gray and gold steel gears

Coding Compulsion

It was nearly four years ago when I gave the wrong answer during a job interview that got me a job. I keep coming back to it. I can hear what I said in the back of my head. It still rings true.

The interview process itself had gone through several phases of verification that I knew how to do what I was proposing they pay me to do. This was the last iteration: my future boss and co-worker were there, along with the CTO, and a couple of other technical folks. I got to see a mockup of their main product and we talked about their company for the most part. 

Then the CTO asked me one of those standard interview questions from the 70’s: “Tell us about what it is about our company that makes you want to work for us.”

“It’s not really about you,” I replied. “I have a compulsion to write code. I write code even when I’m not paid to, because it makes me unhappy to do otherwise. I seek to work with complex systems to make them better, give them better features, and help the people who use them do their jobs better.” I described their systems briefly and summed up with, “You have sufficiently complex systems here, many moving parts: this is exactly where I excel. I could do a lot of good here.”

I also explained that I am very choosy about the company I work for, and need to trust that what they make is a real product that serves a real need and really helps people. Through our discussions, I felt that this was just such a company and that I would be enthusiastic to work with them for that reason.

We all liked each other just fine and I happily accepted their offer. It’s been a great opportunity for me to do what I love, and it has been one of the rare opportunities I’ve had to share working this art with others. In this, I have been extraordinarily fortunate.

We just had a round of staff reviews last month. The review I got from my boss was explosively favorable, exuberantly positive and extravagantly laden with emphatic descriptions of my myriad benefits to the code, the department, and the company in general. The review rung my head like a bell and I kept thinking about what I’d read. I’d be working on fixing up some code or writing a test and think about how I had been so royally praised about doing this very thing. This has been an entirely pleasant distraction.

It’s great working somewhere where you feel appreciated. I generally get appreciation for what I do, but that’s not a given. Some feel the paycheck is appreciation enough, but it’s nice to get a long, descriptive outline of exactly where and why the appreciation is felt. I usually only ever get this when I’m leaving a company, when I beg co-workers for written praise and recommendations. This time it came out of left field, and while I appreciate the compliment, I couldn’t do it any other way.

The work itself is the reward for me. This job is especially pleasant, as it has been stripped of any distraction or irritation like management or operations. It’s 100% programming. There’s not even a commute! I work from home, anywhere I want to sit. Everything is on a laptop I can take anywhere. So I’ve worked at car dealerships, doctors offices, coffee shops, even in my car. There isn’t an appointment or chore I can’t take care of during the work week, although I usually just sit on my patio when the weather is nice.

I can devote my attention to a single programming project: just focus on the task for hours at a time. Add a feature; fix a bug; make a report; update this code – it’s all a part of a world I feel intimately comfortable with changing. It can occupy all my thought while I work, allowing me to compartmentalize otherwise stressful situations in the Outside World while I stay focused on my task: adding to the variable structures, adjusting schemas, querying data, and manipulating user interfaces. 

Compulsively. Every day. Even on days I’m not working the job, I find myself writing different code for different things because it’s my compulsion to learn to adjust, transform, and create efficiencies in every system I encounter.  I think about how DNA and RNA create a kind of bio-computer and how proteins are like active commands or conditionals in the organ building process. I think about how music alters our thinking and our moods, and how religious activity alters us physiologically and psychologically. 

Those scenes in the Matrix movies when the gobbledygook rained down their monitors, we were told it represented the code for the Matrix. The allusion that there is code behind everything is not far from the truth of reality. Everything is the result of some series of processes, sometimes coincidental, other times organized. I simply cannot keep myself from thinking about how things are made and how they get used. I analyze everything from this perspective. You might imagine that writing in the English language is the thing that provides me the most satisfaction, but that’s simply because you have never read what I write for my day job. Writing code gives me the best feeling. Coding is what I have a compulsion to do.


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