Talking with my Twitter peeps, I see the 80/20 rule come up every now and then. Coding Horror refers to it in his post The Two Types of Programmers. Joel Ross suggests that may even be closer to 95/5 in his post Going from the 80% to the 20%.
Either way you look at it, there definitely are two types of programmers – those who see their programming as a job versus those who live with it as a passion. Those who see it as a job do the hours that are required by work and nothing further. After that 9-5 window, they leave the programming at work, where they will pick it up the next day. They do what they can to “get the job done now” and they don’t always see that they need to stay up on their skills to get ahead in the future.
For me, programming is a passion; it’s only natural for me. I’m not saying that I have all of these random programming languages in my nature, but I have a propensity to pick them up easily. I heard about programming in grade school, and everything just made sense. I couldn’t explain why I understood it, but I just did. Not only could I understand it, but I could also simplify it into plain English and explain it to others as well. I didn’t even have a computer until late in grade school, but yet I could work with it quite easily. I was excited about it, and I wanted to share my excitement with others.
In high school, I acquired Visual Basic and was able to play around with it and make sense of it. Eventually, I figured out how to do data access in VB, and Address Keeper made its way into the world through NoNags. (Unfortunately, the link and the code no longer exist, so I can’t show off my first public work anymore.)
By the time I graduated high school, I had felt comfortable enough with VB that I pushed for it and took an internship where I could use it. My internship and co-op experiences in college were all programming-based, and I really enjoyed building my technical skill set while developing a business skill set as well. Each position required me to step up in some way – from learning a new language to actually taking the initiative and saying “Hey, I see you’ve had this job in the classifieds for awhile. Take me on for the summer, while looking to fill the position full time.” (And yes, I got that co-op – which led to my own corner office downtown for a large, publicly-traded real estate company. Very well worth it!)
After graduating, I took a job just to get back into the computer industry here in Cleveland, and oddly enough, it wasn’t programming. I started out as a tier 2 tech for an ISP, and due to circumstances out of my control, I eventually took over as co-manager of the tech support department. Right out of college, I had the joys of putting my business skills to work. But my inner programmer knew I had to network to keep up on programming. And I knew deep down that I’d eventually return to my programming roots.
My passion for programming is what drove me to where I am today. After the ISP, I moved into programming and other various hats for manufacturing, which was a good place to learn things until I hit a point where things seemed too stagnant for my liking. I was back in the 80% there – but at the same time, I was on call 24/7 and dealing with projects that really took the life out of me. I didn’t have much time to realize just how long I had been in the 80%. But then I hit the burn out point – and that’s when I knew it was time to move on and find the happy me that had faded away into a grumpy me.
One of my friends (who I worked with and supervised at the ISP) had been raving to me about the company she was working for, and after almost 4 years, I finally followed her there. Even though she hadn’t dealt with “programmer Sarah”, she knew that I would be a good addition to their team. It’s good to be where I am – full-time programming with a lot of talented individuals. Being back in my environment just feeds my 20% tendencies. I’m blogging, and I’ve met a lot of awesome people, who’ve introduced me to more (as in quantity, not as in better) awesome people, who… well, you get the picture. I’ve had friends point me at various user groups, which lead me again to more people. I’ll be checking out yet another user group in a couple weeks.
The 20% tendencies just continue to push me forward.
If programming was just a job, I would be focused more on my initial dream of playing for the Cleveland Orchestra. But for me, it happens to be one of my many passions, one that rivals my passion for music, and one that will drive me to get into the 20% and stay in the 20%. Or is it 5%? Either way, I can see my passion for programming taking me far if I let it.