Programming is both making and ruining my life

This is a 5-6 minute read with video.

First things first, I beg you to read this. I’m groveling here for you to just give me a few minutes of your time. Too often there is arbitrary black on white text on your screen that is casually discarded if it doesn’t lead to something useful in the next 2 to 3 seconds. As a result, news and online correspondence results in click-baity headlines or catches. There’s another person on the end of this and unfortunately I’m not able to buy you coffee as you hear me whinge. If I could, I totally would, because I miss the human contact…


I’m sure at one point or another you’ve had a shitty manager. I’ve had my share. That horse is beaten beyond recognition. Something I think we fail to realize though is that management often is only conveying the broader vision of where things should be “headed”. How to get there? We don’t know and that’s why we hired you.

I keep winding up in this situation where management somehow feels it’s my job to be productive in-line with their generic mission statement of, “make more money fast”. I am, and I feel most of us are, like this guy: from Seinfeld.

We just want to make our bosses happy, do a good job, and clearly convey the plethora of options we have as developers. I think it stems from a lack of confidence when overwhelmed by all of our options. I need guidance and, like the Seinfeld clip, it annoys to a point of either getting it done or getting the door slammed on me.

Now unlike that clip, I’m not the type of person who can get it done at that point. I’m crippled with the decisions, unable to make one, and I typically wind up in the fetal position rocking back and fourth wondering why I got into programming.

People who manage themselves thrive

Most programmers who are still doing it after 20 years (in my own personal experience) are the type of guy who “just gets it done” like Mr. Cabinets. While he would like some managerial input, when told to make it happen today, he can and will. He studies programming for fun. Goes to conferences without being made to. Heck, he may of even paid his way to go on his own because he likes investing in himself and networking.

He has an active Github opensource project that he manages in his free time. Has 2 or 3 kids but it doesn’t seem to detract from his work. Oh, did I mention? He is a serial entrepreneur and current tech lead for a major firm.

How can anyone live up to this. Are we even asked to?

More often than not I don’t even know what to do. I don’t know what to learn? With so many things out there and trying to fit it into 8 hours a day without getting fired makes me suicidal everytime I wake up on a weekday.

I think the “fake it until you make it” advice is quite possibly the most damning advice to this profession. Programming is becoming more rigorous than ever and the tools are getting more complicated. I don’t even recognize website development anymore with the AngularJS and ReactJS frameworks. LESS/SASS? Hidden messages are even in the acronyms!

Sometimes I really feel like my only skill is being slightly above average intelligence. I crossed the threshold into not being intimidated to learn the tool called a “computer” and somehow wound up in a profession that I both love to tinker around in but also hate with a passion.

In effect, I have cemented the best years of my early 20s into a career that I will eventually be unable to keep up with. Even right now as I write this at work I prepare for the inevitable day where I will be let go because I don’t research the latest research in distributed computing in my free-time.

I’m in tears now because I don’t want to sit here doing nothing, poking around online articles, Stack Overflow and IRC chats hoping to glimmer some value from the words I read. I want to be a productive employee and I want to do a good job. Programming is the only career I’ve seen where to be bad at it is to be reviled.

In a code review one guy even said, after demonstrating some behavior he didn’t like, “don’t worry about the programmers who do that, we had them executed.” In no other profession is it as dog eat dog as this. If it is, please let me know so I can avoid it.

If I lose my job before I find a different career to launch into I’ll probably kill myself. Without giving any identifying details, I’m at my current job for the money. It takes a long time for management to worry about ROI for developers I’ve noticed. At least at some places. My family has gotten used to the extra income at this point and both losing this job and changing into a career that pays significantly less at no garauntee of making me any happier… I don’t want to think about it.

I’m a remote worker which is a godsend because if I wasn’t I think I’d probably be having obvious panic attacks (like I do 24/7 right now) in the office and that would start to draw some attention.

I know I sound dramatic but I want to thank you for taking the time to read my story and hear my pain. I hope you’re doing better than me, I sincerely do. We all want to reach out and none of us want to feel vulnerable. We all want to make that real human connection but here I am using an anonymous account. I’m severely agoraphobic with depression and anxiety so programming is the only career I felt like I could be in.

Without it I’m done and I already feel like the motivation to be in it has left me. I used to love programming when it wasn’t what fed me and my family and I feel like no one can help. I don’t have the strength to look for a new career because I’ve been so bad at finding what makes me happy I don’t feel like I can rely on myself to find something good based on my track record. I’ve been great at climbing the corporate ladder and now I’m at the top, the ladder is shaking and I didn’t secure the bottom. Wish me luck.

Thanks for your incredibly valuable time and I hope that you’ll reply with anything whether it’s a, “me too” or your own story.


You are welcome! Thanks for sharing!

Wow, I felt stressed out just reading about your story:( Are you doing any kind of therapy? Does your partner work? It seems like you are taking on a lot of the burden and it would help to have someone else share it with you.

I think there’s a thread around here with career suggestions that you could move into development from. Examples I can think of are QA, sys admin, dev ops. Those roles are usually more laid back, and still pay a decent salary.

I think you sound like you are afraid to fail due to past failures. Perhaps it would help you to look at failures as opportunities to grow from and not a reflection of you as a person being a failure. It seems like you are still young, so you have plenty of time to reinvent yourself:)

It doesn’t help things to compare yourself to some mythical programmer like the one you outlined. You can only be yourself, so it’s best to spend your time reflecting on how to better yourself, not on how you compare with others. You can only change yourself.

Anyways, I really recommend seeing a therapist since you sound depressed and possibly suicidal. I hope things get better for you.

Has your career been largely in remote work? I’ve found that being able to socialize with my colleagues and build a connection outside of work contexts can be very helpful to increasing empathy, and reduces interactions like the really horrible joke about executing people whose code doesn’t conform to the team’s style. Perhaps looking for a co-located position may be a good intermediate step between this (from the sound of it) terribly un-empathetic culture?

Also, is there an HR type person at this company who you trust? Some places will allow a leave of absence or sabbatical of some kind for health reasons; giving yourself the space to think and breathe may help assess what to do next.

And lastly, if you are seriously considering suicide, please keep reaching out for help…there are so many people who want to give it.

Just writing to wish you luck, belatedly, since I just came upon the site, today.

Just wondering how you are doing now, whatwhy? Have you seen any improvements, any luck in figuring out the right way forward?

I fear this will go unanswered due to the age of the topic, but if you do read this… here’s a belated “me too”.