Being out of employment just now has taught me a lot about myself, and it’s only week three. A lot of people I know who hate their jobs complain that they either have to deal with irate people all day or don’t get the chance to use their brains or both. They complain about a mundane existence where they do the same thing day in day out, never feel any kind of progress or achievement and seem to be trapped in a rut and they hate knowing that.
Up until now I’ve been pretty lucky. As a software engineer I get to be creative. To solve problems and overcome challenges. I get to work towards objectives and feel an enormous (or not-so-enormous) sense of satisfaction when a software release goes out or a customer gets to use a new piece of functionality that I’ve written that makes their life 10 times easier. I could pick up a new tool or technology and apply it to something I’m working on and feel I’ve progressed. It’s mostly an intellectual challenge but being part of a motivated team working on the same product gives a sense of community and spirit that – despite impossible time-scales, irate customers or pointy haired bosses (been lucky with those too) – makes the whole thing worthwhile. The fact that I’m always learning helps to keep my brain going too.
However now that I’m out of work I don’t have any of that. But after many years of doing the job, it’s become as much a part of me as my hair and teeth. I don’t feel that my job or having a job provides my identity (for instance, if I won the lottery I would have no qualms about never working again), but I’ve quickly come to realise that without purpose I’m a bit lost.
I can’t just sit around all day watching interior design programmes. I can’t surf the net all day for porn, gossip, news or music (even with a broadband connection – who says Yorkshire is in the dark ages?). I can’t wander around shops for hours looking for nothing in particular. And I definitely can’t sit on the sofa drinking myself away to oblivion. I need something more than that. I need a reason.
It’s only now I realise that to be a halfway decent software engineer you have to be highly motivated and self-driven and love problem solving. You need to be able to work on your own as well as part of a team. You need to be constantly trying to learn and improve. And you have to be determined, have phenomenal attention to detail and be able to hold lots of things in your head at the same time. Or at least I do. In essence, you have to really be the person you describe on your CV (that’s resume for you North Americans). It’s not bullshit after all, it’s only now that I’ve been taken away from my job that I can really appreciate what drives me and why I enjoy it.
So until I can persuade the right company that I am as good as I say I am (which is another story entirely) I need to keep doing what I’ve been doing for all these years. I need to write some software. I was writing software long before I chose it as a career and will probably be doing it long after I finish. Oh, if only I’d had this drive for football I might be rich by now! Okay, I admit that’s pretty unlikely.
So as well as job hunting I’m going to write some web-based software I’ve fancied having a shot at for a while but never had the chance. If nothing else it’ll keep me away from watching House Invaders, To Buy or Not To Buy, Big Strong Boys, Trading Up, Cash In The Attic, Countdown and all the rest…