How I waste my time as a software engineer

ishan srivastava
Oct 12, 2018 · 8 min read

(* Read this story on my blog)

Let me tell you, I am not a web-developer. I hate web development. I despise designing the front end the same as I get disgusted by the back end. I declined like a 1000 internships which wanted me to do web-dev work for them(uggh.. slave labour, asking me to add these many fields to that form or make that animation work in a certain way) and I stay away from it as much as I can. I usually spend hours and hours getting each and every component placed exactly the way I want, making sure it interacts with other (components) in an elegant fashion. The consequence? I end up doing less than a fourth of the work that I had intended to do for the day. When I am given a task to design a front-end, I try to become a perfectionist, never completing my job and I have come upon this realisation many years back, that I would love to hate and also at the same moment hate to love, web development for the rest of my life!

In the end it never makes sense to spend days upon something that will just appear aesthetically pleasing for a few ignorant eyes, who will forget about your design in a matter of minutes if not in seconds. I would rather spend my time goofing about on social media or building some useful structure that forms the backbone of a major system or learn something new, explore new areas and solve actual problems instead of figuring out why my post request is not getting fed into the database.

Yet web development is a thing which as a “learning to be” software engineer, you can’t escape from. Whether it’s a front end for a Data Base Management System Application or whether you just want to show yourself off on a personal website, and I had been doing away without any of that up until, last year when I needed to create a blog site to publish my Google Summer of Code updates and to set up an RSS feed for it.

Unknowledgeable that I could have also done that on medium and partly because the snoozing artist inside of me woke up, I made a pretty bold and shallow statement,

“I will design the best blog site ever created by Man”.

So then I worked for 2 straight days and made a page that broke whenever the windows size is reduced to less than half of the screen of my laptop. Not to mention that this was just one single page, all without a backend. This led way to another bold statement by me,

Well, Fuck!”

The next day was spent on going through articles about wordpress. Customizing it seemed to be an overkill too. Finally I landed to this foreign entity called Jekyll. I grasped the concept all at once.

Write in markdown, the theme will render it automatically to a web page, themes are free, choose any!”

That seemed simple enough! The next big decision was to choose the theme. This was of utmost importance to me as whatever the theme I choose, I will have to stick with it for the rest of my life, unless I become rich enough to hire a team of sassy web-developers for myself. Otherwise I could never see myself going about doing this business for the second time in this lifetime. Making decisions have always been hard for me. We always find something that is better than the other one, but only in some subtle aspects, yet has some cons, not present in the others, that we can’t even dream to overlook, and the perfect thing that we desire is always to expensive or out of our reach.

I particularly liked the cayman theme but it again required me to make the top task bar and navigation items as this was a theme meant for a single page. So the next theme I searched for was a theme that resembled as closely to James Clear’s blog site, and I am a huge fan of him and the pure immersive reading experience that his site provides (Well until he started putting up adds ☹️).

In a serendipitous encounter I stumbled upon the cayman blog theme. Someone had already done the job of extending the default theme to a full fledged jekyll blog site. Although I was still not very fond of the top white header and spent another day trying to convert it into a toggleable side bar, but my second bold statement reminded me that it was not worth it.

The next days were spend reading Jekyll, Jinja2, Liquid (I thought Liquid and Jinja2 were connected (may be they are, I couldn’t care less)) setting up more pages on the navigation bar particularly dedicated to Google Summer of Code, setting up separate RSS feeds for only GSoC. I did the bare minimum everywhere. Didn’t even make the about or contact pages. Finally wrote some cheesy motivational lines which I stole from Casey Neistat and Yes Theory’s videos and I was done.

I hadn’t touched that site since the past 6 months except for posting my timely GSoC updates, until I decided that it was enough (which was yesterday). I couldn’t concentrate on anything else and I decided to make the contact page. This took another of my 24 hours. When it comes to web development, I am super duper slow and its not that I waste my time scrolling through my feeds every now and then. It’s just that I am apathetic towards it. I never remember a dime that I use and Google everything up from scratch to the point that I didn’t even remember the syntax for adding inline CSS to html elements.

So you may ask, why a sudden surge for developing your blog?

And I will reply to that by saying, “I think, I think a lot, about the things that I want to accomplish, the kind of life I want to live when I grow up, the places I want to visit and the people I want to meet.” Yet the majority of my life has passed just thinking about these things and accomplising (though not absolutely nothing but,) quite beyond my expectations. I am always hungry for more and have a desire to accomplish. I am never satisfied. And this constant emotion throbbing through my artries gives me these sudden jolts of motivation/urges to do something, just something which is productive even to the smallest decimal you could possibly think of.

I never had a dream of becoming an engineer or a pilot or anything in the world while growing up. I used to watch youtube videos as a child and inspired by that, just wanted to be rich and sexy when I grow up. That’s it! period. But I was always too shy to start out a youtube channel in the past. I know I have overcome my shyness but its just not feasible at the moment when you have so many nuances in the college hostels, to start out rambling with emotions about your content into a mic. My Gosh! The two other guys in my room will think that I am a freak! The previous sentences still reflect that I am still a bit shy but the feelings changed from, “what will my friends think of me if they watch my video”, to “what will my friends think of me if they see me creating a video”. And I guess, we can consider that an upgrade. I still have to crack out of my shell.

Recently I attended an event. The event was captivating and full of spirit. I was happy socializing and getting to know the life story of so many people and yet when I returned to my hostel, reality hit back upon me. Mediocrity has always scared me. This time I was somewhat of an important personality over there. Everyone was asking me questions, related to my work. They wanted to know me and I enjoyed each and every moment of attention I got. You may think that this kind of behaviour of an urge to get recognized by external sources may be negative, but I guess this may serve as a driving force for my success. I just didn’t want to waste any more time and felt the urge to do something productive instead of lying down eating shit and watching Netflix. I never want to stop on this journey for self-improvement, whether spiritual, emotional or related to what I ultimately decide to do for a living.

So now, my blog has a shiny new contact page, and a thank you page in case you submit a response. This is most likely give others the feeling that I am an important person 😎 who can’t be messaged directly and their direct messages were most likely to be considered a spam. That’s a plus point.

Now to answer one last question, that you people must be having,

What the hell were you doing making a form for 24 hours?

My ignorance led me to devise a way such that using client side scripts I had to post a a form to one server yet redirect to another file. I beleived that I possessed no control over the services I was using like FormSpree or SimpleForm to submit the output of the form to my email, regarding which page am I redirected to upon the submisssion of the form. A simple StackOverflow question seemed to help me with that.

Both services allow a hidden field, in your form, which points to the thank you URL you want to be redirected after submission.

with FormSpree use _next

with SimpleForm use redirect_to

Moreover I found out I could even customize the format I receive the email notifications using liquid. My custom messages now look something like this:

Hello Ishan,
You received a message from {user_name}:

Message:

{message_content}

Just reply to this message to continue the conversation

Moreover I was able to utilize the services of Akismet to create a spam filter which surprisingly didn’t filter out “all” empty messages for which I had to add my own javascript code.

All in all, whatever I might have bitched about web development in this story. The fact of the matter is I love all sorts of programming, and this time I coded just for an escape from my mundane courses and exams. And I hope someday I would be able to code whatever the heck I want, be my own maintainer at my own project and even make a living out of it. That would be the definition of success for me.

The truth is, the satisfaction you get after completing a task as simple as this, and seeing it in action, can never be compared to anything else in this world.

Thank you for reading till the end. Do checkout my blog/static site at https://dowhatucant.com, hope my content was soothing to you and even if it wasn’t, feel free to drop a comment or use the contact form on my website 😉!

What’s next? I have a huge list of tasks to work upon my blog and I have decided that I will try to do atleast 2 of them in a week, including adding an about page, newsletter, favicons, adding a comment system and a million others not mentioning me personal projects and a major exam for which I am supposed to start preparing and my course load. I am not going to bother you with any more of my groaning. Till then, see you next time!

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