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As a developer, I find myself going through this phase where I feel like my work is unrewarding and like I just pound keys for a paycheck. Even having worked on applications driving social and humanitarian efforts, I've come to feel like my work in general is just fulfilling another specification, not like it truly does anything to help people or make a difference.

I want to be able to enjoy code and feel like what I'm doing is helping make an impact in peoples' lives more than just checking the box on a specification document and helping an organization make more money.

Is there a good way to find meaning and fulfillment as a developer without getting lost in monotonous requirements?

closed as off-topic by gnat, HopelessN00b, The Wandering Dev Manager, mcknz, Jim G. Aug 19 '16 at 17:37

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  • "Real questions have answers. Rather than explaining why your situation is terrible, or why your boss/coworker makes you unhappy, explain what you want to do to make it better. For more information, click here." – gnat, HopelessN00b, The Wandering Dev Manager, Jim G.
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  • Welcome back to the site Mark. Consider registering so you don't lose the ability to edit or track your questions at a later time. – Lilienthal Aug 18 '16 at 18:21
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Aug 19 '16 at 0:21
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    Do you work at a startup, or have you considered it? I work at a startup, and every time we push out new code, I see the direct impact on the people who use the product, and the business itself. Only me and 5 other engineers. – Josh Beam Aug 19 '16 at 5:41
  • @BЈовић who said without meaning work was the ultimate goal of the human rat race of the 21st century? Most people I know would like to find work with a less than stellar pay but with meaning. – Andy K Aug 19 '16 at 11:10
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    @BЈовић , you don't need to go that far to save whales or feed hungry peoples to find meaning. It takes gut and nerves to do that ,if you are cut for that and it is even worse if you are not cut for that. Before saving peoples and animals, you can find meaning in a programming job that will have a positive impact on people either by creating a software that you know will save or improve lives or maybe teach something or even build something that you will sell. All these initiatives will revert Mark's anonimity and make him interact with the people who use his software. – Andy K Aug 19 '16 at 12:43
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Do you ever interact with your end users?

Getting out of the office and witnessing the impact of your contributions may give you the personal connection you're seeking. If your interactions with users are filtered through specifications and bug reports, it can be very hard to see there's a real person on the other side that benefits (or suffers!) from your work.

For a personal anecdote, I used to work at a large vendor of electronic medical records. Doctors and nurses were our users. Going to hospitals and watching them use the product, while exhausting, gave me a lot of perspective on the impact of my development. Bugs could kill people. Getting a personal thank you from a nurse on how a small tweak saved her an hour every shift made my day.

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    +1 Phone calls and emails with end users can also fill this purpose. Few things make software development more rewarding than a short phone call with the end user after you've rolled out a feature that saves him/her 8 hours of work a week. – djohnson10 Aug 18 '16 at 18:02
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    As an employee in Aerospace, I wish I could watch a pilot use our software. – Casey Kuball Aug 18 '16 at 21:13
  • @Darthfett You can, but it'll probably be much more boring than you expect :) – Nelson Aug 19 '16 at 1:51
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    Unfortunately, in some industries (or some companies, such as mine), we aren't permitted to observe/interact with our end users in their environment - either because of regulations, safety, logistics or everyone's favorite, office politics. – alroc Aug 19 '16 at 14:06
  • Good point, @alroc. If you feel a personal connection is important to you and you cannot get it at your current employer, you may need to find another area of software development to work in. The same could be true for those who are motivated to work on the latest technology or games. You aren't going to satisfy either of those itches at a financial firm that gives you full access to bankers who use your product. – Technetium Aug 19 '16 at 17:57
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I feel like [...] I just pound keys for a paycheck

For some people, this is enough. They find personal fulfilment outside work and consider the job merely something that finances those activities, supports their lifestyle or provides for their family.

If your work isn't fulfilling or enjoyable, consider flipping a mental switch and thinking instead of your work as something that pays for your next evening out, helps pay those student loans, supports your (early) retirement or whatever other goals that money helps accomplish.

While I think everyone can deal with a monotonous job by framing it like this, for most people it won't be sustainable long-term. But this will let you get your 2 years in to avoid having a job hop on record, give you the time you need to launch a proper job search, or let you go after a promotion or change in responsibilities that will give you more rewarding work.

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You're making things that make people's lives easier one tiny step at a time. "Making the world a better place" isn't really a matter of fulfilling some grand design when you're talking about your personal efforts.

If you make one person have a better day than they otherwise would have, you did well.

If you're not satisfied with learning and tinkering with different technologies and using them to make people's lives better or giving them some sort of entertainment, then you're probably in the wrong field.

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    You've pretty much described how I answer "what do you want in a job?" interview question. I tell them "I want to make a difference. It doesn't have to be a huge difference or a difference to everyone. It doesn't have to be well-known. But I need to make SOMEONE'S life a little better with my work. The most unsatisfying job I had was working for 6 months and then the company shelved the nearly finished project and went another direction." – Chris E Aug 18 '16 at 17:08
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Is there a good way to find meaning and fulfillment as a developer without getting lost in monotonous requirements?

Make a list every day (or week, month, time period):

  • How did I make someone else's life better?
    • Can be customers or coworkers
  • What did I learn that I didn't know last time_period
  • Who did something I should verbally appreciate/thank
    • It turns out gratitude helps a lot with the question you are asking

The less meaning you feel, the more frequently you should write them down.

If you find yourself unable to answer many of those on a consistent basis either you need to be better at reflection or your job actually does suck -- find a new one!

Frankly, I find a ton of meaning in helping others, even though I basically write CRUD software.

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    Explanation of CRUD lest those not familiar w/ software development think @enderland has a dim view of the quality of his software :) – alroc Aug 19 '16 at 14:09
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Even having worked on apps driving social and humanitarian efforts, I've come to feel like my work in general is just fulfilling another spec

This sentiment would concern me. Unless you are building an app for yourself, there is always going to be some client, customer or boss defining the software that you need to build. You may have an opportunity to have input on that spec, but you are going to have to deliver to some set of requirements.

When you look at the total number of development jobs out there, there is a very small percentage that is truly "good of mankind" product development. If you have already worked in some positions like that and still couldn't find meaning we may not be able to help you more than that.

As others have suggested, you need to be able find meaning in the way that your software helps somebody in some way. Remember they wouldn't pay you to do it if it wasn't useful/meaningful for others in some way. It's up to you to find the opportunity/company where that usefulness meshes with your desire for meaning and purpose.

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If development work is not giving you sufficient fulfillment, even working on products you feel should be feel-good products, then I would consider the possibility that the right answer is not to find ways to find meaning/fulfillment, but instead to find another career that is meaningful and fulfilling. I assume here that you have had more than one developer position in your career with multiple companies - otherwise I think the first advice is simply to try another company (as perhaps the corporate culture isn't a good fit).

That's not to say you should walk out the door tomorrow. And, many people who are not fulfilled continue in careers for decades, because they pay the bills, and they're okay with being sort of bored. But if you're not that sort of person - maybe starting over in a different career, or finding a career you can transition to, is the right thing.

In particular, what is it about developing that is not appealing to you? Are you someone who needs more social interaction, for example? Do you need more complex problem-solving than you get as a developer? Are you more into the UI side of things perhaps? Are you someone who enjoys research more than developing new things? Based on what it is you specifically want/do not want in a career, you may well find something that is more fulfilling that still utilizes your skills to some extent. And perhaps while considering this, you might realize that there are ways you can modify your current position or career without changing it entirely, also.

  • I agree 100%. There's an endless amount of skills and knowledge to learn that can be applied to software development positions.Computers affect nearly every aspect of life nowadays. If you can't find new things to peak your interest and figure out how to get to use them on the job and/or apply them to do something "meaningful" then you really should be strongly considering a career change. – Dunk Aug 18 '16 at 21:29
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The sad reality of things is that when you depart, you leave behind a very small trace of what you were. Eventually everyone will be forgotten so the value you find in work is one you made up yourself. With that said, I suggest finding meaning elsewhere. Most people work to build a good life at home for themselves and their family. That is where the reward is.

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    This is not what the OP needs to hear. The best solution isn't to 'abandon all hope', but to start small and work your way up. Worst case scenario, just change jobs. The OP could even go back to school. You might be fine with a boring job and nihilistic views, but other people aren't. I don't think anybody should have a boring and unfulfilling job 'because that is the way it is'. – Nick Pandolfi Aug 19 '16 at 3:07
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    @NickPandolfi I dunno, I think 'abandon all hope' is a fine solution. – Dejay Clayton Aug 19 '16 at 4:17
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The very reason the company is giving you a paycheck is to make you accept work that you wouldn't otherwise find rewarding.

That paycheck comes from money customers have given the company. Those customers find your work valuable, otherwise they wouldn't have paid for it.

As other have suggested, talking to the end users will make it more visible for you, but you can be sure that you are contributing. Every paycheck is proof of that.

You could try to find an open-source project to help if you want to work on something else.

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I want to be able to enjoy code and feel like what I'm doing is helping make an impact in peoples' lives more than just checking the box on a spec doc and helping an organization make more money. Is there a good way to find meaning and fulfillment as a developer without getting lost in monotonous requirements?

As quite some people said, your paid work will provide you work. It will not provide you happiness nor intellectual excitement.

For intellectual excitement or/and happiness, only you can provide this to you.

As other people have noticed/said, maybe it is time to hop into something else.

My point of view would be: Hold on until you have something more tangible and jump wagon when you feel this is the time eg. you feel ready to jump into another band wagon.

Before that jump, the hard work is to figure out what can you do to re- enjoy coding.

If I were you, I would start an initiative out of the blue, during the time you are not at work. A fablab initiative like this one for example can be an idea or a coding initiative like this one (I'm not involved on the latter but I saw them grow, from a bunch of guys who were dissatified at their work and wanted to try their hands on something new).

Whatever you want to do, start and see by yourself where it will take you. Venturing out of your comfort zone but staying close to your first "field of interest" , will often (from people I know plus me) help you revive your first love, in the long run.

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