when I grow up. Do you ever get that feeling? I wouldn't say that I'm unhappy, but I'm always wondering what the best use of my time is since I have to work in some way if I intend to keep gas in my car, a roof over my head, and dinner in my stomach. Balancing that notion and accepting that we're all worm food eventually is not easy. It's not helpful to write it off as all being meaningless, so you have to create meaning on your terms.