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I'm in my mid-forties (wife, mortgage, kid in private school, etc.) and I'm feeling a little burned out on web application programming. It's my main marketable skill (and also my biggest hobby) so I don't think I'm going to choose a new career yet. I've been programming for 17 years. I actually started off as an accountant but decided that I could pay the bills programming (a hobby of mine at the time), so I got a masters degree in CS and have generally been happy, usually passionately happy, with my choice.

I've worked with variety of clients and a variety of technologies, but began to feel like I mastered nothing, so I tried working on the product side. I've tried being independent. I was part of starting one mildly successful consulting shop. I've moved up to lead positions. Now I'm working as a product consultant for an enterprise software vendor.

I feel like I've hit a wall in my career. For those who've been doing this for 15+ years, do you find your passion and energy start to taper? If not, is there something specific you've done to help keep your energy and motivation high? I might be doing this for another 20+ years and I'm afraid it's becoming a J-O-B job. What do you suggest I do to re-charge the batteries or to re-kindle that fire that I feel made me a better developer?

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migration rejected from programmers.stackexchange.com Jan 21 at 4:36

This question came from our site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development. Votes, comments, and answers are locked due to the question being closed here, but it may be eligible for editing and reopening on the site where it originated.

closed as too broad by Jim G., ChrisF, jcmeloni, jmac, Graviton Jan 21 at 4:36

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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This is one of the many facets of getting older. The young get energy, the old get wisdom. –  Blrfl Jan 20 at 18:01
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I've just turned 60, and I've been programming since I was 17, however these days I work around 3 hours per day. Since I'm not paying house, car, kids in school, etc. I can do that. I would work 20 hour days sometimes in my 20's - not any more. Maybe it would be a good idea to cut back on hours a little bit, and go off and do something else with that time. –  Meredith Poor Jan 20 at 19:31
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@MeredithPoor: reminds me that time-based remuneration is the single worst demotivators in a corporate environment IMHO. There are few things more tedious than "putting in the hours" in what I consider otherwise to be a creative profession. –  o.v. Jan 21 at 0:47
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Hey ipaul, and welcome to The Workplace! This question is gathering close votes and is likely to be closed. It looks like you have a lot of answers, so you may be happy with what you already have, but if it does get closed and you want to re-open it, you may want to make an edit to focus on a specific issue you are having at work and what you want to do to solve it. As-is the question is incredibly broad and essentially polling for opinion which is off-topic as explained in our help center. Thanks in advance! –  jmac Jan 21 at 1:05
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ipaul I would suggest two changes - #1. drop programming as a hobby - find other hobbies that have nothing to do with IT (mine is MTB riding). This will refresh your mind on a regular basis. #2 Go back to working independantly. This will give you more of a feeling of control over your work life, which I find makes it more satisfying and less stressful. Good luck! –  Mike Honey Jan 21 at 2:31

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I'm not going to say one can keep their passion for a profession going at full tilt for 20+ years. Its not going to happen. Best we can do is learn how to respond to the challenging times during our career, and grow from them.

Unfortunately it is a job. You do anything for 20 years, and at some point you're going to face some boredom and routine that you'd rather not. I'm sure you'd find a lot of 'Rock and Roll' musicians complaining about tedious road tours, too.

My best advice to you is, at least with regard to your hobby projects, to broaden your horizons. There's a whole world of programming out there. Try something other than web applications. Write some mobile apps. Or desktop software. Build some robots. Do something other than web programming. In addition to keeping your mind fresh, it'll make you more valuable because you'll see larger contexts, be improving your problem solving skills, and be able to draw from a wider knowledge base.

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Thanks. I'm already becoming involved with my local maker group, working on making arduino based things. –  ipaul Jan 20 at 19:04
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That sounds like fun. Now I'm jealous. –  GrandmasterB Jan 20 at 19:27
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This is so true. If you think you know everything about programming, try learning Haskell ;) –  Brian Gordon Jan 21 at 0:06
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Hey GrandmasterB, and welcome to The Workplace. Since the asker is wondering how to keep his passion, telling him that he will inevitably lose some of that passion doesn't seem to solve his problem. Could you please make an edit to your question to discuss how to minimize the loss of passion in the first place? –  jmac Jan 21 at 0:53
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@jmac Well, no, I'm not going to lie to him and say one can keep their passion for a profession going at full tilt for 20+ years. Its not going to happen. Best we can do is learn how to respond to the challenging times during our career, and grow from them. –  GrandmasterB Jan 21 at 17:10

Possibly: See your doctor. It may not be the job, it may be you. I thought I was struggling with burnout last year. I got some bloodwork done for a physical, and they noticed some problems - specifically my thyroid. I am taking a very inexpensive prescription for it, and I am finding I have all kinds of enthusiasm for work and other things returning.

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Good point. I have a physical coming up in a couple of months. I should probably have a talk with my doctor, as well. –  ipaul Jan 20 at 19:32
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Specifically ask about your thyroid and testosterone levels. You will need blood work for him to answer. –  Wesley Long Jan 20 at 19:33

My greatest source of energy and passion is other people and their projects, especially if they're younger than me (and the good news is, as time goes by they're pretty much always younger than me now.)

One source of "other people" for me is my actual paying clients, because I have a consulting firm and we work with new people all the time. Another is the university students I teach one half-course a term to. These may not be options for you, but if they are I can assure you they work wonders. Then there are my fellow attendees at user group meetings - whether I present or just attend - and at conferences. You can start attending local user group meetings and hearing what other people are working on and getting caught up in the fun of it again without any support from your employer. The conferences will probably need someone to say yes so you can attend.

And finally, if you get a chance, help students with things. For example I judge and coach for Imagine Cup (sponsored by Microsoft) but I am sure there are equivalent things in whatever tech field you're in. This is a self-selected group of passionate and innovative young people who are building something they think will change the world and make them rich, and spending some time with them will get you fired up again, I guarantee! My first judging trip left me feeling ten years younger, so now I'm hooked.

A side effect of all this is that you'll learn a lot and meet a lot of people. These things will help you in your career tremendously. You'll also have plenty to be proud of as a volunteer and someone contributing to your professional community. But the immediate same day benefit is fixing those blahs and getting you excited again. We are making the whole world out of 1s and 0s, out of the skin on the tips of our fingers as we erode it on keyboards, and even if your employer isn't at the exciting end of that process, your industry is. Celebrate that!

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For those who've been doing this for 15+ years, do you find your passion and energy start to taper?

I've had ups and downs over the years. Some projects burned me out to the point that I had to take disability leave, I've developed some health problems over the years but I do still enjoy what I do. There has been some evolution of new technologies and different development methodologies over the last 16 years since I started doing this in 1998.

If not, is there something specific you've done to help keep your energy and motivation high?

Recognize that you have control over how you frame what you do, figure out what parts you prefer over others in the process, and understand what talents do you have that make this career a good fit. Some people may see fixing bugs in software as a way to polish up something fun and exciting while others may see it as the low value job that exists within software development.

What do you suggest I do to re-charge the batteries or to re-kindle that fire that I feel made me a better developer?

Which are the pieces that jazzed you up over the years? Is it learning a new technology, teaching someone something new, solving a problem for someone else, building a plan, or something else? Additionally, be aware that there are several different specialties one could take after being a developer. Some may become business analysts, some may become managers, some may become architects, and some may become consultants. Which role suits you best?


If you enjoy the cutting edge stuff, perhaps a position researching emerging technology may be an idea? If you like arduinos, perhaps there are labs doing various projects with them that could suit you well? Just a couple of ideas as I did have a run as a research assistant that would be my "Mad Scientist" days that were a lot of fun.

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Wow! I've had some really challenging projects but fortunately nothing that's wiped me out like that. I hope you're doing better. What jazzed me up is a great question. I think I really got off on bit-fiddling and doing stuff that's really, really new. I guess I enjoy the 'bloodletting' that's an inevitable part of being on the bleeding edge. I also miss bare-metal programming (which is why I like toying with arduinos.) –  ipaul Jan 20 at 19:14

While I lack the many years of life experience you have, I can certainly relate to the feeling of losing passion for "my main trade". As far as I know, the most solid remedy is to simply do something else for a while. This will:

  • Break up the tedium and give your mind some breathing room to rest from 17 years of focus.
  • Teach you to better appreciate the nice things about web programming. For example, straightforward distribution to users, far fewer headaches in supporting legacy users, relative independence from user system unlike desktop applications. After a while, you may start to miss the job you are now disinterested in.
  • Remind you that if you're so sick of web programming that you have to give it up and find another career, it's not the end of the world, because hey, it's not like you can't do this other thing, too.
  • Gain you a new, valuable skill that will improve your marketability and broaden the spectrum of projects you can readily attempt.

Often, when you do something you love for many years, and then one day start feeling like you're sick of it and never want to touch it again, you're not really sick of it, and you don't really never want to touch it again - you just want a break. I am reminded of a short bit from Jonathan Haidt's The Happiness Hypothesis where he talks about surgeons who go on vacation to Haiti to escape the stress of their jobs, only to start volunteering at the local hospital after a few days out of sheer boredom.

As for what exactly you will do, it really depends on your personal circumstance and preference. You can try:

  • Things related to your job: Server-client software, web scrapers, network administration, browser games.
  • Things vaguely related to your job: Developing software that has little to do with the web, contributing to open source projects, (desktop) game development, solving computer science exercises from a textbook or the Euler Project, trying your hand at an AI project.
  • Things completely unrelated to your job: Start an exercise routine, volunteer for a local charity, learn a language, get into a new sport, learn to play an instrument, join a local dancing class, start working on your long backlog of books or films, make a garden if you have a yard, try to do some DIY home maintenance.

It really doesn't matter what you do, so long as it interests you and and feels appropriately challenging (you don't want something effortless, but you also don't want something hopelessly difficult). It doesn't even matter if you ever get good at it - it's a hobby; being good is not the point. In fact, it is crucial to not get carried away and start stressing out over how much better some other people are at it. You're not competing with them.

It is preferable to pick something that is productive rather than a complete waste of time. However, it's not necessary: Once again, your objective isn't to become the master of your hobby, but to give yourself a break from work. Moreover, often it's impossible to predict what skills will come in handy one day. The rule of thumb is that if you're learning anything at all, or progressing in some fashion, you're doing fine.

If you don't have the luxury of taking a break form work entirely, such as a vacation, then the occasional evening or some time on the weekends will work just fine. If you are so overloaded with other pursuits that you have absolutely no time left over for a hobby, this is probably part of your problem.

Lastly, in the event that nothing excites your attention, consider that you may be depressed. Then, the issue is not with your job, but with you. If you are, indeed, depressed, chances are that there is no worthwhile activity that will be interesting to you. Such is the nature of depression. Regarding this possibility, you should really seek professional help (or at least research the topic from reputable sources). However, be wary of hypochondria and self-diagnosis - don't make trips to the therapist your hobby!

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I think it is a great time to be a developer. I fell in love with coding in middle school (around '81 or so), and was programming professional shortly after high school and continuously ever since.

I don't always like the projects at my day job (and sometimes not even the people), but when that is the case, I keep my fire lit by finding outside coding projects that update my skills with something my employer isn't necessarily interested in. You may prefer teaching or presenting, but I'm on the shy side.

If things are getting stale at your job, you have to try to mix things up a bit. In the worst case, you may end up having to change gigs completely, but I empathize that this isn't always an option. Only you can decide how much you can take. Been there, too!

But what I will say is this: Don't let a bad/boring gig at a boring telco or bank sour you on the whole field of programming!

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Hey linux, and welcome to The Workplace. Just quit answers are strongly discouraged here without an explanation of why that is the only choice. Not everyone is in a situation where they can easily switch jobs due to geographical, family, or economic reasons. Could you please refer to the discussion on 'just quit' answers, and make an edit? Thanks in advance! –  jmac Jan 21 at 1:01
    
Sorry, I didn't realize that paragraph was still going to be received so badly. Edit done. –  linuxtampa Jan 24 at 16:09

Sometimes when I feel burnt out I do something completely opposite of the thing that is burning me out. If programming is that thing then I would say get away from the computer (and all technology) for awhile. If you are truly passionate about programming it will draw you back in when you are ready. If you cannot find a stopping point right now then plan something for as soon as you can get away. Go to a sunny warm place with few distractions and get swallowed up in a novel. Basically take your mind off of programming.

Or maybe you are ready for another 180?

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