Not Too Philosophical

I recently got an email from a Monday Mailer subscriber, complimenting me on an article I’d written.

They liked the piece and told me to, “keep them coming.” I love hearing from readers, particularly when something I’ve written has helped them in some way. But it was a comment at the end of the email that caught my eye.

“Not too philosophical, though”

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond, to be honest. I just replied, “Heh. Thanks.”

I’ve heard variations on that comment before, and it confuses me every time. Side projects involve a lot of technical topics, to be sure. It’s rare not to have to think, at least a little, about things like database structure, deployment, programming language, and hosting.

But, when it comes to creating something new and sharing it with the world, there’s something else you need to deal with: the space between your ears.

When I sent out the Monday Mailer survey, I asked, “What’s the biggest challenge, when it comes to your work?” The majority of the answers were related to time management, motivation, focus, and prioritization. In fact, less than 3% of the responses involved coding at all.

I think I’m different from many programmers. I’ve always been interested in technical topics, but programming has always been a means to an end for me. I’m not interested in knowing every nook and cranny of a particular language or framework. I’m interested in solving problems for real people, using technology. Programming is just what it takes to get there.

If you asked some people, they’d say that makes me less of a programmer. To them, you aren’t worth much unless you know how to find the minimum depth of a binary tree, or can recite how to do a Heap Sort from memory.

I realized a long time ago I was never going to appeal to those people. It isn’t that I couldn’t pick up the skills necessary — I just don’t care. If you’re plugging away on sophisticated algorithms at Facebook or Google, I salute you. But I’ll never be you.

I deal with a lot of technical issues all day, at work. When it comes to my writing, I want to explore other topics. The kind of themes that aren’t discussed very often, in most programming circles. Topics like, “What do I do when I’m falling behind the rest of my team?” or, “How do I get over my fear of shipping?”

Those are thorny problems. And they’re problems most of us face, from time to time. Technical skills can be taught relatively quickly, assuming you’re a willing student. You can buy an online course or a book. You can listen to podcasts, or hang out in Slack channels. If all you care about is writing pretty code, there’s plenty of ways to fulfill that goal.

But if you want to become more confident in your skills, get over your fears, learn how to ship your work, or get better at working with other people? That’s a_ lot_ harder to do, particularly in a field full of people reluctant to think about the non-technical. It requires support from other people and maybe, just maybe, some honest writing from people who have been there.

The Monday Mailer won’t always be about motivation, or fear, or other “soft” skills. I’ll always write about how to promote your work, be more productive, get better at consistently shipping, and brainstorming new ideas. But it won’t be what I write about exclusively.