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The Moderately Enthusiastic Programmer 533

An anonymous reader writes: "Developer Avdi Grimm posts about the trend throughout the software industry of companies demanding that job applicants be 'passionate' about programming when hiring into ordinary development jobs. Grimm says, 'I love code. I dream of code. I enjoy code. I find writing high quality code deeply satisfying. I feel the same way about helping others write code they can feel proud of. But do I feel 'strong and barely controllable emotion' about code? Honestly? No. ... I think some of the people writing these job ads are well-meaning. Maybe most of them. I think when they write "passionate" they mean "motivated." No slackers. No one who is a drag on the team. But sometimes I worry that it's code for we want to exploit your lack of boundaries. Maybe it's fanciful on my part, but there's a faintly Orwellian whiff to the language of these job ads: excuse me comrade, I couldn't help but notice that man over there is not chanting the team slogan with sincere revolutionary conviction.' Is it realistic for employers to expect us to be passionate about software we're hired to build? If they're looking for the head of a major product, then maybe it's warranted — but for everybody, even the grunts?"
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The Moderately Enthusiastic Programmer

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  • Dreaming of code? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JLennox ( 942693 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @02:55PM (#46122127)

    I don't get this psudo-nerd bragging right. I've worked jobs I hated and had dreams about them, too.

  • What about me? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by xevioso ( 598654 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @02:57PM (#46122145)

    I'm 40. I love what I do, I love building websites and I love doing front-end development. Do I live and breathe it? No. I go to work, work on great sites, and then go home for the day and enjoy my evening doing non-coding things.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 31, 2014 @02:58PM (#46122157)

    If you don't eat sleep and breathe their corporate paradigm at all times you're not the person they're looking for. They don't want you to forget that they own you, even when you're not physically at the office: your personal work belongs to them, your future employment opportunities (non-compete) belong to them, your personal activities (social media et al.) belong to them... And they wonder why people get disgruntled.

  • by SirLurksAlot ( 1169039 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @03:00PM (#46122169)

    I feel this way about the current codebase I'm working on right now, but they only give me the nerf-type of weapons, so no one needs to worry.

  • I feel you. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rinikusu ( 28164 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @03:01PM (#46122183)

    I like software development. But when I go home, I do other things than write more code (write/record music, write/shoot/direct/edit short films, cook foods, breed fish, exercise/martial arts, spend time with my SO, etc). Apparently, to some developers, this means I don't take my job seriously and I shouldn't be in the industry because I'm not spending every moment living and breathing code. I don't even own a github. And frankly, if that's the expectation, I'd rather not work in that sort of environment.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 31, 2014 @03:02PM (#46122193)

    You know what makes workers happy and proud to work for your company and chant its slogans? Bonuses, good salaries, good benefits, reasonable metrics, pizza during long meetings and seminars, holiday parties; you know, all that shit that costs a few extra pennies that most corporations don't want to spend.

    More likely is that corporations you're working for are pissing on your head and telling you its raining.

    -- Ethanol-fueled

  • by cold fjord ( 826450 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @03:02PM (#46122199)

    People will do things for love that they won't for money, including endure abuse, or attempt the impossible.

  • by Dracolytch ( 714699 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @03:09PM (#46122241) Homepage

    So, when managing, I'm always looking for passionate developers. Here's why:

    Where I work, there are no grunts. There are no people who mindlessly grind out code. We're not building yet another website: We're solving hard problems, and we want everyone to contribute. To contribute with value, you need to not stagnate in one technology for half your career. You need to be well-read about software. And while we work very few weekends, sometimes there are longer days (like anywhere).

    When I mean I'm looking for a passionate developer, I'm looking for someone who cares about their craft, not just someone who shows up to close bug tickets and collect a paycheck.

  • by tempest69 ( 572798 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @03:09PM (#46122255) Journal
    Honestly, most managers would be clueless as how to deal with a passionate programmer.

    The meetings, conference calls, the coding conventions, the documentation, making hard choices that hurt the deeper beauty of the finished product. This is poison to the passionate programmer. Other people doing substandard things to her code. This isn't ok to do to someones passions. It would be like letting a person bring a pet to work, and the staff kicks it at a whim.

    They want people who pretend to be passionate. But really their looking for employees that want a paycheck, and a good portfolio when they leave.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 31, 2014 @03:13PM (#46122309)

    Managers and HR want only the best coders, they solve this by the following:
    Taking 10+ random and duplicate hour long interviews of which the person must pass all with flying colors
    Must be really good at puzzles, because programming is soo much about pulling novel tricks out your ass on the spot
    "He" must fit in with our culture and be cool and hip
    And lets not forget paying them:
    Be willing to be paid in free fruit and soda or pay us to work here because we are an awesome fashion subscription next big thing and women buy anything
    OR we are a post IPO social company with a 200 P/E ratio and we will give you a wheelbarrow full of our stock options
    OR he must have wet dreams about coding elaborate medical billing systems, because oh yeah that is the boring shit we actually do

  • by zenasprime ( 207132 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @03:13PM (#46122311) Homepage

    Yeah but are you willing to pay for that level of commitment?

  • Re:What about me? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lgw ( 121541 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @03:17PM (#46122357) Journal

    I'd agree that's normal. What's more, this "passionate" is without a doubt a code for "exploitable".

    Here's why: for various cultural reasons, self-taught geeks who code from the love of coding are a far higher percentage of American-born coders, than of e.g. India or China, simply because "software developer" has a far higher social status (and relative pay) in other countries, such that parents push their children to become developers there in the way that some American children are pushed to become doctors or lawyers. Therefore, if you actually filtered on "loves to code" instead of "good at coding", you'd be illegally discriminating against a protected class, in a way that's not-at-all subtle to anyone who spends time on hiring in the field.

    The goal of this "passionate" business isn't crypto-racism (it would be too obvious, if nothing else), but simply trying to find people who are not only good, but willing to work far longer than a professional work week at management insistence, and those qualities can be found in young and/or desperate people from anywhere.

  • by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) * on Friday January 31, 2014 @03:21PM (#46122405)

    I'm always looking for passionate developers. Here's why: Where I work, there are no grunts. There are no people who mindlessly grind out code. We're not building yet another website: We're solving hard problems...

    But that's what they all say, including the companies just building yet another website.

    Not to mention, there are 10 "yet another website" companies for every 1 "solving hard problems" company, and even programmers who start out passionate lose that passion if they end up at one of the former.

  • by swm ( 171547 ) * <> on Friday January 31, 2014 @03:22PM (#46122415) Homepage

    Most of the code that I see exhibits what I can only describe as a kind of aggressive indifference.
    It's not just that they don't care.
    They *totally* don't care.
    And they're going to make sure you know it.
    And suffer for it.

    After a while, dealing with this stuff is just depressing.
    Especially if you do care.

  • The message (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Spiked_Three ( 626260 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @03:25PM (#46122443)
    I saw a big change happen in the industry, while I was briefly at Microsoft.

    My manager, and Microsoft in general was more about delivering a positive message, as opposed to having a positive message to deliver.

    The problem with that is, if you encourage everyone to do it, they eventually begin doing it even to the company and not just the customers.

    "How is that new version of windows going?"

    "It's going great!!"

    And we all know now, it was terrible, horrible, full of in fighting, self promotion, bad decisions.

    "How is that new web site that all America will use, and a presidency depends on?"

    "It's going great!!"

    See the pattern here?

    You really want passionate developers? You are an idiot if you do. As a boss, I did not want surprises, and to me the worse thing in the world a company could do was sell something that was broke. Companies today do not seem to share that philosophy. Consumers tolerate crap and beg for more. So, I guess it really is not just the companies to blame.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 31, 2014 @03:27PM (#46122465)

    Actually, that's (proven) not true. Money only works up to a (surprisingly low) point. Beyond that, what matters is that they enjoy what they're doing, and think they're making something worth selling. Investment in the product is what matters really.

  • by bigsexyjoe ( 581721 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @03:27PM (#46122473)

    I like coding. I don't love it. I have a wide variety of interests in my life, such as family, movies, reading about other topics.

    I have met a very few coders who are really all code all the time. And you know what? I find them insufferable.

    A person should be well rounded and have many interests.

  • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @03:29PM (#46122491) Journal
    This is true. I used to be like the guy above, who only wanted 'passionate' programmers. But then I met programmers who weren't passionate, but were still very good at what they did.

    Now I look for programmers who are good at what they do. I would rather have the guy with a good work ethic who is committed to completing a task; not the guy who passionately writes a thousand lines of code, working into midnight, but gets disinterested when it comes time to debug (both real people I've met).

    Basically you want someone who can do the job, that's all that matters. People who say they want passionate programmers say so because they think only passionate programmers can do the job. I used to be one of those people, but it is a sign of lack of life experience.
  • by mbkennel ( 97636 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @03:34PM (#46122569)
    | Actually, that's (proven) not true. Money only works up to a (surprisingly low) point

    I've heard a CEO say exactly this in response to questions from an employee about bonuses and stock compensation.

    Notably, it didn't seem to apply to him, when applied in much much larger quantity.
  • Re:I feel you. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jythie ( 914043 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @03:34PM (#46122573)
    Even to other developers, when I was job hunting a significant number of them held up hobby programming as a metric for how good a fit you would be. If were not involved in your own projects it was a sign that you didn't care or would not keep up with new trends or otherwise just not be 'enthusiastic'. Non-programming hobbies were sometimes acceptable, but only if they were robotics or something just barely one-off.
  • Re:Free overtime (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 31, 2014 @03:40PM (#46122645)
    You also don't have a life. Good luck trying to recapture your youth when you're a burnt out middle-aged husk.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 31, 2014 @03:45PM (#46122683)

    I work for an academic non-profit...The salaries are on the low-end of competitive

    So to answer the question: No. You are not willing to pay for talent, but expect it anyway.

  • I love what I do (Score:4, Insightful)

    by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @03:48PM (#46122713)

    All of this stuff is merely emotional inflation. These days you can't just like something, you've got to love. Likewise, if something displeases you a little, you are said to hate it. Personally I find these extremes: black or white with no middle ground to be rather childish - like TV villains who are only bad, or heros who are only good. It might work in programmes where you only have 1 hour - or rather: 40 minutes + advertisements to introduce, flesh-out and conclude a story, but real people aren't like that and adopting TV-style dialog into real-life is misleading.

    So to say you "love" programming is pointless. I'm sure people are drawn to some aspects of creating new software (though doing the documentation and the testing never seems to be those aspects) and occasionally actually like the feeling of creating something. But is that love? No of course it isn't. Love is (break out the violins) all-conquering, an emotion you would go to extreme lengths to preserve and protect.

    If you really did "love" coding, you wouldn't have to be paid to do it. Maybe that's what employers are really looking for.

  • Re:What about me? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FatLittleMonkey ( 1341387 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @03:48PM (#46122717)

    The last time I was "passionate" about a job, they called me argumentative and difficult to work with, and insisted that I need to be a "team player". Make up your fucking minds. Do you want me to care, to really care? Or do you want me to just shut up and do the job? Because you can't have both.

  • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @04:00PM (#46122827)

    It's worth noting that regardless of how passionate you are about your work and job, your company will fire you in a hot second if it serves them best for even just the next minute.

  • by cold fjord ( 826450 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @04:06PM (#46122875)

    Nothing new there, it was known to the ancients.

    “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. -- John 15:13 []

  • by TheRealMindChild ( 743925 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @04:10PM (#46122901) Homepage Journal
    Yeah, I saw manager speak all over this guy:

    Where I work, there are no grunts. There are no people who mindlessly grind out code. We're not building yet another website: We're solving hard problems, and we want everyone to contribute

    "If you call a day off work you better put it back either by extended hours for the rest of the week or throw in one of your weekend days. I don't care about your allotted sick or vacation days. You owe me work"

    To contribute with value, you need to not stagnate in one technology for half your career. You need to be well-read about software.

    "You better spend your offtime studying everything you don't do at work"

    And while we work very few weekends, sometimes there are longer days (like anywhere).

    "We work a 60 hour a week minimum and if that isn't enough to get done what I threw on you at the last minute, kiss your weekend goodbye"

    The salaries are on the low-end of competitive.

    "We pay dirt. If you don't like it, we can replace you with 3 indians"

    However, there is a point at which more money no longer truly motivates me, and I passed that years ago

    "I have plenty of money in the bank, I've paid for my kids college, own my house and two luxury cars. We aren't going to pay you more, so we will twist this into a debate about morals"

    I could go on and on, but I've seen this guy too many times. The only people he is fooling is his employees.
  • Re:What about me? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @04:27PM (#46123031)

    This. A billion times THIS.

    Am I enthusiastic about code? Well, I can be. If, and only if, the code is interesting and the project feels like it's a good investment of my time. Doing jobs that have a good chance to result in awesome accomplishments or in something where you can with pride point to and say "I built that" sure makes it easy to be enthusiastic.

    But jobs where you simply KNOW halfway through that it will never see the light of the day and is just not being abandoned because some bigwig's nephew is getting a cut from it or because some big shot's job hangs on its existence and he just wants to ride it for as long as he can, it's not easy to be enthusiastic and passionate about it.

    So if you want me to be passionate about my work, gimme a reason to be!

  • by Stormy Dragon ( 800799 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @04:40PM (#46123133) Homepage

    You also missed that "Where I work, there are no grunts. There are no people who mindlessly grind out code." is code for "There is no technical career track here; once hired you will never get any sort of promotion."

  • Re:What about me? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sperbels ( 1008585 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @04:44PM (#46123169)
    They want you to care...and obey. Basically, you should love doing what your betters order you to do.
  • by Stormy Dragon ( 800799 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @05:07PM (#46123371) Homepage

    I think the most scary thing is that I've been out of college for almost 15 years now and I'm still regularly having the "it's finals week and you just realized you were signed up for a class you haven't been to all semester" nightmare.

  • by GodfatherofSoul ( 174979 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @05:21PM (#46123499)

    Friend, that is SO not true. Money has an interesting effect on people. The more you have the more you want. When I was in my 20s, I figured out that to have all I wanted in life I could do with $25K a year. Then I got my first job and "a car that just runs" wasn't enough. Now, I wanted a nice looking car with 4 doors. And, I wanted an apartment in a better part of town. Get another raise? Now, I want a motorcycle, too. And, I want a house. And, that shiny bow I wanted as a kid. Get another raise? Now I want really nice house and a luxury car.

    I know I'm not an anomaly. Your tastes evolve especially after you've had a bite of the apple. And, even with $50K+ a year, after taxes that's still works out to $1000+ a paycheck.

  • by rk ( 6314 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @05:24PM (#46123521) Journal

    20 years this May. I still have that dream. I don't think it ever goes away.

  • by rk ( 6314 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @05:31PM (#46123621) Journal

    Get thee hence to a new job, for verily thy current job sucketh in abundance.

  • by curunir ( 98273 ) * on Friday January 31, 2014 @05:36PM (#46123671) Homepage Journal

    The reason passion matters for developers is the speed at which our industry changes. For someone working if a field with fewer changes than ours, going to school and learning how to do the job can be enough. But for a developer, staying qualified for the job requires a commitment to continually better yourself. You have to read up on the newest technologies, trends and methodologies on an ongoing basis...and most employers aren't willing to have you do it during work.

    This is why they're looking for people who passionately love developing. Those are the people that spend half their time away from work hacking on personal projects where they're free from any constraint around technology selection or architecture that might be imposed at work. What you're looking for is someone who views writing code as almost a form of play. That's what they mean by passionate...that intrinsic motivation that doesn't need to be cultivated, because companies are terrible at making employees grow their skills and even worse at monitoring those changes in's just simpler to screen for it in the interview process.

  • by p00kiethebear ( 569781 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @05:39PM (#46123717)
    In the sushi world we have a word for passionate chefs... It's 'shokunin' You'll find in Japanese dictionaries that it's defined as 'artisan' but the connotation implies so much more. A shokunin comes to work and does the same task every religiously. Relentlessly trying to improve his technique. He cares only for perfection. Where other people see 'work' he sees 'duty.' He wipes his knife clean after every cut. When he cooks rice he removes or adds half a tablespoon of water at a time to ensure the amount of water is correct. He sharpens his eyes over years and carefully learns to identify and pull parasites from fresh fish, making them safe to eat. He cooks perfect folded eggs in a square pan never allowing it to burn at any place and ensuring each layer is evenly folded and cooked. He takes no breaks until the last customers is served. He works because, more than money, more than fun or pleasure, he desires to be better. Not only does he practice the physical techniques, he sees socializing with the customers over the counter as a skill to be practiced. His conduct and comportment do not waiver inside or outside of the restaurant (his temple) At my restaurant I may hire an average sushi chef to make rolls or to prepare fish in the back. But the person I hire for working behind the bar, unless he's my personal apprentice that has learned to work the way I had to, I would only hire a shokunin. When he works there he represents my business and my restaurant and I know he will outside of work in his daily life as well. Passion is important. But I would never pretend to say that passion was required for the easier and less formal jobs, some people just need a paycheck and as long as their work is good, I can respect that. The person who's responsible for putting a face to the company must be a master.
  • by gnasher719 ( 869701 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @06:02PM (#46123939)

    I've heard a CEO say exactly this in response to questions from an employee about bonuses and stock compensation.

    He should realise that money isn't what motivates a developer to do good work. But money is what motivates a good developer to work for _his_ company and not the competitor.

  • Re:What about me? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Cederic ( 9623 ) on Friday January 31, 2014 @08:23PM (#46125015) Journal

    There's, "you fuckwit, you've totally cocked that up" and there's "there are better ways to do that, would you like me to show you?"

    I want teams that have strong enough relationships to do both of those without being argumentative or acting like a cunt. Building relationships, establishing credibility and demonstrating trust are all important and have fuck all to do with whether you're right or not.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 01, 2014 @05:32AM (#46127089)

    Sushi chefs would have to relearn entire species every 5ish years and have to change their tools just as often if they were parallel to software development. Plus their chopping boards would be varying in real-time, as would the customers' orders.

    That's what got me out of the industry.

    If it takes 10000 hours to achieve mastery, you're looking at 3-5 years of full-time work. From 1980-1985, I went from "what's a computer, Dad?" to knowing everything that was going on under the hood of a PET/Apple/C64/6502-based machine. From then to 1990, I got to know the PC very well, but not down to the bare metal. From 1990-2000, it was Win on the side and Solaris/UNIX/Linux. Somewhere between 2000-2010 I noticed the rate of change was accelerating beyond my ability to keep up. The lifespan of stdio.h was measured in decades -- and although Java and Javascript have had similar lifespans, nobody codes down to that level. It's all framework-of-the-year, and nothing seems to have a lifespan longer than 2-3 years. Competency is easy, but before you've reached mastery, the technology you were trying to master has been deprecated before you get close.

    My solution was unorthodox. I threw up my hands, quit the industry, and will slowly draw down my savings over the next 20-30 years to master a few things that interest me. I probably haven't even found those things yet, but for the first time in my life, I have all the time in the world.

    Not a single company will profit a whit from whatever I end up mastering. That's their loss, not mine. I will put a bullet in my brain before I go back to working for a living.

"So why don't you make like a tree, and get outta here." -- Biff in "Back to the Future"