9/12/2007

Do What You Enjoy

A friend of our family is in town visiting with my mom this week. She was a missionary for a number of years with Wycliffe Bible Translators and now spends her time traveling and speaking to all manner of groups. Chatting briefly with her on the phone last night (since my schedule hasn't allowed me to get over to actually see her) she asked me how I was liking my new job. I told her the truth: it's ok, but I don't love it. And she responded, as she has in the past, with the statement that she always tells people that they should never take a job they don't enjoy.

My mom was on the phone - and has in fact heard this sentiment from our friend before - and I'm always surprised that she doesn't speak up. Because one of the reasons I tend to stick in jobs that I dislike is because, frankly, that's how I was raised. And the more I thought about it last night, the more convinced I became that I'm not sure our friend's advice is really right.

If we begin at the beginning of my train of thought, we have to analyze the question: What is that I would enjoy doing? And I just frankly don't have a satisfactory answer to that. I used to think I did - because at the end of the day, I truly love computer science and software engineering. I would love to work full time as a software engineer...in a software engineering textbook. Because in a textbook you're not kept from doing your job by politics and managers with hairbrained ideas that have to be accomplished in superhuman timeframes come hell or highwater. In textbooks you don't have PMs who think 9 women could make a baby in a month if they were really trying. In textbooks you have the pure, beautiful theory of software engineering with processes that work because the ugly bumps of reality don't intrude. In fact, textbook software engineering is a dream that I started off my career looking for...And then I woke up.

The ugly reality of software egineering in practice is not one that I enjoy. It's frustrating and demoralizing to spend the bulk of your time trying to make people realize that, much like fetal development, some programming processes just simply take time. It doesn't matter how urgently you want something finished yesterday, unless you have a time machine it can't happen. You have team members who lied on their resumes and/or interview really well and who can spout off the correct pseudocode to whatever question the interviewing code cowboy asks but when the rubber meets the road? Clueless. So you have to do their work (or worse, re-do their work) as well as your own all the while listening to your managers sigh and moan about how behind things are and how you're costing the company money because the salespeople promised that this would be easy and the contract was worked accordingly and now their fantasy has become the miserable reality of your life.

So I thought that the best way for me to live in that software engineering happy place would be to teach. And it does alleviate many of the problems you have in "real world" software engineering. Unfortunately, it opens up a whole boat load of others. Because you have students who whine and moan and complain that they're failing because they don't ever turn anything in. And you run into people who feel that even at the college level it's the instructor's job to make the student want to succeed. And maybe there's an element of truth there - maybe teachers are supposed to be 1 part subject matter expert 99 parts cheerleader. I don't know. (I used to think I knew, but well, reference waking up again.) So here I'll reference some of the learning theory "bunk" -- because it's not all bunk, I kid when I say it's completely useless -- I have an indredibly high internal locus of control. I'm intrinsically motivated and moderately left brained. All of these things make it tough for me to understand the people who go through life wanting life to take care of them. This appears to represent the larger population of students who find their way into my classes. Homework not turned in? No their fault - mine for not reminding them of the due date with a personal email and/or phone call. And in the growing number of for-profit universities, where student retention is a huge concern (because they're not just students, they're customers), many administrators buy into this. So you have all this coddling and cheerleading that is now the instructor responsibility, in addition to helping them understand that syntax really is important and that compilers just don't "Figure out what you meant". Essentially, instructors have become babysitters; I quit babysitting when I was 13.

This leaves me in a quandry. What else would I enjoy doing? Well, we've hashed to death the whole idea of being at home with kids, so I'll mention it and leave it alone. We all know that, at this point, that's an impossibility that rests solely in God's hands to make happen should He so desire. I'd love to write - but you remember that intrinsic motivation? Well, it's not that I'm not motivated to write, it's that I don't think I'm any good at it. I read over what I write and roll my eyes and think of all the people who could (and do!) do it better. And, sadly, when you're internally motivated, no amount of external cheerleading is going to get you over that hump. It's something that you have to do...and if you don't believe you can, well, you're right.

All this puts us where? Well, I guess that depends on how you were raised. For me, the thing that I remember being driven home when I would encounter something that I had to do that I didn't enjoy was that it wasn't about enjoying it, it was about doing what was necessary and doing it "as unto the Lord." Because life isn't about frolicking around through fields of daisies. So, while I sit here in the miserable reality of software engineering "in practice" and bite my tonuge and try to count to whatever number will get me to calm down as I realize that the person in charge of doing the bulk of the implementation wants to finish doing it then go back and document the requirements, I try to focus on things I'm grateful for. I'm grateful to have a job, one that pays me well, at that. I'm grateful that it makes going to school possible. I'm grateful that the way my contract is structured I only have to be here for 8 hours every day and then I get to go home and see Tim and the puppies.

So do I enjoy what I do? Not in the slightest. But I hope that, despite that, my work here is pleasing to the Lord, because for right now? It seems like this is where He has me.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

I'm going to disagree with you about the writing bit. You ARE a good writer. I'd love to see you publish a book sometime....I really think you have it in you.

One page at a time, and you'll have a book in a year.

Think about it. :)