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Posted on: Friday, 21 January 2011 by Rajiv Popat

When you are hired on your first job, most of your time is spent on impressing your bosses. A pat on your back ever now and then keeps you going for about a year.

The next couple of years are you start looking for promotions and growth. You are still looking for pats but just pats aren't enough. About three to four years into your career, after chasing pats on your back, promotions and technical growth I usually see pretty much two things happening to most engineers and developers around the world:

  1. They burn out and decide to move on to roles which are not, do not seem like, they are as demanding as development. Another way of putting it is that they become what we otherwise refer to as a managers who want to stay as far away from any real work as possible.
  2. They have their very own personal realization that pats on your back, promotions and salary hikes will keep you going only for so long. Having realized this they find their own creative outlets to look for their very own personal intrinsic motivation which either comes from the fact that thousands of people use something that they have built or from touching hundreds of lives with their work outside of work.

If you are that developer who was reasonably good at what he did and has spent three or four years of your career chasing pats on your back or promotions and are now facing that mid life crisis of your software development life you are pretty much left with one of the above choices.

Choose wisely, because many a times, these choices are not reversible. Once you start working on full time management of teams, going back and writing code is going to be challenging especially if your reason for becoming a manager was that you were sick and tired of development. On the other hand, once you start working on side projects and checking in those kickass changes to your project, sitting in meetings is going to feel hugely irritating when you realize that you have to manage teams in your work life.

I am not saying that you cannot do both. You can be a kick ass programmer who loves leading teams or a kickass manager who loves writing code. That is clearly not the point here. The point here is that the first three to four years of your career are your warm up period. What you choose to do next, pretty much defines how long you are going to stick around and how happy you are going to be.

Choose wisely. Stop listening to what folks around you are telling you and start looking for your very own personal sources of staying motivating. For some, this involves leading and connecting to others. For others it involves building stuff. Either way, three or four years is about time you start realizing what you love doing and start doing that more often.

I wish you good luck.