SuperHappyDevHouse

It’s probably unclear from my previous posts, but I’m a software engineer. I guess I don’t really talk about it much, since I don’t really like it that much. At times, the job downright infuriates me.

One aspect of being a software engineer that really upsets me is the “cultural” aspect of it. I don’t know how it works in other professions, but I feel like in software engineering, it’s not just go into work, do your work for 8 hours, and then go home. The engineering culture is pervasive. Many engineers program in their spare time. They think about programming on the weekends. They make jokes about programming. They look at you condescendingly when you say you don’t know or understand something that they know all too well.

It’s things like those last two that irritated me way back in 2000, when I started college. I was in the introductory computer science course, thinking that I would like it, for some reason. I found the material dry and also incredibly hard for me, but what turned me off the most were some of the people I had to interact with. I would be in lab, trying to complete whatever assignment I was doing, and there would be a bunch of CS majors around, making jokes about programming, talking about esoteric CS topics that I didn’t understand, and just being obnoxious in general. I hated it. In math class, on the other hand, people weren’t making jokes about triple integrals, showing off their knowledge of differential equations, or being loud and obnoxious. But perhaps I was just luckier in math class. I didn’t feel like there was a “culture” about math, though. They didn’t live and breathe math, unlike how a lot of CS majors seem to live and breathe CS.

So imagine my surprise when I was invited to SuperHappyDevHouse. I didn’t know much about it, besides that it was a bunch of people getting together in a house and programming. For fun. On a weekend. It boggles my mind. Why would you get together and write code, when you could do anything else? Especially after spending five (or more) days this week already programming for their regular jobs. I then read the Wikipedia article. It describes the event as “a non-exclusive event intended for passionate and creative technical people that want to have some fun, learn new things, and meet new people.” That sounds good to me. But they don’t mention the programming/hacking aspect of the event.

But then I kept reading the article, and it became more disturbing. A tech journalist wrote about it like this: “That’s what we want to do for others- we want to enable them to come together for a common purpose to help humanity. We see different parts of technology as different elements that come together to create a key that will unlock a door that will change the world.” Wait, what? It’s a one-day event. How are you going to change the world in one day? If they could really do that, then imagine what they could do in a year. This sounds like someone with delusions of grandeur. Or a cult.

The thing is, I wouldn’t really be upset by all this “culture” if I didn’t have it shoved in my face all the time. People around me at work get super-excited (to the point of yelling) about minor things like “performance improvements.” People talk nostalgically about the days of Oracle databases. People develop cults around their editor of choice. And people shove things like SuperHappyDevHouse in my face. If you want to have your day of programming, go do it. Don’t flaunt it in my face, boasting that you can change the world in a day, when you’re just one person who’s typing text into a terminal.

I just wonder why software engineering is like this. Why does it come with a whole different culture? I can’t imagine, say, accountants getting together on a Saturday in a house, and going on a mad accounting frenzy. I can’t imagine them condescendingly saying things like, “You don’t know what a Form 4868 is??” I don’t see accountants flaunt how good they are at accounting, or using a bunch of technical jargon to make others feel dumb. What is it about computer science and software engineering that causes people to become obsessive, arrogant, elitist people?

You might be asking why I’m still in this industry if I’m so offended by it. The thing is, not all engineers are like what I described above. I am friends with quite a few of them, and they’re not like that. But I do meet quite a number of them who are actually unpleasant in the way I described. I also have no idea what job I’d do otherwise. That’s probably something I need to explore, but right now, my job fits into my life quite well. I don’t work very long hours (although probably longer than people in some other lines of work), and it pays quite well. I just get fed up with it from time to time.

Update: It is unbelievable how much unwanted attention this post attracted. Summary here.

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34 Responses to SuperHappyDevHouse

  1. Jeff says:

    “I would be in lab, trying to complete whatever assignment I was doing, and there would be a bunch of CS majors around, making jokes about programming … In math class, on the other hand, people weren’t making jokes about triple integrals…”

    Did you go to “math lab”? No such thing, right? So, you weren’t exposed to a spectrum of experience and ability levels like you were in the computer lab. So, you really have no idea what advanced mathematics majors joke about.

    There are asshats in every discipline, you just haven’t seen enough outside of CS.

    • Ryo says:

      I never said there weren’t asshats outside of CS, I was just relating my (limited) personal experience with CS majors in my introductory class that I took. This wasn’t meant to be some sort of rigorous, end-all argument, I was just talking about my own feelings about it.

      • Jeff says:

        But you directly cited the lack of condescending math majors as introductory evidence to ‘the problem’.

        I think you have a good, basic idea. There can be an alpha-geek culture, which inevitably leads to non-stop programming in order to be number one. There is also a problem with poor interpersonal skills, and a lack of self-awareness that causes people to be condescending or cruel rather than helpful. But you’ve conflated that with people deriving enjoyment from weekend projects which (presumably) offers gratification not found in their daily work.

        In the end, you’re veering strongly into the “whiny” zone, when you could be staying firmly in the objective observer zone and have more impact.

        • Ryo says:

          Again, this wasn’t meant to be some rock-solid argument. I didn’t intend to have any “impact” whatsoever. It probably sounds whiny because, well, it is. I’m just venting my feelings, not trying to change anything. I thought this would only be seen by my friends, but apparently I was very wrong.

  2. Matthew Case says:

    Growing up I loved programming. Then I got into corporate America and did it because I had to, not because I wanted to. That really beat the joy out of me, but I can still remember what it was like to enjoy tinkering with computers and making them do what I wanted them to do. I think there are people who enjoy what they do during their 40 hour workweek so they continue to enjoy it in the after hours.

    I don’t think its bad if you don’t program after work or think about it 24/7, but I think it might be indicative of you working at a job you have to, not one you want to.

  3. Jason says:

    I’m … sorry? You seem upset that some people absolutely love programming and just happen to get paid to do it as well. We’re not the only profession that has this, btw.

    Of course, given how bloody fast this field moves, it’s what I do to help me stay current. You can’t stay current if you’re sitting at a 9-5 job and never touching a computer otherwise. If you’re not having fun programming, you should probably start looking for another career path.

  4. James says:

    Did you ever think that perhaps you were working in the wrong profession?
    btw: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2355448

  5. So I probably fall dead smack in the middle of the “hack culture” you’re speaking about. I think you’re correct in that we overwork ourselves to the point of being unhealthy. I have many outside of work activities that I’ve been neglecting in the past few years in favor of coding in my spare time. The only explanation I can offer up, and this might explain the difference in attitude between Math and CS majors, is that our field is one that is moving so fast. I actually stopped programming from 2001 – 2004. Prior to that I was doing C firmware development, playing with TCL and some MASM (Microsoft Assembler). I got frustrated with working on enterprise systems and I just quit. When I got back into development a few years later the world had changed. OOP was everywhere, design patterns had been established, the entire development stack was open source and it seemed almost every week a new concept was being championed.

    The software development world doesn’t seem to stay put long enough for people to catch up. There is also a sense of urgency I feel, because I’ve become active in the community and have gone to meetings and hackfests I’ve had the chance to compare my skills to others. This motivates me to become better, with no real end in site. My day job does not give me the opportunity to explore and develop the way I always want. So the hacking will always happen during spare time. And considering there is a finite amount of spare time each day I find little time for much else.

  6. Joe says:

    Ryo, you should really try attending an SHDH. It’s not at all what you think.

  7. realgt says:

    your article leaves me wondering, do you think you write good code despite not being passionate about what you do?

  8. Mike says:

    I doubt that the intent of “You don’t know what X is?”is to be condescending, and I REALLY doubt that the reason they use jargon is to make others feel dumb. I mean, people do the same stuff with TV shows, celebrity trivia, baking, anime, etc. if they are excited about it.

    I do understand how it would be annoying. A bunch of my friends and (until recently) coworkers tend to get super excited over tiny details in World of Warcraft and I get sick of hearing about it all the time, but I still think it is wonderful that people get passionate and excited and form communities around these sorts of hobbies!

    Overall it sounds like you are getting upset over the idea of people enjoying something you aren’t interested in. That’s not really something I can get behind.

  9. Peter says:

    I’m so glad that you said this! I’ve been working in the “industry” for a few years now and I hate the culture that surrounds it. On the weekends I’d rather go on a trip, veg out in front of the TV, go see a double feature, wander through an art museum, anything but spend my time thinking about programming! For a while I thought that meant that I hated programming but it’s good to see there are other people out there.

  10. Nick says:

    I agree, the hyper-enthusiasm of hacker culture gets a little much at times. But the opposite extreme is not too attractive either, working with people who are totally lacking in enthusiasm for what they do. I think if you’re in a profession where there are people who love what they do, then there are going to be some folks who take it to the extreme. Maybe you’re right that, in software development, there are a few more who get obnoxious about it. I, for one, value those of my co-workers who have lives outside of software.

  11. Bob says:

    Then I’m guessing (tongue firmly in cheek) that this, http://programming-motherfucker.com/ , would not the manifesto you would endorse. Enjoy!

  12. Aaron says:

    Some good comments over at Hacker News.

    “Looking at the rest of the blog makes me wonder, why does he think that it’s cool to be passionate about cakes or alcoholic drinks but not cool to be passionate about technology?”

    “But I’m baffled by his confusion that people enjoy doing this outside their job. Granted, the passion to create and the enjoyment derived from it isn’t shared by everyone, but it’s not THAT uncommon – no one bats an eye at artists practicing their craft “in their spare time”, or people who enjoy tinkering or building random stuff around the house – again, “in their spare time”. It’s a craft, and many people who pick up a craft because they enjoy doing it… enjoy doing it.”

  13. KE says:

    “I don’t see accountants flaunt how good they are at accounting, or using a bunch of technical jargon to make others feel dumb.”

    Actually, I think you’re describing every technical, intellectual and scientific profession here. This is how people flaunt what they know, or think they know, in order to try to overcome their insecurities.

  14. the psychological take says:

    It seems to me that you are an extrovert, and not an introvert. Those other people are introverts.
    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2003/03/caring-for-your-introvert/2696/

    You would build more value if you found ways to engage these people, respect them, offer something to them and get something back, instead of being trite online and talking down their culture because you do not spend any time trying to understand it.

  15. wjg says:

    My degrees were in history and civil engineering. No such culture exists in either. Work is left at the door and interest are many and varied beyond.

  16. Z says:

    With all due respect, I think its strongly apparent that, to quote the late ac1db1tch3s “u mad cuz u bad”

  17. Adam says:

    You’ll find passionate people in all walks of life. Accountants that love their jobs will go to trade shows / conferences to increase their knowledge. Programmers often go to hackathons to do the same.

    Programming also has the uncanny ability to burn people out quicker than other industries. These events and the camaraderie are the way a lot of developers help with this burnout.

    The last thing I would say is that Software Engineers are fundamentally different that Software Developers.

  18. Briznad says:

    I have to agree with Jeff, have you ever hung out with accountants? Financial services people hang out with financial services people. Yes, including on the weekends. They make financial services jokes and find obscure financial services stuff amusing. I was exposed to this through an ex-girlfriend. I didn’t always get it, but I wasn’t an accountant. I am, however, a computer engineer, and will willingly go to a one-day programming conference on the weekends. That’s cause I find it interesting. I don’t love every aspect of my job (that’s why it’s called a job), but I do find programming creatively stimulating.

    It sounds like you might want to spend more time thinking about what it is you want to be doing, as it doesn’t sound like programming is it.

  19. Walter says:

    I am also a software engineer. I understand where you are coming from. I have some friends, who are software engineers that do the same thing to me and make me feel like I am the idiot and get embarrassed. Yes there is this kind of “programming ego” that is in the culture and I had a rough time also. But then I realized something, it happens to them also. I am also guilty of making fun of people.

    We all do not understand everything. There are times when I know something when they do not know. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes and learn something new. Yes this can be frustrating and “infuriating”. But if you take the time to ask, “why is this better?” and “how did you do that” most people will be willing to explain themselves. They might make fun of you at first. But it’s important to put emotions aside. Eventually if you work with these people long enough, it is an enjoyable experience and something useful is built in the process. Despite the yelling, complainging and long nights.

    There are pros and cons in “software engineering”. The important thing is to enjoy what you do and to do a BETTER job doing it. One thing I enjoy is that there is always something to learn.

  20. Kevin says:

    It isn’t specific to programming. My office is full of draftsmen, CAD designers, and machinists. At my office the designers/draftsmen often come in on the weekends and use the CAD software to design decks for their house or cars or motorcycles. They like designing things in CAD, it’s not only their job but something they want to do.

    Same for people whose day job is being a graphic designer. You don’t think a lot of those people are making art on the side?

    Or the machinists at my company who are making headers for their car engines in their spare time. Man, you spend 40 hours a week working with mills and lathes, why would you want to spend the weekend making more things out of metal?

    Same for my mechanic, after spending all week fixing Toyotas and Hondas, he spends his time building a big truck for himself. Isn’t he just sick of it by now? And don’t even get me started on “car culture”, what a cult. Who cares about the 427 or if your Chevy is faster than his Ford, how obnoxious.

    And the contractor that rebuilt my house keeps telling me about the 3rd time he re-did his kitchen. Don’t you have enough of that? Why is he so anal about granite choices and what wood goes into the cabinets?

    I think it comes down to be a craftsman and a maker. If you like making things and building things, it can be a hobby. My dad builds guitars becuase he likes building things. He isn’t really even that good at playing guitar. I get the same enjoyment out of making software (which is my hobby, not my job) as a lot of people get out of restoring cars or making model airplanes.

  21. Ed says:

    So… let me get this straight. You’re a 9-5 type guy who isn’t passionate about the work he does, and you are annoyed by people who take great pleasure in what they do? You do realize that many if not most of the extremely successful people on this world are passionate/borderline obsessive in regards to their career, right? What would the world be like now if Einstein called it a day at 5 and didn’t think about physics until the next day when he rolled into work again? Well let me apologize now for all the programmers like myself who are driven and enjoy what they do.

  22. Mo Kakwan says:

    It makes me sad reading this post. It’s seems like you don’t know what it’s like to have a job that you’re passionate about because you make fun of the folks that are passionate. From what I’ve read I’d suggest you find what you truly enjoy and go do that.

  23. I think you are conflating a number of different issues here:
    1. The “programming all day, every day” part. Yes, hackers have a reputation for being easily consumed by their work, but that’s not just a hacker thing. I have friends who are civil and mechanical engineers who spend nights and weekends working on projects. In fact, they work on their stuff more than I, a CS major, regularly do. Is it beyond the norms of social acceptance? Sure. But normal is not equal to good and I would suggest that their reasons for doing it are that they are genuinely passionate about it and enjoy doing it. It’s fine to not spend weekends and night absorbed by your work, but that doesn’t mean that the people who do it are doing it simply to show off. Maybe you should ask yourself : is there anything you are passionate about that you would go above and beyond the call of duty to do? What would other people think if they knew about your passion for it?
    2. There’s a difference between being absorbed and totally surrounded by what you do and being obnoxious about it. I’m an electrical engineering major too and we have our share of obscure EE in-jokes and references that we throw around. Are we trying to be obnoxious or piss non-EE people off? No, that’s just part of our normal interaction with each other. If that bothers you, I’m sorry to hear that, but you shouldn’t assume it’s because people were trying to piss you off (it is of course possible that in your case they were being rude and obnoxious on purpose, but that is not a basis for a generalization either).
    3. You talk about the condescending nature of programming culture. I’m not saying that there isn’t some truth to what you’re saying, but I do think you’re over-generalizing. A lot of groups want to change the world in a meaningful way, even though objectively their actions are too small to do anything significant. I don’t think it’s fair for you to just call out one event for that. I’m sure you could find lots of events in lots of fields which have purported goals of changing the world but are far too small in the same way as SuperHappyDevHouse. I haven’t been around accountants to say how they would behave (have you?) but I really don’t think that programmers pull out jargon for the sake of just making people feel stupid. Sure, some people are jerks, but it’s also true that if you’re surrounded by a certain lingo all day it’s hard to break out from it. And let’s not forget that when you are in deeply technical field having a specialized dialect and vocab does make work and communication easier and it can be difficult to make the transition to non-technical speak.

    In summary, I can understand and sympathize with your complaints and I agree that some people are jerks. However, the reasons behind a lot of the behavior you describe are deeper than programmers with oversized egos wanting to put you down.

  24. Scott says:

    The passion that drives your asshats into egotistical elitism is probably the same passion that drives the insane innovation we’re seeing in software development these days. When kids live and breathe programming, they become infinitely better at it than they would if they were exposed to it simply at school and, later, work.

    The fact that that has to translate into asshattism sometimes is a shame, of course, but without it, we wouldn’t have a digital revolution every year, like we’re seeing. By comparison with the speed that software is progessing, we are making a pittance of progress in math. Maybe if the super-energetic Math majors made more fun of the dumb, lazy Math majors…

  25. 名無しさん says:

    So basically, you can’t relate to people who find enjoyment and fulfilment in programming outside of their work duties, for pleasure or such and who are passionate beyond whatever their job description requires.

    Clearly you are “working to live” as opposed to “living to work”. I’m not against your preference towards how you want to live your life, but I think you need to accept that there will be a lot of people in most industries where the knowledge requisites are higher who are far more passionate and want to immerse themselves and invite others to join them, outside of whatever work obligations they have. You’re not obliged to join them.

  26. Ele Munjeli says:

    I came into programming after studying art for many years and I find the culture remarkably similar. Many programmers are creative and passionate about their work in the same way a painter or sculptor would be, and the arts are likewise full of asshats who paint, sculpt, dance, play music, whatever.. for more than forty hours a week. Artists also have strong opinions on their work and a sense of mission about it. While there is definitely a place for people who just want to engineer software, it’s worth it to realize that software is likely one of the most influential creative mediums of the day. The milieu reflects that. I found this article sad in the sense that you obviously are in such a dynamic field but feel no sense of vocation or mission. Maybe you should become a poet instead.

  27. Matt Todd says:

    It just seems like you’re associating passion with unpleasantness. Does it make you uncomfortable to be around people that enjoy what they are doing passionately?

    In my experience, I encounter very little douchebaggery in my community interactions. I don’t want to be a dick, but it may have to do with your own view of your work (just a job, as opposed to a passion) that gets you around more douchebags.

    There are lots of alphas out there that do condescend and patronize, but that’s a characteristic (or character flaw) of that person, and not everyone. It’s just far more obvious and annoying when you’re not that type of person.

    Why don’t you find something that you’re actually interested in doing for work?

  28. Vin says:

    It just sounds like you aren’t truly passionate about software engineering to be engulfed by it, all the time. Some people get so into it that they love talking about it after work, on the weekends, and at events.

    Ever talk to a sports nut about their fantasy football draft? They become obsessed with it. Reading nonstop blogs, forums, magazines, and discussing with their friends. All while the games are not even on.

    And of course the ego-building aspect comes into play and people like to flaunt what they know, or what they think they know.

  29. Manas Karekar says:

    (Almost) all the things you mention you hate about the ‘cult’ of Computer Science, I love. Its a beautiful thing, and like you said, not many professions have the same passion. Bottom line, the culture is a part of CS and if you don’t like it, too bad.

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