Why I’m a software developer

How often do you stop and think about why it is you do what you do for a living? Maybe it’s a mid-life crisis thing, but of late I’m acutely aware of the finite nature of time, and that there are an infinite number of ways I could spend that time. I’m also aware that ‘software developers’ are a quite diverse bunch of people, despite the persistent stereotype of math geeks huddled around technical toys talking in obscure acronyms (OK, we do that too). So I put some thought into why I choose to spend my time making software.

For me, it’s really simple: I like making things that people enjoy. That’s a pretty broad definition, but creation and connection is absolutely at the core of my motivation. It’s not really about the technical or logical challenges for me; at least, not any more – that might have been more of an issue earlier in my career. There’s something indescribably satisfying about creating something from nothing, sculpting and refining it from an image in your head into a functioning, tangible product. It doesn’t really matter what it is, just that it didn’t exist before, and now it does, purely because of your will. “I made that” is a satisfaction universal to all languages and cultures. That I’m a software developer rather than a sculptor, writer, musician or painter is down to a combination of circumstance and natural tendencies, but I don’t think my motivation is limited to this technical sphere at all. In fact, I think we all have this creative spark, it just gets drummed out of a lot of us after childhood.

I also think that you have to make things that speak to you first and foremost. Obviously you hope they will resonate with others too, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that they will (it’s just the degree that’s variable). I’ve made products entirely for other people before, indeed I spent a large portion of my career doing that, and it’s a bit of a lucky dip whether that turns out to be enjoyable and fulfilling or not. I’m at my happiest when I’m scratching my own itch, eating my own dog food, and building a community of people who feel the same way. It’s where both Ogre and SourceTree came from, which are the pieces of work I’m most proud of, and are also the most successful products I’ve created so far. That can’t be a coincidence, right?

This may sound like woolly, new-age thinking, but what feels right normally is right. I’m convinced that when you spend your time doing things which sync up with who you are as a person, better outcomes are more likely.  Have you thought about why you do what you do lately?

    • Martin Rio

      Thanks for the post. It’s further proof that success will come when you build something you need and will use, give it your best shot and, maybe more importantly, stay at it. SourceTree is fantastic.

    • http://christianboutin.com Christian Boutin

      Actually, I can’t remember feeling any other way. I’ve always wanted to make games, not write code. Make a game that I’d like to play, not do math. Coding and maths are the means. The end is, as you put it, to make something from nothing.

    • Tyler

      The problem is that the vast majority of work in our field is making things that cannot possibly speak to the developers of it. We are rarely our target audience. It’s been a huge source of stress for me that when I build things at work I can’t build something I would want to use. I have to leave the stuff out that I would love and cater to people I have trouble understanding.

      I definitely agree with you that quality and happiness is traded when working on something you would not use but it’s not trivial to find a way to do that and get paid.

    • http://www.stevestreeting.com Steve

      @tyler: it’s true that it’s not easy, and can take a lot of time to realise, often in parallel with work-for-hire stuff – it’s essentially what all indies are chasing. You don’t have to be making developer tools necessarily though – even though we’re developers, we all have hobbies and interests outside that as well, or niche interests which intersect. The world is a very diverse place full of imperfect or non-existent solutions waiting to be improved on :)

    • http://www.publicspace.net/ Frank Reiff

      Thanks for taking the time to put your thoughts on “paper”. They closely mirror my own feelings about being an indie developer and it’s good to stop and take stock every now and then.

      For me, however, the fact of developing for people who are unlike me isn’t a real issue. I enjoy the act of creation, the technical, “artistic” and even commercial challenges. Most of all, I like the fact that I can work on a single project in so many different roles.

      When I write software for my own use, I find it hard to stay on task. I keep getting distracted by details, start questioning previous decisions, get sidetracked into “solving” these peripheral issues rather than addressing the task at hand. I also find it hard to let go of design decisions that I feel particularly invested in even when they obviously cause trouble for other users.

    • Dan

      “Maybe it’s a mid-life crisis thing, but of late I’m acutely aware of the finite nature of time,”

      Ah yes, that one hit me soon after my first child was born. That was 12 years ago and I’m 42 now. Since then, that little voice in my head goes off more often saying, “Is this the best use of your time? If your going to work on your own software projects, don’t neglect the family.”. Thank goodness for that little voice, or I’d still be pulling all-nighters like I used to do in my teens and twenties. Fortunately, my kids don’t have to ask my wife, “Who is that strange mumbling man on the computer in the basement? Oh, it’s just your father kids, I’ll email him to come up and say good night”.

      Sometimes I wonder if I missed out on that “killer” project I always wanted to do, but the thought passes rather quickly, and I smile just thinking about how blessed I am with a sweet wife and fun kids.

    • http://geekanddad.wordpress.com Dad

      Definitely agree that it’s about *making things* and the creative urge. That magic feeling of going from _nothing_ to *woah!* :-)

      Also, having hit 46 not long ago, I can say that these types of thoughts did seem to start to happen more once I realized I was on the downward slide of the bell curve representing years alive. Probably some of where the “older and wiser” phrase comes from – perspective.