Where to go from here?

Sort of at a crossroads after 22 years of programming and wondering what to do next (and having lots of anxiety about it).

I started out as employee in one company where I stayed for 15 years. Could have been a mistake to stay that long, not sure. But the company got bought up and I got to have many different development roles, as well as team lead, architect.

Then I started my own small consulting company and looked for assignments, as I was hoping for repeated shorter assignments that could keep me motivated. Wasn’t easy to find. Managed to land two assignments for a total of about 7 years. Still felt like an employment, motivation dropped.

Now after the last assignment I’ve been on a “break” for 5 months trying to figure stuff (and myself) out. I had plans to make all kinds of apps, make courses and whatnot, but most of it stayed in the plan stage. I feel too restless to sit down and do stuff, my mind starts to wander to not so good places. Instead I have walked, run, biked, very long distances. Hasn’t helped motivation.

Now money starts to be an issue (as I knew it would), depleting my company savings. So an offer came up for a 6 mo assignment, with interview today. Didn’t get a very good impression immediately…huge, old codebase, not a clear team to work with (as most people are moving elsewhere shortly). Pay is good though. They want a response early next week.

When I took a look at the cubicle spaces I just couldn’t see myself spending 8 hours a day in that chair. I have suspected before that I have a form of ADHD, but never diagnosed. Have an appointment next week though, that I scheduled in panic before the interview.

I just don’t know…should it be this hard? Would I be better off in another profession? If I live frugally I could probably take part in some education for half a year, that could maybe lead to a career change.

Anyone have any ideas or that has been in the same spot?

Hey Peter,

I know the feeling. I still have a job, but people are leaving and I have a feeling that things are going to go to hell pretty quickly. I’m getting things in order and doing coding assignments to prep for interviews. Technical interviews are my own personal hell, but maybe one day I’ll stick one right?

If it’s been tough to get work and money is getting tight, then you might want to take that job. I know 6 months is a long time, but it is finite. And if things aren’t working out, you could always quit right? I mean a contract job isn’t going to be burning any bridges if you don’t like it? I’m not sure, I’ve never worked a contract job.

As for ADHD, I was diagnosed a few years ago, and some of the meds can really help with motivation. Personally, I’m not that crazy about having to take them. I feel like in an ideal world my motivation would come from within, but it’s not an ideal world is it? We evolved to be in much different environments and maybe for some of us, after years and years of doing the same thing, it’s just not there anymore. Where does that leave us? Having to help our selves with chemicals unfortunately.

Personally, I’ve always been terrified by a career change. What if I spend all that money to find a new career and then hate that too? I’m too anxious to do that.

It’s good that you’re getting help. Have you considered talking to a therapist too, or maybe a counselor? It sounds like you are looking for some insight into what your feeling, and therapy can help with that.

I think a lot of us face this same situation sometime in our lives. SSDD, as the movie saying goes. The wonder and luster of being creative vanishes, and then we’re left wondering what to do. I try to look at the problem differently, though I can’t say it will be much help.

If I were in another career, say, plumbing, or one of the trades, I wouldn’t have the choices that I do now, and I wouldn’t have time to think about it, either. Lots of people in other careers get burned out with their jobs. What do they do to keep going? What is it that makes a broker in the stock market motivated to keep dealing with the stress, day after day, or the factory worker, to come in and keep working on that assembly line? I think there are two reasons that the stress is different for us.

First off, what we do is very mental, and very abstract. We think, type in some code, solve a problem, solve the next one, etc. The mental fatigue is much more taxing on us than a lot of other jobs that have more interpersonal parts to them. A plumber, for example, deals with people all day. They see something different, meet new people, etc. Second, the results of our work are also very abstract. We might appreciate it when we finish an application, and it’s elegant, well-designed, and tested, but very few people understand what we’ve done. The factory worker, on the other hand, if they’re building a car, then they can point to that car on the assembly line and say, “See? I helped build that.” Consequently, the solutions are different too.

Although the plumber might get burned out, when you see the little old lady’s smile because you just kept her toilet working in the middle of the winter, it makes more of a difference. When the broker makes his quota, just barely, despite the market going bear and keeps his customers from losing lots of money, you can hear the sigh of relief. Or at least that’s the theory. Who knows if it’s right?

I think the one thing I’ve learned is that we have to interact with people outside the software industry to put things in perspective. How do they handle problems like this? What makes them happy and motivated? What are their options? What about the other things in their life, does that make a difference? The other thing is that our minds need rest, just as our bodies do. How one rests the mind, though, is almost philosophical. Some people say mindfulness and meditation helps. Some people say that posting on the internet so some random guy can ramble at you helps too. :wink:

As to that contract job… I wouldn’t take it, honestly, unless it was contract to hire or something like a DoD contract where that’s par for the course. My experience is that people almost always contract out a job like that because it’s something no one wants or knows how to do. Six months isn’t enough time to finish the job and learn how the organization works, meaning it’s almost certain you’ll be doing it in such a way that the guy that comes after you will have to clean it up, even though you’re a good programmer and tried as hard as you could. Further, contracts like that almost always have needless stress. Usually, what really needs to happen is that they need a proper full-time development team handling it, but what really did happen is that they’re too cheap to hire one. Now, if you’re talking contracting on a product, something that gets “shipped” to end customers, that may be different.

Good luck in whatever you decide. I guess all I can really say is that a lot of people have been there before us, and gotten through it. It sucks no matter who it is, though.

@wanderer very good points. Yes, I have been in therapy - a long time and many different kinds. Never really thought that they got at the core of my issues. It helped for the moment, I felt good for a couple of hours after every session. If I get back on a job, I will probably need therapy again fairly soon to be able to cope with it at all.

Sometimes I think I maybe focus too much on my problems, with therapy, writing and reading on the Internet. I think I’m addicted to the Internet in a bad way that may have changed my thought patterns. I check news very often and have some compulsions about it too. I will probably try to spend some week(s) without this checking and see if it helps.

When it comes to other trades and talking to people about it, I believe I have a “grass is greener” syndrom. Sitting and listening to an expert coming to help the company with something, then I want to be that guy…wow how interesting and rewarding it must be to go out and help companies like that all the time! I would never take the steps to “become” him though, because I would get bored and lose interest fairly quickly. Talked to someone at my last job that came out to serve the acquarium. Fantasized about what it would be like to have that job too.

I don’t know if that is ADHD or where it comes from. If I am to code a form at work, I start to think about the mechanics behind, and want to be on the team that creates those tools, instead. I was rather good at compiler theory at school and have written a few simple compilers, but I’d never take the steps to actually work with that - not sure why.

It’s like the endless possibilities are getting to me. I recall that the shift in MS tech when WPF, Workflow foundation and WCF came out I suddenly felt overwhelmed. Before that the “world” was a lot more graspable, but when that shift came I suddenly felt like I’d never be able to master all of it. I also constantly think about how I could make it on my own instead, if I got into the zone and code up the apps I have in my pipeline, and then I get very distracted and lose interest in doing work someone else have put on me.

I didn’t take that particular job (I think you’re right about your concerncs). Might have another one lined up (that does deal with a product instead). I just wish I could muster some excitement about the process, and not feel defeated beforehand.