I keep waiting for someone to ask me why. Why am I doing this? Why am I returning to a career I turned my back on more than a decade ago. If I wanted to be a software engineer, why didn’t I stick with it when I had the chance?
It’s a fair question, one I’ve asked myself several times lately. Why am I doing this? I was a smart kid but never a particularly brilliant programmer. What makes me think I’d be any better now than I was 12 years ago as a freshly minted computer science grad (with a beautiful, full head of hair…trust me, it makes a difference)?
The answer is complicated, but it starts by recognizing I’m not the same person I was when I graduated college. It’s something of a trite observation. None of us are the same person we were 5 years ago, much less 12. But the changes those years have wrought in me are important to understand the timing of my transition. I’m a husband now. Marriage challenges you, forces you to deal with your own selfishness. I’m also a father. My children are a harsh, deeply honest mirror reflecting my hypocrisies, large and small, practically every day. It isn’t a pleasant experience, to be laid bare, to be exposed, but it’s an incredible gift: a real time debugger for your character.
Life with my wife and children has provided perspective. I’m acutely aware of how quickly time slips away and how much of it is spent at the office. We peddle away the most productive years of our lives often with little true reflection on everything that transaction entails.
I had a tremendous job that afforded me and my family the opportunity to travel the world, to immerse ourselves in other cultures, and to share those experiences with each other. But along the way I realized something was missing. I longed to build things, to create. I returned to programming because it is a pure form of creative expression, affording us the ability to translate ideas directly into tangible products. To me, programming shares as much in common with creative writing and fashion design as it does physics and math.
Like creative writing and fashion design, I think it’s important for programmers to have something to say. As an undergrad, I appreciated the expressive power of programming, but I lacked a point-of-view and a purpose. I knew how to build things, but I had no idea what I wanted to build.
And so the answer to why now comes down to two things: recognition of an unfulfilled desire to create, and the life experience necessary to know what I want to create. Had I made this transition absent the passion and purpose those two things bring, I would never be more than a mediocre programmer. Finding that passion and purpose has brought focus and accountability to my work along with an ever-present desire to dig deeper, discover more. I don’t have any trouble telling a prospective employer they’re getting a better version of me now than they would have 12 years ago, hair or no hair.