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So, I'm a web developer... now what?

Sat, 21 Oct 2023

It’s been over a year now since I lost my big tech job and began my transition into web development. The majority of my then-7-year career was spent working in low-level languages like C++ and worrying about problems like memory leaks and cycle-level performance. I still couldn’t tell you how I ended up with those kinds of jobs, but once I did, it was a struggle to get out; that’s what I had experience in and so that’s what I could get hired to do. Granted, I never really tried, but I never truly loved working in that environment the way I loved making projects for the web (which I spent a lot of my free time doing).

Well, I’m happy to say that, after almost a year of professional development and job searching, I’ve now settled into a job in which I’m nominally a web developer, but I spend a lot of my time doing app development and setting up web infra too—I’m fine with this since web infra tooling is great nowadays (I’m not actually writing the infra, after all) and with frameworks like Cordova and React Native, apps are basically just websites anyway. But the main point: I achieved what I set out to do over a year ago. I proved myself enough to convince someone to hire me to make websites and now I’m doing it! So what’s the verdict? Was it worth it? Did I actually enjoy building websites or was I just excited and fulfilled by greenfield personal projects? Does the day-to-day tedium of professional coding crush my soul just the same, or was it really the type of work that got to me? Am I really having a better time than I was at previous jobs?

…Yes, oh my god yes. I don’t know the last time I thought about memory allocation or the rule of five and I am significantly happier for it. More power to you if you’re a low-level engineer—there are certainly aspects of it that I liked and I’m sure I haven’t written my last line of C++ yet—but, by and large, that type of coding is not for me. The web space is exciting, constantly changing, constantly improving. It breeds creativity in a way that low-level coding just doesn’t. Even if all I’m doing is executing someone else’s design, finding all the best ways to make things look right is like a puzzle that is, to me, very satisfying to solve.

Sure, the honeymoon phase is over, but that just makes me more confident in saying this was the right choice. I spent the first weekend after I started thinking about how I was going to restructure the code on the first project I worked on. I firmly believe in work/life separation, but I literally couldn’t help it. I was just too excited about my work. I’m even still finding time to work on projects in my free time, which is more than I can say about working anywhere else. I recently ported someone else’s web project to Vue, and it took me about a week. I basically spent all of my off hours working on this until I finished it, and I have no idea where that motivation came from, but I can tell you I definitely would not have had it if I spent my work days hating the code I was writing.

So will it last? You can never really know, but I think so, yeah. One of the biggest benefits of my current job is that we take on a lot of projects, which means I have a pretty low chance of getting burnt out from working on the same thing for years at a time. In the 6 months I’ve been there, I’ve worked on 3 or 4 main projects on a consistent rotation, and more odd jobs in the interim. Lots of people would hate that style and I totally get why, but I love the variety. But even if it wasn’t for that, the actual work I do on a given day is so much more enjoyable for me that I think I’d have a harder time burning out anyway.

I was very lucky—extremely, cosmically lucky—to be afforded the chance to take so much time off of work to put in the hours I needed to pivot career paths, and I’m grateful for it every day. There were certainly times I thought about how easily I could have gotten a similar job and stopped worrying about it earlier. But now that I’ve come out on the other end, I can say that despite everything, it was 100% worth it. If you find yourself wishing you were doing something else, and there’s any way at all you can give it a shot comfortably, do yourself a favor and go for it.

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