Don’t Pursue Programming if You Aren’t Passionate About It

It’s a popular trend lately to encourage everyone to code or to write articles saying that you don’t have to be passionate about coding to pursue it as a career. While it is totally true you can have a career without being passionate in the subject, it would be a real tragedy. Imagine a doctor who doesn’t actually like helping people with their health problems. Or an automotive engineer who actually thinks cars are stupid and boring. Total wastes.

If you aren’t passionate about programming I don’t think you should become a coder. Not because I’m precious about my profession but because I think you should pursue something you are passionate about.

Being a software developer/engineer/monkey is not a career filled with sunshine and roses anyway. While it is relatively well paid and in demand in 2017, it has lost a lot of the luster it held for me when I started pursuing this career back in the 90s. Let me give you a short list of the things you will have to face as a programmer that I think would make it hard for someone who doesn’t feel strongly that this is the job for them to stick it out.

  • In 2017 you can expect to have to do a monkey dance in job interviews. Even though famously this is a profession popular with introverts, we are none the less often expected to perform in front of strangers. It’s very bizarre and I think the result of other introverts with poor social skills being promoted into hiring positions and the best way they can think of to determine someone’s skill set is literally tests and puzzles. It is not fun and for me personally it’s a struggle any time I go on an interview. You may or may not find it as miserable as I do but it is something to be aware of.
  • It is common to have managers that do not understand your job in the least. This isn’t totally unique to software development but I think it is particularly common and problematic. In my ~20 years I have only once had a supervisor who was also a full fledged and experienced developer. The rest of the time my managers, even though usually great, intelligent people, have not been developers themselves and have not understood my job. That means a lot of explaining and guiding that may not be quite so bad in other careers.
  • There’s a serious career ceiling unless you want to be a founder or a manager. If, like me, you have no interest in managing other people and want to just do coding for your career, then you’re eventually going to hit a ceiling in any organization where you have no further to climb and it usually a lot lower on the pay grade totem pole than people who do want to be managers. If you are pursuing programming to become wealthy, you’d be better off pursuing a career in management.
  • Your vision doesn’t matter. In most programming jobs, and indeed 100% of my jobs, green field projects where you get to plan everything out and do it the way you (and your team) think is best are extremely rare. Most of my jobs have involved working on legacy codebases, and I think this is typical. That means you have to enjoy programming for programming’s sake. You have to enjoy it as an activity and let go of the idea that you want to do it your way.
  • You have to constantly be learning. I have known career developers who weren’t passionate about programming who are late in their career. You know what happens? They stopped learning about coding and picking up new languages and skills and their skill set became obsolete. In some cases they got laid off and finding a new job became extremely hard. If you want to be a programmer as a career it will mean a lifetime of constantly learning and working in your spare time (because your employer isn’t going to pay you to mess around with new stuff in most cases) to keep your skillset fresh and relevant.

I have known I wanted to be a programmer since I was a kid. I started teaching myself to code when I was about 10. I’m not bragging, it’s not that uncommon. Even with this lifelong love for it, though, it hasn’t been any easy career. I would not have made it ~20 years in without having that knowledge and confidence and commitment and passion toward it that I have always had. Because reality wears away at that youthful enthusiasm like a river against stone.

If you someone isn’t passionate about coding we don’t do them any favors by encouraging them to pursue it as a career anyway. They probably have subjects they are passionate about. They should pursue those. They will be happier and, I think, more successful.