Paul McGrath

Surviving a self-taught career in Software Development

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash
Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

I use Twitter avidly, even if I don’t post particularly often. I find it very useful to keep up with trends, and the ever-changing landscape that is front-end development.

One person I follow, and who I’ve come to greatly respect, is Stephanie Hurlburt. Hers is a welcome voice amid all the “hustlers” constantly trying to eke out every last drop, and shouting from the rooftops while doing so.

It wasn’t too long ago that I totally bought into that ideology. Hook, line, and sinker. I was working in a small to medium size startup and found new ends to burn on my already-flickering candle.

Eventually (inevitably, some might say) something had to give. I found myself in the Emergency Department with a pretty wild cardiac rhythm brought on by stress, coffee, exercise, and self-induced overwork.

In many ways, this was a blessing. I was around two years into my career, and had already learned a valuable lesson: the hustle is just not worth it.

So what of the career?

I’m sure the perils of this lifestyle are not new to many reading this post, but I do think it’s an everyday reality for a lot of self-taught developers out there.

There’s a heck of a lot of imposter syndrome going around, and with a “hustle” culture and a rapidly changing technical scene, it’s easy to feel like you need to work every second just to keep up.

I’m definitely guilty of this, having started with an undergraduate degree in English and Psychology. Intertextuality and Derrida don’t quite help you on the job when your colleagues spent four years or more preparing for this field.

It is, however, infinitely possible to both do well as a self-taught developer, and avoid the hustle. The sage advice goes a bit like this:

Platitudes, these are not. While you will have to work extra hard to get up to speed with your CS-degree’d colleagues, you should not sacrifice the parts necessary in order to be human.

You should outlive your career, and while we all may be replaced with robots in twenty years, we are not robots now. Close the laptop, get outside for a while, and remember that what you’re working on may still be tricky tomorrow, but you’ll have made the most of today.