Code Monkey get up, get coffee, code monkey go to job...
Before I start with my story, I just want to say that software development is a great career choice for anyone interested. I've done it every single day for the past 10 years, for hours, and I wouldn't take that back. I've had good jobs, and I've had the worst jobs. Working 4th of July until 6am in the office with 6 people? You betcha. And this is my story of what it was like to be a "code monkey" for a few of those years. It's an experience, I'll say that, and I'll gladly share it.
The Good Times
I started my "professional" programming career in 2008 as a Windows developer. I built client side business applications for a large team, and was given alot of freedom with how the projects were completed. Deadlines were short, but how they got done was up to me. I was later moved to the web development team where I was pushed to limits I didn't know existed. My first week there and I was already working Saturday and Sunday. Every week there was a brand new project that I was solely responsible for. I was in charge of drawing up the design with the business team and coming up with a timeline and implementing the whole project and on occasion I was given other developers time to help finish the work. It was the worst and best job that I've ever had. This is what I'd imagined a career in software development was like when I was in college. And it is, believe me, there are plenty of companies out there that operate like this. But plenty that don't.
Then some years later, at a different job, something happened. Everything was going pretty much the same as the job before that one. A good solid team building cool new features for new users. Until a new rookie manager stepped into the scene..and things took a much different turn. He was a young and relatively inexperienced brash individual who wasn't afraid to take risks. Those sound like positive things, but believe me, context is important. This is where my life as a code-monkey began and it stayed there for 2 whole years.
What It Was Like To Be A Code Monkey
Life as a Code Monkey is very unexpected. It comes out of nowhere and when it does you probably can't just drop everything and take off. In fact, you don't even notice when it hits you. One day you're creating and thinking and hacking away at projects. And the next day you're deleting all of that work on whim from someone. Then a week later you're changing font colors and rewriting code so that it's 25 milliseconds faster. The project that you once treated as your own begins to turn into a mess and users begin to abandon it. Users can feel it too.
And it's unpleasant, that's for sure. You wake up, and you hate where you're going and the only escape is the 12 o'clock lunch and the 7pm drive home at night. You got a paycheck, sure, but that's all you get. I spent 2 years at my last company as a programming primate, and everyday was worse than the day before it. By the end I was miserable, I hadn't created anything in years and I was overweight and unhealthy.
The funny part is, there is very little coding involved. Most of the time it was the most trivial of work that any developer could of done in 30 minutes that waited on my to do list. Which in developer talk, means 2 hours. For the most part, it was just really..boring. I was implementing 4 different button colors to see which one would be a bigger "hit" or I was 301ing pages like there was no tomorrow. In those 2 years, I probably deleted twice as much code as I actually wrote. Meaningful and creative was not the name of this game. Many of the assigned tasks didn't really have an impact on anything. I even wondered how anybody was approving my paycheck at times. Months and months were spent rewriting things that already worked, in order to have them work the same way. Let me explain that, because this is a big part of code monkey life. Some of the tasks were to recreate entire frameworks and modules that were already in place, so that they would look and behave in the exact same fashion as they did before, but were different. I know..I know..
Code Monkey Have Boring Meeting...
You bet he does. And lots of them. And most of the time they probably won't involve you in any way. I can't tell how many times my head started to nod as someone elses manager talked about the progress of their websites, which had absolutely nothing to do with my work. Hearing someone explain why their website lost 90% traffic, and then blaming it on the economy is..let's be honest, an hour of your life on Earth that just vanished.Two hours later, I dragged myself back to my desk ready for that 2pm cup of coffee, only to remember that the weekly "personal" meeting was awaiting me.
I once had a meeting because I hadn't yet emailed another employee, who was on vacation at the time, documents. My answer to that? "He's on vacation :| ". There was no meeting required for this. There was no need to get Outlook involved in any shape way or form. But it was. And it happened often. The overzealous manager wanted people to know that he took charge and he wanted everyone to see when he stood up and came to your desk for this meeting.
Why Not Just Enjoy It And Have Fun? ^.^
Alot of people think that for some reason. That you can hate what you're doing for 10 hours a day, every day, and make the other 4 free hours of your day an amazing adventure. Oh, how I wish, I really do, and I really tried. But no, that's not really feasible. Only in movies I think. In those 4 hours, you eat, check emails and if you have any semblance of a soul left you work on your own personal projects waiting for that day when you hit it big. And let's be honest, you watch YouTube and Netflix, because sometimes you need a break. This becomes your life pretty much. Personally for me, it was very unfulfilling. I couldn't work on this blog, because despite how easy I make it look B) , it's pretty difficult to write coherent sentences sometimes. I didn't have time to run to the grocery store and cook up something healthy. I saw friends maybe twice a month when I wasn't too tired on Friday. I learned that the job has a direct impact with how you live your life.
It's Bad For Your Health
There are lots of side effects that come with this boring and unfulfilling lifestyle. For me, that came as bad eating habits, bad sleeping habits, losing knowledge and sort of stopping life dead in it's tracks. To draw a picture, just imagine driving down the road, seeing a bright light and coming back 5 years later. You don't know what you did and you've done nothing in that time. That's exactly what it's like. You come out of it, kind of dazed and confused and you're behind on technology and have no idea who the president is. Personally for me, I was seriously behind on technology. I wasn't used to any of the latest frameworks that every website on Earth was using pretty much and I didn't have the time to learn them outside of work.
Soon after I quit, I lost about 30 pounds, got my sleeping habits back in order and started to get ideas again. I started to program and to design, and I started to remember what life was about. And I started to realize what a career was suppose to be. You need to separate yourself from it in order to see it from the outside. When you're in it, you're too distracted and too dazed to realize that you didn't go to college to hear Bob talk about why his website lost 90% of its traffic. It's a good lesson to learn in life that comes at a high cost.
But Fret Not
There Are Better Jobs. There are. I've seen them. Hell, I've had them for years at a time. If you're good at what you do, whatever it may be, then you can work wherever you want. You're there to help the company out, it's not the other way around. If there is little to no work left for you, then it's time to move on. A year from now you should have doubled your knowledge and at the same time doubled your pay hopefully. "The more you learn, the more you earn" after all. I saw that in a YouTube ad, and it makes sense. You're free to do what you want. It's such a waste to society to have a person with an actual talent, use it at its most basic form just for a paycheck.
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.
Stay up to date
Sign up for my FREE newsletter. Get informed of the latest happenings in the programming world.