I turned off my job search notifications — and I’ve never been happier
A real life account of the software business.
At the tender age of 23, I broke into the software business. After 2 years fixing truck scales, I was thrust into managing 4 people 15 or more years older than me who I was asking basic questions of not just a few months ago. Programming wise I was doing the occasional VBA work with Microsoft Access in the office, and I was actively looking for something a little more challenging mentally. I also felt as out of place as Sean Hannity at a Greenpeace rally due to the age differences, and the fact I was still living with my mom whereas most of the people I managed had families of their own. I would go home and flood the internet with resumes, carefully constructed from job requirements and lessons learned from the previous potential employers that I followed up with. A few were kind enough to say why they passed on me. At one point I got a particularly mean response from one and I called into a local conservative talk show (the circumstances made perfect sense why) about it. Three days later I got an interview for a place I didnt remember sending a resume to. I kept in the back of my mind what three jobs ago someone had said, “Hey, your first good job, lie cheat and steal to get your foot in the door. Once you have it on there, you’re golden.” He was in his thirties making 12 dollars an hour, but hey better than I was.
Why did I want into the software business? Well quite literally it was part of my life from almost as long as I can remember. At the age of seven, I got a Commodore 64 for Christmas. I played a few games, realized I wasn't much of a gamer, but read the book that came with it about the factory installed BASIC. I picked up on it like a roll of paper towels in a lake of knowledge. Two years later the Amiga came out and my birthday present was one of the first floppy drives. Some of you may remember them, the 5 1/4 inch ones the size of a breadbox with a serial cable. To this day, now in my 40s, I still use some holdovers from that era. SYS49152 is a popular online handle of mine. Throughout high school and junior high I got into electronics and chemistry, computer class was “too easy and boring”. I could program circles around the instructor even in a language I had never used within a week. I took it in 7th grade and they were teaching us LOGO. While everyone else was trying to draw a box, I had loops and keyboard control working. Later in high school, I got into the things a lot of kids did: pot, sex, being an all around bad a$$. I had no time for such menial things like homework. There went my grades and college prospects in a big puff of smoke. I’d ace the tests sure, I got As and the occasional B in math and science, but english and social studies, where homework and outside of class work was the dominating factor… not so much. My teachers tried so hard to motivate me. I went to a half dozen college campus tours with only one or two other kids. Met astronomy department heads, physics labs, got to see a tokamok in action. I went to NCAR, and walked through the banks of computers making our evening weather prediction possible. Unfortunately none of it was enough to make me want to stay home and not feel up (or more) whoever I was dating or go get baked with the boys. My parents still don't forgive me to this day. So, long story short off I went to the Navy, turning wrenches and soldering wires in the engine room for 3 years.
Coming back to civilian life wasnt exactly like my recruiter said. There wasnt a line of defense contractors giving out six figure jobs waiting by the pier. Three years of work experience and a year of schooling meant barely an associates in an unrelated field in the job market. I had my gambit of entry level jobs. Maintenance man, electrician, electronics firm shipping inspector, vacuum cleaner salesman, then repairing scales. The last one I cant fault them, they were really nice people, and I did enjoy my time there, but it was time to move on and we all knew it. All the while my family whispering in my ear, “You’ll never get a good job without a degree. You threw that away in high school, now you just have to work multiple jobs if you want to make decent money.” I perceived this to be true, as I looked at job requirements, Masters in this, 10 years in that, packet level programming, deep knowledge of (insert unknown acronym here) with demonstrated success. I thought I was doomed to wear a uniform with my name on it forever.
Backtracking, I did land said job. It was an obscure language, 4GL and my first introduction to UNIX (in this case AIX). I knew BASIC and through using Access a lot knew enough SQL to get around, and basically, that was enough. I took to it like a fish in water and had a great run there. It was another small-ish company, and we became like a family. I was barely out of being a teenager and just rented my first apartment when I started. They saw me through multiple sometimes traumatizing relationships, my first house, a marriage (which the CEO attended), a divorce, a trip to New Zealand, and the all around quirkiness that was my life. In return I gave them one of their best and easiest to maintain products, and laid the groundwork for another big product, expanded the company knowledge base from BASIC with SQL (4GL) to web ideals, PHP, SOAP and a little C/C++ on the back end. Fifteen years later, almost to the day, they began closing down. A mixture of the economy and someone getting put in charge who had no business running a business led to a great company’s downfall. Yeah they got sold, but after being in business for 30+ years, its a downfall. The only way getting sold is a success is when it isn't in business for long and it turns a profit.
It couldn't have come at a worse time. My new, pregnant wife and I had just moved states to get away from a bad situation and poor medical care in the last. We just finally paid our rent on time after moving in, and then the job goes away. A month later we lost the baby. She had only gotten to 22 weeks and lived for 4 minutes outside the womb. I held my first biological child in my arms as she passed away. Luckily our landlord was understanding and I did get a severance, but that only lasted a little over a month. I was sad and devastated after losing what can aptly be called a portion of my family, and what would have been my biological family in a short span of time. I had used up most of my 401k fighting my ex wife and the little bit I had left went to buy the new car we needed (not new, but new to me) at an interest rate that I would have done better putting it on a starter credit card. I applied for unemployment, but that was a 60% paycut because of the state I just came from. I hit all the popular job search sites as hard as I could after that. We applied for state Medicaid and all the benefits we could get, which it turned out were a lot since I hadnt gotten paid anything that was reported to the state I came to yet. Heck, we were on food stamps for the better part of a year.
Then one day a few months later a recruiter called. There was a C++ job 40 miles away that dealt with radars was what I was told. I was pretty fluent in C and a little C++ with my side hobbies and last job, so I fired up Word and massaged the resume the best I could to reflect that background and sent it off. They called my last employer and then got back to me and scheduled an interview. I had been on two interviews so far and struck out. Again everything wanted a degree and decades of relevant experience. This time I had the latter, and a lot were willing to ignore the first one if it was enough of the second. This time I didn't outright lie about anything, just talked about parts of my last job that I did once every few months instead of my day to day work. A lot of the people are former military so we all had that in common too. Four hours of interviewing later, I was offered the job by an old retired General. As a temp of course, with the option to hire after 90 days.
I spent a week feeling like I was underwater in confusion, but got the hang of it pretty quickly. A year later everyone was asking me questions about how to do stuff, when I was the newest guy on the team. A year after that, I’m designing the next generation of product using a completely new methodology. Oh did I mention it was about a 40% pay increase (over the last job, not unemployment)? Since then, we have had another child, early like the last one, but not as early (25 weeks this time) because we were under expert care all along the way. Shes almost 3 now, walking and starting to talk, and just the biggest sweetheart ever. It was 4 months in the hospital, but she made it. Now we are on our way to finding and closing on another home, said daughter needs her own room after all. Funnily enough, I’ve come full circle. I’m in the state I grew up in, married to a woman I dated in high school, working at a place that deals a lot with NCAR, and I feel that the challenge level here is just right. I rarely feel bored unless it’s company training and hey, who doesn't then?
Life is going good, but my job search alerts are still on from five years ago. Every day I skim the subject lines. All of us developers are going to lose our jobs. C++ is old and antiquated and will be replaced with python. AI and data science are the new cool thing, get out of the way old guys. Us old guys built the systems you guys use with intellectual leaps most of you kids cant make today. All those cool new technologies you talk about, guess what they are written in? We arent going anywhere, and I think I’ve been through enough doubt and hardship in my life. Recently I had a range of routine tests and labs to be done by my doctor and my supervisor replied back that he wants me to take care of myself because he wants me a part of the team until after he retires decades from now. That is when I realized I’d struggled all my life with Imposter Syndrome. The best cure for it: turn off your job search alerts and industry newsletters. Just like the evening news they are going for sensationalism, not reality.
I guess all I can say is believe in yourself. All of the industry news and job alerts did absolutely nothing for me. I’ve had a pretty successful career, and so can you. Stick with it, keep learning on your own, don't play make believe in the workplace, and jump on the little nuggets of good fortune that come your way. Unless you are planning to leave soon turn them off once you land the job, or you will forever be doomed to experience Imposter Syndrome.
20 Yrs as a software developer