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Into my personal sociotechnical gap

Jul 14, 2012 • Karen

In October 2009, I was let go from a startup I was doing awesome work for because I wasn't a coder. Even I thought they couldn't justify keeping me on post-October--cash was running out. I saw myself as expendable. I believed--and it was certainly true in that case--that I needed to become a programmer in order to justify my existence.

(Blake, possibly benefiting from hindsight and/or an outside perspective, disagrees. Apparently the startup was really sad and lacking in energy without me. But anyway.)

I had a serious inferiority complex--that because I couldn't code, no one would ever hire me. That I'd never be able to find full-time work that would pay the bills doing something I loved. That I'd forever be yet another liberal arts major crushed by student loan debt living with her parents (or a cardboard box under an overpass, which honestly having done the former I might prefer if it ever came down to that again). Unemployment doesn't suit me; while I am good at finding interesting side projects and hobbies to fill my time, the panic attacks about money aren't worth it.

My friends from Scripps (which still has no CS department) were almost all working menial jobs or in grad school or doing internships that paid peanuts. All but one of my friends from Harvey Mudd across the road--especially the computer science majors--had high-paying jobs in interesting-sounding places. It wasn't hard to draw conclusions.

So I set myself a goal of becoming a full-time, paid web dev somewhere I liked.

A bit less than three years later, I've achieved that goal. (My official title is "Product Software Engineer.")

I can't help but feel, "What now?"

Has coding lost a bit of its luster, now that I get paid to do it every day? Maybe a little bit. Though, I now stand in a position of enormous privilege: the comfortably-student-loan-repaying salary, career security (as long as the bubble lasts, at least), tribal fit, and other perks I have now are all things I couldn't find as a Media Studies major two years out of school, and probably would still have a hard time finding without my technical skills. I can't forget that. Can't let myself forget. But, if I'm honest with myself... It is true that I've always loved tech. I love what I can build with code. I like being "in the zone" programming. I could tweak CSS all day. But honestly, I'm not head-over-heels for code in and of itself the way I know some people are. Maybe that's okay.

Before, it was unthinkable that I would try to change careers again. I thought of grad school as my last shot at being able to have a successful adult life--if this didn't work out, if I still couldn't get a job I liked afterward, I was just completely screwed professionally and personally. While I enjoy what I'm doing and definitely want to do this for the next several years, don't get me wrong... it's *thinkable* now that I might transition to something else later on in my life. Maybe design more of the time, maybe writing, maybe some sort of product management...

So I wonder, what's my next goal?

Where do I want my career to go from here?

And what should I focus my limited time and energy outside of work on?

There are so many projects and priorities competing for attention. Dieting? Rock climbing? Weights training? OpenHatch? My webcomic? Cooking regularly? Biking more? Art classes? Maintaining a nice, clean apartment? Various coding side projects I've started or thought about starting? Networking / trying to make a name for myself? Reading more books? Blues dancing? Pickup soccer? Traveling? Dating? Doing fun things with friends? Thus far, I've done some of all of these, but none of them well. I need to focus, but choosing is hard.

Well, I'll give it some time. It's true I am only a month or so into my new job, new apartment, and new life. I probably *should* be experimenting. And given how unsettled things have been, maybe I can afford to cut myself some slack.

It's just that slight tickling unease in the back of my head, wondering what I should be working on next. I've never been much for sitting around in the present.