On Motivation

November 7, 2014

In Which I’m a Bit of an Outlier

A while back I listed to an episode of pragmatic and it got me thinking on the subject of what it is that motivates me. The core argument for the episode is the fulfilling thing about a job, after you’ve passed the point where your financial and other needs are met, tends to be some form of recognition, from peers, mentors, customers, or some sort of outside source.

For the vast majority of people this is probably true. The thing is, I don’t really fit into the category of “most people”. I certainly enjoy external validation when I get it, but that’s not the thing that drives me.

I’m pretty confident in saying that because I enjoyed working a job for seven years where I never met my users, I was the only programmer on the project, management was very happy that the project worked but otherwise left me alone, and I barely got to talk about it outside of work.

Part of what kept me sane and happy there was that I spent a lot of time at that job learning new skills. If I could make a good case for why a skill would improve the project in some way, I almost always got approval. I worked my way up from basic Flash Scripting to real Mobile development on the job based on where the technical winds were blowing and requirements and requests for prototypes.

The bigger thing that kept me sane at that job is that I care more about building things that I’m proud of than any sort of eternal validation. I feel a bit narcissistic saying that, but it’s true. It shows in silly little details, like the fact that when I wrote a very simple javascript engine for automated testing of API calls in my current project I used a linter, and wrote a simple CSS stylesheet to format the data, and so on. The truly extraneous details took me less than an hour to get done, but given that the only people who probably will see output from that app, output, not even the code, are me and my boss.

The thing is, every time I run my test cases, complete with red highlights on any lines that don’t line up with the expected data, it makes me happy because it looks nice and it works relatively well. I’m still tempted to add basic fade in animations using jQuery as each API call completes, but that feels a bit like overkill even to me.