No, I have no side code projects to show you

Published Oct 17, 2017Last updated Dec 15, 2017

I know the exact moment in the interview I lost the job for a boutique app firm in downtown Austin. They wanted to see some of my code, and, of course, they understood I couldn't show them anything from my current or past companies. But that shouldn't be an issue, certainly I can demonstrate any one of my numerous side projects that I no-doubt have in progress.

But I have no side projects. I have no presence on github. I have no open-source projects with which I whittle away my evenings. I have exactly zero pull requests for any of the latest sexy codebases all the cool coders are in on. I don't mess around with exercises in Haskel. And I loathe hackathons.

And when I said I have no side projects to show, what they heard - what interviewers hear - is: I am not the best. I am not a passionate developer. I don't spend the necessary time to keep on top of my education and skills. That development is "just a job." 

And to some degree this is true. I am not the best. I have met some of the best, and we are fundamentally different creatures. If I may make an analogy, back in my distance running days I could consistently get in the top 5-10% of finishers, but the differences between me and the elites was the difference between me and the bottom 1%. I was a passionate runner. I ran 50+ miles a week. I pushed myself to excel. To excel within the boundaries of the time and life-balance I had set for myself. To achieve elite status would take a life sacrifice that I wasn't willing to make. It would mean running at the expense of all other experiences. 

There is a small group of people for whom code speaks. They discovered more than a job, they discovered a calling. Code is a craft and they are artists. For every one of those folks there are thousands of amazing, solid developers that will write circles around 90% of the other CS graduates. But they aren't "the best."

When companies say they want "passionate developers" that are coding in their free time, when companies say they want "the best," I get nervous. It's a myopic approach to team building. It's a subtle way of requesting human machines.

I've made it a point to add to my resume and online profiles the other things about which I am passionate. The silly art project that I launched in Austin. My dog business. Running, painting, writing. It's important to me that these attributes be valued by my workplace. If they value it in me, then they value it in others, and that speaks volumes about the company culture. 

The world is catching up to this reality, bit by bit. The Bay Area, Seattle, NYC - these may be the hottest, hippest areas to have your startup or giant conglomerate, but you severely limit your pool of potential candidates to a tiny puddle of people that can live in these cities. I have four children. I own an entire separate dog playcare business with my wife. I am an active member of the local art community. There is no way I could ever live in one of these other cities. And while some companies are realizing that I am not an edge case - Facebook, Google, Amazon, they all have a significant presence in Austin specifically because they've drained the talent elsewhere - too many places are still convinced that "the best" lives to code. That "the best" is attracted to your company because you have a nap room, work 80 hour weeks and have a ping pong table. That "the best" is happy to drink into the Earth every Friday and has absolutely no evening or weekend plans. Ever.

I did not get the job at the boutique app firm in downtown Austin. I have no code side projects to show you. On Thursday evenings I go to a life drawing studio and spend three hours with other artists sketching a variety of poses from our model. Most evenings after I've made dinner and spent time with the wife and kids, I sit down and knock out 2,000 words on my fifth novel (and like the four abominations that preceded, it will sit in my Pile of Shame, never to be seen by another human being.) Weekends I hike. I dive deep into art. I am a passionate developer because I am a passionate person. But I have no code here to show you.

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