Je me souviens
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November 2018
December 2018

2018-11-17 »

The good feeling from bad feedback

I'm working on (statistically speaking) my least interesting work in years.

Previously I spent time doing wifi drivers, boot scripts, logfile processors, payment systems, and project estimation, so one might reasonably have assumed I can't get much more boring. But hah! We have standards to exceed.

Here's what's weird though: I'm enjoying it.

There's this Feeling I get, very rarely, when I'm sure I'm on the right track. Over the last several years, I've almost had the Feeling occasionally, but not very often. It's been so long since I felt it that I actually forgot what it feels like. Talking to software people, I strongly suspect some have never felt it at all.

A common question, when recent graduates ask me for advice after landing their dream job, is of the form, "Is it... always like this? When I started to learn coding, I really liked it. I kind of assumed work would be... better." What they mean isn't that coding sucks, but that their project is unfulfilling. They suspect the Feeling exists. Maybe they remember having it as a kid. They thought they were almost there again. Life is all lined up: great school, great grades, great employer at a great salary, great co-workers. And then... nothing. Is it always like... this?

No, it's not. Not always.

But a lot.


Yesterday, someone on a mailing list told me (politely)1 that my documentation sucked. A few days before, someone called my code spaghetti. And the thing is... YES. Yes, I am a pretty good writer, but that documentation is not my best work. That code is some of the best I've written, but it's also the most incomprehensible, and I've known for years how to make it better, but I haven't gotten around to it. It's refreshing to have a project with no stakes, with volunteers who care about elegance, where I can hear stuff like that. I live on that. It's what makes me go, and when I finally do get it right, it means the positive feedback is real.

It's been years since someone told me my work sucked. And that was one thing, I can live with that, it's West Coast People, but in the last year or so, the compliments have been egregious. People's acceptance of my work and my opinions had a lot more to do with my reputation (among a certain small group) than about my quality. It's easy to get addicted to that, to let it take the place of the Feeling, but in the end it's just candy. The sugar high fades, and too soon, you need more sugar.

That's why I had to change gears. The withdrawal process has been a bit painful, but it's worth it. Maybe my project won't amount to anything. But if it dies, at least it'll die beautiful.


1 Just to be clear, constructive negative feedback is important, but being a jerk is not. There's no need to go on a swearing/ranting angry rampage when things go wrong. It doesn't help anyway. But pretending bad things are good things doesn't help either.

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