A blog post I keep coming back to is Patio11’s Don’t Call Yourself A Programmer, And Other Career Advice. It’s a smattering of different opinions that come together as kind of a “map of your career as a programmer” that wouldn’t be out of place in a commencement speech. You could call it the Wear Sunscreen of programming advice.

The thread that flows through the post is the author’s point of distancing yourself from your identity as a “programmer”, both at work and at home. It helped me navigate the career landscape when I was starting out. I took it a bit too far at first, and started calling myself a “software consultant” when I was a junior developer, and that led to some odd conversations but it worked out in the end :p.

This helped me focus on delivering value over writing code, which has been important throughout my software career: eg as a Staff Engineer I am constantly looking for ways to deliver value by levelling up the engineering organization around me, and not just things that feel cool to my programmer brain, like using Rust or speeding up code (which I still love and do all the time!)

The “peek behind the curtain” for people who haven’t been there before, sharing hard-won wisdom is the reason I keep thinking about it. As I have progressed in my career everything I’ve experienced has tracked with this post.

I particularly like the end of the post:

At the end of the day, your life happiness will not be dominated by your career. […] Optimize appropriately.  Your career is important, and right now it might seem like the most important thing in your life, but odds are that is not what you’ll believe forever.  Work to live, don’t live to work.

This is an important reminder, that I don’t always follow, but which is definitely the most important bit of career advice.

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