I don't like computers

Welp, I kinda gave up waxing personal on this blog a while ago, but what the hell, why not make an exception once in a while.

So in the last couple of years I've been thinking about work and stuff a lot. For a while there I wondered if I was getting burned out; after all, I've been doing kinda-sorta-approximately the same job for about a decade now, and it can be stressful at times.

So I've been keeping an eye on that and avoiding too many long work days and all-nighters and stuff, but no, I don't think that's actually it. I think what's going on is, well, the post title:

I don't actually like computers any more.

I also suspect I'm not the only one around here.

That could come off wrong, though. So let's look at that in a bit more detail.

I still actually really like my job, if I let myself just be absorbed in the day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute detail of it and don't think much longer term than that. I enjoy digging into bug reports and figuring out what the crap's going wrong. I enjoy most of the code work I'm doing these days, heck, even the bits that involve Perl, more often than not. I don't enjoy blocker bug meetings, but I can hack it.

But here's the thing: somewhere along the way there, I kinda just totally lost any inherent interest in what I'm doing it for.

I started out with Linux and F/OSS because I was, well, a kid who liked tinkering with computers. I spent most of my spare time either reading books or messing around on the internet - and for all you kids out there, this was the 1990s internet, when 'the internet' was mostly email, usenet and FTP, and you accessed it over a dial-up modem that cost 2p a minute and got yelled at by your parents when you stayed online all night downloading all six megabytes of the Quake shareware release...

And I enjoyed that. It was fun. It was a hobby, in and of itself. And, you know, I got 1990s computers. And early 2000s computers. I was jacked in and surfing the wave, maaan. It was gonna be the year of the Linux desktop real soon now.

Somewhere along the way, in the last OH GOD TWENTY YEARS, we - along with a bunch of vulture capitalists and wacky Valley libertarians and government spooks and whoever else - built this whole big crazy thing out of that 1990s Internet and...I don't like it any more.

  • I don't watch videos on computers.
  • I barely read Twitter.
  • I don't listen to podcasts.
  • I don't Instagram. Or Snapchat. Or Vine. Or...any of those things.
  • I don't Netflix.
  • I don't Spotify.
  • I don't Uber.
  • I don't have or want an Alexa. Or a Google Home. Or a Sonos.
  • I don't want my light switches connected to the internet.
  • Or my fridge.
  • Or my thermostat.
  • Or really anything except my computer.

It's not fun any more. I'm not against all these things, necessarily. But they don't make me excited. I don't want them. I just don't really care. Computers - including cellphones, tablets, whatever - aren't my hobby any more. I don't stop working and then have fun fiddling around with my computers or doing stuff on the internet. I stop working and I want to go do something which doesn't involve the internet at all. I like sports. I like reading. If I play games, it's mostly Nintendo games which absolutely are not online. I like concerts. I like eating out, in old-fashioned restaurants. I like sitting on buses and going places. One of my major criteria for buying things is whether they can do their job without a network connection

I use computers for...well, I use them for reading stuff. That is, actually reading it. Text. Pictures if I have to. I use them for figuring out how to get places, and for buying stuff. And that's kind of mostly it.

I run Fedora on a bunch of computers because, I mean, it's kinda my job; I get to spend lots of funtimes keeping my desktop and two laptops and a FreeIPA server and a mail server and a web server all running. But I don't really enjoy it. I hope they keep working and as long as they do I leave them alone. When they stop working and I have to fix them I feel vaguely resentful. It's not fun. It's work.

I dunno where I'm going with this. I don't have any big thesis. I just wanted to write it down. Like I said, I still love the hour-to-hour, day-to-day process of making Fedora. But...I don't have some burning reason to be involved in it in the first place, any more. It's not 1996 any more. It's not the year of the Linux desktop. It's never gonna be the year of the Linux desktop. It's never even going to be the year of the desktop ever again.

Now it's just what I do...because it's what I do.


Uri Brecher wrote on 2016-11-05 09:11:
I has a similar situation. I used to come back from work and hack my home computer for hours on non-work related stuff. I don't do that anymore. I am coming back home feeling that all my energy has run out and I don't want to see a computer anymore. This also started affecting my office time as well. In the office I am no longer excited about new tasks. I am still solving bugs and writing new features out of pure inertia, but nothing is driving me forward except that. I also use the internet to read a lot. Software has significantly evolved over the years from running code locally to cloud computing/machine learning/big data etc and I feel like I'm missing out on the action.
soufron wrote on 2016-11-05 09:20:
Well you do like computers... that is open computers that you can actually open and look at the way they work. You don't like services that are being brought to you by remote strangers. I think you're right and not alone.
adamw wrote on 2016-11-05 14:32:

Nope, that's not it. I don't really 'like' open systems any more, in the sense of having a passionate interest in their wellbeing and being excited to do stuff with them that I don't have some kind of obligation to do. My passion projects, these days, rarely involve computers.

notesoffline wrote on 2016-11-05 09:41:
How old are you? I'm a little after forty and I have a similar feeling. Only one innovation after release an original IBM PC in early 80th XX is for me worthy, a Kindle e-ink device. Even an ubiquitous of small, lightweight laptops aren't innovation for me, it's a regress for me, because we can literary "work anywhere". Similar to the smartphones, we are online "all the time" and never in real life anymore. I don't like this shift of computer device uses.
adamw wrote on 2016-11-06 00:27:

Mid-30s. And yes! E-readers! E-readers are great. E-readers and noise-cancelling headphones. I'll take those from the last 20 years or so, thanks a lot.

Yeah, I rarely take my laptop anywhere except to conferences. I don't have my phone hooked up to IRC any more. I spend enough time at work. There's interesting stuff happening everywhere else! You only get to see it if you don't put your virtual office in front of it all the time...

Amir Rahnama wrote on 2016-11-05 09:49:
I am verk early in the game and sometimes I fel exactly like this, Adam. You are not alone. Sometimes I hate looking at my phone. Well the problem is not computers. It's the culture around technology selling us dreams as technology packages like Alexa. Spotify has given us much but distorted our listening habits too. You know I mean digital transformation is good but we traded stuff to get it
OriginalGeek wrote on 2016-11-05 09:54:
My grandfather once told me "Son, if you can turn your hobby into a job, that's about as good as life gets". Like you, my hobby became my profession. I know that never came true for my grandfather because he never told me the dream life comes at the expense of the hobby. I've been coding professionally for about 33 years. I've made it this far by switching it up every 10 years or so. I've coded boot sectors, boot roms, device drivers, operating system internals, network protocols, realtime and embedded systems, more websites than I care to name, some really awesome, none famous. Of course, some mobile apps too since I'm a freelancer. I spent the last 10 years automating everything possible in the family's ecommerce business. I've deferred achieving this state we mutually find ourselves in for a while. You can too by switching it up. Or you might want to look at a career change. Because now I know why they say coding is a young man's gig. I used to think it was about stamina. But I can still kick the crap out of any 20 or 30 year old when it comes to coding. But the thing is, there might not be enough in computers to sustain someone through to retirement. Maybe if you can show up every day for decades and take a project out of your inbox and choose one of your 5 go to patterns to solve it, wash, rinse, repeat as nauseum. But if you have the passion of an explorer, the curiosity fountain for computers eventually runs dry. Even new challenges aren't all that challenging any more. Ease of Mastery is a curse. My exit strategy is to run hard on engineering a product for my startup and focus more on the business end of things after launch. Thanks for sharing. It is nice to cross paths with someone who is facing similar challenges of the heart. Take this opportunity to do the soul searching to discover what is next for you. Often times just opening up to the idea of change invites the next thing to find you.
Bibble wrote on 2016-11-07 13:51:
I think it's worth pointing out the the saying "If you can turn your hobby into your job, you'll never work a day in your life" is absolutely wrong, and is terrible advice. A hobby is something that you do for fun, and that you derive enjoyment from. That means that, if anything begins to taint that activity (like project management, endless meetings and incompetent coworkers/customers), you can lose not only your drive at work, but also the enjoyment outside of it, which hits twice as hard. It's fine to have crossovers, but there should be definite lines of what is your hobby, and what is work. Now, if something's your passion, then it's another matter entirely. If there's something that you'll be doing regardless, whether people pay you to, don't pay you to, or pay you not too, then it's more difficult to wear away at it, and you tend to have more of an innate drive for the activity for the sake of itself. But, if the business side starts tainting that, too, it can hit all the harder. Overall, it's fine to find work with your interests, you just need to keep an eye on what you're doing, and what's being done to you.
JustAnotherNumber wrote on 2016-11-05 10:21:
Are you familiar with https://meaningness.com/metablog/geeks-mops-sociopaths ? Although it is framed as musical scenes, the description of counterculture within it applies to the early '90s computing scene. The scene at that point was made of geeks: programmers were the creators, and their fans were the legions who could not code but loved to play with their toys. That scene was not simply hollowed out by the arrival of sharks: the potential that they exploited has created a new mainstream. The exploitation of that scene occurred in many waves over the decades, but two stand out: the dotcom boom - MBA wannabes replacing techies as the controlling structure in a play for the money. The social boom: no technical improvements needed - programmers can be treated as a commodity and market the product to the mainstream. If what you used to love seems hollow - it is because it has been pushed out to the margins, and replaced by the popular fads of the mainstream. To find what you are looking for you will need a way to extract the ever-decreasing signal from the constantly expanding noise. Most of the old communities have been drowned by the influx. Good luck in your search.
adamw wrote on 2016-11-06 00:24:

It's not even quite that straightforward. I know just where the margins are - after all, I spend all my time working in them. I work on Fedora, for Pete's sake - we're only just now getting all our crap off of Trac. We still do just about everything on mailing lists or IRC. Heck, in Fedora-land I'm a wild-eyed dangerous progressive type because I'd quite like us to try one of the open source Slack-alikes.

It's not that, though. I know just where to go if I want to do stuff with computers which isn't all Appley-Googley-Valley-2.0-y, and that's what I do for work all day. But, still, I don't have any particular personal investment in that outside of work any more. It's just, somehow, not the most important thing to me any more.

A wrote on 2016-11-05 10:35:
30 years of hacking code with a passion brought me to the same conclusion. I recently deleted most of my public stuff because I don't feel like being a part of this any more. The problem is that computers will never be anything but stupid, artificial gadgets; there's no magic to be found in there, it was all a hoax. And I believe being on the inside for so long and wasting SO MUCH energy trying, puts us in the unique position where we can appreciate that and not get blinded by the vulture capitalist's grand delusions. Live and learn...
Anonymous wrote on 2016-11-05 12:10:
Other than to the betterment of humanity for fixing issues like climate change, I agree to you about the hoax part. Is your life going to finish in that more of an empty state if you haven't put all your photos up for people to see? No.
Jay wrote on 2016-11-05 12:05:
I think the problem is that you didn't choose Debian. That's a joke. I think you will be surprised how many people much like you are out there. I already feel happy just reading your post and the comments. There are many people like this, the day of the Linux desktop is really dawning right now. There's a quote by some guy that says something like "when you're going through hell, keep going." All you can do. You can analyze differently what the problems causing your situation are, and the options to solve them. If you don't have kids or family ties and many responsibilities like that, take risks. They work out very well, get a new gig, move somewhere new. I started booting Mandrake as a kid, was hooked on the web selling my own DMOZ customized search engines to people who wanted to start their own in the 90s, worked as a web front-end immediately after dropping out of college because in terms of tech schooling they were all behind at the times at the time. Got a job right away and pretty quickly I realized how a hobby that had enriched my life and helped me see so many ways I could help society, commoditized and put into place as a new cog replacement in the machine. Not many jobs out there seemed to be in the "helping society" column and everybody seemed to be trying to sell a facade with a turd behind it. I'm still dismayed with the dishonesty in business and the nature of the markets at the moment, whole different story. Things are also very odd with labor dynamics in the world at the moment, the pressures on everybody in the middle. 15 years later now I feel similarly to you in many ways looking at an election as we are in the US, a terrible economy, digital rights vanishing and many other things that can't help anybody have a good day. Things improve, soldier on.
Duvelle Jones wrote on 2016-11-05 12:47:
Well, that sucks to hear. I have kind of been feeling the same with gaming to be honest. It's not so much the games themselves (though, I not really the market for the new ones now), as much as it is wading the cesspool of the community dynamics. Reading every detail, tracking every rumor, watching the gaming industry twist itself backwards in how it makes it's money. For me, I have been finding that there is a point were I need to just unplug from that, following the minutia from minute to minute. I have been finding that going out and doing something with gaming involved than just pacifically for the sake of gaming is helping quite a bit in that (I have been going to a manga cafe for reading gaming and socializing for the most part). My question to you is this, do you need computers to be a hobby to keep you interest?
adamw wrote on 2016-11-06 00:21:

Not at all. Maybe it's even the wrong question. I don't need it to keep motivated to do my job. It just means, when I'm done, I'm not gonna spend the rest of my evening wondering if I should switch mail servers. Or buy some IoT crap and spend the next two months setting it up, so I don't have to get up and walk six feet to the light switch. Or answering forum posts, or reading mailing lists, or any of that stuff. It means I go watch some stupid TV instead, or go for a swim, or go watch a show, or...

Andrew wrote on 2016-11-08 13:23:
Sounds like you're just at the stage where you no longer feel the need to continually invest in your career. I'm young and still kinda new and feel there aren't enough hours in the day to read/learn/play with new technologies. That's because I have a long road ahead of me (career wise), and one needs to essentially eat/breathe/live technology in order to be competitive in the market. I wish it weren't so, because I have lots of hobbies that get neglected as a result. That's the tough thing about the industry: to stay truly competitive comes at the expense of any other hobbies and interests. But if you're happy with where your career's at, and can intentionally "check out" of the techosphere, then the more power to you.
adamw wrote on 2016-11-10 22:49:

I've never, at any point in my life, spent even a second thinking about my 'career'. I do a job.

Rod wrote on 2017-04-07 01:05:
Someone else said this: "At 25, there are careers, and there are jobs; at 50, they're all just jobs".
massive wrote on 2016-11-05 12:59:
Same things here... one thing that has helped me is getting a place in the county where i can go and unplug from everything and relax for a few days. That has made a world of change. If you are stuck in your house with todays always connected networks and devices you end up never leaving work. Unplugging and putting yourself into a completely different space, working on your 'country' yard or even just walking around for a while can recharge me and work becomes more interesting again.
Jeewan wrote on 2016-11-05 13:13:
After reading your article, I feel really worried about my future. I have been working as a software developer for more than five years now and I really like computers(coding, hacking,..etc) a lot. I still do.
adamw wrote on 2016-11-05 14:38:

Don't worry about it! That wasn't my intent at all. If you're a software developer you have an interesting and challenging job which, if you're doing it right at all, pays you very well relative to just about anyone else. That's a great place to be!

One thing I should make clear: this isn't a sadface post. As I wrote, there's no big 'thesis' here. I'm not in some kind of existentialist crisis. I'm perfectly fine with this. It was just a case of understanding it and recognizing it: the reason my response to 90% of the tech news is 'meh'.

But I don't sit here drowning in pools of my own tears. It's fine. I do my job and then I go do something else.

John Labovitz wrote on 2016-11-05 13:28:
This sounds so familiar! I've been programming since I was 10, in 1976, and have been lucky enough to be in the middle of quite a lot since then -- personal computing in general, early Linux, and the early/mid internet eras. In the last couple of years, I've distanced myself from the tech world. I no longer take on software/web gigs. I avoid most modern digital tech -- back to playing music from real CDs, and when digital appliances go bad, replace them with mechanical versions with analog dials. I, too, avoid video and many of the other 'gadgets' of the modern internet, and similarly read (and write) a lot of text. I've come to appreciate simple, direct interfaces, whether of objects or software. I do miss the art and craft of programming, though, and find that keeping some of that in my life is intellectually and emotionally helpful. So I have a few personal projects that I tinker with. Although I work on them regularly, I only do so at times of day when I'm creatively energized, and usually only for a very few hours (2-3) at a time. I've rediscovered the simple (?) joy of just building something myself, without feeling like I've got to use all the latest frameworks or libraries, or document it, or even to release the code (though I often do via github just by default). I use a fading language (Ruby), which I still love and which fits my life & mood well. Today, most of my friends are not from the tech world at all, or are older/jaded refugees like myself. This shift in relationships may actually be the most important change. While I loved the passion and inventiveness of the tech world and its feverish dream of the future, these days I prefer to stay grounded here in the everyday.
Nick Coghlan wrote on 2016-11-05 15:09:
I think I got lucky in that I had a large-scale applied software gig (HF communications) before getting directly involved in platform creation - so while I still find programming fun both as a hobby and as a job, from a career perspective, I'm far more interested in what technology can enable, especially amongst folks that aren't being well served by current vendors (think educators, scientists, the public service). But yeah, it's definitely the announcements from the education and scientific world that keep me interested, rather than the specifically "tech" ones.
Joe Djacamo wrote on 2016-11-05 15:21:
Adam, I think you're expressing a feeling a lot of us have. I could have written "I don't like computers" - the similarities are nearly eerie. Let me tell you one thing that consistently brings me back around and puts the joy back. I used to despair over all the people with computers saying things like, "I don't have the internet, I have Explorer," or "Do I press Ctrl then C, or both at the same time," or "Oh, my program crashed again! Stupid Microsoft!" and the window was just covered by the another. And it never got better, year after year after year the greater mass of the population just never learned but had no problem complaining about it and then asking for your help. Now, they don't have computers anymore. They have smartphones, tablets, and e-readers. Yes, technically they are computers, but they are very easy to use, having none of the concepts that were so confusing on desktops. Now they can do really all that they ever really needed to do, which is send some text to someone, maybe with a picture attached. Computers are for us again. When someone asks me how to do whatever on a smartphone, I just say, "I don't know about smartphones, I know about computers," and poof I'm free. It's been glorious.
M wrote on 2016-11-05 15:42:
All in all looks like I'm not the only one in this ... confusing situation. Ex-Gentoo developer (who remembers gentoo now a days...), slackware evangelist, mutt user for 15 years or so etc. Now I'm excelent. I'm really, really good at what I'm doing. I understand all those tech-related things, starting from legacy to modern shit. And I don't like computers. I use them to make my living. And for reading. I will switch my life to without computers soon. At least I hope...
AG wrote on 2016-11-05 16:25:
Growing up excited by computers in the 1990s, I saw the arrival of the first big wave of web commoditization and chose right then to opt out. I knew I could never be happy in a field hell-bent on producing online shopping "experiences" and monetizing every aspect of a user's behaviour and buying choices. Even by the late 1990s/early 2000s, many of the things that excited me about computers was already becoming marginalized (assembly language, Forth, Lisp), and the rise of Internet Everything brought with it a disregard for the "Personal"/democratic side of the Personal Computing revolution as we moved en masse into client-server (a.k.a. consumer/content provider) relationships and running "big computer" timesharing-style OSs on our no-longer-personal computers. I remember when UIs had much lower latencies than they do today, and getting realtime responsiveness, direct access to hardware, and extracting that last 1% of the performance out of your machine wasn't the impossible fight against the OS, gadget-friendly but user-unfriendly hardware connectivity, and the myriad apps monopolizing your resources that it is today. In short, I soon became obsolete. I decided to employ my "tech savvy" towards biology--studying birds of prey, in particular--and found that my computer skills have given me a very large edge in accomplishing tasks that other biologists struggle with (e.g., working with datasets). I now hole up in my own bastion of sanity, running Slackware Linux, R, and other "open source" tools that I consider myself very fortunate to be able to have even today thanks to the huge commitment of folks who have very different value systems than the Kingpins of today's SV. But for how long? The rapid adoption of mobile devices in large areas of the world where PCs (never mind "open source" software) are rarities make me think that the time may be neigh even for The Linux Desktop, and the future is likely to bring fewer choices than are available today as the few companies that control the software, hardware, and connectivity basically give us as little choice as a US Presidential Election. It's rapidly reaching the point where you can choose to Be Connected, or you'll simply be exploited like some rural denizen for being on the wrong side of the digital divide. I'm not liking where this is going at all.
Anonymous Coward wrote on 2016-11-05 16:58:
I'm not sure I can add much value to this discussion, but I felt like replying, so 'meh' ;) It kind of got to that point for me, where I was almost a bit sad that I no longer enjoyed programming and tinkering with computers, something that I'd been doing since I was 9 or so. I was a bit sad that I could no longer enjoy games like I used to - while playing Wolf3D (really really young), and megatonnes [sic] of hours of Quake 3, UT2000 (over the internet), NFS2, and was so engrossed in an Age of Empires 2 campaign (Genghis Khan) that I didn't notice that a dish in the kitchen was on fire and the house was filled with smoke (true story). Or even the gazillion fun projects with Basic, then C++, then Visual Basic, then Java, then HTML/JS. Nobody paid me to do this, no incentive was required :) Heck, I was constantly scolded for staring at the computer for so many hours, as a kid. I even enjoyed the thrill of building production stuff after joining Amazon (seeing your line of code "actually" running on millions of computers a few hours of you writing it is pretty sweet, for the first time). But it all got old eventually. Yes, I was making bigger and better things. I was writing code infinitely better than I ever did. But to what end? It was increasingly harder to convince myself that I was actually utilizing a year of my life in trying to build something that would let merchants style their website better, or developers run code in better containers etc. And projects like that. Even the offers from other companies felt hollow, even though they seemed like really useful things (I really mean it). Sure, these projects were honest businesses generating several millions of dollars of revenue (not to me, haha) due to their existence, so all those kinds of fuzzy arguments were there to support, but it was clearly bogus at the core. I just didn't know why. I got to a point where I basically was on auto-complete. I'd get a call in the middle of the night that our production servers were on fire (not literally), and I'd just let my reflexes do the talking and debugging, and I'd basically be mentally absent. They always got fixed. The same with code, press auto-complete in my mind (not just for code, but for even organizing the project team), bigger and bigger projects, with even bigger technical marvels. I mean, we're surrounded by unimaginably marvelous technology, and all at our disposal. I'd read about new things, even force myself to read tech blogs once a week, to "correct" my increasing apathy. Yet I couldn't care less. Nothing surprised me or caught my imagination. Meh. That made me a bit sad. If anyone's reached reading this point, there isn't a punchline. But there is a plot twist. I brooded over this theme for quite a while (not like melodramatically brooding.. I was fine and went about my stuff like usual, just occasionally think about this "pattern" of not really caring about tech anymore, and how I didn't really have any other employable skills other than programming). But one weekend I decided to sort of just spend a weekend hacking on some project, like I used to do many years ago. It was some 3D visualization stuff, of programs floating and evolving in space, or something loony like that. Doesn't matter :) I thought I'd be fun to view that in actual 3D, remembering a 3D goggle a friend of mine had, from waay back in my childhood. So I searched online, and Lord Google said something called an Oculus Rift was the most modern and cheap 3D goggle. So I ordered one, and went about my way. I casually mentioned this to a friend a few days later, and he flipped out that I had bought "THE" Oculus Rift. I really had no clue who or what Oculus was, other than being a manufacturer of my upcoming 3D google. So he insisted that I bring it over the day it arrived in the mail, without opening it, and bring it over to a friend's house where we were all gathering one evening. So I did, and let my friends have a go at it with the limited set of demos available on the internet back then, and I distinctly remember sitting for what seemed like hours just staring into the headset, flying around in a wingsuit in a simple 3D terrain that looked like some Nevada desert ("Flying in Dreams"). After all those years, I felt something. That's all I can say, without sounding overly dramatic. I don't pretend to say "VR is da shit!" or "you should totally do VR" or even offer advice to anyone else. I'm just narrating what I remember, and seek to apologize for my ramble among words, or if I sounded like a humble brag (wasn't my intention, really). PS: As an epilogue, that evening kicked off a series of hackery projects to mess with VR, then I tried to make a browser for VR, and I finally rediscovered the joy of programming on really the guts of something, had to dust off all my old skills of having to work with really low-level 3D, optimizing for-loops and algorithms, with something that had actual limits to the horsepower, and I had so much fun! :) Eventually I built something so incredibly technically challenging (of no real commercial worth, who cares?), but I finally built something real. Real, defined by me. And that finally felt good. PPS: Epilogue of the epilogue, eventually I decided to jump ship, moved to a different country and figured I could afford to spend a year or two spending 14 hours a day on my computer, making new VR things, and who knows, maybe even sell something? The internet is wonderful. Anyone who asks me today, I say I'm researching into VR, but technically I'm trying to learn how to build and sell something, which is also a super interesting thing. I actually do sell VR programs now, but it's just like all the fun hacks I'd do many years ago, just that the pieces are different. Mainly, building something is the fun of it, doesn't matter really whether it is a block of code, or a marketing channel, or really geeking into the depths of "why do people buy things, philosophically?" etc. And it was very important for me to do all of that myself - the business and tech, since it's not about "accomplishing" success or building a company, but learning how to build neat, working engines (engines of graphics, or engines of business, doesn't matter). Worst case, I can always get a job as a programmer.. my skills today are arguably better than they ever were, and I probably know a thing or two about the "business side of things" as well now. It's fun, as long as you have thick skin to deal with society's expectations of you, and have roughly some (not too much) idea of what you're doing ;) Okay, this has got ridiculously long. Is this really a comment anymore? Is a comment this long allowed by the CMS?
adamw wrote on 2016-11-05 23:40:

"Is a comment this long allowed by the CMS?"

Of course it is, it's Wordpress, it allows everything. Poke at it for five minutes and you could probably read my emails :P

That's a cool story, and thanks for writing it down! It's great you found something that really excites you. Since this is my blog, I get to ramble for a bit, and say that I'm kinda interested by how not interested I am in VR. Like, I have absolutely zero interest in even trying it out. I think this is partly just the 'old codger' factor: there comes a point where you kinda feel like you know how stuff works and you'd just like it to stop changing, thanks. At least, that's how it is for me. In small part it's because I'm frankly terrified of what staring at tiny, very bright, high-resolution screens a very short distance from your eyes for long periods of time is going to do to your eyes after a few months or years. And other than that, it's something fuzzier...something about drawing a clear distinction between things that are real and things that aren't. A kind of uncanny valley of the mind, if you will. The older I get the more I seem to care about this distinction. As I kinda mentioned in passing, I don't play big, online, complex games any more; the more modern gaming came to be focused on multiplayer, and particularly on group tactics and, for want of a better word, 'social' aspects, the less I wanted to play them. When I do play games I tend to play, well...like I said, Nintendo games. Which for me is shorthand for intentionally abstracted, simplified games. Usually single player ones. Very specifically and intentionally not real ones. Again, I can't totally articulate this. I just think it's...interesting. I want my reality real and my unreality very clearly not real.

But again, thanks for the story :)

Dave Gilbert wrote on 2016-11-05 17:34:
I still very much like computers but there are places I want them to stay out of the way. The TV I've just bought is the dumbest most unsmart thing I could find (and it still has a bug in it's channel change and an ether port on the back that I don't use). My washing machine can do wifi notification but I don't use it. My fridge keeps things cool - that's it. I want to choose what to hack on, not have to think that when I collapse in front of the TV I might have to debug something before I can watch the badly written cop show.
cmurf wrote on 2016-11-05 17:51:
Two or three epochs ago, I became involved in a project with a lawyer. He told me that he was very good at his job, meaning, he kept his clients out of court. Courts have unknown outcomes, and it's considered better to have negotiated outcomes. He was very good at that. I don't remember if he called it "bread and butter" work, but that's what I'll call it. And he said he wonders about getting out of this business, but then every once in a while, including the project we're working on, something interesting comes along, short lived, that keeps him in the game. At that time I was wondering if I wanted to keep on doing what I was doing, but I arrived at the same conclusion you did. I don't love the job but I also don't hate the job, and importantly I'm good at the job. It's bread and butter. And every now and then something interesting comes along to keep me in the game.
Steve wrote on 2016-11-05 18:28:
It's quiet simple, really. It's always about the quality of human participants, and you inadvertently helped make it possible for marauding masses of imbecile humans to be part of what was quality mostly due to their absence.
adamw wrote on 2016-11-05 23:16:

Nah, I don't think it's that simple at all. It's far more nuanced. It was never going to work out that the nerds got to keep networked computing all to themselves for all time, and use it to exchange the same five in-jokes about Star Trek for the rest of eternity.

In many ways things are much richer and more diverse now. People are doing all kinds of interesting stuff with the technologies available to them, and that's a good thing. You can have all kinds of interesting debates about the politics and even the ethics of certain things, but I don't really want to talk about that. Looking at the big picture, it's good that people who aren't inherently interested in the technology itself are using it to do interesting things.

It just happens that I personally am not that interested in a lot of them, because I'm kinda conservative at heart. That doesn't mean I'm right and everyone else is wrong, though!

Hausjam wrote on 2016-11-05 19:23:
I still like computers...when they work. Unfortunately, we have become so obsessed with new; new features, new versions, new releases etc etc, we spend more time fixing computers than using them. they just about have bugs worked out of iOS and android and hey, it's been a year so let's start over.
Adrien wrote on 2016-11-05 21:06:
After a very short carrier in computer programming I think I understand you.. My passion, my hobby became a boring work that I want to avoid at all cost when I'm out of it. Maybe that's what you're feeling too .. all I've learned, all these ours to get skill and do ... this? I feel like it's extremely hard to find a job that is interesting .. and most of the people I studied with can of feel the same. The fun was sucked out by the business and the need to make money, and when we go home, like I said, we want to do something else. I'm thinking about changing for a while and come back to it ... Do you think it could be a good idea?
adamw wrote on 2016-11-05 23:07:

For you it sounds like a good idea for sure, if you can find an interesting alternative. Assuming you don't like having a boring job - which sounds weird, but I know some people who do.

That's not quite the case for me, though. It seems like no-one believes me, but I'll keep saying it - I do enjoy my job! It's a great job. I'd probably be a lot less happy if I was, as Jeffrey Hammerbacher said, "thinking about how to make people click ads" (though I'm not claiming to have one of the best minds of anyone's generation :>), but that's not the case.

I think Jon (below) is more on my line of thought when he talks about having a job scheduling trains. I mean, I could totally have a job scheduling trains and be happy with it, and take pride in the trains running on time and not crashing into each other stuff. But it wouldn't be my passion. I wouldn't be doing it to fulfill my lifelong ambition to schedule trains for a living. I wouldn't go home and play Train Schedule Simulator till 2am. It's just that.

In a strange way I'm actually happier than I used to be. Not caring so much can be liberating. I care about doing a good job, just in the inherent way most people feel about most work: if you're going to do it, you might as well do it well. It's nice if Fedora and Red Hat do well, in the way it's nice if my local sports teams do well (only more, because if Red Hat do well, I get more money too...) But I don't have any of my, you know, emotional well-being tied up in it. I used to care a lot that the Good Guys weren't Beating Microsoft. I used to care a lot about when the year of the Linux desktop was going to come. And now I really don't, and that's just fine.

Matěj Cepl wrote on 2016-11-05 21:44:
Two things: first of all, thank you a lot for all the work you have been doing for Fedora. Really appreciated (even though, the last time we had one-to-one chat it didn't end well, IIRC; sorry about that). The second. I cannot overemphasize how much I believe that one should never ever work for money. Really, the life is too short to waste it on that. Follow the God’s leading (if you are into such things), or in a secular terms, follow your passion, and hopefully some money happen, but your soul is too precious to be sold for money. I know a bit what I am talking about. Those ten years ago I switched from being lawyer to being a computer guy at Red Hat, and I have never for a second regretted that decision (though, of course, feelings of defeat hurt sometime), and I suspect there is one similarly radical switch somewhere in my future. And never believe that you are too old for the switch. I was thirty-five. And it also doesn’t matter, whether you will be super successful in what you do. Doing you what you feel you should do does matter. A lot. “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster // And treat those two impostors just the same”.
adamw wrote on 2016-11-06 00:07:

See, I think that's kind of a difficult position to defend. On purely practical grounds: it is, still, realistically impossible for everyone to 'follow their passion'. And (to get on a soapbox briefly) I think one of the more dangerous articles of faith in current popular culture is exactly that idea, because if you tell everyone they can just follow their dream!, then you're inevitably going to wind up with a lot of disappointed and angry people down the road.

But beyond that...all I can really do is offer personal experience, but you know, I've done quite a few jobs, and never really been unhappy about any of them. I've delivered newspapers, stacked shelves in a library, stacked shelves in a bookshop, worked in a supermarket, and done some stints on phone support. None of those things is my passion. But I didn't mind doing any of them. You can find interest and value in pretty much anything if you keep an open mind about it. I deliver a newspaper, someone gets to read the paper. I get to ride my bike around the neighbourhood. It's fine.

Everyone goes to the supermarket, and you don't break your neck on the oil someone spilled on the floor and you get the stuff you wanted to buy and none of it is expired and so none of it kills you (hopefully). You don't really think about any of that, but it's someone's job to make sure all of those things happen properly. It's not rocket science, but hey, someone's got to do it. What's so great about me that it shouldn't be me who mops the floor and faces up the milk? Nothing much. So I did it, for a few years. You get to know people. You provide a service, and you can take a bit of pride in doing it well. Nothing wrong with any of that.

I guess, I dunno, I guess I like Terry Pratchett's take on it: following your dreams is all very well, but basically if it's indoor work with no heavy lifting, you're doing pretty well.

Also can't stand Kipling. Give me some Byron or some Heaney or, hell, some e.e. cummings will do fine. But Kipling can join Wordsworth (not that they'd get along) and the pair of 'em can bog off somewhere I never have to read either of 'em again. :P

Jon wrote on 2016-11-05 22:01:
I'm a geek who has a job at a large multi-national working on proprietary software. I enjoy my job. It is technically challenging and therefore keeps me interested - I think I would enjoy scheduling trains in the same way - it's not intrinsically interesting but has the right level of challenge to keep me enjoying it. With your job role there is the added incentive that the software you are creating is a public good. Having the operating system for our computers open as well as functional and easy to use is an intrinsically good thing. The year of the Linux desktop may not ever come but having an open alternative out there keeps the big players from abusing their power in ways they otherwise might consider. The existence of Fedora is good for people who have never heard of it - as well as those of us who rely on it every day and are very grateful (thank you!). I'm really not arguing you should work on Fedora late into the evening or that you shouldn't have passions outside of computers but I hope the knowledge that what you are doing is important adds 10% more spring to your step as you go through your office door. There are big issues that Fedora can't address e.g. the locked-in wall garden nature of many important services but there would be more of those issues if Linux wasn't a realistic alternative so I hope you know there are a lot of us out here grateful for the work that people like you guys are doing.
Fritz wrote on 2016-11-06 08:23:
I'm in the same situation. Maybe it's just that I'm getting older. I've never been a nerd to begin with. My dream was to become a pilot and in my twenties I worked as a flight instructor for a a year or two. I had to give up flying for various reasons and that's when I started to pick up programming to put some bread on the table. If it wasn't for the money or the prestige, I think I'd be happier working as a ski instructor or a mountain guide or something similar.
adamw wrote on 2016-11-07 18:01:

Prestige?! Where do I get me some of that? :P

Pavel wrote on 2016-11-06 09:27:
I have been there a number of times in the last 35 years. A human brain craves for new impressions, and you seem to have seen it all when it comes to computers. You are just bored. You need a new challenge, but you are scared life might become uncomfortable if you actually go for it. While I can not promise you success I can tell you from my experience that fun will return when you master new challenges. The first time it happened to me I switched my job. The second time I married and founded a new company. The last time I went into politics, founded new companies, learned iOS and Android development, took physics courses to understand the Einstein equations and modern quantum theory, and right now I am brushing up my C++ knowledge and do machine learning with artificial neural networks on mobile devices. There is also no reason to be concerned about getting old and not being able to compete with young people unless you decide to be braindead.
adamw wrote on 2016-11-06 16:44:

That's really not what I was getting at at all...but thanks for the note. :)

adamp wrote on 2016-11-06 18:10:
Believe it or not, I share the same feelings. Working on Fedora from Fedora Core 1, tech and programming is my daily work, knowing computers from their born. I am not sure if this is due to age or just a time we are living in. I see one of the parts of the feeling is that those inovations do not really make people happy, but are tearing them appart. There are trilions of things all over, but none of them really do fulfill the basic needs of people being and talking with people in person. We have absolutely lost basic mankindness, bartering it with electronic trinkets. Most of us do not know our neightbors, while "communicating" with people all around the world. I just lean on working with small kids, they know what we lost during our adult lifes.
ern0 wrote on 2016-11-07 11:54:
Have you ever written anything in assembly? Say, a game for C64, an intro for Amiga, a diskmag for PC-DOS? If not, I can understand you, 20 years is enough of the industry. (If you're doing only web stuff, 10 years is far enough. Enterprise: 5 years.) Go, make something real.
adamw wrote on 2016-11-07 17:28:

Nope, and I don't want to - that's never been quite the vector of my interest (I didn't start out writing code, and only really do it incidentally; I can write okay Python and Perl, but if I have to fix anything in C it takes me all day and doesn't interest me at all, all the faffing about with stuff higher-level languages just take care of for me triggers my 'this is bullshit' instincts, not my 'ooh, this is really interesting' instincts).

But again, please take the post at face value: I wrote "I still actually really like my job" and I meant it. I'm totally fine with it, as a job. The post is more about the wider...culture, I guess.

Gonzalo Odiard wrote on 2016-11-07 12:39:
Don't worry. I have been there. Is part of the problem of doing a hobby your job. When it is a hobby, you can jump from a interesting task to another when you want. When is a job, you will have good days and no so good days. And in a open source project, is expected that the people who is lucky of get paid, get the boring/difficult tasks done. It's ok to want do something absolutely different in your free time. I find carpentry relaxing. If I would work 8-10 hours every day doing that as a job, probably will not like doing it as a hobby.
Lee wrote on 2016-11-07 19:51:
Yep. I sometimes feel this way too. When I'm out, I always keep my phone in my pocket. In fact I find a lot of people are awkward today without their phones. No one knows how to make conversation anymore. I used to think I was the shy one, until I realized I'm the one making conversation all the time. It's fun being randomly open with people too, expressing your thoughts or ideologies in real life - you get to experience the emotions and reactions :) I like programming. I like my computer. I like playing UT2004, DOOM 2 and Age of Empires 2. I love reading. I don't like technology being wasted. I don't like software being reinvented every year. I don't like how people have become absorbed by the Internet. I'm one of the most dedicated computer science and hackeresque type of person I know. I'm seeing a pattern with people who are commenting on this blog too. I think our problem is we see the fricking truth guys. Technology is going to ruin us because the majority don't know how to use it within their means. Too many people live outside their means. This is why global warming is imminent, among other things. I don't think I've ever been so open like this on the Internet before. But damn it feels good. Hang in there everyone. Keep believing and living and loving what we do, and fight the good fight.
No way wrote on 2016-11-08 00:35:
Wow, that hits chillingly close to home. Good read...
Rami James wrote on 2016-11-08 05:58:
Really feeling what you wrote here. It's been something that I have also been dealing with over the last half decade. Mostly my real interests these days have moved from software, hardware, tinkering, and engineering to things that I feel more emotionally and physically connected with: playing with my kids, reading, painting, woodworking, cooking, and spending time with my family. I used to get energized by figuring new things out in my digital world. At some point, I'd figured a lot of stuff out and it just because something I had to do, and not something I wanted to do. After twenty-plus years.. I think that it is ok to move on to something else, and to embrace that change. I'll keep doing what I'm doing as long as someone pays me well to do it. When that stops, I'll move on to other things that I find more emotionally satisfying. It's a privilege to have that option. Most people on earth do not.
AP wrote on 2016-11-11 22:12:
I think there's lots of products being developed that don't solve an existing problem. Jobs would have said that people don't know yet how much happier they'd be with an iPhone. I suspect it's more in the direction of getting people addicted to their FB feed or mood-facilitating bulbs or what not and drain their wallets. Nothing new, think slot-machines. Recommended reading is "Phishing for phools". As engineers, we should just boycott that with our keyboards. Go work on something that matters. Is it another social something? Is it an app that does payday loans? Is it another super-expensive gene-based something that stretches one's demise by 6 months? What is the biggest problem of our time? The one thing that can get a billion people killed? Think about it, then go work on it. I am sure sw is related in one way or another. You'll feel good about it and you'll meet wonderful people as well in the process. Motivation is correlated to both effectiveness on the job and well-being. I have to say I do not relate to many comments here emphasizing the hedonistic principle, doing things because they give pleasure, or the materialistic principle, do what pays best. Most sw eng have enough $$ and we can learn to enjoy painful activities (like running a marathon) or enjoy deleterious ones (smoking or slot machines).
Stefanos Sofroniou wrote on 2016-11-14 03:17:
It seems I'm not alone! I felt exactly the same as you mate and even stated this quite firmly with strong opinion and only those who were born before the '90s could relate or understand me. I'm an '80s kid and I have enjoyed pretty much the same things as you and feel like an outcast right now for the same reasons. I have lost the spark that would make me cherish the moment I would sit right in front of my computer and tinker around my system to see how things work behind the scenes. It was an amazing article, I have enjoyed reading it. Cheers mate.
steven wrote on 2016-11-16 10:53:
Shortly after reading this article, my router/NAS/VPN/webserver/email/shellserver went offline. I'm actually travelling since some weeks now, whilst using that machine to continue doing paid work. It took me over 2 hours on the phone with someone to remotely troubleshoot and bring it back online. If that didn't work out I may have had to end my trip and get on a plane or, be suddenly without a job or income. My computers offer me some luxury, help me to earn an easy living and have time/money to do other things to enjoy life. That also makes me a slave to them sometimes. Probably my life would be a lot simpler if computers were left out of the loop: I likely could have found other and interesting work to pay for my travels. It reminds me of money itself. Most people work tirelessly to earn it, and then enjoy spending it to compensate for any ill-feelings. I don't imagine those who earn and spend the most money are necessarily happier, although their footprint/impact in the world might be more dramatic. Actually I think less is more; Zen might be: not needing to earn or expend wealth, and to be self-sufficient in that regard. Perhaps we should strive to not need computers?
adamw wrote on 2016-11-19 02:11:

"Perhaps we should strive to not need computers?"

This is definitely a part of it, yes. In fact a lot of people get to that point after a while: after you've worked on software for a while, your favourite kind of patch is the kind which just deletes a bunch of stuff. Getting rid of bits is great.

Of course, there's always a catch-22: I've been trying to kick all PHP-based stuff out of my setup and do as much web-y stuff as I can with static generators, but of course, moving from Wordpress to a static generator is itself a bunch of work, especially if you want to keep comments intact. So I've got rid of ownCloud, but I still have WP.

In general, though, yeah: get rid of what you can, simplify what you can't get rid of, and automated everything you can.

gregor gross wrote on 2016-11-16 10:54:
I actually started doing something again that I did a long time ago but stopped doing back then. You know, working in front of a computer is bad for my fitness (I'm mostly sitting), well being (I never move that much) and eyes (for always focussing on the same distance). My back hurts, so I started yoga etc. Then I went hiking, and for a week, I felt absolutely fine. No pains, no whatever. So now I'm back to walking to work and back home, while reading a book. So I'm the guy walking with a book.
Casey Crockett wrote on 2016-11-21 21:06:
I used to bicycle a lot before I married. Now I read-walk to park and back for lunch to hold on to some of the fitness I lost. The 3 mile round trip perfectly fills an hour lunch, and the route is relatively low traffic. For the occasional query/statement about a "dangerous habit", I reply "know your route well, and hold your reading material far enough away from your face to use your peripheral vision for obstacle avoidance. The danger is minimized."
Lee Dowling wrote on 2016-11-17 08:43:
It's the quote from Friends: "Don't you ever get home and think 'If I see one more cup of coffee...'" I have to agree. But I still enjoy computers. I do so by exactly what you say - I don't do any of the modern fads, and I buy things that are easy to maintain and work my way (hint: This means I've never owned an Apple product in my life). I don't have IoT or lots of other stuff. But that gives me scope to tinker with "old-fashioned", offline, boring stuff that nobody else touches because "Oh, my Nest does that" or whatever. I have a personal hatred for voice recognition, by the way. And anything that describes itself as AI (because it's not... really not). So I play computer games that are offline for the most part. I never buy a product that's latest-and-greatest. I have an old laptop that does everything I want (and I mean, everything. I once ran an entire school off it via virtual machines). That laptop has a real BIOS, not UEFI, and a bog-standard partitioning, and runs VMs of all my stuff (VMs let me keep my old things running like they always used to and just say "Whoops, that was a bad idea" and rollback to a previous state). Even if I'm forced to replace this machine, it will be VMs all the way. I have work VMs and toy project VMs and programmning VMs and Windows VMs and Linux VMs. Because they work how I would like them too and if they have to run as some window into a machine, on a machine that I don't want to admin itself because of its complexity, so be it. My phone is a basic smartphone. It does apps. It does Internet. I use it to play some puzzle games. That's it. It's most useful feature, to me, is providing Wifi to a laptop if I don't have signal myself. I can live entirely offline, but it's also comforting to just pop online, check your email and then turn it off. It's under your control, and your system works just as well offline. And what do I do for a living? I put iPads into the hands of schoolchildren (I did not choose the machine!), I install more and more and more IT into schools, and I spend my life in front of a computer screen. Everyone expects me to be "the geek" for everything I do. Instead, I'm quite happy with a laptop, no Internet, and a bunch of my old games and programs. Failing that, a command line and a copy of gcc. The stuff I write is inferior and outdated and based on old principles in an old languages. And I don't care. Because that's what I like. Part of it is getting old. Part of it is technology fatigue (honestly could not care what tech is in the news). Part of it is having a working process that works BETTER than the modern ones (kids programming in other languages inside cloud-based HTML5 program interfaces... really? How much more infrastructure do you want to use to do a simple task?). And part of it is almost certainly deliberately isolating myself to a small group or on my own when I do that. I tuck myself away, back in the comforting folds of the 90's computing I grew up with, but with unbelievably more resources at my disposal. It's like imagining playing with ALL THE LEGO when you were a kid, and getting the opportunity to do so. I call it my "VR childhood", where I put on a hat and suddenly I'm back in the idyllic scenario of having tons of RAM and storage with my 90's programming tools. Except there is no VR. Because that's a new faddy thing and just gets in the way of me working how I want.
Victor Escobar wrote on 2016-11-18 22:02:
It sounds to me like you intuit the need for a healthy sense of balance in life. People who delve down the rabbit-hole of tech can lose perspective, sometimes to a dangerous degree. We meat-puppets are social creatures who need to interface in person with our fellow meat-puppets in order to stay mentally healthy. Your stated desire to eat in restaurants and engage in the analogue offline world is great. Don't second-guess yourself. Keep on doing what you're doing.
someone wrote on 2016-11-21 00:29:
I know I am late to comment, but I'd still like to. Perhaps someone will still be reading it. That article resonated deeply with my current mindset. I learned programming on a Sinclair ZX81 (1k RAM! no less!), went through some less limited 8 bit systems and then arrived at an Amiga about five years after. Only to find out I couldn't really program it the way it wanted to be programmed. Its Basic was a Joke, the C compiler needed more RAM than I could afford, so I had to resort to Assembler (which I barely touched on the previous systems - I can still read Z80 or 6502 code, but I was never really good at writing it). OFC that was a dead end too - you just can't manage any decent sized project in pure ASM. Unless you're a demo scene nerd perhaps. So after a couple fun years with the Amiga, which saw me basically just using it instead of programming it (even though I did upgrade to bigger machines with harddrives that could host a C development environment), in 1993 I finally got my first Linux. SLS if anyone remembers. Oh, and suddenly I didn't need to program on my own anymore. Anything was open source, I could just peek into the source, change something, recompile. I was delighted by some really ingenious developments (anyone remember when the O(1) scheduler arrived?), I loved how things suddenly felt faster after something like that changed (it may have been mostly my imagination, but that was how it felt). I was still mostly a user, but I felt like I was in control and understood what was under the hood pretty well. And if not, I always knew where to find out more. Lots and lots of years later I actually got into assembly again and had lots of fun optimizing the heck out of a compute heavy piece of software, utilizing hand-optimized SIMD code all over the place and even got a diploma thesis out of it. I did not realize at the time that I was already one of the last dinosaurs. The problem is - we know how things are supposed to work. We know what piece of art a subroutine, a library, or even a whole program can be if someone went that extra mile. But hardly anyone does anymore. All we get is crappy products with not much of an update cycle before planned obsolescence kicks in and you're supposed to buy the latest and greatest again. Often written by some monkey who just sees programming as a job and thinks lots of LoC produced is going to make him look good to his supervisors. Or producing the fastest results. There are exceptions, like some Linux distros which try to make the best of whatever their upstreams give them to work with, and perhaps even run working bugtrackers and feed back patches. But that is a closing niche. MBAs have taken control over what hits the market, and they won't be relinquishing control. Techs have pretty much given in to the time-to-market pressure. Take any smartphone, any receiver, any router. Many even run Linux and most still suck badly. No root access, no updates (again, exceptions exist but they are very rare). And I won't even be getting into the plethora of IoT stuff or "cloud services". Heck. even basic internet access often comes with terms of service I don't really agree with. I think what plays a major role in the lack of excitement is that back then, the prospect of a free network run by free software on ever more powerful computers we could fully tinker with seemed like a very bright future ahead. And that what we got instead is mildly depressing, to say the least. Yet the majority of people couldn't care less. Wish I hadn't taken the red pill.