What's bad about coding? You can work for hours with nothing to show for it

Last Saturday, I spent several hours working on my website’s code. I added some new meta tags to lazy load images, tried to remove JQuery dependencies from my scripts, added enhancements for accessibility and structured data, and even created a pull request for the theme that I am using (Beautiful Hugo).

Basically, five hours of my day were eaten up by completing those tasks. Although this was another example of getting too absorbed in your side projects, I was actually proud of myself. I accomplished more work within 5 hours then I would in a typical work day (amazing what happens when you’re not in 2 hour long meetings).

Later that night, my friend and I were catching up over greasy fries and a couple of drinks at dinner. The whole night was going well until she asked me, “What have you been up to today?” For most people that is probably a simple question with a simple answer. For me, this question is anxiety-inducing. What do I tell her? “Yeah, I worked on removing JQuery from my website, structured data improvements, blah blah blah.”

Cool Side Project Dude

I simply told her that I just worked on enhancements to my website. For someone who is non-technical (and even for someone who might be technical), that is a sufficient answer. However, that answer seems inexplicably sad. It doesn’t capture the complexity of the work nor does it capture its potential outcome. Likewise, it makes me feel like I am not really doing anything substantial since I have nothing to show for it.

This is usually my frustration whenever I work on anything coding related. Until you have the final product (if there even is one), you don’t have anything to show for it. You can spend hours writing the most efficient algorithms, and end up with nothing more than a new Python source file in your GitHub repo.

The “issue” is that people are quick to commend things that they can see and understand. And for someone like me, who secretly thrives off of social recognition, it’s a painful situation.

Take this scenario:

Person A: “Oh yeah, I re-built my patio”

Person B: “Oh yeah, I re-built my search algorithm”

When most people hear Person A, their immediate reaction would be “Oh!! I want to see!” When most people hear Person B, their reaction would be “Oh that’s cool…”

And unfortunately, I can’t post my code to Instagram and become an Influencer like I would if my interest was something more tangible. I’m sorta stuck in this uncomfortable realm of existence where people think I don’t really do much in life, just because they don’t understand what I do.

Now if I produced an app or website, this is when some people might say “You make apps! That’s cool!” Also, this why I tend to prefer front-end development just because it’s the only piece of software that people can see and understand.

I wish I can conclude this with some wise solution, but I think the only answer is to keep doing what you love. Everything comes at a price, and this is the small inconvenience that you pay when coding is your pastime.


See also