It’s been 3 months since I’ve said anything here and it’s largely due to a host of life changes. So I’ll start from the beginning: I first started developing software when I was 16. To be fair, it was creating a help site for a small (and now defunct) start up called Intellego Solutions, but it did involve frames – as in, the HTML frameset, not the all-too-easy iframe tag. I wasn’t a whiz kid, but I did love web development. I had been building websites since I was 12, my first being a Nintendo64 cheat codes website using a combination of Microsoft FrontPage and the AOL members’ page uploader. Notice how I didn’t list a database…I would manually update the pages with static content for the cheat codes. Perhaps that’s why I went to school to study databases, so I could never make that same mistake again.

If you love your internships, that’s telling you something

Between then and my first job, I spent every summer working as a software engineer at a start up; the smallest full-time team was 2, the largest was over 60. Each had its ups and downs along the way, but I genuinely enjoyed my internships, the atmosphere, and of course, making more money than all of my friends without having to break my back landscaping.

Following your ‘wants’

And yet somehow, all of that front-end software start up experience lead me to two back-end developer jobs at two large, multinational corporations. How did that happen? I would say the largest part was 5-figures in student loan debt in a time where America was suffering from perhaps the worst economic crisis in over 30 years. The other part was thinking about my wants, and not my needs. I wanted a solid resume, a great work environment, awesome perks, a fun culture. I wanted a lifestyle, a sense of accomplishment. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve gained some great experience and met some amazing people, but heed my advice: the allure of wants is ephemeral – ignoring your needs will destroy you.

My biggest failure

I felt the need to do something more. I needed to get back into front-end development, and I needed to be an influential body on a piece of code that I cared deeply about. So I began a side-project in my spare time. For months I barely touched it, but by winter of this year I was working with mentors, and had written over 10,000 lines of Ruby on Rails, HTML, CSS and JavaScript. It seemed like a real product! Success! Joy! No wait…

Failure. Lots of failure. My project was severely flawed. So many things I had done wrong, and so much time wasted. I started caring more about my projects and less about the rest of my life. I spun into a soulless depression – working by day, working by night. Wash, rinse, repeat. I tried to take my projects to the next level, but those pursuits also failed and I was stuck. Hopeless. And worst of all, I had lost the people closest to me – perhaps my only regret in life. I was at an all time low.

Eventually you will ‘wake up’ and find what you need

Failure can wake you up and force you to find your needs. When you’ve hit rock bottom, you’re forced to examine what you need in order to dig yourself out. So what did I need?

  • Love. Love of life, love from people, love of the things you do. Without love, life is meaningless. This is definitely something that type-A software engineers like myself have trouble exploring. Without a doubt a lesson I wish I didn’t learn the hard way.
  • Friends – in work and in life. I’m a social animal who needs to interact with people at all times. Surround yourself with great friends and coworkers and even the most mundane work can feel like vacation. It’s no surprise everyone prioritizes a finding a great team over finding a great company to work for.
  • A mission. I wanted to work on something I loved so much that I would do it even if I wasn’t getting paid. I had already spent countless hours in my spare time doing front-end development with Ruby on Rails for free, so opportunities to do that with people I liked and a product I loved would fit this requirement.

Doing what you love (AKA go out and make it happen today)

I’m happy to say I’m on my way there. I’m fulfilling my needs one day at a time. Perhaps what is most relevant to this blog is the announcement that I have joined StarStreet full-time as their lead front-end developer. StarStreet is the sports stock market where you can invest in sports players instead of companies. It’s the evolution of fantasy sports and great for investment geeks like myself! We’re a Ruby on Rails shop with an incredible team, of which I am 33% of! To have this influence, this team, and this technology, is living the dream. I’ve been presented with an incredible, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to directly influence the product and design in technologies that I enjoy working with.

Fulfill your needs, and the rest will work itself out

Now that I am doing what I love by fulfilling my ‘needs’ instead of my ‘wants’, my life is turning around. Living for your wants and ignoring your needs will only get you so far – it got me to become severely overworked and depressed, to commit wanton failures many times, and lead to one of the lowest points in my life. I still have a long way to go, and many bridges to repair, but through my experiences, I hope you can avoid hitting rock bottom and heeding the advice so many people have stated: do what you love. Seriously. It may seem like a complete platitude at this point, but I urge you to act now. Life is too short to act tomorrow.