After 15 years as a software engineer I’m excited to transition back to office administration. My programming journey started with learning computer code from books in 2007, contributing as technical lead and running teams in both New York and London, all the way up to the business development and technical prototyping to launch my own company over the last 5 months.
My company was unable to acquire investment due to an ambitiously large product definition and a mismatch between our presentation and industry norms. Our fundraising process involved contacting close to 20 venture capital firms in the United Kingdom and Europe with business operations and technical documentation. I was often presented with an animated upload form that was provided by (and hosted by) the same third party vendor across several different venture capital firm websites. This gave me the impression that a thematic experience was more important than the unit economics of our company. We have a business plan and forecast for returning investment by the end of 2025 that was not requested or evaluated during this process.
Throughout my time as a developer, I have had a few side projects that spanned several years. The first of this category was a source control system named cams. The next notable project was the vertebrae language which preceded the work I did for Valsys earlier this year. The salacin engine created for the startup I was building is now in that same category. The range of applications includes embedded, server, desktop, and mobile systems which means there is a lot I can do with it over time.
Over the years administrative work became a larger part of my day to day tasks. As team lead or company founder my job grew to be somewhat similar to my early career as an office admin in New York City. From 2004 to 2008 I worked through a placement agency for companies such as Estee Lauder, Warner Music Group, and CIBC among others. There was something satisfying about being part of an operation that took pride in the efficiency of every day tasks.
I pursued software engineering as a more exciting and lucrative avenue. It has been both of those things, but it has become hard to feel proud of what the industry has focused on as it has grown.
The popular explanation for the downsizing that has become common in todays software industry is based on comsumer decline and a sentiment that the social impact of technology on society is unhealthy at times. I think from an external perspective these two narratives make sense but they are missing an internal view of the situation.
There was an old joke that you could tell the health of the technology industry from the price of a used ping pong table in San Francisco. The idea was that as startups went belly-up they would sell their furniture second hand. The ping pong table was an item that was part of the startup culture more than any other type of company and so it became a symbol of their liquidation.
I’ve grown to resent the association of play-time during work-time being a central theme in a creative office. I have known several musicians and artists who loved what they did until it became their profession. No matter how hard we try, everything we do that affects other people will have demands on our life that we would rather not live up to. Avoiding this responsibility is usually derived from a sense that our feelings are above what we contribute to the world around us.
Third-party free software offers an easy development process and lets software engineers avoid critical thinking but can take away necessary velocity as a project grows. I think this is a deeper answer to what has been lost in the software industry. The responsability of effort needs to be reevaluated if the industry is going to survive.
As I was setting up my new life back in America I was having two conversations online at the same time. The first was with a software engineer who was advocating for witholding the details of his work from anyone unable to understand computer code. The other was my AirBnB host offering to pick me up from the airport. I’m starting to see the contrast more and more between the kindness of providing a service and the self-importance that is all too common in software teams today.
It will be good to be back in the Midwest, and I am looking forward to joining an office that has a tangible product or service again.