A topic comes up somewhat regularly that irritates me. It’s suggested, particularly in the tech community, that people should focus more on their life and less on work. It’s suggested there’s a regular atmosphere of over-work in this industry. I’m not one known to just be quiet about opinions, so I’ve come to vent.
It’s ok to love your career, and it’s ok to spend time outside of your job bettering your craft.
The technology sector is one of the greatest places I’ve personally ever seen for creating opportunity. It’s not perfect, but it’s a place that has allowed me to build something. To understand what I mean, I want to tell you a bit about my background.
I grew up in the rural midwest, in a working class family, one that barely could make ends meet most months. As a kid and teenager I experienced what it was like to live paycheck to paycheck. Statistics will tell you that these situations give me a lower chance to succeed, to make it out. To add to the challenges, I dropped out of high school at the end of grade nine (freshman year in the US), had no career prospects in sight, and was spending my evenings working at a local Burger King. Even with all of those mistakes, those hurdles, technology was an open book, all I needed was access and grit. That access was given through a variety of means: showing up to school a bit earlier, visiting the library, and most critically when a relative was able to piece together a bare bones, low-end PC. That enabled me to invest my time in something that was genuinely interesting to me.
It is now 2023, and here we are still being told that the tech sector demands too much of white collar workers, that somehow the trade is unfair. Let’s say that narrative is true somewhere in the world, and it’s very possible it is, but I’m not convinced that’s what these people are referencing. In fact, I have both lived and seen quite the opposite trend. Let’s go back to my story: in 2010 - if memory serves me well - I was bringing home maybe $90k living in San Francisco (which still wasn’t a lot here). Today a new grad makes 150% of that, and if you played out market rates, I’d be making more than 2x that salary in 2023 at the same skill level, with less time commitment. From the evidence I’ve seen the quality of life for tech workers has gotten pretty dang good. So why do we constantly complain, as if we’re in such a bad spot? As if life is so hard for us, and requires so much sacrifice?
I don’t think it requires sacrifice, but it rewards investment. I’ve spent many nights and weekends “working”, especially early in my career. I wasn’t working for a corporation, I was working for myself. I was meeting future peers, developing my craft, self-teaching as many mistakes as I could possibly uncover. I might have made some sacrifices - I’m now 38 and don’t yet have kids - but honestly I don’t feel like I missed out on life. I was young, just like many in our industry are, so what would I be doing instead? This time spent, this negative sentiment towards it, that is my gripe. Its too often looked down upon in the industry, and I find that unfair. Not everyone can spend that time - that’s true, and I think we should continue to find ways to enable folks who can’t - but that doesn’t make it any less true that those investments are valuable. Some of us want to spend our time this way.
The simple truth of the matter is that the investments you make in your craft, whether they’re through your employer or independently, are often time well spent. It’s just like sports - practice may not make you great, but it’s certainly going to give you a better shot at it. That’s a good thing, and we should celebrate it, not condemn it! You get to invest in a craft, one that many of us can do without gatekeeping, that can create life changing opportunities for you. Where else can you do that?
Remember, if you don’t want to spend the time, there are plenty of opportunities in the industry where you can work nine to five and still get paid extremely well compared to the rest of the world. So maybe, just maybe let’s stop shitting on the folks who like building things, and maybe be a little optimistic about opportunity this market has given many of us?