Working Smart Is Lonely

March 17th 2024

A lot has been said lately about the traumatizing layoff and job hunting experiences these days for software engineers. What was once an admirable career among higher society friend groups, is now a panic room full of desperation and struggling former colleagues.

But I'd like to talk about the trauma of working inside tech companies that I've experienced so far, over my 15 year career.

I would summarize modern tech workplaces as "a modern psychology blood bath where my oasis was dragged into a constant state of judgmentalism". Before alarm bells go off about hyperbole and sentimentalism I will try to normalize and explain my symbology.

Most of us turned to software as a safe space where things made more sense than the rest of this confusing world. The computer is always right, and always logical. And while that can be frustrating, the experience of nailing a pattern or modeling an interactions is truly a magical.

Most of the talent software engineers poses come with a lot of brilliance as well as stupidity. I know how every mechanical device around me works from light bulbs to cars, cooking ingredients, the safety factors of the chemicals in my vape (or lack thereof). But I am still very, very stupid.

If you ask me about the actor from last nights movie, the pop song your singing, why your friend was offended when I asked them if they liked their food at dinner, or the reason some people don't want to talk to me about my work, I will be utterly dumbfounded and lost.

I'm not sure exactly how, but most technical gifts take away a few social ones. And when your a software engineer people tend to get excited about what you do, and then seam to intentionally find holes in the things you know.

I won't go into weather or not this is intentional malice or just plain bafflement that highly paid intelligent people can be so dense at the same time. But for now it doesn't really matter which one it is.

To set the stage, being socially incapable and having awkward encounters made me long for, and cherish, the time I had alone with my computer. Growing up, I mostly modeled space ships in 3D graphics applications. This started around the age of ten, from my hometown in Iowa in the mid 90s.

When I turned 23 and got tired of answering phones and filing papers in New York, I decided to learn how to write software code around 2008.

There was one huge problem with this plan: I was about to share my escape from other people, with other people who wanted it to be their escape, working for money, answering to people who didn't really understand what we did all day.

What could go wrong, right?

I know three kinds of people in the industry right now. The happiest ones are those who don't really know how things could be better and are fairly new to their career.

The second group is enjoying the popcorn, while kicking back and watching the show. It makes them sad to see how things are going but, they honestly don't know what they can do to contribute anymore.

The third group is bitter and angry (my people). Tired of raising stability, efficiency, or maintenance concerns that seam to fall on deaf ears. Upset about their friends becoming unemployed, as the company they work for struggles to produce value for customers through seemingly avoidable mistake after mistake.

And now this group of angry-yet-still engaged tech professionals friends are distant and unreachable. Our non-software friends think we are steeling their data, moving buttons around for no reason, making it hard to cancel their subscriptions, causing their kids to stop eating, poisoning their politics, destabilizing their economy, and crashing their airplanes. But secretly still want us to make their cars drive them to work... because that would be cool.

What alarms me the most about this is how far away everyone seams. Non-programming technical staff is far away from software engineers. And even backend engineers who work on servers are far away from from end engineers who work on user interfaces.

The promise that artificial intelligence will solve this situation is simply laughable. This is a human problem that only humans can fix. Because it's about how we align on what we want. Communication is the weakest link in most of these situations and no matter how great the corpus of a large language model gets, it wont be able to get the words out of employees if they can't give or follow direction.

The problems we are solving as tech companies, tech authors, and humans, have more of a future if we think and share the commonality of our intentions. If I use my programming time as an escape, and the people around me treat me like I'm from another planet, things will improve much slower than they would if we talked more about what we do and why we do it.

So ask your staff: what are you working on? how was your day? explain it to me, help me learn, and grow.. I'm curious. I like amateur biology, and math, and science and stuff, what are the patterns your dealing with?