I come home from the doctor with a sick leave. Nothing’s physically wrong with me, but a problem has been brewing inside my head for several months now, and the past few weeks have made me particularly unhappy.
I don’t know exactly where to begin, so let’s start with the beginning.
I’m about seven or eight years old, and my father has just brought home his first personal computer. I admire my dad, as many boys do at this age, and over the next weeks and months, I watch him as he sets his computer up and uses a modem to connect to other computer systems, where he joins discussion groups and downloads software. Bulletin board systems are not the Internet, but dad is definitely online.
Some time passes, and I’m now using his computer more often than he is, and I go online with the modem. This continues until dad gets a large phone bill in the mail, scolds me for going online too much, and locks down the computer with a password. When this fails to stop me, he takes the modem away. Eventually, he brings an old computer home from work and gives it to me. I can’t go online with it, but having my own computer does keep me busy—and more importantly—away from his modem.
I try to play a few computer games. Instead of getting hooked on them, however, I instantly want to know what makes them tick. I like the graphics and the sound, and I want to know how they are making the computer do that, so I start to learn how to code.
Two decades pass. I’m 26 years old now. I have moved to the region around Oslo—the capital city of Norway—and I have my first programming job. Six months in, I stop enjoying it, but wanting to keep my first job, I continue working until—one day—I stop.
I’m unable to write another line of code, instead staring blankly at the screen in front of me. This naturally doesn’t go down well with my boss, who proceeds to fire me. I blame it on my working environment and apply for the next job.
After going through this a few times, I decide that something must be wrong with me, and start seeing various therapists. The Norwegian welfare system is good and not particularly strict at this point in time, so I sail around aimlessly for a while:
I try to get a degree, but I drop out. I try to start a business, and I even hire someone to help me out, but it fails. I work at a startup, but they don’t pay me very much, and I get into a fight with the CEO about it and later quit. I work for another startup with more competent management, but eventually end up staring blankly at a screen there too, unable to code.
I go off to run my own business again. I find some work, but the project doesn’t work out as planned. I finally talk to the CEO of a company I did some contracting work for earlier, and I ask him for a job, and in November 2018, I get hired.
About six months later, I’m staring blankly at a screen again, and I’m racking up self-reported sick days until I max out the limit. I realise that I’m about to crash.
I go see the doctor, explain the situation to him, and he gives me a sick leave. I have no idea what I should do next. Except...
I’ve been thinking.
If I’m not cut out to be a programmer, what am I cut out for, exactly?
They say you should be intrinsically motivated for your job. You shouldn’t be doing your job just because you need the money. There should be an inner drive. I can already tell that I don’t have that inner drive when it comes to programming. I was obsessed with it when I was younger, and I definitely have the talent for it, but if given a choice today, I would only do it occasionally.
I started asking some factual questions about myself recently, such as “What is an activity that I perform regularly, for hours at a time, with no external motivation?”
The answer came quickly: I write.
At first, I didn’t see it as proper writing. After all, it was just microblogging. Unusually long microblogs that barely fit the text box on Mastodon, but nevertheless microblogging. I also began to gain followers, and the occasional person who would come by to tell me that they loved my stuff.
For a long time, I’d been thinking that I should redirect all that creative energy into a medium more suited for long form reading. The end of that line of thinking is the blog that you are currently reading.
Is this a viable career path? Many people would say that it isn’t. I know one thing, though: I won’t know unless I give it a try.