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Paulo Henrique
Paulo Henrique

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What to do in tech after 20 years?

I started working with IT in 2001, but long before that, I was passionate about the possibilities, using an old MSX connected to a TV to code stupid things, and later helping my sister with her college degree, writing and debugging Delphi programs.

As anyone who started low at the beginning of the century, it was just trivial work: fix the printer, can't access the network, where's the "any" key, can you replace my mouse, etc. But again, I was passionate about tech. Every spare time I got was spent studying Linux and Open Source and applying it to my work. Later on, most of the IT department processes were running via bash and cron.

But I was still loved everything about tech and the future. In 2006 Social Media started blooming, and CMSs were the new thing. So I mastered WordPress, and in a few months, I got hired by a media agency and moved to a new city.

And, oh boy, I did things since then:

  • worked for a bunch of big companies, directly or indirectly;
  • lectured on huge events like Campus Parties;
  • wrote for respected tech blogs in Brazil;
  • which led me to interview Linus Torvalds (actually, let me rephrase it: I cried in front of Linus Torvalds);

This is the abridged version, as I don't plan to paste a resume here - And I was always passionate about the future and how tech was changing it. I felt like being part of it, creating things with it.

Until 2018, when a series of unfortunate events led me to a little mental breakdown.

It took time to recover. Burnout, depression, anxiety. The pandemic hit and I'm not saying it was something good, but at least I could work from home, which helped me a lot. And I had time to do things for me, not for others. Learn/advance in new languages, create my projects, etc.

But the passion is... gone. Even with AI and the world of possibilities it offers, I just look at it and... meh? "Do I still want to do it? For whom? For what reason? Is money the only reason I code?"

My first post here may look like a huge rant and in fact, it is 🤷🏽‍♂️ - but after more than 20 years solving problems in tech, the feel of "OK, what now?" just can't pass.

So, I'm asking thousands of other people who love tech: what now? :P

Top comments (26)

bcouetil profile image
Benoit COUETIL 💫 • Edited

I have been a developer for 18 years. I'm still passionate, but not by the same things.

I made multiple switches, at the beginning I was working for my bosses, later working for myself, now working for the new generation. It was increasingly fulfilling.

You have valuable knowledge to share to young developers. Continue being a writter (but not for yourself) ? Be an inspiring tech lead ? Or a manager ? Or a mentor ? You can help so much in our field, where most people are too young, too old or too wrongly promoted to take good decisions !

phalkmin profile image
Paulo Henrique

Those are good points, and added to my imposter syndrome, something that's been making me having a hard time re-thinking my career: in a world that has changed so much with so many people a lot more successful than me, what exactly do I have to add?

bcouetil profile image
Benoit COUETIL 💫

There are not enough of these successful people.

Every 5 years, the dev population doubles. That means that half the dev have less than 5 years of experience.

Think of those managers that are destroying products and carreers.

Life experience + good will + tech experience is an incredible combo on its own ! You have value !

Thread Thread
phalkmin profile image
Paulo Henrique

Those are wise words, something to think about during my now public mid-life crisis :)

Thread Thread
boudewijndanser profile image
Boudewijn Danser • Edited

What Benoit said +
Even if you're not as passionate as the people with < 5 years experience, you have a lot of experience.

If sharing that and helping other is something that works for you that would also be great, right?

And is being successful having made it in this industry for 20+ years or learning the newest framework in 3 days?

euperia profile image
Andrew McCombe • Edited

I've been in 'the web game' 27 years now and had a similar story to yours.

In the latter years I found myself working on technologies and platforms I just didn't enjoy and this affected my mental health. I did two things to alleviate this:

1) Focussed on a tech/platform I really enjoy using and got a new role working solely on that (and 100% from home too).

2) Started doing a hobby that was away from tech - gardening and home maintenance. This allowed me some time to focus and to learn something completely new - and gives great satisfaction when I grow/build/fix something.

The last 18 months I've been the happiest I've ever been as an adult. I'm not interested in keeping up with BlockChain or AI or but I'm not dreading it if I need to learn it.

leeexing profile image

Thanks for your advice

xwero profile image
david duymelinck

I started around the same time. I haven't done half the things you did. I'm still curious how things are evolving in the tech world.
I saw blockchain an thought this is not the way I want to code.
I see AI and my opinion is that it never going to be a replacement for jobs you have to think to get to a solution. It is more a replacement for people who work on a production line. I really want to see how an AI will solve problems with more than a few parameters.

I'm sorry to hear you went though a ruff time. I hope you are doing better now.

Sometimes I wonder what I would do when I lose the joy of solving problems with code. I have no idea.

I love dogs, maybe I could work for a shelter and learn how to start my own.
I love biking, maybe I learn how to become a better bike mechanic and start helping people.

If you can't find the passion anymore in your work, don't force it. Try things that make you feel good. It will feel scary, but after the scary part is over you will feel good.
Before I did my first bike vacation, a 500 km ride in 10 days. I didn't know I could do it. I did multiple 100 km rides in one day, but it was mostly flat. I never did very hilly rides , I never did rides with luggage and I never did multiple days.
But I planned it with multiple off days to recover. It was still a big task, and the last days I just wanted to take the train. But I didn't give up.
And the next year I went on a 500 km bike trip in 7 days. I had to stop at 400 km due to an unfortunate injury. But I rode with it for 200 km.

I hope you can find goals you still want to achieve, with or without code. And just go for it.

I recently read another article about programming for a long time,

phalkmin profile image
Paulo Henrique

That's what I'm trying to do with cooking, but the "dev jack-of-all-trades solution maker" mentality always pop and I start thinking "there should have an easier way to do this" :P

michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington

Just to say, from reading this one post, it seems like you're a really good writer and personable communicator!

I agree with both Benoit and Boudewijn that it might be worth considering doing something where you're sharing your knowledge and experience with up-and-coming devs. Maybe it's by managing, maybe it's by mentoring, or maybe it's in the DevRel space (again, you can clearly write well!), but I hope you'll consider these options because I think they'd be rewarding while allowing you to use some of the strengths that you've built up after years as a developer.

But also, you probs got a lot more to offer than just code, so if you're needing a break from tech completely, listen to yourself and take that space. You can always come back to it!

chasm profile image
Charles F. Munat

Yours is a particularly Western malady.

There are two general approaches to life and work. One is acquire a skill, repeat it for a while (not necessarily getting any better at it), and then move on to the next skill. A sort of "buffet" approach to life. A bit of this, a bit of that ... it's all about variety and trying lots of things. Think FOMO.

A more Eastern approach is to go for depth. You learn a skill and practice it for a while. You hit a plateau. This is where the Western types check out. But the Eastern approach keeps pushing until there is a breakthrough. Then they go deeper.

Instead of the iterations being from one skill to the next "new thing", they iterate to greater and greater mastery of one skill.

So your question actually begs the question a bit. You've already assumed part of your answer in the question: namely, that there needs be a "next thing". Maybe consider the other approach. Have you really exhausted the possibilities of what you already know?

thiagomg profile image
Thiago Massari Guedes

A little late for the party, but this resonates with me. I started in 2000, so we're likely around the same age.
I've being through this bored phase several times, including during the pandemic, and what I did was learning different things. Among those were:

  • Playing guitar
  • Japanese and Italian
  • Drawing (@ordinary_cartoons on instagram)
  • Writing novels
  • Photography
  • Other programming languages
  • Side projects ... and the list keeps going.

And recently I started managing people and learning a lot about leadership. Technical lead was not new to me, but the personal relationship is and it's being super rewarding.

I hope it helps.

oraclesean profile image
Oracle Sean ♠️

I think I can appreciate your situation. Aa a kid, I loved photography. I turned my hobby into work as a freelance sports photographer and then started a wedding photography business. At some point, despite my deep love for the art and being moderately good at it, I lost my passion and made the difficult decision to step away. Turning something I loved into work made it, well, work. Now, I have cameras collecting dust. There's no motivation left for it. Not even taking pictures of my grandkids or dogs.

OTOH, I'm good at tech and enjoy it, and I feel fortunate that I fell backward into a job I'm good at and love. While I still work in the same field, what I do now is not what I did at the start of my career. Over time, I developed deeper, more specialized skills that made me (and I dread this expression) a "subject matter expert." Now, instead of being on call and working with customers, I get paid to write, speak at conferences, develop training material, and "know how to do sh*t."

It looks as if you've bounced around a few different technologies. Perhaps you haven't found the right one? Sort of a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none situation? You've clearly invested a lot of time in tech. That gives you unique insights and understanding of the industry, and it sounds like you don't want to reinvent yourself. Maybe it's a matter of sidestepping into another area. Data science, APIs, gaming, operations... there's a lot of variety, and one of them may rekindle the fire you lost.

If you no longer enjoy the technical aspects, your experience is still valuable in adjacent areas. Some ideas:

  • Technical sales/presales.
  • Market research.
  • Technical writing/documentation.
  • Tech editor. My publishers/editors are always looking for people who may not be experts at something but understand the tech well enough to read a chapter, vet the work, and make suggestions to improve it.
  • Project management. A PM who can communicate well with devs/engineers, customers, stakeholders, etc. is worth their weight in gold.

HTH, and best of luck on your journey!

viktor_4a02bc0 profile image
Viktor Gunnarsson

I think it is a relevant question. If we are able to create anything, what is really meaningful to create?

phalkmin profile image
Paulo Henrique

that's a question that popped after a week of deploying sites like "ecommerce for very specific public pool items" and "esoteric charlatan": this has any meaning to anyone? If those sites just went offline a day after deploy, would it matter?

So, what I can really create that has meaning and that at the end of the day I can think "I did good things"?

tim_birkett profile image
Tim Birkett

I think I've had a vert similar tech journey to you Paulo, including the burnout and time off to recover.

Personally, I found that doing challenging things that help others was good for me. I spent two years as an on-call firefighter at my local fire station.

The training alone is a challenging experience, facing situations many would run away from.

I also learned to ride motorbikes which led me to volunteer a few times a month for a Blood Bike charity. That gave me something that felt worthwhile.

In the day job I'm building out a shared platform and encouraging and supporting teams in moving to more of a continuous delivery way of working.

Of course AI is the "next big thing" (sigh) causing panic and existential dread. It reminds me of the Hadoop days when everyone needed Hadoop for their "big data" - when they had a Hadoop cluster (after spending 100k+ on hardware), nobody knew what to do with it.

manumaan profile image
Manu Muraleedharan

What reinvigorated my tech journey is my introduction to cloud. I used to be a database/ERP guy before that. It was mind-blowing to me what was now possible in this new world. I studied myself, and then got into a job in this field. I now mentor others in this field as well because I know many in the same situation as me.

unclejessroth profile image

What a journey! It's understandable to feel a bit lost after dedicating over two decades to tech. Perhaps this is a moment for exploration, discovering new interests or reinventing your approach to technology.

pauljlucas profile image
Paul J. Lucas

I can't really relate since I've been developing software for 45 years and my passion never faded. But I'd guess that if the passion is gone, it's gone. Either you have to move up from run-of-the-mill IT to the kind of IT of designing networks (not just keeping them running), cloud infrastructure, containerization, or shift more into programming. If none of that interests you — if the passion is truly gone — get out of tech and do something else.

susanclinton profile image
Susan Clinton

Don't know I will be alive or not.

phalkmin profile image
Paulo Henrique

Now I feel old

susanclinton profile image
Susan Clinton

But why

boudewijndanser profile image
Boudewijn Danser

Thanks for sharing your story so openly.

Are there other career paths that you could switch to with the experience / skills you have? Also do you have enough non work related (analog) activities that give you energy? You mentioned cooking.

Would it be ok if there was a shift in the energy you get from it moving more towards those and less from work?

phalkmin profile image
Paulo Henrique

That's something that I'm talking a lot with my analyst. I like to solve problems. I like to think about tech and the future. I like to write.

Now, finding something that fits some of those items is the real challenge :P

Cooking is cool and my wife loves it, but sometimes I feel like House on that episode where he learns how to cook. Nice challenge, what's next?

exciteresearch profile image

Felt the same way while overworking at my last role. This is what I decided:

  1. Find something that you believe in, which leaves a lasting positive impact on a growing number of people. ("Goal")
  2. Find others who you enjoy, who believe in you and the Goal. ("Community")
  3. Enjoy moving together towards your Goal while maintaining your health which includes being active, and enjoying healthy food. ("Balance")

That's all I've worked out so far. Still working out the high sustainable recurring income to support long-term care part 🤣

Hope this helps.