Every so often, someone writes an article to “Management” about “What Programmers Want“. Failing that, someone finds an old, similar article and posts it to Popular Social Media Site which fires up a huge discussion.
Inevitably, the article points out that the sorts of incentives that most companies feel compelled to offer (money, snacks, dog washing machines) pale in comparison to the kind of “Real Motivators” that “Real Programmers” want (interesting projects, fascinating co-workers, lemon fresh hand-towels, etc.) This, of course, is the same sort of sweeping generalization sort of thing that says that programmers are fat, neck-bearded, socially awkward individuals who prefer to work in the dark.
Yes, interesting projects and coworkers are great. They really do improve things. The same is true if you’re a programmer or spend your days pumping out latrines. Truth is, having those sorts of things available is rare and frankly mythical. In most cases, you will probably not be called upon to sit next to Linus Torvalds and code up the satellite that will deflect the incoming asteroid, you’ll be working on an authorization system for a new line of combination TV/Toaster ovens.
Thinking about working for yourself? Right-o then, well, if you go consulting you’ll need to make sure you have jobs lined up, meaning that you’ll need to constantly market yourself, as well as manage your finances, billing, taxes, health care and other elements, all the while working 40+ hours on code, meetings, reviews, and assessments. Oh yeah, and also you may well be resented by the folks you’re working with because you’re an outsider brought in because “they’re not good enough”. Or you could go the Startup Route, in which case you’ll also need to find investors, and hire employees because there’s a damn good chance that you will have 0 hours to actually work on what you’re creating the startup to do.
So, corporate it is. You will be paid about 10-15% more than you were for the last company you worked at (because that’s the way that you get meaningful raises). You will have co-workers who are both eager (young) and jaded (old) who are both highly knowledgeable (old) and gleefully ignorant (young). You will have some who have signed on to do work because it pays the bills, others because this is how they want to change the world.
This is reality. This is life.
This is why you foster strong relationships with the folks you work with and think very carefully about alienating individuals who one day may offer you a better job somewhere else. This is why you don’t pledge loyalty to any employer, because to them you’re just a really expensive office supply that can and will be replaced. This is why you don’t put in more than 40 hours a week without a damn good reason because that will lead to burn out and that massively impacts everything else. That is why you strive to be just above the mean pay point for your group, to the point where your compensation is comfortable yet you remain “affordable” to a large number of companies. This is why you squirrel away 10-20% of your pay into long term investments so that you’ve got a retirement fund as well as money you can live on for 6 months while you’re looking for new work after a layoff.
This is life. Make the best of it for yourself. Nobody else will do it for you.