You’re not a programmer

Sharon Russell
Feb 22, 2019 · 3 min read

I can still hear the words my old boss said to me during my end of year review 6 years ago. “You’re not a programmer”, as if the 4 years of university I completed counted for nothing and that I wasted that time learning a new skill. I asked him what he meant and he said “You don’t do it at home”, as if to say you’re only a legitimate programmer if you eat, sleep and breathe code and sit hunched and unwashed in front of a glowing screen 16 hours a day.

It’s the first and last time anyone has ever said that to me and it seems ridiculous now but at the time I was crushed.

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I wasn’t even in a job where I was expected to program yet, I was hired as a 1st Line Support Technician with the expectation that some day it could progress into 2nd Line, and so on. I knew all too well that the theory and limited practice we did at university was not going to match up against commercial, industry experience but I didn’t think that I had to know it there and then, and for this role.

I answered phone calls from customers about the software, logging tickets and doing some basic “testing” and “bug bashing”.

After I spent some time licking my wounds and looking around at my options, I set out to prove him wrong. I left that job and found one as a Junior Software Engineer. Suddenly, I was a programmer. I found that I had no reason to “do it at home”, like I was reprimanded for not doing in the past. The reason? The company I joined not only recognised that I was a person, with other interests, outside of the walls of the office, they invested in me — they saw my potential.

I was sent on training for the things they wanted me to learn, we held workshops and lunchtime sessions learning TDD and the SOLID principles. My technical lead sent me interesting things to read and we tried different development techniques out within the team. I learned about database design and the principles of domain driven design. I learned so much. It was very rare that I ever had to think about my personal development outside of the office because I was constantly learning at work. If ever I did anything at home it was because I wanted to, for fun. Not because of some pressure to perform or be seen as the stereotype that people wanted me to be.

I eventually left that company and went on my career journey, ending up at, another company where you are valued as an individual and invested in. We have 5% learning time and regular talks, workshops and internal and external training, I am learning new things all the time and I work with the best people.

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“Not a programmer” Sharon Russell at Bletchley Park, learning about other people who didn’t “do it at home” either

I still don’t “do it at home”, even though I am now a Senior Software Engineer.

I wanted to write this for a couple of reasons, firstly — to finally let it go. What happened then was rubbish and I’m glad it’s over, I’m glad I proved him wrong. But also, to give other people like me hope.

You are not failing as a programmer if you have other interests that don’t involve a computer. It’s alright to switch off once you leave work for the day.

You can succeed in this industry if you have a family, a hobby, foster cats, do sports every evening, binge watch trash tv or if you just plain don’t want to work 24/7.

Programming is for anyone and everyone who tries their hand at it, whether they fit the outdated stereotype or not.

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