Is coding a work-for-free popularity contest?

makiten profile image Donald ・1 min read

I was a career-changer. In 2015, I stopped being a dev to go to sales. I won't get into that adventure here, but as I'm trying to figure out where the next chapter in my career should go, most employers would try to pigeonhole me into being a dev and I can't really seem to find consulting work where my target customer just sees me as the Code Guy.

Anyway, one reason I changed out of development was that there were always 2 subtly-implied qualities to get a better dev role than what I had at the time:

  1. Work for free (in your free time)
  2. Be real popular

Building a "brand" takes lots of time, and most of that seems to require your free time to do. In another post, someone said there's an expectation that you're devoting 100% of your time towards development, and the older I get, the less I want to.

Is it even realistic to advance your career anymore without obsessing over the latest technology, meetups, speaking events, conferences, etc.?

Posted on Apr 5 '18 by:

makiten profile



Software architect interested in finance


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Is it even realistic to advance your career anymore without obsessing over the latest technology, meetups, speaking events, conferences, etc.?

Yeah that's tough. I would certainly hope not, but I definitely see the pressures you are describing.

Personally, I've found it perfectly fine to not worry too much about the hot new things and let the ecosystem settle. But I've typically had the privilege of setting my own course. If you're structure is defined by others this all seems much harder.

Mostly this is an interesting question. I am 100% in your corner but as someone who has done all the exhausting things on this list myself I have a hard time knowing how things might have worked out otherwise.

Would love to read others' thoughts on this.


Personally, I've found it perfectly fine to not worry too much about the hot new things and let the ecosystem settle.

After I looked at this post, that really reminds me of how 10 years ago, some of the technologies in that stack were en vogue, then fell out because "it doesn't scale." I had the mentality of waiting to let things settle, though when I was looking for employment, it didn't really seem to help me.

But I've typically had the privilege of setting my own course.

This is what I've been doing that last 9 months. I think I have to experiment some more to find what works in terms of getting customers and finding out where I get the best engagement from.


Excited to see some perspectives on this!

As a recent career changer into development, I definitely feel the pressure of needing to be coding all the time, in and out of work. It's especially strong since I'm so new to the career (literally a month) and have to learn some new languages for the team I'm on. The guilt of watching TV rather than learning C# is strong.

I'm not convinced - though I could be - that this stigma is true in the broader career field. It seems more like a mass-perpetuating inferiority complex among developers; we're all afraid of being outmoded and replaced. Maybe it trickles down from the powerhouses like Amazon, Google, Facebook and the like where the expectation isn't to spend your free time coding, but to not have any free time at all. But for those of us that are happy working in the mid-size business sector outside of silicon valley I think there is much more room for life after work.

Millenials will likely exacerbate the paradigm shift away from this too, as our generation seems to value the 'work to live' mentality over the 'live to work' mantra of older gens.


I hope so. My experience is that early on, they convince themselves they have to "live to work," because they "don't have a lot of experience." As a millennial, I suppose I'm different in that regard, because I was a "work to live" kinda person.

Interestingly, the first 2 companies I worked at (startups) were always trying to do things the way Google did it. I didn't really get that when I worked at IBM, although as a salesperson I do remember my managers telling us to go to meetups on a regular basis, because this allegedly led to closed deals.

I remember recruiters doing this, and I don't think it was any more effective then.

I'm proudly outside the SV world, but the city I live near has some serious self-worth issues since Austin is close and "gets it all." At the same time, the culture in general is big on free work and lower pay, so getting clients or jobs is a very odd process.


I think you're on the right track to question this stuff. I believe it is often a distraction, but 100% denial is also a difficult part to tread. Find a way for it all to work for you.


Hi Joe, welcome to software development! Here is a post I wrote that you might find helpful:



One way could be to join a large company with a good growth path for developers internally. I worked in a large company for several years where there was no expectation of creating an external brand or working on side projects. That said, I left that position because I didn’t find the work interesting.


Even that would've been nice for me. The last true dev job (before being a "CTO," I guess) was relatively large, but it was low paying and no growth path. There were a lot of excuses as to why, and it didn't help that the work wasn't interesting.

They did have a team who worked on interesting things, but HR/headcount politics got in the way, and I ended up on the team who just kept the lights on for typical CRUD apps.


Yeah, it's a tough one.

While it looks like the industry is slowly starting to wake up to the fact that it's possible to be a good developer at work and a well-rounded person outside of it, it still seems to favor those who can devote time to "coding-as-a-hobby", especially for people just starting out in the industry.


What's interesting is they make it a "young person's" game, but I was about 23 or 24 when I was far less interested in obsessing over developing. It's put me in a no-man's-land where I'm "valuable," because I'm aware of the latest trends, but "inexperienced" because most places I've worked at I was the youngest on the team.


Good question. My answer, as of today, is yes. It's usually done to impress your peers NOT your customers/clients (e.g. current/future employer).

Popularity doesn't translate necessarily into $$$.

(On a related note: I don't have a positive vibe on hack-a-thons either. I feel like an employer is trying to get some free work because devs want to nerd out and work on something "cool" and "modern").

Erik Dietrich wrote a wonderful article about this topic in much more detail: daedtech.com/turning-tech-hobbies-...


I haven't done a hackathon in awhile. I did one at my last job, but for sure all the other ones I know are definitely looking for free work.

I guess I feel the customers/clients aren't impressed with devs at all. As a consultant, I target HR, and even though I know how to speak their language, they're either willfully ignorant/oblivious or timid.


Your path is very intriguing (from dev to sales). I believe you are a double-edge sword now, in a good way!

Have you written down your path talking about such transition? I'd love to learn out more.


Why don't you write about it? I'm very curious to know your thoughts on this transition.


You don't have to build a brand, or obsess over new technology, but you can't become stale.

It's very possible to build a reputation as a skilled developer who builds great products, as long as you're pushing the envelope somehow. People don't care about mediocrity or something they've seen before. Whether it's new technology, or teaching old topics in new ways, or creating an innovative app -- it's all about adding to the progression.