Job Satisfaction, And Making The World A Better Place

You know what we achieve with all our wonderful software patterns and practices? Not a lot on the whole.

We do fairly well financially out of it, and many of those who use our software do fairly well financially from it too. A select few of us write software that can have a small impact on the well being of others, but even then, it is in a totally detached way.

But how often can you say that your day at work has affected somebody else's life for the better, or made a really positive change to the world? How often can you look in the mirror and say my whole day was spent helping other people?

So, what the hell am I doing in the software game? Well, like I suspect many of us, I fell into it by accident. It was my hobby at school, I wrote games software and made a fairly comfortable (for a schoolboy) living from doing it.

Although my choice of O Levels (equivalent to GCSEs these days) were picked around becoming a doctor, and even though my mother had to argue with the school for weeks to get them to allow me to do three sciences, home and family circumstances at that time meant I never actually took most of my school exams. So with nothing in the way of real qualifications, I drifted into what I was naturally good at - technical support and writing computer software. My hobby turned into
my career.

Twenty odd years later, and I am more than comfortable with my career, I like to think I am pretty good at it. I also still often think, I could have been adding much more value to other people's lives if I had stuck with my original choice. Recently I met a lady who was a nurse, and I was totally inspired by her and how much satisfaction she clearly got from her work – she told me that I could still retrain even at this stage in life.

Now I expect you are waiting for some kind of development related conclusion here ... but unfortunately there isn't one. What there is, is a small realisation that I could probably be doing something more for the world.

So, I have started seriously investigating my options for a radical career change - and to retrain as a medical doctor. Now this isn't quite my swansong from development just yet. Not only do I have some major considerations to make, but I also have to put enough money aside to finance this shift, and after all that I have to succeed in an application to medical school, which in the UK is a very difficult task indeed, as places at our universities are very sought after, and the universities can afford to be very selective. I could even do one or two years getting the entry requirements, only to fail to get a place at medical school.

But, I have started sending off enquiries to various universities asking for their advice on the best route in, and perhaps it will pay off. It will be time consuming, financially very hard in the short
term, but it could be the most rewarding thing I could possibly do.

Ultimately, Job Satisfaction is About More Than Financial Reward

Whatever I eventually do, I have made a decision to get out and start giving back something to the world, maybe that will be with 6 years of medical training, followed by years of excessively long hours for very little pay ... or maybe it will be just finding ways to make people's lives better while continuing my career in software.

I encourage you all to find something positive you can give back to the world - the development community has some incredibly smart and insightful people - let's not waste all our efforts on arguing over whether we should invert our dependencies or not!

And if you want somewhere to start doing your small bit, can I suggest you take a read of The Girl Next Door by Bil Simser

Bloody hell that was DEEP!


Posted 03-29-2009 12:24 PM by Jak Charlton
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Comments

Sidar Ok wrote re: Job Satisfaction, And Making The World A Better Place
on 03-29-2009 7:44 AM

Gee, I knew that you are insane, but wasn't expecting this much :) I am not happy that one of the brightest minds in the industry is not satisfied by what he is doing, but I am really happy in the name of you as a friend, because you found something that's noble, and you already know that you like it.

I wish the best chances for you, and hope to be able to pay you a visit in your clinic as Dr. Charlton :)

BlackWasp wrote re: Job Satisfaction, And Making The World A Better Place
on 03-29-2009 8:39 AM

I am not planning on such a move myself currently but I can completely understand your position. I think that there are ways to make the world a better place through software but because most of the work we do is for businesses, it is usually profit that matters.

A friend of mine tried a similar career change. He left IT to become a solicitor (OK, maybe not always making the world a better place - no offense meant to solicitors!) Despite passing the qualifications, he found it very difficult to get a place with a solicitor. That may well have been caused by a little age-discrimination. He is now working in a legal capacity and is also an author. (Plug for him - http://www.yawnia.com/)

Hadi Hariri wrote re: Job Satisfaction, And Making The World A Better Place
on 03-29-2009 8:52 AM

Best of luck Casey. I really hope you move forward with this.

You'll probably be one of the very few that is both the domain expert and the software expert in a specific field. That should turn out to be one hell of an application!

Ollie Riches wrote re: Job Satisfaction, And Making The World A Better Place
on 03-29-2009 1:07 PM

I'm interested in what you got to say about a career change, we should meet up for a beer next time your in town :)

Scott Bellware wrote re: Job Satisfaction, And Making The World A Better Place
on 03-29-2009 2:28 PM

Making the world a better place has always been the foundational driver for my work in software.  Because software is so pervasive and often quite bad, the impact on society would be palpable if we were to commit to making software better in every aspect.

When we finally screw up the courage to accepts how bad software is, the effect that extended daily exposure to it has on human consciousness, and just how much software developers are inured to their own poor work and its effect, then we can truly engage in this work as more than a job.

My training and experience are in software.  I can and do have an impact.  I have committed to software development as a life mission.  There's more at stake than most geeks and dweebs are willing to see, and a greater responsibility that geeks and dweebs have yet had the courage to accept.

I make my stand right here in software where I've been called to make it.

I think you can have great impact as a doctor, but if you ultimately decide that a career change is not for you, remember that you don't have to change careers to find meaning in your work.  The meaning in software work is right there for the taking.  It's a matter of waking up to the tremendous responsibility and consenting to the doubling, tripling, or more the amount of investment of self into a mission that is greater than self.

The ability to commit meaningfully is a quality of the person making the commitment.  It isn't a quality of the particular career.

There's lots to do right here in software.  If you decide to stick around, I hope you consider the deeper imperatives that face software developers, and our responsibility to society and human as the detritus of our day-to-day lack luster efforts invade almost every aspect of contemporary human existence.

Tobin Harris wrote re: Job Satisfaction, And Making The World A Better Place
on 03-29-2009 3:15 PM

This strikes a chord with me, I've had similar thoughts over the last year; I *love* all aspects of software development, but I'm struggling to find a way to use it to make a positive difference to the world. I'm also struggling to find my own personal "mission", which is evident by the fact I've changed direction about 5 times in the last two years.

Good luck with the search, Casey. My girlfriend is a Pathologist, and she's just finishing her training, so I'm sure she'd happily offer any advice for someone looking to get into a medical profession. In fact we talked about this just recently (I know a film script writer who's also wanting to switch to a medical career).

Jak Charlton wrote re: Job Satisfaction, And Making The World A Better Place
on 03-29-2009 3:49 PM

@Richard, Sidar, Hadi

Thanks for the encouragement

@Ollie

Indeed - I'm in London this week for a while ... I'll drop you a message

@Scott

I think you sort of missed the whole point ... you are probably the one person who expends the most energy metaphorically arguing over "whether people should invert dependencies or not". My suggestion ... channel just a bit of that into making a few lives better, and no, software really doesn't do that, at least in no appreciable or quantifiable way.

While as software developers - we would all like to see software quality improved - that is totally orthogonal to my point.

As someone once wisely said, the banking system didn't collapse as someone forgot to invert their dependencies.

Jak Charlton wrote re: Job Satisfaction, And Making The World A Better Place
on 03-29-2009 5:19 PM

@Tobin

Thanks for the positive words ... I'll certainly bear it in mind ... just doing the exploratory emails/enquiries right now, it obviously needs to be a viable route ... then I have a whole lot more to find out if I decide to go full steam ahead!

I hope your girlfriend at least finds her path an interesting and fulfilling one, and hopefully you will find something that clicks for you too!

chadly.net wrote Developing with Passion
on 03-29-2009 9:56 PM

Developing with Passion

jdn wrote re: Job Satisfaction, And Making The World A Better Place
on 03-30-2009 1:13 PM

The exact quote was:

"Bear Sterns didn't fail because they didn't have proper separation of concerns."

One of the best programmers I ever knew quit developing and went into med school after the dot.com bust.  I wonder what he's up to, I should look him up.

jdn

MrAnonymous wrote re: Job Satisfaction, And Making The World A Better Place
on 03-31-2009 4:59 AM

So true...

Sid M wrote re: Job Satisfaction, And Making The World A Better Place
on 04-02-2009 9:45 AM

Great post Casey! This is something I've often found myself pondering and I think it's fantastic that you have the impetuous to go and do something dramatically different! I really admire that. Also, I share your distaste of people who would waste precious hours debating obscurity as if were somehow the key to the universe!

However, I do think there is real value to be found in software development (despite Scott’s post which missed the point somewhat). Lives have definitely been saved by software (keyhole surgery equipment requires software, as do dialysis machines, 4d radar scanners and many other types of equipment and domains critical to the medical profession).

It’s not just medical software either; Families have been brought closer as software has aided cheaper, more lucid communication (video conferencing, IP telephony, Messenger, Skype, etc) and children are being introduced to a greater wealth of information about the world around them than has ever been available before, aiding their education. The list definitely goes on…

I think the key problem is that most of us don't find ourselves participating in that kind of life-impacting software development, but it doesn’t mean we can’t! If, like me, you really enjoy software development, but unlike Casey, you don’t wish to dramatically change direction (for whatever reason), then why not try moving closer to the part of your industry where you see value being added… and join in! If that’s not palatable either, then why not think of a way you could use software to impact people’s lives positively… build it and release it yourself! 

Software definitely doesn’t have to be about making the rich richer, or building yet another meaningless, under-used application for a blue chip client. Software can (and should be) about pioneering new ways to use technology to make our lives better and more enjoyable and I believe that offers a very broad horizon of possibilities, many of which can add real value to people’s lives.

Jak Charlton wrote re: Job Satisfaction, And Making The World A Better Place
on 04-02-2009 12:11 PM

Sid,

Good comments ... I have mentioned elsewhere, but not here, that people who write the software that runs an MRI machine, or a radar scanner, aren't developers - they are doctors, scientists, mathematicians, that happen to write software as part of their jobs.

I certainly fall in the bracket of "application developer", as I suspect most reading this do, and as such my opportunities to work in that field are limited almost to the point of non-existence.

While I agree great software can make people's lives better - and Skype is great example - it just isn't the norm, and the impact is far more distant

Kaarel wrote re: Job Satisfaction, And Making The World A Better Place
on 04-08-2009 6:19 AM

Good post, the topic is definitely something that goes through everyone's head once in a while.

I just want to point out and actually echo Sid's comment. It's not only doctors that help other people. Doctors need tools (software or physical tools, doesn't matter). Someone has to make these. Therefore the makers of these tools are helping people. Less directly perhaps but nevertheless not less importantly in my opinion. Imagine a tool you created helps a doctor help 1.2 times more people a week. That means literally every week you (or your team) help the number of people that is equal to 0.2 times the number of doctors using your tool - that is a lot more any doctor can ever achieve!

Sometimes people who feel they need to change their career and help other people (not talking about you Casey) opt to do voluntary work in third world countries. I'm not saying this is a bad thing to do but I do feel that as a software developer I can be more useful than that to the world as a whole.

Just my 2 c.

Kaarel wrote re: Job Satisfaction, And Making The World A Better Place
on 04-08-2009 6:36 AM

Oh and I forgot to add that the DDD stuff you are doing is just great. I find it very useful and I am sure there are many more developers whose skills will be improved by the work you do. And maybe one of those developers just happens to work on a medical software. It is often the offensive players that get the attention in a sports game but don't underestimate the importance of a good coach ;)

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