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[OT] Am I just a bad programmer?

by maurocavendish (Acolyte)
on May 08, 2020 at 11:33 UTC ( #11116576=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

Hi, fellow monks!

I've come to a point in my programming career when I seriously doubt that I have it in myself to go on. I worked years as a Perl programmer/system integrator. Few years ago, my company pulled me out of a project, and then it began. I was constantly moved on new projects, with new technologies stack, ranging from PHP, Python, AngularJS, Struts, Spring Boot, Vue, SQL Server, Node, React. You name it. As I understand, I am now under the umbrella of the Java Competence Center, so they expect me to deliver on that.

I never received any guidance, training, or support. Every project since then I was, sometimes literally, alone. Of course, my boss wants me to deliver fast and clean. At the moment, I am working on a huge Java project, again on my own. I'm in charge of analysis, development, sometimes testing. Also, no one gave me a proper introduction to the app we are developing, that is heavy on financial business logic. All the while, despite having worked in the field for more than 10 years, my current job title is Junior Software Developer, with no hope of advancing given the current situation.

I feel like I've reached a wall. I cannot deliver. I have constant migraines. All in all, I fear I'll lose my job. Is this just a sign that I'm not cut out for the job, or that I'm perhaps too old to keep up (I'm 42)? I still study in my spare time what fascinates me, but I'm beginning to hate programming, and I'm not putting in the same amount of work into my education as I did when I started. I'd need some real side projects under my belt to brush up my resume, but I do not have the spare mental capacity to push even outside the workplace.

Unfortunately, it seems that here in Italy all the coding jobs are like so, therefore I'm questioning my worth in the market as a programmer. Soon I think I'll try to switch company, but I'm not convinced anything would really change. Is a valuable professional programmer required to just go along with everything the company throws at him, or is it more sensible to craft a specific role in the spare time and go for it elsewhere?

I understand this post is highly OT, but I could seriously use some help for maturing a better understanding.


Training is everything

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: [OT] Am I just a bad programmer?
by tobyink (Canon) on May 08, 2020 at 12:31 UTC

    Obviously I haven't looked at your code or assessed your skills in any way, but that having been said, if your company are moving you from project to project, using vastly different programming environments, and with very little training, that says two things to me:

    • They think you're a competent programmer who can pick up new skills quickly; and

    • They don't really know what to do with you.

    Yes, I do recommend having a few side-projects to allow you to practice the skills you want to focus on, because you're not getting any focus from them. Either find or start an open source project you can contribute to, or if your employment contract allows it, start your own business on the side and develop a sellable product or service.

      Actually, I don't think they have a high opinion of me. It's just the main managerial style. Programming here is more or less regarded as a blue collar occupation. Few times they implied that my past experiences are worthless, especially the Perl related ones. They also told us on multiple occasions that the most important skill for us consultants is managerial skill, rather than programming. They outright said that programming is an afterthought.

      Keep in mind that they call us consultants, but we are none of them. We just hop from gig to gig without any preparation. The most poignant description of IT jobs in Italy is "body rental". Incidentally, this is illegal, but nonetheless overlooked by authorities due to few loopholes in the law. There are few if any software houses. The whole landscape is mainly made up of "consultancy" companies.

      Anyway, I took on your suggestion and I'll make some side projects for growth and reward.

      Training is everything
        They also told us on multiple occasions that the most important skill for us consultants is managerial skill, rather than programming.

        I think you should pay attention to that signal.

        I will state my opinion but it is highly theoretical because a) I have worked mostly in academia and b) when that ended (a few 3-yr contracts) I prefered to lead a spartan life at home rather than joining them "private sectors" (my location being what it is, in bigger places you get wider choice, islands of different thinking must exist - and soon will die out). So,

        be warned that "managerial" in their jargon means how to squeeze value from subordinates, the human team and add it as profit to the company. It does not mean to organise people and processes or conceive meaningful products in order to profit from and the customers. To manage the squeezing and the milking of your colleagues is what they are talking about. This is where competitiveness comes from. "Unique products" and "killer apps" are sooner or later copied, rebranded, altered and offered by others. Who has the most flexible, "agile" and backwards-bending "useful idiots" (aka human team) wins. I am talking about the trend, the average and not the few exceptions of garage startups or IBM.

        My 2nd point is that there are only 24hrs in a day. Programming, as your own boss, even for 18hrs still does not give you enough productivity to win. Unless you build skills to work with tools which increase your programming productivity. E.g. UI builders, ORM, web framework, web scraping. If you go this way, it's a good idea to partner with someone who has complementary skills. There is also exciting new hardware: drones, 3d-printers, the PI. And zillions of good quality data, from government statistics to open-streetmap to market activity. For example, lately I discovered that wikipedia records world events on a daiy basis, correlating these with other timeseries can be very poweful.

        I have noticed that non-IT people have very very low expectations from technology. They still don't believe it can have positive impact to their lives, other than their entertainment and shopping therapy trips. For obvious reasons, as believing this is the major step towards a totally different Society. That goes for business-decision people too. In industrial settings, small factories, local supermarkets. There is still a lot of automation to be achieved. Databases, document digitalisation, archiving, keywords extraction, spreadsheet manipulations, project management, gathering data/extracting information/making decisions/reporting. I see a need there (personal experience) and the opportunity to interact at a personal level.

        This is what made me bitter: 4 years ago I was introduced to a manager whose business was to digitalise 3rd-party paper-invoices for accounting+tax purposes. I suggested experimenting with AI for text extraction, even suggested providing invoicing hardware to customers (like signing packet delivery on a UPS ipad). He said, "I am a comp-science person myself but my business is making a huge profit by just shipping these invoices to Vietnam where they do manual text extraction - even in a foreign language and (!) unicode alphabet. It costs me 4 cents per sheet and I charge 25 times that much. I even found that mailing the actual paper to Vietnam rather than scanning-and-emailing works even cheaper." Speachless. A few months ago I went to a bank and saw a huge stack of boxes with his company logo, they contained the new terms&conditions and address details, signed by each customer, awaiting digitalisations. Innovation? Management? Technological solutions for cheaper costs and cheaper services? Surely a joke.

        At these times it is unimaginably easy to take the wrong turning, on a whim, and destroy one's life. Totally! Living in the streets! Homeless. So, perhaps a more useful advice could be "shut up! and keep swimming" (warning 80's bad-taste humour). Either way, may I stress the importance of Political Education alongside the Technical.

        bw, bliako

Re: [OT] Am I just a bad programmer?
by davido (Cardinal) on May 08, 2020 at 16:23 UTC

    Even in this market there are opportunities for software developers. If you start a job search now, you have lost nothing but the time it takes to carry out the search. Quit your existing job when you've found the one that will replace it. And take a critical look at what the companies you interview with have to offer. As someone currently employed, you're interviewing them (to see if it's a fit you will like) almost as much as they are interviewing you.

    A company that doesn't appreciate you is no place to put in another year, particularly when there are companies out there that run their engineering departments well, and that will appreciate you. Whether your next gig is as a Junior, or mid-level, or more is possibly less important than how you are appreciated, and how the department is run. Sure, it's good to interview "up", but find the company you are going to like, and get in, and work your way up if you can't get that title bump at the same time as transitioning companies.

    Do you hate programming, or do you hate the way your department is run, and the way your company treats you? If you got into programming because you enjoyed it, then the things that make you not enjoy your career may have little to do with programming.


      Hi Dave!

      Yeah, I surely need to move on. I'm waiting for the COVID situation to subsume a little. Also, I need to bump my confidence up first. The recent years have taken a toll on me psychologically, I guess.

      Indeed, I love programming. I started coding on my own when I was 8 years old. I stumbled on this career by chance, but I've grown proud of every bit of work I can successfully pull off and I have a craving for mastery. I'm just fed up of being a jack-of-all-trades code monkey.

      Training is everything
        I'm waiting for the COVID situation to subsume a little
        The search (and updating your CV/résumé) doesn't need to wait. Reaching out, maybe. (But maybe not, either)
Re: [OT] Am I just a bad programmer?
by davies (Prior) on May 08, 2020 at 20:50 UTC

    Keep an eye on and its weekly equivalents. During lockdown, they are offering this as a free service and some of the jobs allow 100% telecommuting.

    I doubt whether you are a bad programmer or you wouldn't have survived this long. I strongly suspect you are bad at your current job because you are not enjoying it and the two usually go together. Look for things you enjoy and see whether it is appropriate to turn them into a career. Be careful, because the corporate graveyard is full of restaurants that were started because someone enjoys cooking on a small scale but couldn't make the commercial grade. Computer related areas you might consider are:

    • Security. A talk I went to just before lockdown showed a huge shortage of computer security types. I believe coursera offer training, but don't know the details.
    • Documentation - my commonest rant. If you like writing, most documentation I have seen could use improvement.
    • Cloud computing. A friend who teaches it for a living tells me that anyone with an Azure administrator course behind them is almost guaranteed a job.
    • Training. This seems to be booming right now as people try to acquire extra skills during lockdown.
    • Admin. You couldn't be worse than your current bosses at that, could you?

    Others have made the point about private projects. I think it's important to get your enthusiasm for something back. And the advice you get here may not be the best. Try getting on to a professional recruitment firm and asking what they recommend.


    John Davies

    Update: I have tried several times to approve the OP, but I suspect that there is something I or the system can't understand.

    Update 2: Fixed minor typo. Thanks, soonix. And another, quoted in the follow-up.

    Update 3: As usual, xkcd is on the mark:

      "I have tried several times to approve the OP, but I suspect that there is I or the system can't understand."

      I had the same problem which I've raised in "Unable to approve #11116576". I've made a guess as to the reason: I don't have sufficient privileges to look into it further or attempt a fix.

      — Ken

Re: [OT] Am I just a bad programmer?
by haukex (Archbishop) on May 08, 2020 at 17:56 UTC
    Is a valuable professional programmer required to just go along with everything the company throws at him

    No, absolutely not!

    I feel like I've reached a wall. ... Is this just a sign that I'm not cut out for the job, or that I'm perhaps too old to keep up (I'm 42)?

    Another perspective to look at is from is: neither, it may very well have absolutely nothing to do with you - it could also be a sign of an unhealthy work environment that's making you feel this way.

    All in all, I fear I'll lose my job.

    To be a little extreme about it: Given what you've said about your current job, would that be so bad?

    it seems that here in Italy all the coding jobs are like so

    I don't know about the situation in Italy. If that really is the case, that would indeed be unfortunate. But I'd say start doing some research, see what's out there! And it's abolsutely ok to be confident in one's skills, and that they are worth something. Having worked with as many technologies as you named is definitely a selling point, as is enjoying what you do - I've been hearing a lot recently that a lot of people in the market "just studied programming because they heard they could earn a lot of money". You just have to find the people who recognize that having a passion for software is an advantage.

Re: [OT] Am I just a bad programmer?
by stevieb (Canon) on May 09, 2020 at 01:22 UTC

    Sounds to me that you actually enjoy the type of work that you're doing, it's just that your management is so in line with the profit margin mantra that they don't see your value.

    Earlier in life, I had to tow the line. Now, I take jobs I want, and say a big fsck you if I'm introduced into a project where politics overrule logic.

    Do what you've got to in order to get by, but don't throw away your personal desires because some team or management keeps you in a box.

    That's my $0.02.

Re: [OT] Am I just a bad programmer?
by hippo (Bishop) on May 09, 2020 at 11:34 UTC
    I was constantly moved on new projects, with new technologies stack, ranging from PHP, Python, AngularJS, Struts, Spring Boot, Vue, SQL Server, Node, React. You name it. ... I never received any guidance, training, or support. ... Is this just a sign that I'm not cut out for the job, or that I'm perhaps too old to keep up (I'm 42)?

    Not remotely, no. I would say that it is a sign that your management (the people who move you to new technologies without guidance, training, or support) is not cut out for the job. They are exploiting you - as you probably know. If you were new to the game, in your late teens or early twenties or after a career change then maybe you might consider that an acceptable trade-off while you garner enough experience. As a more experienced programmer it isn't clear why you would continue to put up with this. In your shoes I would be actively looking around for a position with a better employer (or to strike out on my own but given what you've said about your current psychological state that's probably not a great idea just now).

    In summary, it's not you and it's not programming; it's your employer.

      "... I never received any guidance, training, or support..."

      I can confirm this, unfortunately. In more than 20 years I had only five days training: 3 days Flash programming (MacroMedia certified). This was pretty good. 1 day Peregrine. Badest software ever written. This was just crap. One day introduction into "Datenschutz". This was like the Spanish Inquisition. Some day some boss jumped to the conclusion that the employees need some training in English business language. He hired a coach for some weeks. The training was after works at 6 PM. We started working at 6 AM. Plus 24/7. Fortunately my English isn’t so bad. I successfully refused to take part. And luckily it is prohibited in Germany to work 14h a day and then start a 10h on call nightshift. At the end of my "career" someone jumped to the conclusion to introduce a new technology: Liferay. Written in Java. And total crap. They started a project and scheduled it for 3 month. We needed 3 years until it was customized and performed without crashing ever 12h. No real experienced Java programmers in the company. We learned it on the fly, less or more. And it was hard core stuff. I never was so much under pressure as in these days. We asked for support. Hiring a certified consultant. This was rejected. More things come into my mind. More than once I brought my own workstation to my workplace. I used my own reference library. One might say that I payed for my work. Looking back I can say that it was luck when I got fired. But when it happened I was really depressed. See also

      Best regards

      «The Crux of the Biscuit is the Apostrophe»

      perl -MCrypt::CBC -E 'say Crypt::CBC->new(-key=>'kgb',-cipher=>"Blowfish")->decrypt_hex($ENV{KARL});'Help

        Liferay. Written in Java. And total crap.

        Indeed. A client of $work chose to deploy liferay about 6 years ago. It was glacially slow, a massive resource hog and yet fell over in a faint breeze. They persisted with it for 4 months or so before giving it up as a lost cause. I've no idea how much they squandered on it but expect it wasn't cheap.

        If I were in this game for the money I would be a java programmer/publisher. You can apparently write and ship complete dross in java and still people will pay enterprise-level cash for it.

        See also: Re^2: Can Perl do anything Java can do?

Re: [OT] Am I just a bad programmer? (Bad employee)
by Anonymous Monk on May 08, 2020 at 13:10 UTC
    You've let this go on far too long, should have fired your boss long ago. Be the boss.
Re: [OT] Am I just a bad programmer?
by perlfan (Vicar) on May 19, 2020 at 16:33 UTC
    Your goal should be to do what you enjoy - and literally refuse to do what you do not (assuming we're talking about productive Perl hacking). If you do it right, you will be untouchable and they will bend. And always have a back up plan if one day you are not as untouchable as you thought. The world has changed over night and now many places are going to stick with remote work. So know what's out there and what your real options are.

    >I fear I'll lose my job

    Shake that fear, friend. Don't let it have any power over you. Look what's it's doing to your health. You'd be happier living on the street migraine free and jobless. I assure you.

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