Somewhere between creative and yuppy

Partly inspired by this piece by Alexandra Molotkow I have been thinking about what it is to be a software developer. We live in a time where being a ‘creative type’ is maybe a little more revered, but certainly still not well-paid. In fact, maybe now more than ever, the most meaningful jobs are the least paid jobs. And that might mean that developing software is one of the least meaningful, as it _can_ be one of the most well-paid these days. Unless you’re a woman. But that’s most fields. I digress.

However, there’s always an element we all talk about amongst ourselves but can’t ever seem to get across to the manager types that developing software is just that: developing. We make things. Out of thin air, a lot of the time. We maintain each other’s creations. Most of our maintenance issues come from people who wrote code and take it too personally when ten years later, it doesn’t work anymore. Or ten days later. Or ten hours later. Our code is an extension of ourselves. Programming as art is a whole movement. And yet letting go of it is a lesson we all have to learn; we set it out into the world to live or die.

So for some people, coding for a living is a way to have your cake and eat it too. Unfortunately, mostly because of manager-types and arbitrary deadlines that make it hard to keep quality at the forefront of our goals, it’s very difficult to maintain that wonder and inspiration. Also, most artists make art because they can’t imagine doing anything else. They don’t do it for the money. So when we _are_ doing it for the money, it becomes a different thing entirely: a job. Jobs are what we do to be able to eat. I think that’s where the issue really lies, eh?

Alexandra Molotkow said in her article that our desperate times may produce the best art. I believe this is only true because that’s the only way we’ve ever done it up ’til now. David Graeber talks about how the whole purpose for automation was so we could, as a society, reach a point beyond the need for money to live. Everyone would be issued a stipend, and a place to live, because their services wouldn’t be needed to do the more basic things that make society run. So we would be free to use our time as we saw fit. Some may still choose to work, but they wouldn’t have to in order to survive. Maybe some people would still garden because they love it. Some people may still code. But then those who would rather write music, paint paintings, etc. would be able to do so without fear of dying. Would this really mean our art would not be as good as it is when we are suffering? I admit it would likely be very different art, but I’m hard pressed to believe it would be “less good.”

So feeling like I’m kind of in the middle. Maybe my job isn’t quite as “bullshit” as the average salary might make it out to be. And yet, I can’t help but feel sometimes that I’d rather be doing something with bigger impact on society. We can’t all work for organizations that do good for the world, as they are so few. So is being a Software Developer/Engineer straddling what it is to be both successful and creative? Is it the only field out there that does so?

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