Hello, world!

When a programmer picks up a new language it is customary to write the timeless Hello World application to ease your way into a daunting codebase with an overly-simplistic view of its syntax.  I’ve personally done this at least 20 times throughout the last 13 years of my life starting in college, and up to about two years ago as I was diving into ruby.  It’s an interesting concept to me, really.  You take an incredibly advanced and complex programming language, and dumb it down to the absolute bare essentials in order to embark on the journey of learning a new system.  Today, I begin a journey in which I look at the concept of “Hello World” a little bit differently.

I started my life as a programmer at a fairly late age in comparison to most others.  Though, I had always been fascinated by computers, I didn’t really get into things until my second year in college after taking an introductory computer science class.  Writing that first Hello World program in 8-bit binary took about 8 hours to complete with a lab partner, and spanned about 3 pages of 8.5″ x 11″ printer paper.  I was so undeniably fascinated by what we had accomplished that I ended up changing my major the very next day.  After 4 more years of college I decided to call it quits with s0-called higher education, and continued learning to code on my own.  As a man who was raised by a fairly “normal” family and a fairly “normal” society, without even thinking twice about it I started to look for jobs.  After about a month of searching I was hired by a company who managed data for insurance agents.  This was it!  This is where my real life actually begins!  Little did I know it was really the beginning of the end of my life as a programmer.

This particular job was an incredibly bad one.  A super conservative environment where all of the developers (code monkeys to the fullest) were shoved in a fluorescent-lit room with no windows to hack away at bugs directly in production environments.  It only took about a year and a half for it to fully suck my soul away, at which time I ultimately quit.  Over the next couple years I began working as a chef, and as a bartender to make my living and I was fairly happy with that lifestyle.  After two years of slinging craft beer, preparing braised short ribs, and drinking with friends until the wee hours of the night my girlfriend at the time gave me the news that we were having a child together.

This news instantly put me into dad-mode, and I knew that it was time to go back to the “real world” to get a job with a good salary and benefits.  This time, however, I lucked out in a huge way (or so I thought).  I ended up with one of the most amazing companies a person could ask to work for, and they offered the ideal package.  A great salary, great benefits, trips to Vegas and New York City, a great group of people, a host of fantastic client names, beer and whisky in the office, and the occasional happy hour event outside of work.  They utilized modern web frameworks, version control systems, cloud-based service providers, automation tools, and I learned more in the next three years than I could have learned in a lifetime with most other companies.  They treated me incredibly well as an employee, and as an actual human being.

Today, however, I sit here writing this post as a 32-year-old man with a head of gray hair, a mind that cannot stop thinking a million miles a minute about a million different things, and eyes that have only been open to the digital world.  I am burnt out on writing code.  I am burnt out on configuration.  I am burnt out on automating monotonous tasks.  I am burnt out on completing tickets.  I am burnt out on completing tickets that undo what those other tickets accomplished.  I am burnt out on debugging third-party advertising code.  I am burnt out on having 16 terminal tabs open.  I am burnt out on contributing to the “connected” culture.  I am burnt out on having a “40 hour” work week that actually occupies the majority of my mental time.  I am burnt out on sitting at a desk.  This state of being burnt out has invaded so much of my out-of-work life that I have decided to take my Life back.

Actually, I lied.  Today, I stand here with 2 days left at my current job, and a new fire inside of me that I can’t hold back.  Next week I embark on an adventure that consists of working on a local farm, and building a tiny house on wheels.  An adventure that puts my bony, cramped fingers back into the earth where they belong.  An adventure that allows me to build, engineer, and grow tangible creations that I can be proud of.  An adventure that will release me from what I consider to be the life-long imprisonment of a mortgage or rent payment.  A journey that allows more time for me to be an active participant in raising my children into good men.  A journey with a larger purpose.  A journey that will feed me in ways money cannot. A journey that will breed true Life.

Today, I write these words without fear of errors or exceptions…

Hello, World!

62 thoughts on “Hello, world!

  1. How did you get back to the software industry so easily after a long industry break working as a bartender, and as little relevant working experience as working on some not-so-great company? You seem to have landed on a very modern company – was it a start-up? A big company? Any more details on this?

    • I would like to read your response to this question. I think there are many software engineers out there who would like to take a break from office and/or coding jobs to work *simply* – be it bartending, woodworking, volunteering – using their hands and interacting with a diverse community of humans.

      As someone who has interviewed many candidates for coding positions, I always give attention to those who have ventured out of the field and ask for insight into those experiences.

      • I left and came back. The main thing that helped me was, I was able to account for the gap. Many interviewers wanted to know what happened — 18 months is a while. Jail? Merchant marines? French foreign legion? Turkish prison camp? Nah, just gone walkabout. Fortunately I kept a travel blog, and even more fortunately, some interviewers seemed to enjoy reading it.

    • Honestly, I can’t chalk it up to much more than timing, luck, and the sole fact that there are a large amount of programming opportunities in NC where I live. I don’t know if it’s as easy everywhere else, but I’ve never struggled finding work as a programmer around here.

  2. I identify a lot to what I do. I don’t know how you got there, but right now, for me, being a “dev” is what I identify as. I’m 28, three kids, and a little over 5 years ago my wife told me we were having a kid together. That’s when I started looking for my first serious software development job.

    Your post rang close to home. I don’t feel burnt out, but I always wonder; is there a limit? Will I consume myself? What you’re planning on doing, I have similar dreams. I’m putting them off for now. Not practical with kids as young as mine, the planets are not aligned yet.

    I’m glad you rekindled your inner fire; passion is a treasure.

    • Oliver, thank you so much for that response! I can tell you might be in a similar boat to when I was just a couple years younger. I think a lot of what got me here has been luck, and the world making things happen to put me here. I know it’s not for everyone, but I will stand by the fact that if you want to do something, then just find a way to do it. If it’s something you feel is your truth, then put that intention out there and I bet you’ll be surprised at how the world opens up for you.

  3. Hey!

    I went through something a *lot* like this, at about the same age. An anthropology major who “was good with computers”, I stumbled into software development during the boom. A few amazing consulting gigs and one “career track” job later, I paid off my debts and quit programming “for good.”

    I hit the road with my dog, parked long enough to grow my own food on my own land for a while. And, that could have been the end of it. But, I’m an inventor, and it turns out one of my mediums is the keyboard and screen. So, eventually I invented some solutions to imagined problems, in software. And eventually I figured, why not pay the bills again that way — on my terms! With no debt, and an in-demand skill-set, it becomes possible to set boundaries like never before.

    I may end up leaving the workforce again sometime in the next decade, maybe to go sailing for a while, maybe to go back to farming.

    Any way, my point here is, I’m glad to see someone (you!) taking their waking hours into their own hands. Good on you! Your story shares so similarities with my own — if I could go back and give advice to myself at that time it might be, “stay curious, my friend!”

    Bon courage!

    • David, that’s exactly what I need to hear! Your only advice is the exact advice everyone should receive about their life journey. Without curiosity, I don’t think I’d be here.

  4. Good riddance!

    I can see myself slowly getting to that same point of being burnt out. And I’m only 25! The thing is: I’m hungry. I like to fiddle with computers and do all sorts of programming. For the first time I realised that I was happy and I studied and graduated as a CS student. Things were good.

    Now, in business, since these things (computer stuff) is what I’m good at people tend to throw any computer related task at me, basically reducing my intellect to that of a monkey. Have a legacy Java system in production that needs the be debugged and fixed, just hire any CS graduate and toss him a link to the SVN repo. What, you expected some documentation?
    Need to come up with a brand new API that integrates with a dozen other proprietary APIs from some other vendor? Stick a few senior developers together and see what magic comes out the other end. These guys will figure it out, you know.

    And so after months and years of struggling and fighting with this monkey business your soul is getting more and more devoured. You are no longer in control of your creative potential because you are – in effect – a mediator between the world of business and the world of computers, commanded what to do and think. Of course, no one wants to be deprived of that potential.

    I’m curious what I’ll do next. I got two weeks left of doing monkey business and then I’m outta here.

    • Herman, I really like the way you put that. I’m not sure what you’re on your way to do, but whatever it is I wish you nothing but the best

  5. Hey, I just had my last day are work yesterday, I truly understand your reasons for doing that. With the kids exception I share the same burns as you do. I truly admi admire engineers, who have found the way to become architects of their own life again after the burnout. Full speed ahead and good luck.

  6. After a few weeks (or perhaps months) of some good healthy work, you’ll start to have ideas about programming projects again. It’s much better for you to be a real part of your family’s life each day. However, now that you’ve spent so much time learning to program – your not going to be able to forget all the ways that you can save time and benefit from developing.

    – Kickstarter Project for Eco______
    – Blogging About it
    – Mobile App for ____
    – etc…

  7. One word of advice from a programmer who is in the middle of his tiny house on wheels build:

    Buy a new trailer. Don’t try to save money or time by buying used unless you are a welder or have access to the technical skills needed to fix up the trailer and have a ton of time on your hands.

    • Ryan, thanks so much for that advice, and honestly I’d love to get in touch with you and hear more about what you’re doing. I plan on not skimping on the trailer, but I do have some welders that I know might be interested in helping me out.

  8. Hello, err… world!

    I’m a 22-years-old dude, and I’m about to start working as a programmer. I’ve been passionate about computers since I was very young, but for the last two or three years that passion I once had has been fading. I used to think that I would make good things with computers, as I knew they could become powerful tools that’d enable humanity to make the world better. But humanity didn’t choose that path. Now we have big tech companies controlling our life, and people are happy with it! Marketing sold us the technology, and now we can’t live without it. And everything is getting worse, at a breakneck speed.

    Damn it! I don’t want to work for a world like this. I don’t want my kids, when I have them, to be born connected to the Internet. We can’t stop this shit, and it’s frustrating to see that my knowledge can only serve `evil` ends if I want to make a living from it.

    I wish you a great journey, it really sounds like something I’d love to do myself.

  9. Damn it feels good to be a gangster…

    I can’t help but see the end of Office Space here in reading what you’ve written. Can’t agree more. Enjoy the ride.

  10. I’m about to start both a career in software development and construction of a tiny (but not mobile) house this year. I’m hoping this will allow me to avoid the mortgage game all together and let me and my SO get off to a good start. I currently work remotely as a (mostly backend) web dev and I plan on maintaining that lifestyle, so placing myself in a position where I can survive the lean times when they come is very important to me. I’m very interested in following your progress on the build and I plan on documenting my own once it gets under way this spring.

    Good luck from one House Hacker to another.

  11. Wishing you only the best. You are doing something I know deep down my soul is craving, but I don’t have the courage to take that leap.

  12. You sound like a bit of a drifter. Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with that but I wonder how long you’ll last in your new career as a farmer.

  13. Sorry life as a programmer was not fulfilling for you. I’ve heard that from other people and even know a programmer who went from Microsoft to a pig farm. Good luck on your new journey…maybe watch Holiday Inn before you start :)

  14. Good luck mate,

    I know a lot of people who aren’t following their heart and it feels great to see you following it. I followed my heart and it led me away from Engineering and into IT, where I am filled with zen. Sure, there are support tickets, meetings, and managers, but deep down, it all makes sense to me. Just, as it will make sense to you when you are farming.

    In the end, you have to do what feels right and what really brings you happiness because if you don’t then you become a Wally.

  15. As long as you have high speed internet in that house on wheels it’s fine!
    Seriously, very nice write-up and congratulations for your courage!

    ps: i wanted to set an email with alias so I can keep track who uses my mail address but it seems WordPress is retarded when it comes to mail validation, you can’t use an email like tom+1213@email.com :(

  16. Sorry to hear your career as a programmer has not been as fulfilling as hoped.

    Personally, I’ve been coding for 8 years, and have never felt bored or burnt out. To me regardless of what constraints business owners give me I still find joy in the work I create. Ideally we would all be free to make whatever we want, but that isn’t the point. We are like building contractors. We use our expertise to create things for our employer or clients that will withstand the test of time. If you feel bad about work that you’ve done or something you should learn from it and do not repeat. If you don’t have a sense of pride and accomplishment about what you wrote, then perhaps you lack the passion. This goes with any career, it’s not for everyone.

    Good luck in your farming endeavours, hope you find the passion in that!

    And to others who feel they are code “monkeys”, and don’t enjoy what they are doing, remember the first person who can make a difference is you. Talk to your manager about what you like and don’t like weekly. If you aren’t already doing scrum suggest they do. Suggest what to improve the processes and reduce the need to “babysit” the code. Nobody wants to be stuck doing just maintenance, but if you are, then it was duse to a failure to plan ahead. If your company won’t adapt, then they don’t deserve your talent. Sometimes working prototypes can go a long way when trying to convince people about software as well.

  17. Reposting this as I’m not sure it got through thanks to all my addons…

    Hi, I did a similar thing aged 40. Quit a global software company after selling my house and moved to the middle of the French countryside where I learned to farm.

    However, the money eventually ran out and I ended up commuting 1000km every weekend to a well-paid job in Germany. I eventually gave up on this too and am now setting up my own business, as I’m better at IT than farming.

    I’ve still got a few farm animals and heirloom seeds and keep a local variety of maize going, but not having money can suck too. Just make sure you’re able to survive subsistence living!

    Best of luck, it’ll be worth it even if you do eventually go back to some form of IT.

    FWIW, if you get the chance, look into agroforestry/forest gardening for a less damaging agricultural system that requires almost no inputs and helps build soil (along with permaculture etc) but it requires a certain amount of time to adequate reach production levels, so you can use some of the land for annuals in the meantime. Also, micro-ley farming seems a useful technique for annuals.

  18. No wonder people get burnt. Programming is hard. It’s emotionally exhausting. It’s always difficult. No matter how small the problem is – it’s difficult to solve it until you actually find a solution to it. And then suddenly it looks so damn easy. “Why the heck I couldn’t figure out that thing sooner?” – you ask yourself. And no matter how big the problem is, only a very few people would actually appreciate your work, usually nobody does. However you can always find people eager to criticize. A good software engineer probably spends every year writing as much lines of code as text in “War and Peace”. And what he gets in return? Criticism, deadlines, carpal tunnel syndrome, back and neck problems, sleep deprivation, myopia, obesity, depression. I get the “Women in tech thing”, maybe it’s time in addition to that to start a movement “Human in tech”, aimed to help software engineers to be treated as human beings?

  19. Thank you for a great post! I can totally relate to this. I feel burnt out on coding and plan to just leave it all behind and break free.

  20. Very inspiring. Had a similar burn out in the software industry. Life is too short to be unhappy. Best of luck!

  21. Rob, right now I’m feeling the same way and I see how today the jobs burn out the people, in Mexico is worse than America because in some national companies the developers don’t get great salary and great benefits.

    Luck in your new adventure.

    Best!.

  22. Hi. I just want to chime in to say that I am an marketing manager working from my computer and living in a tiny house on wheels. It’s been a fun ride, living how and where I want to, but also with a job that challenges and invigorates me. The stress of the job is out of place and more trivial when you’re looking at the windows into serene nature. For me it’s made it easier to fully shut down when 5pm hits. You’re going to love your adventure. Best of luck.

  23. Thanks for the article. I wish you all the best in your new endeavor.

    I can relate somewhat to your experience. In high school I spent days at a time hiking in mountains, but now most of my time gets spent looking at screens and developing software. Luckily I own my own business and am slowly getting myself out of the details.

    It seems a shame that developers end up burning out and leaving an industry brimming with excitement and creativity. Do you have any ideas on how this could be changed? Is there a way to prevent this kind of burnout, or do you think its the inevitable end to lots of talented people?

    • Nico, it’s really tough to say because everyone is different. Everyone has their own threshold for burning out, or getting fed up with the way things are, and some people never burn out at all. Not to mention it would also depend on your place in the industry itself. For me personally, the culture that I was exposed to was incredibly fast paced and we were constantly jumping around from project to project. My last position was also with a company that held long-lasting relationships with very big, and also needy clients. I might not have burnt out so fast if that weren’t the case. However, I now feel that for me the burnout would have been inevitable regardless. Coding is a constant battle within the mind for me, and eventually my mind started controlling my life too much. We all need some space to feel and dream

  24. Awesome dude! : )
    I totally understand: I’m 31 years old, and with more grey hairs than I’d like to admit!

    But here is my story: last year I quit working in London, and I travelled across Southeast Asia. I fell in love, I volunteered in Nepal, learned to scuba dive, did skydiving in Australia, discovered Yoga, and bla bla bla… One of the best year of my life!

    But you know what: now I’m back, no more burnout, and I’m starting to work again as a freelance web-developer, but this time part-time.
    And I’m actually enjoying it a lot! : )

    Who knows, maybe you’ll find the same.
    But it doesn’t matter, you are already on an great path! : )

    All the best

  25. Congrats! Best of luck to you. I made the exact same decision under exactly the same circumstances last summer. I’m a little bit further along and sharing what I’ve learned here: http://modernbedou.in. Building stuff is hard! (But we already knew that)

    Hope it’s useful to ya!

  26. You made it to Hacker News. Hope your serves holds up! And good luck with your new life. Resonated well with me, but I have decided to make my own job rather than quitting entirely.

  27. While this was a great read I find it rather naive since you did not share your long term plans FOR your family, the reason why you went back to coding after the big gap.

  28. I am going through the same process myself, after 20 years coding, debugging and testing stuff, I look out the window and feel that it would be nicer to be in the open and building stuff without the 40h routine and ‘living on week-ends and vacations’. Haven’t though made my plunge dive yet 😛

    Loved the way you mentioned “Life” in capitals in your article! I believe one goes from ‘life’ to ‘Life’ 😛

  29. This post rings true in so many ways, yet I still sit here writing code, configuring, deploying, patching and closing tickets.
    One day I tell myself, one day …

    I wish you all the best going forward and judging from the other post you published recently things are looking a lot better already.
    Here’s to getting your Life back. Enjoy it!

  30. Having been only two years and a couple of months in the programming industry, I feel very much like you did and have started to put together an exit strategy involving working with motorcycles and living more off the grid. But my question is, how much did you have to push yourself to actually go through with it, if you had to push yourself at all?

    • Erik, in all honesty, it took every bit of me to go through with this. I spent a long time feeling that it was the “right thing to do” to sacrifice myself for my family. After experiencing a good amount of loss, I was forced to step back and figure a lot of things out. The interesting thing, however, is that once I decided I wanted to follow my heart and live a more free life, the world just kind of opened up and made a lot of this possible for me. All it really took was putting my intentions out there, and having the stones to take the jump. The rest just kind of worked itself out as I went.

  31. Rob, like you I live on a farm, telecommuting to people in Silicon Valley and servers all over the world.
    I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met in conferences who say they wish they did what we did.
    I’ve been lucky because my wife has family in this remote area of Montana.

    There are times when I miss having a choice of 20 meetups any given night, as there is in San Francisco or New York.

    But it’s an indescribable joy to see little sprouts coming up from seeds we planted ourselves or see how quickly newborn ducks and chickens grow.
    With life there is also death and ever-looming threats from various diseases, raccoons, deer, bears, lions, hawks, eagles, and bad weather.
    That’s actually part of the thrill — experiencing all the aspects of life beyond concrete.

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