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Bugfixing my career

This may be a different kind of year in review post than the ones you've read before.
I'm sharing my story of this year, hoping that you'll learn something from it, so that won't happen to you.

This year, I lost my love for coding.

Can you imagine I had a job where I didn't had the desire to start side projects? I was doing what I love (mainly Laravel Development with a huge bit of software and database architecture as well as caring about good UI and UX) on a daily basis, 40+ hours a week. I thrived, I learned, and damn, I was good at my job (haters coming in 3, 2, 1 ...).
Of course there were bad days, difficult customers and situations, but overall - all was good. The team, the work, the company.

Then I was assigned to a project of a new customer. Taking care of a huge software monolith, grown over two decades, together with an internal team of theirs. It was bad, you know. PHP, without any framework, with oldfashioned HTML and CSS and lots of jQuery. MVC? No. Composer or Autoloading? Nope. Consistent code style, clean code? One hell of a nope.

First, it was a challenge, so I throwed myself completely at it. I'm doing PHP for several years now and ironically it reminded me of my first projects, so I got into it quite fast (I started coding eleven years old, PHP 4 was still around, no theoretical knowledge at all, but it worked and it was so fun!).
I fixed bugs, added new features, everything that had to be done. Still, the codebase was horrible. It screamed »please rewrite me!« painfully, every day I opened up my IDE.
I always had a desire to improve software, so I introduced my knowledge and opinions of modern (web) development to the customer and the team. Small steps first. Consistent code style, add proper documentation, maybe put a Laravel under it to make it at least a bit more secure. Split it into microservices. Inevitable, rebuild it from scratch.
Summarized: The default suggestions you make for transfering a huge monolith that was virtually un-maintainable, breaking apart every hour and being incredible slow to something better, nicer to work with.
I know that this is a difficult, tedious task. But there wasn't even the intention to do this. »It works, so why change it?« Yeah, you've got clearly a different definition of »it works« than me.

So, if you can't change the circumstances, change yourself, right?
I requested to be withdrawed from that particular project, at least for some of my weekly work time. I'm totally fine with maintaining legacy systems, as I mentioned before, it's a challenge and a constant reminder of being grateful for something like Laravel. But if you're doing it every f*cking hour of every f*cking workday, no. Just no.

Well, to make it short: It didn't work out. That's the problem at being good in your job: You're getting so important for something that you can't be removed from the equation (yeaah hello haters). My bosses promised to appoint me to other projects the next month. The month after. Again the month after that... you get it.

I know that it's hard to make the split between making money and keeping your employees happy, not only for a software company, but in general. I don't blame anyone. But if you're postponing your commitments constantly, they wear of. They're not meaningful anymore.

As the time passed, showing up to work became a daily overcoming. I got up, had breakfast, commuted to work. I was in a bad mood at first, but after some time, not even this anymore. I got dull. I was resignated.
I didn't like coding anymore, I noticed that I got so used to that obscure legacy code that I lost my ability to write good, scalable systems.
This was the last warning sign for me.

But I was not ready to leave this company. Not because of financial manners, but out of emotions, simple loyalty. I was still attached to my team, I didn't want to let them down with that huge amount of work.

So I started side projects for compensation. I learned a whole new part of software development, did no web development, but rather mobile development (Flutter) to get as far away from my daily job as possible. I even purchased a $ 3,000 MacBook in a different color to cut off all connotations. Hell, I was desperate.

The joy came back. The delight of clean and structured code. I coded a few evenings during the week and often full weekends. It didn't feel like work, it felt like playing and having fun again.

But there was an implicit problem with this: The hurdle to get back to my day job after the weekends grow bigger. Good thing is, the atmosphere in the company changed, so my loyality faded as well.
I made one last attempt. One last stand up to try to get my daily job back to what it was once.

Nope, did not work again.

So I resigned - without having something new in sight. I didn't care.

I allowed myself to just exist for a few weeks and I know this is a privilige not everybody has. I really appreciated that because it gave me the chance to recalibrate. To ask myself, what should my life as a developer look like?
I released my app, got back to freelancing and found a few solid clients.
Do I earn more than before? Hell, no. But to be honest, I don't have the need for unnecessary luxury stuff and I never got into coding because of the money. I got into coding because it feels like my vocation, not like work.

But, oh dear, the contentment. The silence in my mind, the serenity. The feeling of doing meaningful work, of expressing myself, contributing to a bigger thing. That's... invaluable. Nothing you can express in a salary.

I don't claim that when you have side projects you need to leave your job. But sometimes you should pause for a moment. Ask yourself, why do you start your side projects? Pure joy, can't get enough of coding next to your day job? Go for it!
But if there is even a little doubt in this, dig deeper. Is it compensation for your employment like I described? Then maybe you should change your situation.

Finding meaning and joy in development again was the main storyline of my 2020, on top of all that pandemic and other weird stuff that happened.
It was an interesting year. I had a lot of lows, but I also have the feeling that I grown a lot in different parts of myself.

Have a nice day and an even nicer 2021.

Top comments (6)

florianjisopp profile image
Florian J. Isopp

saw a lot of characters and similar situations like this in my last 10years. Some took the leap, others just talked about it for years and wore off, personally. completely.

so my opinion: take more risks, calculated risk. everything is in flux, but never forget to seek enlightenment, personally and professionally.

eugenevdm profile image
Eugene van der Merwe

What an incredible story and thanks so much for sharing. I relate to this story on so many levels. Although I've had passion for coding most of my life, I only decided 5 years ago to make the switch and only really got going two years ago as a freelancer. Up to 5 years ago I was more of a small time internet provider entrepreneur, and although I had to do scripts for automation at work, I never coded for money. Everything changed when I discovered Eloquent and Laravel (lol, and Jeffrey Way). So much so, that I found the need to abort my old life and go into programming full time.

At the start of 2019, when I had no work at all, a friend told me about a PHP job to fix up some code for a financial system. I was just too happy to get the job. But the code was such a mess. It was done by someone who simply didn't code well and who didn't seem to care. It was horrible. Working on the client's mission critical system and staring at terrible code daily almost broke me. When I contacted the old coder even they said they didn't really understand what was going on. I was paid a few installments but (thankfully?) the client went under. At that point I told myself never ever again. I love coding, I love Laravel, but I decided to refuse to take on plain PHP work again. 2019 ended up being a bit of a mess and I spent a lot of my savings.

Fast forward 2020. Two really nice greenfields programming projects. Along the way comes a very lucrative hourly job, to fixup and improve a Laravel e-commerce website. It's Laravel which I love, so what can go possibly go wrong? I jump in with both hands. Only to find - uncooperative staff. Laravel that is stuck at version 5.5. Blades littered with logic. Messy long functions in controllers.No repos or services. Missing migrations. No automated or unit testing yet a production site that turns millions a month. I try my best. I struggle through every day. I walk in with enthusiasm to keep everyone motivated but at night when staring at terrible code I get depressed. Soon I completely lose motivation. I abscond. The client was anyway behind and had paid for 20 out of 60 hours so I justify it like so.

At this point the words opportunity cost rings hard in my ears. I'm almost 50 now so making a career was a huge thing. But being so "old" I realise that life's too short to work on shitty code, even if it's Laravel. I imagine if one is in one's 20s or 30s you could, but I can't. I won't take another Laravel job unless I have done a deep dive of the code.

Of course freelancing isn't my thing. I would love to write a SaS like many other web developers. Or I would love to get into Flutter as app programming is to gratifying. But time is limited where I am now so have to be careful to which technologies I commit to if I really want to get to the top. Thanks again for the post and wishing you all the best for 2021!

dmahely profile image
Doaa Mahely

I love reading stories and experiences like this, so I thank you for sharing. Have a wonderful 2021 Diana :)

dvddpl profile image
Davide de Paolis

Thanks for sharing your experience. Nice post.

kateh profile image
Kate (she/her)

Thank you for sharing your story! 💛

ccorb profile image
Christopher Corbo • Edited

I dont think this Post will get any hate.
Every experienced developer Sees himself in this Story. I Do. I am also too good - I got thrown at every bigger project. It really sucks having only high demanding and pressuring customer All the time. I had 3 weeks off this year, and I take a lot of open holidays in 2021.

I Was in the exact Spot as you were in december, after hitting 80+ hrs weeks after another for a lot of weeks. On holidays now, I finally found the time and mood to dig a bit into Java frameworks again (Apache camel) and play around with svelte when I dont like to think too deep into camel.

I'm planning to cut the time in my work, becoming a 9 to 5 guy by saying more 'no' to others and Start looking for freelance Jobs to get into it maybe.

So,you are not alone and I think a lot of US Can relate to your Situation. Good to See you made it out of the wheel and feel better.II hope I Can escape too.