At no point in time was I ready to live through the many sharp ups and downs of this 12-year-long Odyssey of mine.
Becoming a good developer is like becoming a pianist. It's fun and good and rewarding. It's also an awful lots of learning and tedious practice. It is inherently hard.
But, if you want make that your career, why is "everything else" so difficult ?
Below are some of the questions that have been living rent-free in my head for more than a decade.
- Why do developers with skills and companies who needs those skills have such a hard time finding each other ?
- Why does job hunting feel like we are students applying for college and not professionals finding out whether it makes sense to work together ?
- Why do we hear all the time that everyone should learn to code, when in reality it's better to do it if you are a young college-educated english-speaking male ?
- Why do developers dread job hunting if it's true that our skills are in high demand ?
- Why is imposter syndrome poisoning so many of us ?
- Why do devs talk about hiring processes at HypeStartups like if it was the 12 Labours of Hercules ?
- Why did Google, the dream company of my youth, decide that a good hiring criteria would the ability to answer brain teasers ?
- Why do devs accept to spend their nights and weekends on taking home challenges ?
- Why are salary negotiations the way they are ?
- Why ghosting ?
- Why are we told to use LinkedIn which is bad at its supposed job ?
- Why do some people lash out in anger every time we suggest that a job interview at a given company went poorly ?
- Why do companies focus on finding good candidates and not good developers ?
And more importantly.
How can we FIX IT ?
I was good at school, with a reputation of being lazy, because it worked well enough for me. I went to a very good engineering school in France. Then, in 2003, I went in a very good university in Germany. Then, in 2007, I went back home to start my career.
Software developer is this well paid job that everyone agreed now and then has a bright future.
On the surface, everything seemed to work well on me.
Granted, I was also a socially-awkward introverted dude.
But more importantly, deep inside, I have struggled all my life with self-doubt.
I have meant to tell this story for 12 years. Tbh I'm still not ready, because heavy stuff ahead, but I just can't procrastinate any more.
For my very first job in France, I had no idea what I was doing. I ended up accepting the first job offer I got. I got hired at TerribleConsultingCompany.
At that time, and even today, they were the ones hiring juniors en masse.
TerribleConsultingCompany found me quickly a QA job with nice people, and I got paid for that.
That job was also terribly boring for me.
I became bored out.
The most terrible mistake I made in my life was to stay there far too long.
When I tried to get my act together, and to switch back to software engineering, things went real bad.
The bore out turned to a full scale mental break down.
Once. Twice. And then again. And again.
When I finally got out of it, I had to suffer in a state of huge vulnerability of stupidly bad hiring practices. I got rejected again and again. I was hurt. I thought I could never recover.
In 2013, I gave up my career as a software developer.
It's something difficult to say publicly, but it's necessary.
Depression has been the plague of my life since then.
Depression is a mental state of low mood and aversion to activity. It affects more than 280 million people of all ages. Depression affects a person's thoughts, behavior, feelings, and sense of well-being. Depressed people often experience loss of motivation or interest in, or reduced pleasure or joy from, experiences that would normally bring them pleasure or joy. Depressed mood is a symptom of some mood disorders such as major depressive disorder and dysthymia; it is a normal temporary reaction to life events, such as the loss of a loved one; and it is also a symptom of some physical diseases and a side effect of some drugs and medical treatments It may feature sadness, difficulty in thinking and concentration and a significant increase or decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping. People experiencing depression may have feelings of dejection or hopelessness and may experience suicidal thoughts. It can either…
Who is depression ?
There are words that you can use to describe it.
But usually it doesn't connect.
Depression is at its core a deeply emotional experience. Or lack thereof.
And until you can make that emotional connection, you don't understand what happens to you, you can't explain depression to yourself.
You can't explain depression to others, who don't understand you.
And those others are afraid because it sure looks like a terrible thing.
And because they don't know what to do.
So they don't do much or don't say much, because they fear to make things worse.
And we stay alone.
The other thing you need to know is that depression - also known as burn out - is really really common.
At the same time, people who suffer from it feel like that they are alone in the world. And the world around them can't help because it's so hard to connect and understand what happens.
And exactly that is a recipe for disaster.
Think about all the harmful horseshit society used to believe about Lesbians, Gay, Bi and Trans. How those people had to live undercover, alone, shamed by the society, and shamed from the inside.
This had terrible effects in the 1980s and 1990s, when the AIDS epidemics started.
Now, there are differences. Most importantly, unlike gayness, depression is a sickness that people want to get rid of.
But the harmful myths, the social stigma, the fear, the isolation, the unnecessary suffering, it's the very same story, really.
Es is eine alte Geschichte, doch bleibt sie immeur neu.
Because of this mess, Art is currently the only way I know to communicate what Depression really is.
Do you know how to use Google Images ?
Try depression art : https://www.google.com/search?q=depression+art
That's very telling and very visual.
"You Should Just Do Sport" won't solve an issue of this magnitude. Jeez, great advice, I wonder why I didn't have the idea yet /sarcasm. Likewise, "You should try surfing" is good advice in general, but not when a tsunami is coming.
As a Founding Father of American democracy once said :
For my part, music has always been the language of my soul and of my emotions.
Serguey Rachmaninov too had a terrible mental breakdown. In the abyss of despair, his doctor remembered him that he was more than a pathetic suffering loser. Beyond the hurt, he was also genius music composer. His doctor had the intuition that Rachmaninov could transform his pain into music. The doctor argued it could help him understand what happened to him, and create meaning out of it. When Rachmaninov got better, he wrote his Piano Concerto No.2, Op. 18 that is known for his virtuosity and beauty among people who like classical music.
But for me, oh boy, that concerto is so much more than that. It is the most poignant, emotionally powerful, accurate description of what happens after a mental breakdown, when hope comes back. Rachmaninov tells a story about mental health. Krystian Zimerman, the pianist, relates that story to me, probably mixing it with his own darkness. I heard it and immediately got it. Later I passed the tip to other friends that were in suffering. And now it's your turn, if you too needs to try someday my secret weapon against despair.
Contrary to an harmful sexist myth, therapy is not for the Weaks.
Therapy is for people who are not interested in having a bad life for the sake of not appearing weak.
Therapy was instrumental for me in getting better.
But on top of that, writing played a huge role for me, it's a kind of gentle self-therapy.
Sometimes, it even helps others who might have the same problems, but can't put words on them.
For me, this all started on DEV.to, 6 years ago.
For my first article, I had no idea what I was doing here, or what DEV was. I had some mediocre articles on Medium.com. One article was somewhat less bad than the others, and I copy pasted it here.
So remember, that yes, you should always write that first post.
And then I wrote more and more.
I wrote on geeky topics for a long time.
At some point, people found what I had to say interesting.
This one was important to me because I had a love-hate relationship with Android and needed to end it.
But then my writing took a completely different direction. I got back to the roots of what went wrong at the start of my career.
This started when I wrote that developers, men and even more women, get treated unfairly during salary negotiations.
I was absolutely terrified when I posted this article, the first of a long list about developer careers that is not going to end soon. I was outside of my comfort zone, outside of my expert lane, maybe on the wrong website even ?
I was overwhelmed with joy when I saw the response.
Apart from a few very intelligent people lashing out in anger, keep that in mind for later.
I became obsessed with hiring in tech, and developer careers in general.
At that point I understood that the secret to overcome my trauma was to fight back against what was the cause of that trauma. I decided that the fight of my life would be against bad hiring practices.
Erik Dietrich struck a chord with me here
The CV is a terrible medium, so why is it still the basis of everything ?
Facts over feelings : Google is bad at hiring.
This topic became my mantra.
But there was a big obstacle.
The only reason I got back to programming is that I moved to Berlin at the end fo 2014.
I needed to leave that bad experiences behind me.
Since that was a huge challenge in itself, I came back to my original job.
That was the best decision of my life. I have so many good memories there.
Oh well, depression is a bitch, and I got depressed 3 times more, and that was hell.
But in between I had finally happy times.
And that redemption was correlated with meeting people who were hiring in a way that I had not experienced before.
A recruiter who told me for the first time in my life
I have a number of clients, so I prefer to understand you first. What would you like to do ideally ?
A CEO who understood that he needed to hire good developers and not good candidates.
A colleague who understood that it was more rational to evaluate developers by looking at what they were doing on GitHub already.
Another recruiter who explained me that her favorite interview question was
I have your CV, I've read it, and don't worry, we will talk about it.
But first I want to ask you something :
Is there something that is NOT in your CV, but that you would like to share with me, because that shaped who you are as a person today ?
A CTO that hired me over a phone call and a lunch at my favorite Japanese restaurant.
Another CTO later who hired me via a tweet followed by a café discussion that went so well that we both knew at then end of it that the match was there already.
It sounded like we could have simpler things. It worked better. Things started to make sense again.
But what hits me the hardest was this one time when I wanted to do freelancing and had to decide for the first time what my hourly rate was going to be.
- Hey, I have an opportunity to work at FamousCarCompany but they want to hire me as a freelancer... And I have no idea what my hourly rate.
- Well, what were you thinking of ?
- Do you think ThisAmount is too much ?
- It's not too much. In fact, It's not enough. FamousCarCompany has the money, you should ask SignificantlyMore.
- Wait, I can do that ?
And then this person, who had worked with me, whom I respected deeply, answered as if it was a self-evident truth
- Of course, you are a good engineer.
I almost cried.
It was not about the money. Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of having more money like everyone else. But it was more than that.
I was 37 and I was finally done with all that self-doubt.
In general, I wanted people to have a better career much faster than I had. Procrastination is something I struggled with for a very long time. So I shared my thoughts about that as well.
Other dumb things I struggled with is that I had that toxic idea that there was "smart" and "dumb" questions, and that you somehow needed to be super qualified and prove your worth before you were allowed to ask a question. Jesus, no, the only dumb way to ask a question is to ask it only to the wrong person, or to not ask it at all. Ask, just ask.
Since I was accused of being lazy, I accepted that gladly.
I had fun with this imaginary conversation with my 5-years-old nephew.
And obviously, I had to talk about self-doubt and imposter syndrome.
With all that backstory, you understand that the audience for this last article was basically YoungerMe.
But I was also writing this article as a follow up from Ali Splittel's article, years earlier.
There are many good writers on DEV.to, but Ali Splittel in particular impressed me when I started writing. She wrote on a range of careers-related topics, gave solid advice, wrote so well. Also a great podcast, because why not ?
What an absolute pearl of a pedagogue.
Then I wonder how did she learn all those things about imposter syndrome ?
Personal experience. Oh no. This shit again.
But at least, I had my painfully slow career start as an explanation. How could she possibly have imposter syndrome, given how obviously talented she was ?
In 2019 and 2020, DEV.to had the great idea to encourage women who code to talk about their personal stories. You can still find all kind of inspirational stories right here :
But here things started also to be ugly.
I have my theory that some toxic tech bros were a big part of Ali's imposter syndrome. See here in 2019.
In case you wonder, it didn't stop in 2020.
Remember when I told you earlier that a tiny but toxic minority was upset ?
I could feel they were people who self-identify as hard-working, intelligent people devoid of emotions. And they were lashing out in anger that we dared to have a rational discussion about how we shall improve things somewhat.
It's all connected, and it's very stupid. Text-book sexist education. Emotions, except anger, are for the Women and for the Weaks. Just Try Harder to Become a Real Man like Elon Musk.
I have a dream, that one day, those people will start to empathize and listen to others.
For the record, listening not easy but it's simple.
Your goal is to become comfortable to shut up for a while when someone tries to say something important.
I thought I was a feminist was I was young, but I was not, not really. I was shaped by my education, like everyone else. I didn't, I couldn't walk the talk. But I got much better at it.
It's all linked together. And today, when they describe me as an hysterical feminazi, I welcome their hatred.
I went back to Job Hunting per se, because that's the core of what sucked for me. It took me an awful long time to understand what hiring was.
Hiring is at its core like seduction. A two-ways street with no rules, with good and bad ethics, and with lots of personal choices.
We must not be passive obedient candidates who just submit a CV and hope for the best. I try to sum up my thoughts in this unclear, long article that was written mostly for me.
I had started with salary negotiations, I continues with other things that many developers hate but are not supposed to talk about openly.
Next on the list were taking-home-challenges
I targeted more toxic superficially good ideas that plague developer careers. For example Robber Tech Barons want everyone to believe they should learn to code, because it suits their interests. But they don't tell you the full story. It is indeed open to everyone, but it is not for everyone. And the difference matters.
Behind the scenes, for 3 years I had met tech recruiters who were so much better than the ones I met in my youth on LinkedIn. And oh, boy, did it change my mind.
I used to genuinely despise recruiters. I thought the whole thing was a farce.
Since then, I realised that while the perception I had at that time was entirely justified, the recruiters themselves were not the real issue here. Bad hiring practices were the real issues, always were.
As strange as it may seem, I had to become a recruiter myself to close all my loops.
It took me a very long time to admit it, but I can now make my outing : I am a recruiter too.
Recruitment is a process, not a job. Many people take part in it. And we need more devs take part in it.
My initial goal was to flip recruiting on its head.
Ideally I would like to like an agent for artists, but for developers.
Start with their needs and defend their interests with companies.
What happened in the last months was intense.
I won't talk about it much today because it happened in France.
Excuse my french, but it's a different language, translating is hard work, and this article is too long already, so I will keep that for another day.
But the TLDR is that I see the lights at the end of the tunnel.
I now see how I can earn my life doing the project of my life.
My second goal which is to change the practices of the sector. Since I discovered that the good practices mostly already exist, my contribution will be to write about all this.
Therefore, I have decided to open-source all my content on GitHub.
I hope some of you know how to use that little website.
I will centralise my content at https://github.com/jmfayard/we-shall-improve-hiring-somehwat
You can read it via https://jmfayard.dev
I don't know, predictions are hard when they are about the future.
But I'm at peace, at least, a very long last.
I've found meaning.