Do or Do Not.

On Engineering

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According to CNN and Money magazine, I’ve got the best job in America. Well, not me personally — that job seems to belong to the Mark Dochtermann, the Director of Technology at Electronic Arts. But my job in general, software engineer — apparently, I could have no better job, according to the fine people at CNN and Money.

And honestly, I think I have to agree with them. Whether or not software engineering is empirically “the best job” or not (and I think we all know that these sorts of reports are all essentially horseshit), it’s the best job right now for me, which is really all I care about.

I’ve known this for awhile, of course. It’s one of the reasons why, for better or for worse, I haven’t been pursuing the writing thing with every fiber of my being: I like being a programmer, and I especially like being a web programmer. This isn’t something I’m doing until I find something better — programming is the “something better” that I came to following a lowly-paid and ill-respected stint as a web designer.

(This seems like a good place to discuss the difference between “web designer” or “web developer” and “software engineer,” at least as those words have pertained to my career. So many people, my family included (or perhaps “my familiy in particular”), have absolutely no idea what it is that I do. Everyone assumes I’m a designer or that I do, oh I dunno, data entry or something.

Technically speaking, I’m not an engineer in the most political sense of the word: I don’t have a degree in computer science, I have almost zero formal training in any programming disciplines, I don’t have any certifications to speak of. I’m all experience and no education. My current job title is “Senior Web Developer.” But I have a problem with that title — and haven’t been shy about letting my bosses know about it, for all the good it’s done — because “web developer” is what I did when I first started in this industry seven years ago. I developed websites: I did the design, I built out the HTML and maybe wrote a little JavaScript (or cribbed it from some other site). What I did as a “web developer” certainly wasn’t programming, and I don’t believe that title usually implies any sort of programming ability or background.

The problem, though, is that I’m not sure what a more appropriate titlewould be. The term “engineer” sounds so much better to my ears (and looks so much better on the resumé), but it’s not especially accurate, given the lack of credentials I mentioned above. My father was an electical engineer, and for that he was required to be licensed in whichever state he was employed. So no matter the kind of work I’m doing, I’m not sure there’s any way I’m qualified to use the word “engineer.”

But what I do now, whether my title indicates it or not beyond the fact that the word “senior” is in it, is software engineering. I’m not a designer (except on the side, just for fun). I’m not an HTML monkey, though I can monkey around with HTML like nobody’s business. What I do is work on — architect, design, document, code — the enormous application framework which powers all of our company’s websites as well as communicates with a number of our other back-end application servers. That includes code written in multiple programming languages (though primarily PHP) and a whole lot of MySQL database work.

It’s not all me, by any means (in fact, my good buddy Brian has been more responsible for the overall system architecture than I), but it’s certainly a whole lot me. And “web developer” just doesn’t feel like a fitting title for all of that. It’s kind of like calling an NFL wide reciever a “runner” — yeah, okay, that’s true, but it’s only part of it — a receiver does so much more than just run. (Well, most do, anyway.)

Okay. Rant over.)

Software engineering stretches my brain in happy-making ways — one of the things I like to think I’m best at is problem solving, and that’s what software engineering is all about. It’s overall a pretty low-pressure gig for me <knocks on all the wood he can find>. I get to work with people of a temperament similar to mine and who have interests similar to mine. And the job pays pretty damn well. I can’t think of very many jobs I’d rather have than the one I’ve already got; even those careers where I think I might better like the work itself don’t pay as well (or are phenomenally difficult to break into), and at this stage of my life, money’s still necessarily something of a priority. My job fits me well.

I love what I do. It’s nice to remember that sometimes.

Written by Allen

April 13th, 2006 at 10:42 pm

Posted in Personal,Technology

2 Responses to 'On Engineering'

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  1. “I love what I do. It’s nice to remember that sometimes.

    That’s heart-warming. Now get back to work.

  2. [...] [This post originally appeared at Do or Do Not.] [...]

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