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Is there a good computer job?

But I don’t know that any computing makes the world better, or even neutral. These days the planet is in a dire state. Working with people still doing the “write software” Silicon Valley dance while trying to survive in triple-digit heat waves is a level of cognitive dissonance I can handle no further.
– from Fetch the bolt cutters essay

I thought computers could make the world a better place. When I saw a computer scientist present her work at a conference in 2009, I had my “I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’m definitely going to work around that” moment with computing. I wasn’t sure what I would do but I knew I wanted to be around that kind of work.

Reading Wesley Aptekar-Cassels’s post Tech, Industry gave me some language to think about what’s happened in how I feel now, reflecting on my decade+ working in computing. They reference “tech optimism” – I felt that in 2009. In the last decade, the backlash against tech, or “techlash,” is more accurate.

As I said in my quote above, I have a very difficult time thinking about how computers make things better. This led me to reflect on other times I believed in something and was let down.

I’ve had my heart broken before

It may be true that I’ve burnt out on the tech industry. However, I’ve passed through other industries while working with computers, and I recognize that I’ve been hurt before.

My first jobs out of college were politics or politics-adjacent – I worked for a think tank and at an agency for political campaigns.

There I learned very quickly that politics is a nasty game of power. It will burn up idealists gleefully, and reward sociopaths and narcissists openly.

I dreamed of working in journalism and found a job working in computing with a non-profit doing local investigative journalism.

At a journalism conference I was horrified to listen to people on stage outlining how they would click a button to apply various statistical methods to data and “pick the one that made a nice chart.” Generally irksome from a statistical perspective, confidence-breaking in relation to my appraisal of these folks’ work.

(And it didn’t help that my brief stint in journalism ended when I found out we were running out of money and had no sustainable plan for continuity … I couldn’t stand staying.)

Startups & Enterprise

I went on to corporate software engineering. There I could learn what kinds of things corporations paid for in relation to software, so I would have insight into how to make those things. (Learn enterprise software problems by working on enterprise software)

And then working in writing software for software people worked for a while. I could motivate myself to care about the problems as they were intellectually challenging.

Someone’s day might be better because of software I’d written. I know what it’s like to write code and maintain services, so I can relate to that!

Another reason I went further into the tech industry was frankly around pay. It paid the most, and working in the tech industry has constantly felt like a bubble.

Ergo, make as much money as possible in as little time as possible, to be able to stop when I needed to. Turns out that “I need to stop” was 2021.

Chasing compensation and climbing the ladder created so much pressure. It felt like I always had to advance, otherwise I was either leaving money on the table for myself, or failing my gender as a woman working in the industry.

Last year, when I was working a job I shouldn’t have taken (I should have been resting) and my headaches and pain worsened, the mantra that came to mind over and over was “What is the money for?”

And I quit.

Should I stay or should I go now

Circling back to Tech, Industry?, the closing statements are a call to action to stay in the tech industry.

And yet, non-participation is its own viable action. As one of my mentors said, “Perhaps the only way they can learn the lesson you have to share is by your absence.”

I wonder about how many things need to simply … not exist. And not contributing your labor towards something that doesn’t need to exist is one form of exercising power.

The VC-funded game, the start-up merry-go-round. I, and many, keep expecting its untimely demise, but it carries on anyway. Riding the merry-go-round can be fun, but boy is it difficult to un-see the mess it is in order to continue playing.

I’ve chatted with more than one person working in tech who talks about their current job being their “last tech job” – trying to find a way out. How painful that that’s the framing. How accurate is it that the freedom of “enough” money is a reason to try and stay.

The way tech is difficult to hire in but highly compensated, you would think we were dealing with radioactive materials. Something to think on…

Is there a good computer job?

But … is there a good computer job?

… Probably.

Reading through my own reflections, I sound like someone who’s burnt out.

Non-participation in a system is absolutely a viable path of action … but there’s a lot of software in the world. If I say “It’s all horrible, can we please just all work on handicrafts instead!?” … that’s coming from a place of hurt.

And maybe that’s why taking a break, or doing something very different, is exactly what I need  to be (and am!) doing. It’s going well, but I’m also thinking about “what else?” or “what’s next [eventually]”, because I’m always rushing to the next thing, even when I explicitly told myself not to…

I’ve started pondering if I did want to do some tech-related or tech-adjacent work, what would that look like, and I don’t know yet. Community-oriented work? Reboot my own consulting company? Start a software company? I’m helping out with a project very soon that is related to computers, creativity, and community. What about more of that?

5 Replies to “Is there a good computer job?”

  1. Hello– have you considered working for the government? At this particular moment, I know there’s an Application Development Lead opening at CFPB that you might find interesting, but there’s certainly more out there too.

    In general, I’ve found it a nice way to work with technology, without being part of “the industry”.

    1. Thank you, I’ll add that to routes I’m considering! I worry that government would be soul-crushing from the “ability to get things done” challenge… has that been an issue for you?

      1. Yeah, the pace can be (and has been) frustrating– but things are improving on that front, at least where I work. The people in charge of the “change management” process have been streamlining things, and we have a book club currently reading the DevOps Handbook, and it’s been fun to watch conversations about how we can both ship faster AND reduce risk.

  2. I wasn’t expecting it, but three years & counting at athenahealth has me feeling like “yes, this is a good job, it makes the world less shitty, and it gives me not just stability but wealth-building compensation”.

    It helps that I work with great, kind, compassionate people, and that I’ve found a role that’s focused on helping them learn & grow, and taking care of them when they need a hand with things (i.e., I’m a manager).

    Also? +1 to gov’t work! We need great software workers in gov’t, even if it’s a challenge to “do stuff” there. I saw that 18F is hiring, they’re a very cool agency.

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