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Matteo Vignoli
Matteo Vignoli

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Stop pressuring people into programming

100 days of code. Side projects. Weekend projects. Hackatons. Night coding sessions on Twitch. Evening courses on Udemy.

Please, stop.

When I started my career into web development, more than a dozen years ago, there were plenty of resources for learning but I don't remember all this huge pressure into becoming a programmer. There wasn't a proliferation of bootcamps, online courses, no one was telling you from every direction that you needed to code every day or you would've been invisible.

Stackoverflow wasn't born yet - it was a matter of months, but until that day all the knowledge was in dead forum posts or the "website with the hyphen" (after changing the ambiguous domain name); in frontend, jQuery was the king among libraries and the PHP environment was dominated by Joomla!, Drupal or Wordpress; frameworks where starting to appear (Laravel was at version 3 when I first knew about it, and Codeigniter was the most widely used among beginners) but most entry level tutorials were just a mess of unsafe spaghetti code.

In the blink of an eye everything changed: Node.js, AngularJS and then Angular, React, CSS pre-processors, Javascript was again EcmaScript. The frontend avalanche relentlessy changed the face of web development pushing us full-stack jQuery+PHP dinosaurs into the brink of extinction.

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More and more online courses were sprouting and there was an explosion of frameworks, packages, libraries. The Cloud stormed the infrastructure environment, microservices where the new structural paradigm and containers (almost) the new infrastructural standard.

All jobs need you to stay updated, I know. But man, I don't think there is one so demanding and draining, today, as the programmer.

The young generations are pouring their massive energy into working and coding, pushed by those who want to sell their courses or promote their content. They're encouraged to teach something as soon as they learned it for the first time, creating a plethora of beginner tutorials which rarely go far from the official documentation of what they're teaching. They're told to show skills by building something, and now we're full of NPM packages for every trivial thing (just search for "lowercase" or "uppercase". Really?) and a lot of abandoned github projects. They're molded into thinking that every project they want to build must be a start-up: investors, fundraising rounds, promotion, marketing, a total commitment of your life - when you just wanted to make a website for fun.

Don't get me wrong, this widespread diffusion of programming is doing way more good than harm in every aspect; but there's something which is often overlooked, something off, a toxic substrate permeating the ecosystem.

Everywhere I look there's someone telling me to keep a rich and shiny GitHub profile so I could make a difference in job interviews, to do as many side projects as possible in order to be a better programmer, to dedicate my free time to learning and becoming a Rockstar (or Ninja) developer, or they want me to learn the secrets that could make me a "10x engineer" in no time.

Do what you love, and you'll never work another day in your life.

Except you won't have any free time.

Do you have a 8+ hours regular job as a programmer? Well, that's not enough. When you badge out your daily work, you need to badge into the "passionate work", because you're a programmer, right? You have a passion for programming, don't you? What, no weekend project to learn new languages and new skills? No github repo to push your code to? You must be a slacker, then.

I'm sick and tired of this attitude. I might be just getting old, but I don't want to sacrifice my free time running behind the technology train. I want to turn off my PC after a day's work and be done with it, without feeling guilty. I want to spend time with my wife and my daughter, I have a house to clean and attend to, I want to watch a movie, sleep, or just plain do nothing on the couch.

And that doesn't make me a mediocre programmer. I don't want to be coding all the time, always building something, always studying, always solving problems. I have a huge passion for my job and I pour it into what I do in my regular work, but I want free time to cultivate other passions (because there's something beyond coding), or just to relax - without the overwhelming push to become a more productive person, a top programmer, an open source contributor, a tech guru or whatever.

Time is always in short supply - you can't do everything you want, let alone everything the society wants you to become.

Top comments (14)

theowlsden profile image
Shaquil Maria

This is it!

People are seeing software engineering, and let's be honest it's 90% web development, as a way of life. You must dream code, eat spaghetti code and drink code flavored tea (or coffee).
They are acting as if your life starts and ends with code, there is nothing else that you can have interest in.

And what I find really sad is that this mentality is affecting the young kids around the block. Nowadays you find 13 y/o's thinking that the only thing they must do is code. They need to be a full-stack developer, DevOps engineer, startup owners, freelancers, and everything before they are 18.

This romanticization of programming 24/7 will create a new wave of burned-out people trying to keep up with the trend.

jessekphillips profile image
Jesse Phillips

I don't think we're special, but their are advantages.

If your passion is cars, engines, or really any physical activity, then spending your days taking apart and building new engines would be an excellent past time for learning and advancing in your field.

Running rescue training excersises with helicopter drops and rapid water would be perfect to do on your off hours.

If you have that science lab in your bedroom up to snuff, then it would be good to try that other experiment you always wanted to do.

Do you find the way humans communicate fascinating, maybe even work as a translator. Picking up yot another language, studying the latest slang development might be something that advances you.

Software development has some nice advantages over these other passions. It is easy obtainable, information is readily available, it is practically a zero risk activity, mistakes are not financial costly. Entry itself is actually pretty low in terms of cost, assuming you live somewhere with electricity and you had parents that had a computer.

This greatly increases the ability for passionate competition to drive your need to advance. Yeah this could be unfortunate for those doing not out of passion, but we've always been fighting the fight we're someone or something could put someone out of a job.

damienpirsy profile image
Matteo Vignoli

Why you should use your off hours to do the same things you do in your job? I get it, you're passionate and so on, but that doesn't mean you need to dedicate all your life to that passion - that's called obsession, actually, and it's not a good thing (even if everyone is telling you otherwise)

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jessekphillips profile image
Jesse Phillips

You don't have the right to dictate what I or anyone else does on their free time. And while being obsessed may not be a good thing for you, without looking at someones specific situations, it would be impossible to conclude that it is in fact a problem.

Someone mentioned 14 year olds. This is a great time to have an obsession and fixated. The problem comes in from those without the obsession trying to "keep up" and that is exactly the point. The barrier of entry is low that the competition is saturated with passionate, obsessed people.

m4rcoperuano profile image
Marco Ledesma

Perhaps turning off the channels that promote the programmer hustle could be a solution. No one should be pressuring you to learn all the time and continue to learn more. Your post is written as if someone’s triggered this feeling in you. Whoever or whatever it is, just get away from it if you can.

I’ve been programming for almost 10 years. I remember the Laravel 4, jquery and bootstrap 1.x. You’re right that the web was exploded in recent years. I do feel the pressure of being up to date with more tech. However, the pressure comes from myself, not anyone else. And at times when I want to not feel the pressure, I close my eyes and tell myself: hey man, it’s all good, you do as much as you can, and be proud of that.

My point is, if you have someone who’s making you feel bad for not programming and learning all the time, eff them. If that person is you, then give yourself some compassion. The world of crazy programmers influencers, the ads telling you to buy courses, and developer bros don’t have to bother you if you decide not to be bothered by it.

damienpirsy profile image
Matteo Vignoli

That's a very sensible advice - you're right, it's actually me who's pressuring myself, I know people who are exposed to the same environment and are either completely unaffected or can happily cope with that. Might be part of my sense of inadequacy or my Imposter Syndrome, I'll try to silence all excess noises out there but I wish there weren't so many to start with, it's a huge task.

m4rcoperuano profile image
Marco Ledesma

Yeah. The imposter syndrome is real. And in the world where there’s never a mastery of your craft due to it constantly changing, it’s hard to alleviate the syndrome. But it’s ok! On the plus side, it’s a career that never gets boring :D

codinghusi profile image
Gerrit Weiermann

I fully agree with you!
I started programming with eleven and just started every day with a new project, but that was absolutely ok, because in the last project I experimented with something and learned new stuff!
Now I'm stressing everytime with that I need to finish something, maybe make money with... I mean I'm now 20 and I need money to live...
That's so demotivating...

Keep up writing :)

theowlsden profile image
Shaquil Maria

I mean, you don't need to make money with everything you create. And if it's money you need, there are jobs out there. You don't necessarily need to create a million side projects or become a freelancer to "be your own boss".

I mean I'm now 20 and I need money to live

Don't stress about it, sometimes the way out is just chilling and take the traditional way out. Assess where you stand with your knowledge and skills and see where they can be useful.

fjones profile image
FJones • Edited

Goes a bit further than that for me, even. Most of what should be my "portfolio projects" (the actual passion projects, really) are small, niche websites sitting mostly unknown on the web. I always consider them R&D or hobby projects moreso than anything I would put on an application in hopes a HR person can tell what tech is underneath.

Meanwhile my Github is mostly just a collection of random scripts, forks I need for my work, or cute little toys that I set to private after a while.

"Maybe I'm getting old", to borrow the phrase, but I just never saw the appeal in being "loud" about things like that. Or making flashy fancy cookie-cutter portfolios (do we really need two dozen ToDo-Webapps in the application pile?). Is it still passion when you're worrying more about social return-on-investment than on the satisfaction of building something?

And maybe it seems a bit elitist from the last generation of programmers, but the belief that "everyone should learn to code" really translates poorly and leaves us with superficially-trained Rockstar Programmers. They may have a "passion" of sorts, but is it the passion for software development, or is it the passion for entering the fancy tech strata?

To clarify: I don't mean to tell anyone what (not) to do. I just find the evolution somewhat worrying in light of increased burnout and a huge shift in programmer culture. I enjoy my work, and my passion projects, but I steer clear of a lot of collaboration these days purely because it has become such a hypercompetitive, money-and-status-focused field that values expertise very differently from 10-15 years ago.

theowlsden profile image
Shaquil Maria

This is a great time to have an obsession and fixated.

@jessekphillips Why is it a good time to have an obsession in your teens?

I don't think that obsession is a good thing, at any age. You will be so fixated on something that you might just over-stress yourself and crash without achieving anything meaningful. The obsession and hustle mentality do more harm than good in my opinion.

The barrier of entry is low that the competition is saturated with passionate, obsessed people.

The barrier of web development is low and that attracts all sorts of people. That is the reason why there are so many people getting in, not their obsession. They might be passionate indeed, but the "everyone can and should code" is the main factor. Their obsession most of the time has no basis, and tbh most are half-assed. They worry more about the status of developers than actually delivering great solutions to solve actual problems.

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jessekphillips profile image
Jesse Phillips

We should be very careful that we don't mix different things and try to use points of one against the other.

  • Obsession
  • hustle
  • addiction

My comments only focused on the first one, though my first comment did touch on the hustle.

Clearly the low barrier is going to produce all types, I was trying to emphasize that some obsessed can take it even further than most other fields.

As for teen years, usually marked by supporting parents with the only simulated obligation to prepare them for the "real world".

This means that a child is positioned better than any to have and persue an obsession than any other time in their life. It is something that could allow them to turn that obsession into financial gain.

190245 profile image

Those that are influencing you, to always be learning new things - by any chance are they wanting to charge you for a service? Eg, bootcamps... how much does it cost?

It sounds to me, that you need to learn to say no.

I'm a Development Manager, and I will always point out to those that work for me when it's time to turn off the computer, and get outside for a walk, or just pick up the phone & call a loved one, or just do something that isn't staring at a screen.

Life is most certainly not always about code.

itstudiosi profile image
David Gil de Gómez • Edited

The real and only reason for this is economic. They need a flood of people in the market in order to fulfill positions at lower costs. That is the only reason behind all this "learn to code" movement.

Also, let's face it, many people out there are just not producing good stuff.