Keith smiling

How do I know if I’ll be happy as a software developer?

Instructor Keith Douglas offers suggestions on how to plan your next career move.

I once had to make a decision.

I was made redundant a few years ago from my web development job. I wasn’t too upset because I’d been doing the same job for many years and it was time for a change. But it also presented a challenge that you’ve probably faced yourself before. In fact you may be facing it right now.

“What should I do now?”

A decision had to be made. Should I continue as a developer, probably requiring some skills updating. Could I branch off into another related discipline that interested me like design? Or should I go to Italy and become an olive farmer?

Ultimately when we ask these questions of ourselves, we’re really thinking “what would make me happiest in the future?”

You may be asking yourself “How do I know if I’ll be happier as a software developer or not? Do I really want to spend a large chunk of my life and money on this? How do I know it’s the right thing for me?”

It’s hard to tell isn’t it?

Trying to predict the future

The human being is the only creature that has language, culture and morality. We are also the only creatures who can think about the future.

But according to social psychologist Daniel Gilbert we are very poor at predicting what will make us happy. He says that when we imagine our future happiness, we come up short in three ways:

  1. Imagination tends to add and remove details, but people do not realise that key details may be fabricated or missing from the imagined scenario.
  2. Imagined futures (and pasts) are more like the present than they actually will be (or were).
  3. Imagination fails to realise that things will feel different once they actually happen—most notably, the psychological immune system will make bad things feel not so bad as they are imagined to feel.

When we start imagining the future, we leave out vital parts. Painful situations often turn out not to be as painful as you think. And that lovely new TV doesn’t give you a warm glow of satisfaction for more than a few weeks.

The solution?

Gilbert suggests that instead of imagining the happiness levels of our future, we should simply ask other people who have already done what we are considering doing. Turns out that we are surprisingly similar to each other when it comes to our experiences.

So what does that mean for you if you’re weighing up the pros and cons of committing to being a developer?

The importance of data gathering

Keith typing at laptop

Firstly, I would suggest trying it out. There are plenty of free or low cost resources to try your hand at and see if you enjoy the actual coding part.

But what about the experience of actually being in a job? How about tracking down some alumni who have already started their new job and politely ask if you can buy them a coffee and ask about their experience. LinkedIn is a good place to start.

The data you gather from these two experiments will, according to the research, be far more useful than your imagination.

The best way to picture our future is not to agonise and imagine it but to ask people who have made that decision already. If we can gauge their happiness, we can get a good guide as to how happy we’ll be in the future.

For me, I had already had an experience of working as a developer so I kind of knew if it would bring me happiness. I updated my skills and ended up getting a job at CodeClan as an instructor which, luckily for me, turned out great.

I never got round to asking an Italian olive farmer what it was like to be an olive farmer.


About Keith

Keith is a senior instructor at CodeClan. Read more about his decision to get into software development.

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