By - SepticPeptides
After 22 YOE, the greatest source of fulfillment I have experienced is the interaction with people, specifically interactions that convey feelings of reward. It's easy to work hard when that work is appreciated and praised. And it comes pretty naturally if you make it rewarding for others to work with you.
I've had a very hard time convincing people about this who are puzzled by non-technical aspects of their career. They think it will come from working with a hip stack or solely compensation. I think that those things themselves are only rewarding if there is a positive vibe with the people you work with.
Was about to say this
Find fulfillment through the process, and the satisfaction, rather than the product
Just to add a few points I haven't seen yet: I derive a lot of satisfaction from the art/craft of coding. It gets poo-poo'd in forums, but I have to imagine that other professions that have "master craftsmen" are similar.
I also hope that I can go back to coding as a hobby in retirement. I'm not sure whether I'll make useful things or silly things, but there's a small chance that'll make the world a tiny bit better. And I wonder whether there will be a glut of people like me, and if we'll self organize and do something really impressive.
You put in to words perfectly what I was mulling on reading this thread. I get a lot of satisfaction by being good at this, and getting better at it. The same way I do from any of my other hobbies except this one pays me.
I’m in the same boat as you that post-retirement I’ll be searching for some way to use the skills I’ve built up over my career just to do something with. Maybe not change the world, but just make things I think are fun.
\+1. I went through a massive burnout recently (took 2 years to recover) and in my recovery I realized that I had lost track of why I got into coding in the first place - I actually really do enjoy the art and craft of it and delighting end users with the capabilities of technology. There were 'fringe' elements of the craft that I never got deeply into because it just didn't come up in my regular work and consequently I thought, incorrectly in my context, that I just didn't need to pursue it. This was a mistake. I'm now pursuing aspects of development with no other goal than to enjoy it. It's rekindling my interest and love for programming.
Edit: a word (not -> now)
What fringe elements did you mean?
I'm the same way! Thanks for putting this so well.
I also find that I'm really enjoying the code review process. When you are working on genuinely difficult things it can really help to have good conversations about it.
Yup. Same here. Good days are coding days, even when the compiler hates me and I can't type right to save my life.
Ditto x100, thanks for being transparent.
One answer to this is I've always found meaning and purpose in the work itself. I've been fortunate to work with very smart, talented people on complex problems where I've been able to learn almost constantly.
Did these things "make the world better"? In some ways: I've worked on projects that impact millions of people in various ways. I currently work on ways to make computing safer and less prone to exploits. But, I'm not sure that's exactly what you mean. I have some prior coworkers who work on mri and ultrasound machines and those quite literally can save peoples' lives.
Overall, I believe there is ample opportunity to find meaning and purpose in whatever work you do if you look at it the right way.
What a great question, I'm wondering the same.
I'm currently working on a web app that's essentially a glorified CRUD. It's not fulfilling in any way and it's been getting to me lately. I feel like I'm wasting my life and skills on yet another meaningless business app and what's worse, no one around me seems to understand what's the big deal.
I don't expect people to agree with me or share my dreams, but it does bother me a little when people shut me down with "it's how jobs are and you expect too much".
Your thoughts and feelings are valid.
As someone who works on yet-another-CMS I feel that. However, I take comfort in that even if a few people use the product I work on, I can still make their day better by making it as good as I can. I'm not "making a better world" by solving the climate crisis, sure, but still, if my work can positively impact a few people I'll take it.
At the end of the day, technology is a tool. What matters is to what ends we choose to use those tools. Finding a goal in life that's meaningful and gives purpose, well, that's a perennial challenge that transcends software engineering.
To many people, a job is a job is just a job. It's a means to an end. It earns them livelihood. Literally: an income that gets them shelter, food,... the basics. Enough to live comfortable. Their true goals aren't grand at all, but no less meaningful. Being a good family member, a friend, a parent, community member. Enjoying life in small ways without having to involve the entire world in it e.g. having barbecue's during summertime, enjoying DnD games during wintertime, go for a run every morning during Fall and Spring,...
To other people, their job is a jumping board for a fulfilling career which encompasses being a force multiplier who has an impact on a community. Whether that's a few hundreds, thousands or millions is inconsequential. To some, that might be a librarian catering to a city, to others, that's being a war correspondent being read by hundreds of thousands. And to others again, that might be being a specialist surgeon, an engineer building a platform used by millions, etc. etc.
Either way, both examples do have a commonality: they don't happen out of themselves. It's up to you - as an individual - to do the legwork of self-reflection and figuring out what it is you want for yourself and in what you direct you're heading. It's up to you to make choices and own up to the consequences. And - most important - it's up to you to cater to your own emotional needs.
That doesn't mean you have to do all of that alone. Ask, and others will help you. Friends, family,... are there to give you advice and support. Regardless though, it's not up to them to do the actual work for you. It's - ultimately - you who has to take the plunge and decide what's worth spending your time on, and what you're not going to do.
I went through this transformation “recently” (over the last few years). First, what it took for me was a) the birth of my first kid; b) enough years of experience that my confidence in my abilities was high; and c) enough savings that I didn’t have to feel financially threatened to have a job (although I’m not yet FI).
Something changed in me when I had my kid. I no longer wanted to chase “cool” projects and work late & overtime. I had an overwhelming desire to simplify my life and spend as much time as I could with my kid.
My behavior at work is now very different to what it used to be a few years ago. I don’t “try hard” anymore. I calmly express my opinions, not worrying about if the other party will be shocked or worrying about losing my job if I disagree with others. I do my job but I only do what I need to and I don’t put anything extra in.
And the results have been counter intuitive to me. I am regarded better now than ever before, have the best job I’ve ever had, have highest compensation than ever, work for a company with values that align with mine, and work less than 4.5 days a week. I often even take afternoons off because there is nothing to do and I refuse to fill the hours with meaningless appearances.
I am on track to have the option of retiring in 4-9 years - depending on how much money I want to have in retirement. More accurate would be to say I am on track to be FI in about 4-5 years as I am probably not going to retire yet. I am a couple decades away from typical retirement age.
I’ve uaed the time I freed up to walk my kids to school/daycare, pick them up, spend as much time as I can with them during the week, do something fun every weekend. We just spent two months over the summer with kids. It’s been great.
Work-wise, I am doing something very meaningful to me. I enjoy building new products and was able to find a way to do that in a stable company. I pitched my vision, they liked it, and now I have a budget and a team to deliver on that vision. So I don’t feel like I am working for a company - instead I think of myself as having signed up for a 2-3 year engagement to achieve an objective. After this time is up, I will look for another engagement. Could be with the same company or a different one. I feel no loyalty to the company - only alignment on mutual interests.
Aside from this, I’ve been able to be involved with a non-profit that is meaningful to me as an advisor. I sent a message to the owner and from there we met up and the rest is history. Turns out people really like it when you are passionate about what they’re doing and you tell them that.
Oh and I’m also doing hobbies and taking another degree. All possible because I don’t put in appearances at work but just get my work done and not more. It’s incredible how efficient you can be.
So that’s my story. A few years ago I was working a completely different, very stressful, job where I worked 80+ hours a week easily. Had no time for anything else and I wasn’t respected either. It’s been a big transformation for me
Inspiring. Can I PM you for some professional guidance?
Sure, no problem
Well it seems I can’t do it on mobile or I don’t know how but how did you go about reaching this point:
“I often even take afternoons off because there is nothing to do and I refuse to fill the hours with meaningless appearances.”
I got a job in a role as a program owner. My primary responsibility is to set the vision and the direction for the program. Once I’ve done that, it’s best for me to step aside and let the developers do their work. Otherwise, I run the risk of micromanaging. So I often find it’s best for me to be busy with other things and let the work unfold at the dev team’s pace.
You want to make the world a better place?
Get *very* good at software engineering. Get *very* good at interviewing. Secure the highest TC you can achieve.
Then donate 60%+ of your income to charities which make a difference (Clean Air Task Force, Cool Earth, etc.) and live a frugal life yourself.
There was a great article on Medium somewhere, where a guy described how he got multiple offers that were all way above what he imagined and he was more than happy because he could donate way more by securing such a high TC.
And you can make way more impact doing that than by working at a non-profit for $55k/yr.
What's the math on that? Generally giving a non-profit $200+k to pay for multiple engineers (or whatever else they need) is going to provide more value than writing some code yourself for them.
How many people are actually going to donate the salary of various employees? You’re arguing for a very idealistic case ($200K in donations). How realistic is this for the average software engineer?
Therefore the point still stands that doing the non-profit work yourself is a viable alternative to earning and donating to a non-profit. Both venues have merit.
Edit: Sorry, reading again your comment I think I misunderstood your point, I think we’re in agreement.
It is probably the most efficient way, but I don't think it leads to a sense of 'fulfillment' (which makes it not efficient)
We are emotional creatures and we are conditioned by our environment. By doing this you're far away from actually feeling this 60%-worth fruit of your work. You can self assure yourself about how much you're helping, but it's not the same. There should be some self-congratulatory clubs for such people or something, which would still be a far cry from working close to something that matters.
But in the end, in my own opinion, isn't looking for fulfillment in work already a fallacy?
So basically, don't even try to follow a dream? Jimmy Wales would've done more by working for Google?
... but isn't giving a proportion of your earnings to the community for commons and redistribution the point of income taxes?
People who "want to make the world a better place" usually want to go beyond the good that taxes are doing.
As a developer I really felt like I was having a greater impact when I was able to help other people. I know I’m a corporate company man and that ultimately many of us work for someone else. So when I thought about how I could have an impact I thought about teaching at boot camps. That was really fulfilling although it was a difficult job for me (a night and weekend gig, essentially). From there I found myself learning more and caring about my work more than ever. That led me to managing teams which I enjoy (although I really despise the PMs I have to work with) because I can built teams with culture that I truly value and believe in. Now when I find the next job I know what my own personal mission is, to follow my beliefs and value, and I can align that to a job and to people I wanna work with.
> I thought about teaching at boot camps. That was really fulfilling although it was a difficult job for me (a night and weekend gig, essentially).
can you really do this part time. im on a work break right now but that seems like cool way to get some extra temp income and maybe even health insurance lol
Yes I did it part time. I had a full time job as well. The class was 6-9pm twice a week and 10-2 on Saturday. Some schools have part time offerings and others have full time offerings.
Damn, how did you have time to take care of yourself?
It was only 3 months at a time. Was worth the money and the experience.
did you have teaching experience? or did they train you somehow? or did they just kind of trust you'll be able to teach?
I didn’t have teaching training but I did have some coaching experience. So each interview for a boot camp I knew I had to “coach” and then adapt. My wife also helped as she has background in a similar area.
Maybe I'm misunderstanding what you're asking, but I'm quite sure the vast majority of people do not try to "make our world a better place". That's an extremely high ask, maybe an impossible one. Any invention of minimal relevant size in the world scale will very likely be used for good and for bad. It's almost a paradox to try to have world impact and make the world better.
Given that, I imagine the answer to your question is: we don't. People focus on their small community, their family, their hobbies, themselves etc.
Wow. This was an answer I expected from an experienced individual.
I’m fairly young to be called an experienced dev, but until now it feels I have been walking around trying “to solve the worlds problem”
But in hindsight, it’s better to set realistic expectations and goals. I really like your comment any scaled technology could have a positive and negative impact so it’s paradoxical
That's not really sound nor what I said.
So you're arguing our capacity to inflict harm hasn't increased? We've gotten so good at it we're driving ourselves and most of the rest of the planet to extinction as a byproduct of living a normal life, let alone the horrors modern weapons are capable of.
What nonsense are you saying? he's saying that any invention would have any impact on the world would be used for both good and bad, equally or not is depend on the invention itself.
you're also assuming that bad thing cannot improve quality of life for majority of humanity, human experiment is a bad thing but the result could be medical breakthrough that save many more lives.
This website gives some suggestions for how to make the world a better place as a SWE: https://80000hours.org/career-reviews/software-engineering/
One options is donations, but there are also some suggestions there for companies and charities that are improving the world and employ software engineers (disclaimer: I work for Wave which is on their list).
> Climbing up the ladder feels like a empty drill with a very small impact on our society.
Yeah, just climbing the ladder with no higher goal seems pretty empty of purpose. At a minimum you'd need to either have something useful to do with the money.
Many people (me included) also just naturally find the activity of writing software and/or learning fulfilling. If you don't then that's no help to you, but that's probably what is keeping some people going.
Fulfillment comes from working together with peers you like to accomplish a common goal.
Seeking fulfillment in *the work* itself is often a dead end. While some people can get satisfaction from going fully isolated and doing work for the sake of work, for most people it’s about the people and getting things done.
I have ~30 years experience. The older I get, the less I can about fulfillment, and the more I care about just being happy and enjoying the modicum of success that I've earned. I'm in my 50s and recently got into a FAANG and I'm making the most TC I've ever made as a senior software engineer.
I have no aspirations of moving up to staff even though I've been asked to put together promotion packets by previous managers. I know I can do the job, but I'm very happy coding and being an IC and I'm extremely happy exactly where I am in life and in my career. I want to take pride in the work that I do, and I want to know I'm earning my TC but I don't care what I'm working on as long as my manager is happy with my work.
I'm working to live, but I'm not being lazy or resting and vesting, and I'm enjoying my home life with my wife and kids by spending the money in a way that makes everyone happy.
I personally think it's quite dangerous to feel you need to find filfillment / purpose in your job. That would quite easily lead to burn-out because that's really not what jobs are. Companies need shit done. We're good at said shit. We get paid for spending time doing that shit. That's all there's to it.
Not saying you should not look for a job you at least kinda enjoy doing. But the vast majority of 'software work' is just there to make a company money.
It may be easy for you to just work for a check, but many need to find some sort of fulfillment from their jobs, however small, to enjoy a happy and fulfilling life.
We all have to find a sense of purpose and fulfilment in *some* part of our lives. It is not inherently unreasonable to look toward the single activity which consumes more waking time than any other as a possible source of meaning.
Of course it can be a reasonable strategy to use your job as nothing more than funding for your life, so you can accomplish things you care about in your free time - I have spent many years doing just that! But it can also be possible to find work that aligns with your values, in which your job pays you to do things that you care about, in which your efforts seem to be making the world a better place. There's nothing dangerous about preferring such work and seeking it out whenever possible.
What might be dangerous, I might think, would be to expect that one will find the same source of purpose and fulfilment, in the same way, throughout life. Your values may remain the same, but your circumstances will not.
> in which your job pays you to do things that you care about, in which your efforts seem to be making the world a better place.
what jobs are these?
what burns me out though is politics, egos, feeling like i need to justify my existence to the company everyday, red tape and process heavy bs. that all comes with jobs
> what jobs are these?
I work in healthcare - medical devices, in particular. Building products that are as close to the patient as possible, which literally save lives, gives me a tremendous sense of fulfillment.
Just to preempt the inevitable comments on it, yes, I am extremely jaded about the state of healthcare in the US. As long as I don't think about how the patient is going to be gouged into bankruptcy for having used my product, I continue to find purpose in my job knowing that ultimately I am making a difference in the world.
> what jobs are these?
I suppose it depends on what you value. Recently I have been digging through [Climatebase](https://climatebase.org/) and [Tech Jobs for Good](https://techjobsforgood.com/). In the past I have also found some kinds of dev tools compelling, when they seemed like they would give people more power over their digital lives - this was part of what motivated my last job, trying to democratize ML a bit more.
> what burns me out though is politics, egos, feeling like i need to justify my existence to the company everyday, red tape and process heavy bs. that all comes with jobs
Perhaps you would be happier in a smaller organization.
Where did you work at to democratize ML? What was your experience like? Was it fulfilling?
It was a startup called Vertex.AI. The team was great, and I'd happily work with any of those folks again. We built some cool tech, but never got the business working, and were eventually acquired by Intel. After that... things didn't really go anywhere. I am glad I did it, but I don't think I accomplished much.
The problem with using a job to fund fulfillment outside of work is that after work I have not as much energy and time left after taking care of all my other responsibilities. To me it feels like a cop out to not confront the bigger problem society has of too long working hours in addition to the issue of meaningless jobs. Not trying to be pessimistic but it’s hard for me to feel like doing something meaningful for 2 hrs after working 8hrs or maybe 1 day a weekend after working 5 days back to back.
I mean if that’s the transactional view you want to take on work, then you’ll never be happy doing it. Sure, a job can just be a job. You are trading your time for money. There is a near endless supply of these roles in large corporations. They will equally view you as a labor source and expendable.
Not all work has to be this way. Your job is one of the things you spend the most time on throughout your life. It can be fulfilling *and* also provide income for you to support your lifestyle. This doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. For example, I choose where I work based on the impact the company is making on my community and my country. Companies are collections of people. Yes, the company wants to make a profit, but that isn’t the only goal. In some companies, making profit isn’t even the primary goal.
Are these groups of people more rare? Absolutely. Is it an uphill battle in the market? Yes. The impact makes it worth it. Software is one of the industries where you absolutely can be selective about where you work. There are more opportunities than people.
If all you care about is your bottom line, you and the *profit at all costs* company are the same.
Agreed, fundamentally all jobs are going to be just that: jobs. Unless you're self-employed or working for a small company, your worth will be difficult to measure let alone make an impact.
I started reading this thread as I'm in similar shoes right now - having had an empirical view of my current workplace, having worked for one of the biggest luxury giants for 6 years, I had to realise this isn't moving the world ahead.
Looking around on the job market, however made me realise that there's only so many 'rewarding' software or SaaS-based businesses out there, and a number of these focus on sustainability / carbon footprinting.
My point is, happiness at work can be measured in the overall worth of the company you work for. The way I tend to think about it is this: would my kids be proud of me if I worked for the company I'm working for now? Am I making their future a better place?
Just food for thought...
What kind of work do you do that impacts communities?
I build software that makes markets more accessible. That doesn’t mean financial markets, but traditional markets where you sell your services for money.
We’ve simplified a process that typically required large amounts of education for someone to enter the market to the point where anyone who can recognize cause and effect can participate. We’ve enabled people who would have otherwise been locked out to participate in a way where it has made a difference in their lives. Meaningful difference, to the point of getting testimonials about parents providing food for their children.
The anecdotes alone we get via email is enough for me to do this indefinitely.
I think it would take my family being on the brink of starvation for me to take a corporate job after this. These kinds of jobs are out there. You just have to give a shit about the purpose of the company you work for.
Thank you for the insight. Did you a specific tool to get this a type of job?
No, I’m just lucky that we’re in an industry where you can be extremely selective when choosing an employer. You have to ask the right questions when interviewing. What service or product does the company provide? Is it B2B or B2C? Is it a business that takes advantage of its customers or one that empowers them? Who is using the product, what are they using it for, does the business support them?
I’ll simplify it like this:
In software, you are providing a service that generates exponentially more money for the business than it costs (usually). How well do you know the people who run your company? What will they do with the income the company generates? Will they share it with others in the company?
I have over a decade of experience in the industry and my skillset is sought after. My family will be provided for no matter where I work. What impact am I making on those around me and the world in helping this company succeed?
I won’t take 300-500k a year from big tech because even though I could, the people earning 10-50x that off my work are not responsible with those earnings. I’d rather make less than half that and sleep well knowing that the place where I work is at least trying to make things better for someone, somewhere.
Some people just have to put food on the table and I don’t fault them for that, but that’s not the case in software.
Nailed it. I don’t think there’s a “deeper meaning” to software. Most software is to make a company money and I think it’s dangerous to try to derive some sort of fulfillment from that.
I think people are better off maintaining a good work life balance to find fulfillment outside of a job. Through hobbies or a passion project.
After having a couple of jobs with negative revenue, I’m just enjoying the place with real paying users, who find value in our apps & environment where everybody tries to make a better product.
a happy paying customer on a boring domain is such an undervalued situation.
boring and predictable are undervalued IMO
I think that mentoring juniors and influencing developer quality of life across your organization is a great outlet for feeling fulfilled that is typically within a senior's job description anyway. I love it when I can discuss a concept with a junior dev or an intern and then see them apply it successfully. When I advocate for things that make it easier for everyone to work, from decent test coverage to working reasonable hours, I like knowing I'm helping the whole team at once.
I really like this response, this is how I think of senior work as well. We get a chance to help juniors improve at the beginning of their career and make an impact on our current workspace that benefits everyone.
Guy who recently retired after 30 year career.
I never had "passion" or "fulfillment" when working for others. Never looked for it.
But I hate to be bored. I figured, if I HAD to be at work, I'd rather be busy. When there was work to do, I did it. When there wasn't work to do, I went home.
Now that I'm retired, I create computer games. Now, THAT'S a passion.
I guess I'm saying that, at least for me, passion is hugely overrated.
I worked in adtech for around a decade and struggled a lot with this -- I enjoyed the teams, pay, and the technology, but I didn't exactly feel pride when thinking about the company product. I've since shifted to a company that makes a product that's actually useful to our customers and has a positive real-world impact, which has been a huge game-changer.
It's such an amazing feeling chatting with friends/family, and when they ask "what are you working on" actually being excited+proud to tell them. Whereas before, I'd always get kind of evasive and try to think of nice ways to say "I try to get people to click on ads."
Nice ! I’m in the same boat, I like the company and people but the products don’t excite me since they add no net benifit to the world as I see it, how did it feel to give up all the domain knowledge though
Learning something new in every new gig and seeing even my change going live still makes me happy. I try to better as an individual every day, that is what I think is my purpose for now. To be the best version of me, in my code, in my interactions with others.
My standard is low. I’ll just work in companies that doesn’t harm the society
The only concept of Purpose I hold within my job is providing my unique view on topics where it enhances the conversation and making my direct reports' life better wherever I can. That's all. The rest is just fluff. If you want to have direct impact in society, join an activist organisation, volunteer or do something else.
Spoiler: your effort on the planetary scale would still be tiny, likely even less than another CRUD shop which handles a hundred of orders per month. If you are on the front line talking and delivering stuff you see people smile, on the "backend" doing sorting and logistics - not so much.
It's not about the impact, both take their role and crucial to the success. It's about self perception.
On a day to day basis I find the job itself interesting and the problems I solve interesting even in management. On a longer term basis I like having the money to secure the future of the ones I care about. If I had kids it'd be their future but just that of myself, my spouse, our parents and some close friends is enough. I care for the world but a lot less than I care about those people. As to why I want tech levels of money to take care of them? Because bad things happen in life and spending money is an uncapped way to help alleviate the consequences of those things.
Being in service to others. teaching, and mentoring.
My issue with our field is that the expertise and knowledge are not necessarily transferable and might even be considered obsolete.
So, mistakes might be repeated over and over. And you are doomed to watch it repeating. which makes the whole thing feels meaningless to me.
My purpose in my career is to pay my bills and contribute to my retirement savings.
You’ll be better off finding fulfillment outside your career.
Build a good product for customer
A lot of workplace is business as usual but in my current workplace, a small change of one thing like new menu or change how to upload stuff and my internal business user show a high level of gratitude. That has been my passion these days and also an everlasting knowledge to learn from all people around
While it would be nice to find fulfillment in the work itself, I’ve found it very hard to find. Those kinds of jobs often require skills that I don’t have (e.g. deeply reliant on other sciences like biology, chemistry, genetics, etc), and/or the TC would be a massive pay cut.
Instead, I find purpose in my work in the fulfillment of the life of my family and myself. With my comparatively higher TC, I don’t have to tell my kid “no” even when I want to say “yes,” I can help my parents who have were decimated by the 2008 recession and have very little retirement, and I can be magnanimous to those around me.
> multiple parallel careers
yes, a lot, and often. A job can rarely tick all marks, and I need a lot so I'm thinking doubling. I feel better overwhelmed than the other way around.
Is it possible that you just don't like your job, thus the lack of passion? Maybe you should think about making a career change?
Finding purpose or fulfillment never was my goal. Working just gives me the resources (aka money) I need to live a fulfilling life outside of work.
Here is a blog post https://naturetech.io/blog/earthshot-labs-and-software-engineer-jobs-at-nature-tech-companies I wrote that shows what companies and software jobs you can apply to in the nature tech and nature based solutions area. There's a job board too and the software jobs page is https://naturetech.io/software-jobs. Hope this helps some folks looking for more interesting software jobs.