Answers for my younger self

I was recently contacted by a 14-year-old student based in the UK, and they had some questions for me about my career and job. I emailed them back and we agreed that some of you might benefit from these too, so I am publishing them here.

What are the three biggest lessons you learned in college?

  1. Have fun. University/College is more than a piece of paper and education. For me, I had fun with socialising, hobbies, politics, and much more. I flatted (shared a house) for the first time and learned even more about myself and how I live.

  2. Not really learnt in college, but proven to me time and time again again - you are the average of the people you surround yourself with. Become friends with the people you aspire to be, they will bring out the best in you.

  3. The code you taught yourself will get quickly overwritten with new, probably more correct knowledge.  Embrace it. Approach with humility.

Why did you choose to be a software engineer?

Honestly, I like problem-solving, and I like building digital products. Coding I find is a very intellectually honest pursuit. If it doesn't work, it's your fault. If it does work, it’s your fault. Its ultimate form of personal responsibility and control.  But I like solving problems and building stuff. Coding just happens to be the way I went. I suspect I’d be equally happy with organic chemistry or even forensics.  I think its important in life to monetise your passion in some way. Easily said, not easily done.

What are the two skills that you think are important for your profession?

All the soft skills you can think of! Tone of voice, humility and patience are the ones I constantly work on. 

What are the benefits of being a software engineer?

Right now, because the supply/demand of staff, the salaries are quite good. While there's heaps being done to address this (including my own work) – I think there will be a shortage for the next 10 years at least.  I think the real benefit for me is I feel a whole lot smarter. You know how people who work outdoors are generally quite strong and fit because they're effectively working out their bodies all day? I think it’s the same for my brain. I think about tricky stuff up to 8 hours a day, and the brain breaks and grows back stronger. I find everyday life stuff quite simple, and I notice when talking to others that I tend to be a few steps ahead of them right off the bat. Sounds kinda arrogant but I think there is a whole lot of truth to the 'your brain is a muscle' thing - and mine is one I work out often. I am of course no genius and do plenty of silly stuff and have my fair share of terrible ideas!

What are some disadvantages to being a software engineer?

I think the bubble we work and socialise in is a big one. A lot of people outside of IT/tech really don't care about our stuff. I find it quite difficult now to relate to people outside of tech, such as my family. I have to work hard to pay attention to what’s going on outside of tech. Politics, world news, environment, pop culture, celebrities etc.  Arrogance is also pretty common for the reasons I talked about above. We do tend to be a bit quicker on our feet but this can often turn people arrogant. Myself included, sadly. Its something we have to look out for. 

What is one thing you would tell a 14-year-old you about pursuing college and your current profession?

Make sure this is for you! Look, I love tech and I want more people in it. I'm sure you've seen my writing and Dev Chats which has exactly that purpose. But Tech isn't for everyone, and I'd hate for anyone to go into it because it was 'cool' or you think you'll be rich. That won't bring you the satisfaction in life that you think it might. Follow your dreams. At 14, you probably have no idea - and that's pretty normal. So try stuff out! Try different classes, after school stuff, clubs, activities, the works - and see what you like. Taste taste taste! Once you find the thing you're passionate about, work out how to make a life around it, and then put in the work to get there.