It's a question that gets posed to kids all the time. Sometimes with hilarious results. Vampire, is a popular answer. I heard a kid say he wanted to be a cop once, to use laser guns on people. Very awesome.
Do you ever wonder how you came to choose the career that you have as an adult? Many people go through the entire educational system all the way through college and still can't figure out what they want to do. I've known people who have gotten their degrees in Psychology, only to immediately go back to school and major in Graphic Design, only to end up working in a bookstore. I'm starting to think it's a question better suited for adults than kids nowadays.
I didn't always want to be a software developer myself. Like many kids I wanted to be a detective, or Spider-Man or both. Some kind of spider detective hybrid perhaps. Some kids want to be inanimate objects, go figure. It's interesting how career choices drastically change throughout the years however, and it's more interesting how now thinking about it, for me much of it had to do with the old television. Maybe the idiot box isn't as idiotic as some people think. For me, it was a good way to get a broader view of the world. Here is my potential career timeline, if you will. Some self reflection never hurt anyone.
What's In A Job?
Age 0 - 5
No job prospects. Probably an inanimate object or fictional character.
Ages 5 - 8
A Detective that plays by his own rules B/ - Maybe it was because I watched alot of cop movies as a kid with my dad. But at a young age I always wanted to get into law enforcement. I never wanted to be a police officer. The uniforms put me off I think. I wanted to be like Sylvester Stallone in Cobra B/ . Turns out what he did was illegal in most states. Even later on in life I did consider joining the police force in order to become a detective though. Again, movies made this seem cooler than it probably was.
Ages 8 - 13
I watched way too many cartoons as a kid. As a result I spent an insane amount of time drawing things. I drew the cartoons I watched, video game characters, comic book heroes. I wasn't really good at it though. I know artist, and yeah, I was no artist. My brain doesn't work that way. I can't picture something and make my hand follow, at least not in that sense. I don't think art is something you can learn, it's both a mix of practice and natural ability. My sister is a fantastic artist and she has absolutely no formal training in it, but her grasp of shading and perception is something I strived to attain at this age. But I've always believed you should focus more on what you're good at, not at what you currently love.
Now it gets serious. I didn't really know what a Geneticist did at that age. I didn't have the Google's to guide me,and my grandmother only had the A, E, F and X encyclopedia volumes. For those that don't know, eons ago, the interwebs were in physical books in your grandmothers book shelf. I do in fact remember why I wanted to be a Geneticist though. It was because of Spider-man, the animated series from 1994. I used to watch that show religiously. And as we all know Peter Parker is a pretty damn good scientist. So after some research on Recombinant DNA I figured why not. I still find Biology and Genetics fascinating and would hope to involve myself in it more down the road. But here's that television influence again.
Ages 18 - Present
I entered college majoring in Computer Science. I wasn't too sure what I wanted to do with it exactly, but I knew that that's what I wanted to do. This was a sudden choice for me, as for years I was sure I was going to go into Biology. But in my senior year of high school I got my first computer (Yeap it took that long) and I lived in that thing. I downloaded tons of compilers and wrote small scripts to do all kinds of things. In high school it was fun and I thought it was pretty damn cool that I could do these things that no one else in my classes could. Back then my school didn't offer any computer science classes so I was left to my own devices. And I took to it, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. To be more exact my love for computers started at a very young age though. I used to watch the old Apple Macintosh Performa commercials from 1994 and order information kits weekly. But since I never got a computer I moved on at that age and settled for a typewriter I got from a pawn shop. Yeap.
Present - ???
Because this party doesn't stop B/ My only answer is Science. I love technology and I love discovery and science and I want to be a part of whatever lies ahead in those fields. Whether that's in coming up with new awesome websites and rolling them out year after year or maybe taking some random data sample from Data.gov and discovering something useful or interesting I want to be a part of it. It's quite a long way from my crime fighting doodling days.
In the end what I hope is that whatever answer you have in mind, is what you're either doing now, or are on your way to achieving. So many people get to adult age and beyond and have no clue what they want to do. But to be fair, maybe down the line I won't be so sure myself where I want my career to go. Maybe "What do you want to be when you grow up?" never really has an answer as we're constantly being shaped daily by whatever it is that we find ourselves doing that week.
Walter Guevara is a software engineer, startup founder and currently teaches programming for a coding bootcamp. He is currently building things that don't yet exist.