Last Saturday I was watching the biopic Jobs and I was reminded of something that I learned later in my career as a software developer. There was a scene, after he had returned to Apple after having being ousted by the board, that he charged each member of his team to start to work on something new. He told them he did not care what they decided to create but that his only requirement was:
It must be something that you care about, because if it is not something that you care about, you won't have the passion to see it through.In my opinion that was one of the most important scenes and lessons of the movie and it has nothing to do with technological prowess.
The most important thing an aspiring software developer needs to determine is what problems are interesting to them. I have known this for years but sadly I was not aware of this when I started my career as a software developer thirty years ago. What problems are you passionate about? In most cases, your skills as a software developer will be employed to solve a business problem, but you certainly do not have to limit yourself to solving problems of business. I have known many software developers over the years who became burned out and switched careers at about the 10-year mark, and looking back on it most of them would agree it was not the role of being a software developer that burned them out, it was solving the same dull, boring, problems in the same organizations ad infinitum. Boring because they had already solved them many times over.
I find this particularly interesting because as an African American male who grew in an impoverished community it never dawned on me to use my newfound skills as a developer to solve the very problems that plagued my community. Currently, there are many efforts underway to recruit and attract under represented groups into S.T.E.M. and while I certainly applaud the efforts and I myself am an advocate for having more Women, African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans participate in STEM careers, but I would also like to see the communities that these future technologists emerge benefit from their ingenuity as well.