Making a dent in the universe

A recent post on a local user group message board set off a firestorm of reaction. The gist of the post was that developers in Columbus “seem to focus on life in their work/life balance”, aren’t interested in working long hours, “check out at 5pm”, and that “the drive to put a dent in the universe doesn’t seem as strong here.”

Steve Jobs is the poster child for the startup/work hard lifestyle. Steve Jobs worked really hard, made a lot of money, and invented technology that changed the way that many of us doing things. When he died, scores of people were proclaiming his greatness and praising him for his contributions to society. According to many people, Steve Jobs made a large dent in the universe.

I hope I’m making a dent in the universe. But if I am, it’s not going to be because I write code. I’m thankful that I get paid to do something that I really enjoy doing. But at the end of the day, what difference does it make if I write some code that helps a company make more money?

I really love software development. I enjoy hacking on Ruby code at night and talking with people about which JavaScript framework is going to win. But while I sit here and watch my plasma TV and type on my high-end MacBook Pro while my iPhone beeps at me, people out there are struggling to get food for their kids to eat tonight, living in fear of disease or wars or corrupt governments, or sitting at home alone feeling lonely.

Obviously I’m not living in Africa running an orphanage and digging wells for poor people, but doesn’t mean that my time spent writing software is meaningless. I’m reminded of the scene in Chariots of Fire when Eric Liddell is talking about how he feels when he runs.

I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.

Eric was a missionary to China at times in his life, but he also found a lot of meaning in training and running in the Olympics. Some people said that running wasn’t as important as being a missionary, but running was a means to an end for him, that end being finding God’s pleasure in whatever he was doing.

We’ve all been given talents, and many of us use them every day at work. I hope that my ability to write software will give me opportunities to make a difference in lives of people that I encounter in the process. I hope that I can instill confidence in the people I work with and that we can build camaraderie while we work together towards a common goal. I hope that people are energized and excited to come to work and that we can experience that good feeling that comes with working together to be successful. And while we’re at it, we’ll develop some software that will help a business be more profitable.

While I enjoy what I do at work, to me there’s a lot more out there for me than my job. I’m just not willing to line up for 80 hour weeks, multiple side projects, and lots of weekends away from home. I have a wife and two kids and to me, those things are much more important than software development. This doesn’t mean that I’m not dedicated or that I don’t care about my craft or that I’m any less of a developer than the hero programmer working 80 hours. I just have some other priorities in life that I also find important.

Many people out there work long hours (particularly people who are single). Many doing it willingly because they enjoy doing it or they find it challenging and exciting. I don’t really have a problem with that, because we’re all entitled to spend our time doing what we want.

If you could promise me that if I worked as hard as Steve Jobs that I would have the level of success that he had, I wouldn’t take you up on it. I guess I just have a different view of what success is. I would rather be a good husband, father, and friend to other people and try to use my job and career to further those goals. I may not appear to be as “driven” or “motivated” to people in the startup world, but I beg to differ. I have a passion for what I do, and software development is just one piece of that puzzle. Go on vacation away from your computer and your job for a week and you’ll notice how it doesn’t seem so important by the end of the week.

We are fortunate as developers to work in a fun and exciting industry where we get paid to do something that many of us would enjoy doing for free. My challenge to you is to look past that and see the big picture. Some day my working days will be done and when that time comes, I have a feeling that I will care more about the friendships I made and the people I helped than I will about whether I followed the Single Responsibility Principle or how many user groups I spoke at. But that day is still a long way off, so for the time being I’m going to use all the passions and abilities that I’ve been given to make the world a better place.

UPDATE: Apparently someone else was thinking the same as me… and it’s worth the read.