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Michael Cain
Michael Cain

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Year-End Review of An Anonymous Developer

I didn't get fired and built some cool stuff.

  • Me, 2018

Before We Start...

I'm all for year-end reviews. They can be motivating and inspiring, and we know we all need a little encouragement now and then. I'm happy people post them and collect their social-media accolades.

That said, "Compare and Despair" is real.

For example, I follow Sarah Drasner on Twitter. She's great- insightful, funny, VERY knowledgeable and supportive of her community. She speaks all over the world, (now) has a great family life and has a (seemingly) baller job at Microsoft. Her year-end review was full of world travel, insightful blog posts, marriage and high-status Microsoft work.

When I went to write mine, it can pretty much be summed up like this:

I...didn't get fired and built some cool stuff.

We live in a time where our employment status is not guaranteed. Our field is, I'd argue, more in flux than most. New technology is coming out all the time and the pressure to "diversify your portfolio" is REAL (to me, anyway). I have experienced "compare and despair" when I see other people achieving great things. I wonder on occasion:

"What's wrong with me?"

"Why am I not motivated to blog/code/OSS-anything in my spare time?"

"Am I an OSS thief?"

I'm one of those "non-trad" developers. I got into the field at 35 years old after what was largely a failed music career (playing "Sugar, We're Going Down" in the college bars for the 1547th time was not what I had in mind when I went to grad school). I have taken advantage of the great community support for newbies (Ruby on Rails is my stack) and have bootstrapped my way into being a decent developer.

I'm 39, now, and finally can afford to have the kind of lifestyle I thought music would afford me (hello, world travel!). However, to be brutally honest, I don't have the enthusiasm or seemingly endless energy to code like I used to have when I was writing jazz music until the wee hours of the morning after teaching all day. I like CS and am grateful to be a developer, but for me it's a means to an end.

I don't write OSS code in my off-time.

I don't go to tech meetups regularly.

I have spoken a couple of times (RailsConf 2016 & 2017), but don't have a burning desire to be the next @tenderlove (although if Aaron wants to tour as geek comics, count me in!).

I say all this to say it can feel like if you're not out there blogging or making PRs for OSS or podcasting about the latest JS framework, you're being left behind.

As my Duolingo Vietnamese lessons would say:

Học và chơi; chơi và học

  • Learn and play; play and learn (Duolingo)

As long as you're doing your job and learning a little bit along the way, you will be fine.

So, here's to all the anonymous developers who put in their 40 chopping digital wood for an honest day's wage. Cheers.

Top comments (6)

rhymes profile image
rhymes • Edited

Hi Michael, I think in the beginning of the post you're being too hard on yourself.

Comparing yourself with people that seemingly have all their sh*t together and do amazing feats is a recipe for disaster. Aside from the fact, social media teaches us that, they usually don't have a perfect life (but maybe Drasner does, there's nothing wrong with either option).

Plenty of devs (whatever their skill level is) don't actively contribute to open source, don't market themselves, might go to the occasional conference and do not make a habit of coding 24/7.

I like CS and am grateful to be a developer, but for me it's a means to an end.

This is perfectly fine! I can't find it now but I remember there was a twitter thread going around of people (even famous ones) that went into programming because of the money. Why shouldn't they? You see skilled people making north of 100K/year in some places, what's wrong in being interested in something because it provides for one's own family?

Cheers Michael ;)

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Love this post. Definitely reminds me of where I was in the past before I stumbled into some software stardom. It's not a place I felt I needed to transcend from, I'm amazed at what a solid career in software in and of itself can provide.

I'm 39, now, and finally can afford to have the kind of lifestyle I thought music would afford me (hello, world travel!).

My older brother just got into software. He's a bit older than you and also did music. It's a pretty fabulous transition to be able to make.


I definitely have feelings of compare and despair when I see how much @sarah_edo seems to accomplish. For what it's worth. 😄

elmuerte profile image
Michiel Hendriks

I think year-end reviews are bad. It is an arbitrary time-box, generally shifted too. The year is not even over yet, there are still a few more days left. Next time you do a year-end review you won't start at the point where you ended last time, basically throwing away part of the things you did.

Or what about something you started 2 weeks ago, but only after the 4 weeks you can reap its fruits. Does that count to the current or next time-box.

What instead of boxing the time in where the year digit changes we box it to every 128 days since UNIX Epoch (or any other arbitrary starting point.). Or half of that, every 0100 days. It is just as arbitrary, but it's a much shorter time span. So things you did 432000 minutes ago (300 days) is not partially forgotten and given much less attention/praise as the things you did 432000 seconds ago (5 days).

I also don't think the synchronization of reviews helps, especially for longer periods. I haven't created big waves in the recent months, but I'm building up something big. You can't reap the fruit yet. So am I worse than somebody who has delivered some nuts and berries last week?

thecodetrane profile image
Michael Cain

I agree that the time box is arbitrary. I’d be happy to consider the “11/12ths year review” a matter of custom.

However arbitrary the chronology, I thinks it’s (ultimately) a good thing to review what you have done over “x” period of time to see where you have come from and where you’re going; it’s a valuable part of personal kaizen.

codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald

Consider adding the #devjournal tag, which is perfect for journal-type posts, such as year-end reviews.

calculus2uk profile image

Great Post. Thx for sharing