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Posted on: Sunday, 30 January 2011 by Rajiv Popat

Most programmers who love the craft of building software and are deeply passionate about it seem to find strange avenues or third places to channel their creativity.

Most of them are also faced with a life long contradiction Hugh MacLeod explains rather articulately through a cartoon drawn behind a business card.

He refers to the contradiction between shipping genuine art and paying the bills as the Sex and Cash theory in his book Ignore Everybody. Hugh explains:

The creative person basically has two kinds of jobs: One is the sexy, creative kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills. Sometimes the task at hand covers both bases, but not often. This tense duality will always play center stage. It will never be transcended.

A good example is Phil, a New York photographer friend of mine. He does really wild stuff for the small, hipster magazines— it pays virtually nothing, but it allows him to build his portfolio. Then he’ll leverage that to go off and shoot some retail catalogues for a while. Nothing too exciting, but it pays the bills.

Another example is somebody like Martin Amis, the bestselling British author. He writes "serious" novels, but also supplements his income by writing the occasional newspaper article for the London papers, or making the occasional television appearance (novel royalties are generally pathetic—even rock stars like Amis aren't immune).

Or actors. One year John Travolta will be in an ultrahip flick like Pulp Fiction ("Sex"), another he’ll be in some forgettable, big-budget thriller like Broken Arrow ("Cash").

Or painters. You spend one month painting blue pictures because that’s the color the celebrity collectors are buying this season ("Cash"), you spend the next month painting red pictures because secretly you despise the color blue and love the color red ("Sex").

Or geeks. You spend your weekdays writing code for a faceless corporation ("Cash"), then you spend your evenings and weekends writing anarchic, weird computer games to amuse your techie friends ("Sex").

This tense duality will always play center stage. It will never be transcended.

And nobody is immune. Not the struggling waiter, nor the movie star.

As soon as you accept this, I mean really accept this, for some reason your career starts moving ahead faster. I don't know why this happens. It's the people who refuse to cleave their lives this way—who just want to start Day One by quitting their current crappy day job and moving straight on over to bestselling author—well, they never make it.

Anyway, it's called "The Sex & Cash Theory." Keep it under your pillow.

Sound advice for both young programmers as well as veterans who have spent years depending on their organization for every ounce of creativity that they are allowed to demonstrate. I know you probably know the part of your career that is connected to the cash part, do you really know the sources of the sex part?

If not, now is a time where you start separating the two and focusing on both of them fairly seriously. The sex part of your career needs just as much attention as the cash part. Start giving it the serious attention it deserves.

I wish you good luck.