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Nevertheless, I Coded: Life after "I just don't want to be a software developer anymore"

melissamcewen profile image Melissa McEwen ・4 min read

In 2017 I wrote I just don't want to be a software developer anymore. The post went viral and continues to get traffic. Some people have asked where I am now. Reader, I'm a software engineer.

At the time I wrote the post, I didn't feel comfortable writing all the details of my situation. I had been working at an agency and accepted a voluntary transfer to work on the "embedded" team at Google in Silicon Valley. I wasn't going to be a Google employee, but I thought it would be good for my career. I rented my apartment out, had a goodbye party, and sold/gave away a ton of stuff. I figured since housing in Silicon Valley would be expensive, I wasn't going to have much room. I got temporary housing in San Jose.

A week before the move my soon to be manager invited me to a meeting. With Uber. He was changing my placement from Google to Uber in San Francisco. San Francisco was quite a ways away from San Jose. AND this was the "strange year at Uber" year so the idea of being the only embedded dev at Uber gave me pause. They informed me that I worked for the agency so I'd work where they wanted me.

It all came to a head my last day of work. I got a Slack message telling me I needed to take a code test for Uber. It was one of those "take home" exercises that claims it takes 2 hours but actually takes 6. I asked for an extension and they demanded I do it during the PTO I was taking for my move.

I made many mistakes. I took a bad relocation package that not only required me to take PTO, but didn't specify the terms of my placement. I felt my only choice was to quit. And I did.

I started interviewing but at that point I just didn't have the morale to go through the software interview process. Software interviewing is broken and even at my best I found it demoralizing. Since I had savings I took a break. Unfortunately I was really really really depressed. And it's not easy to change your career in that situation.

I did therapy, a vocational leather work program (turns out I'm not very good at it), saw doctors and tried to figure out next steps. I found myself coding for fun quite often. Evenutally I had to accept the fact that I liked coding and it was fun for me. It's also a good career. And I didn't have any other realistic career prospects. Paying for health insurance was rapidly depleting my savings. So it was time to think about coding jobs again.

On my post someone recommended the book Developer Hegemony which I enjoyed. I wrote the author Erik Dietrich and started doing freelance developer content marketing for his company Hit Subscribe. This was a valuable experience and I found I enjoyed the intersection between writing and code.

I also built Curlsbot which ended up being somewhat popular in the curly hair community. When I prototyped it, first as a Facebook Bot, I used Glitch and fell in love it it. So when Glitch opened up a content marketing position I applied and joined the team. Their interview process was thankfully not demoralizing! Originally my title was just "Developer Content Marketer" but as the team has grown and evolved and I found myself with the engineer title again. My work is posting here sometimes and also working to show neat ways to use Glitch. So it's a very different job than I had when I wrote "I just don't want to be a software developer anymore."

My health has always affected and been affected by working in software. I got some diagnoses that explained some of my struggles: ADHD and idiopathic hypersomnia (it's narcolepsy's less well known cousin). Getting treated for those has helped a lot though finding the right medication has been ... a journey. I found some things that helped my random pain and migraines (tinted glasses, percussive massage). All these things were expensive so it helps to have a job.

I've gotten so much feedback from engineers, mostly who want to leave. And talked to a few who have left. I'm hoping by working within the industry I can help fix some of the issues that made me want to leave software engineering forever.

Some things I took away from the experience:

  • Work problems are structural problems that require large scale change to solve, so don't blame yourself if you can't solve them
  • Putting the burden on the individual to negotiate things like salary (a la "Lean In") or fix hiring practices is a losing strategy. We have to organize and exercise worker power to get fair pay and working conditions
  • Even if pay is good in general for engineers, unfair working conditions and inequality within a workplace can cause a lot of stress
  • There are other options for coders who don't want to be product engineers, though it can be hard to break into them

Discussion (11)

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lexaprogrammer profile image
WillπŸ‘¨πŸΎβ€πŸ’»βœ¨(he/they)

This is such an amazing post and my heart goes out to you for everything you went through before landing at Glitch.

As someone who has felt like bad fits derailed their career I can truly relate to any emotional anguish you may have felt during your journey. Tech hiring is broken and many companies are ill equipped to address this issue.

I have known of Anil for decades and have heard such good things about Glitch’s leadership and transparency policies so maybe there is some hope for tech moving forward.

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Erik Dietrich

First of all, thanks for the shout-out, both for the book and for Hit Subscribe :D

And, by the way, the Glitch position sounds really cool. I love the idea of engineers in product marketing (especially as a fellow engineer that also likes to write and showcase cool projects).

And I think you're touching on something here that I'd never really considered before: the idea that the path away from what I'll bluntly call stupidity in the enterprise for developers isn't only leaving the enterprise. It might also lie in fusing software engineering with other disciplines to create hybrid roles that are naturally less subject to tech workers' maddening propensity to collectively devalue our own work (e.g. by agreeing to degrading interview processes).

Anyway, good to hear from you, and glad things are going well!

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James Hickey • Edited

Thanks for this. I've too been a part of some really intense interviews. I get that you want to vet people really well. I've seen what happens when you don't vet people well. But... it's tough.

I've had situations where we agreed to terms up-front (salary, travel expectations, etc.) End-up going through 6 interviews at 1.5-2 hrs each. And then, at the end, they said "Well, because you live in a low-cost living area we can't pay you anywhere near what we already agreed upon πŸ€”. And, we're mandating more travel so you have to travel even though we already agreed that you wouldn't have to travel this year πŸ€”. I understand that its business and things change. But it's unfortunate this happens.

I've also been in one process where I spend over 10 hours on a coding exercise that was "supposed" to take like 2 hours...but when you want the job, you want the job.

Anyways, experiences like that can really affect you emotionally afterwards! Def. can "bring you down" for a while.

Glad that you found somewhere that is treating you well! πŸ‘

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rachel_cheuk profile image
Rachel • Edited

I've definitely been in the "I don't want to be a software engineer anymore" mindset. So many times. Still don't have an answer, but constantly searching...

Thanks for sharing your story, and update.

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lyekka profile image
Louise Bedwell • Edited

I am feeling the whole of "I don't want to be a developer anymore" more and more over the past few years. I too am only in it for the money, and trapped here by having bills to pay. You really are not wrong and this industry is hugely biased against anyone who wants to keep their work and life activities entirely separate.

I find coding exhausting, and as a "jack of all trades, master of none", I have many skills on and off the computer and I do not want to spend any time outside work coding. However, this consistently leaves me falling behind my colleagues who live and breath coding and who spend every waking minute on it.

The only advice we're ever given is "hone your skills on your own, get good", but that effectively, to my mind at least, leaves me doing what should be work in my own time, which I have much better uses for. Coding is just a job for me, I don't enjoy it, I enjoy what it enables me to do outside work, not that I could ever say that in an interview or I'd never get a job.

Do you have any advice on other options for coders and how to transition?

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Elohina

This and the previous post have been helpful experiences to read. I resonate with the doubts, demoralising interviews, point of views and the eager to leave the software path but like you, I don't see myself leaving it soon. I'm glad that you found a way to keep working as a software developer with better conditions for yourself, that gave me some kind of hope that it is possible because I do think that this career could be better. Also thank you for being brave enough to talk about something not everybody talk.

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still-dreaming-1 • Edited

Much of what you say resonates with me and reminds of some seemingly related beliefs I have. I think there is a bias against programmers that don't want to work long hours. People assume that if you don't want to work long hours, you are not passionate about programming and therefore don't truly get it. But I know this is not true because in terms of hobbies, programming is my highest passion. Nobody can tell me I don't love and obsess over programming because knowing myself, this is exactly how I am. Yet I don't want to work long hours and do have other priorities in my life, so these are not mutually exclusive things. I also work with a couple other progrmmers that are the same way. I only work 30 hours per week on average, and they work even less than that. One guy on our team has like prodigy level skills, and he works the least hours of us all because he is dedicated to pursuing other priorities in his life. How many hours can one work in one day and be truly productive and fully engaged the whole time? I think if you are working 5 days per week this is somewhere around 6 hours per day for most people. We all work remotely and only work if and when it fits into our life and we know we can actually be productive and not just put in hours. We also consider 30 hours to be full time, thus qualifying for benefits. The company does not pay as well as other places though, since they cannot afford to. But it is steadily growing.

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Jean-Christophe Helary

Thank you for that post. And yes, structural problems that need structural solutions and employers can't be expected to intellectually grasp what workers need, hence unions, etc.

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Dan Fockler

Thank you for writing this. I read this and your original post and I have a lot of similar feelings. It's really hard working in any industry that has an unsustainable work culture, and bad business practices in general.

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Amber πŸ³οΈβ€πŸŒˆ

Oh my lord.
I had never heard of hypersomnia. I think I might have it. I always thought it was just depression.
Thank you so much, I am going to look into this.