Ok this is a rhetorical question. I have been in the software industry for more than 15 years, and started programming way before that. For reference, my first program was in gw-basic to do my statistics homework (and yes, I got into trouble for that).
This negative line of thinking has been bubbling inside of me for a while, but was really brought to a boil when I recently left my job as a software developer in one company to join another company. I was and still am an IC (Individual Contributor), which just means I am a coder. My friends and family, especially back in the original Motherland (I emigrated from India to the US) were...disappointed. "Why you haven't moved up?"(sic) is their common question. Of course in this context, moving "up" means to get into management and move up the management heirarchy. The first few times I was dumbfounded by the question. It was like old "aunty-ji"s at weddings asking you why you haven't procreated yet. There really is no good answer to this question. How do I tell them that in my mind there is no moving "up" or "down", just forwards or backwards. Am I better at what I do today than I was yesterday? Yes? Then I have moved forwards. But instead I just grinned sheepishly and said, "you know me, always getting into trouble...". And prepared myself for the inevitable lecture that ensues around how it was high time I "settled down" and became more responsible.
Lest you think that this was confined to aunty-jis in India, this mindset of managment as a natural, nay, a neccessary progression for a software developer is very much alive in the heart of Silicon Valley as well. When I worked for a Silicon Valley Unicorn (i.e., a startup with a valuation exceeding $1 billion), they had both IC and management career development paths. Yet, folks spoke about moving to management as moving into a "leadership" position; we would refer to somebody being "promoted" to a manager (from an IC) even though their ladder-level had not changed at all. To me, this points to an almost sub-conscious bias in thinking, even though conciously everybody agreed to the two parallel career tracks.
When I announced that I was leaving for another job and that at the new place one of my very good friends (who has chosen the management path) will be my skip-level manager, a few of my current co-workers reacted with "Ouch! that must hurt" with a kind grin to lessen the sting of their assertion. Initially I'd respond with a quizzical, "no, he is the reason I am joining" but eventually it dawned on me that it was the same sub-concious bias at work. Somehow our position in the organization chart has become an indicator of the measure of our "success".
To all these aunty-jis and colleagues, I wish I could describe what I feel when I type
code . in my terminal and am faced with a blank IDE (Integrated Development Environment, a tool to write software programs) with its infinite possibilities; I wish I could describe the compulsion that I feel when I get out of bed after 4 hours of sleep because I have to complete the thing I was building yesterday; I wish I could describe the feeling when I release the first version of my software; but all these feelings are indescribable. At the end of day, I am better today then I was yesterday. And I know I'll be better tomorrow than I am today. My Sikh wife uses a term called Charhdi Kala which describes this best. Happy Baisakhi to all!
Title photo by Blake Connally on Unsplash