I regret nothing!

One of the Western Devs posted an article on our Slack channel on someone's regrets as a programmer. I fundamentally disagree with the sentiment of this article and the remainder of this post will be sixteen paragraphs and three quotes belabouring this point.

In the article, the author describes their Mr. Destiny moment where they wish they had gone into management rather than sticking with being "just" a programmer. Thus perpetuating the myth in our industry that you aren't worth anything unless you Change The World™.

To be fair, the author is careful not to be prescriptive. It's very much "these are my regrets and thoughts" and not "you should do this in the same situation". I'm thankful for that and I'll pay the same courtesy. These are my thoughts as they apply to me personally. If you can relate to it in any way, that's not my fault.

Twenty years ago, I suppose I was at my own crossroads though I didn't really recognize it as such until I thought about it just now. Ever since I was in grade 8, I was going to be an actuary. At the time, I was told "you have to be good at math and you'll make a lot of money". What else do you need to hear when you're in grade 8?

So I set about my goal and got a degree, a Bachelor of Commerce I believe. I wasn't really sure what to make of the Faculty of Management, what with their wine and cheeses and people coming to class in suits and "networking" but whatever, I did the work, finished my studies, and started interviewing like you were supposed to.

At some point in that first six months of interviewing, I clued in to something: programming, which I had been doing for about 10 years by that point as a hobby, was a career choice! Was it a lucrative one? Was it better than being an actuary? Who cares, it was fun and people got paid to do it! So I went back to school. That is, to my ageing memory, the sum total of the thought I put into it. (This will be a recurring theme throughout this post.)

So I did it. I went back to school, got the degree, and started working. My first job was in the corporate world, an oil and gas company. My next, with a startup where I interviewed badly and they hired me anyway. The third was with a consulting company. Since then: contracting, my own startup, and employeehood in some order. Along the way, I've learned, to varying degrees, VB6, classic ASP, .NET, RPG, Livelink, Sharepoint, JavaScript, Ruby, Java, SQL Server, Azure, Google Web Toolkit, Docker, CI, CD, CQRS, CORS, CSS and more acronymed software methodologies and techniques than I care to put thought into remembering admit. I've blogged (clearly), co-written a book, spoken at conferences, and created a user group that was the first of its kind in the country. (It lasted less than a year.)

While you're free to copy and paste all this into my obituary, there's a reason I list it out. I have never put much thought into my career and I don't have any intrinsic itch I've been meaning to scratch. How did I choose when and where to do all of these things? The opportunities came up and I said yes. Again, not much more thought goes into it than that.

I have no regrets (including the book). Certainly not on a macro level. Should I have pursued a career as an actuary which, in all likelihood, would have ended up more lucrative financially? Was it a waste of time learning Livelink? Should I have gone into a managerial role?

Does it matter?

I am where I am now because of the choices I've made. I've often joked that the main criteria I use to choose my contracts/positions is whether I think it'll be fun. Not whether it was in a hot technology or a dynamic industry. I'm too lazy to figure out what constitutes either of those.

The net result of those criteria is that I can look back favourably on a career (and I use that term loosely) as "just a programmer". One that I have no intention of leaving because why would I?

I am, and I can't emphasize this enough, having the time of my life.

Now to be fair, I've always had the power to see things through a pair of glasses a supernatural shade of rose. But consider the language from the post I mentioned earlier:

I can only imagine how in demand I could have been.

My sister has 10X the assets I have.

And my favourite one:

And today I am still just a programmer. Who’s the weenie now?

To me, this speaks of a chronic problem of chasing the wrong thing. What you're supposed to do versus what you want to do. And I've often wondered, if you had taken that other path, would you still have no regrets?

The world is filled with people who want to leave their mark, some of whom actually will. And I think it's great that these people exist. We need them. For my part, I see no point in feeling guilt or regret doing something I love doing in an industry that is privileged enough to provide me with a good living doing it.

Kyle Baley

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