Friday, September 20, 2013

Being Confused about What I Do

Whenever someone asks me what I do I find myself stumped. I don't really have a line for that question. It's really tiring, in a social situation, when people keep asking me... usually to the extent that I start taking the Mickey. "I skin people for a living. Killing them is extra". That sort of thing.

I think I've finally figured it out. What troubles me so much about defining what I do is the fact that the value I think I add is completely different to the value other people define me as having added.

There's evidence of this. At one stage I was getting paid but I was working ridiculous hours - days, nights, weekends etc. - and my health was really starting to suffer. I was getting shakes to the point of frustration and I just couldn't go on doing it. So I went to my boss and said "I can't keep doing this. If we're able to get someone to take care of the support, I can then focus on the development".

It turns out that the development was never in the contract. For all that work I had done and was finally getting paid for it, it wasn't for what I do but rather for the support around it. This was probably one of my lowest points. Finding out I was only valued for work that anyone straight out of high school could do.

This may come as a surprise to some people but support to me is just a form of user feedback collection. If you can see what's going wrong and get it straight from the horse's mouth you're able to have a very user-centric approach to your development. The user feedback is important.

But no one ever sees the nerd working away in a dark corner uttering spells of usage and functionality which, once produced, seems natural and like nothing at all... So if you then run the numbers... I got paid less than $20,000 in total for the development I've done. $40,000 for support one year and $26,000 for another year. Over three years, that falls short of $30,000 per year.

Of that money: if schools have to open for 192 days / year, and it costs around $12  / day in transport (assuming I'm not having to move from one end of the cluster to the next in one day) then it's around $2,300 / year just in transport. Working crazy hours also means that you don't really get time for decent food.... which means I also ended up spending quite a bit on food.

In other words, I know what I am and what I do. It's just that it's never been valued. In which case, if it's not what I'm paid for, can I say that it's my job? It turns out I find the things that people value in my work to be really depressing.

So I'm left in a bit of a quandary. I can say what it is I was paid for which I find horrendously demeaning, or I can state where I think I add value and be proud of it but it's all a lie given that no one else saw any value in it...


  1. Career Advice!

    Looks like you need a programmer centric role. Probably one where you get to meet with clients aswell.

    Does that look somewhat vaguely right to you?

    1. More than meet the client... work in amongst them. In my previous role I insisted on doing the programming within their environment. This allowed me to start thinking like them rather than just as a programmer. Basically, what do they need? How would they like to be doing what they need? etc.

      A few years ago I went into a factory environment and they'd just had a Information Management System done up for them BUT the program was so abstracted from what happened on the factory floor that it effected the way the factory ran i.e. processes had to be altered to fit the information system.

      So I'm very much of the opinion that systems/software need to reflect the people using them - not the whims of a programmer. You hear the degrading terms given to users - whenever I find myself moaning about a troublesome user I think to myself "What could I have done better?" or "what mistake have I made?". It's amazing the sorts of changes to interfaces that comes out of that...