At some point in your career, you’ll have setbacks. Whether it’s personal health, family emergencies, burnout, a colleague getting the promotion you wanted, or just plain bad luck. Sometimes life gets in the way of work and you feel like you’re not progressing in your career. It sucks to feel stuck. And you might even question whether programming is the right career for you. There have been two times I can remember where I considered switching careers because I was so unhappy with my day job. It happens to everyone.
When this happens it’s hard not to compare yourself to your peers at similar junctions in their careers. I’ve done it too. Especially when you hear about engineers at the big tech companies making $300,000 a year. Suddenly you’re wondering what you’re doing with your own career.
It’s a bit cliche to say but it’s worth mentioning that money != happiness. During the first half of my career, most of my focus was on maximizing my salary. In the latter half of my career, I’ve focused more on maximizing my happiness, even taking less salary so that I could have a better work-life balance that worked for me and my family. I’ve held high paying jobs where I was miserable, and I dreaded rolling into the office every morning. At some point, you have to ask yourself if it’s worth it. And only you hold the answer to that question.
My personal experiences won’t apply to everyone, however, so I encourage you to spend time self-reflecting and determine what’s most important to you. And do this often because your priorities will likely change as you grow older.
Also, keep in mind that your salary isn’t the only thing you can negotiate with your employer. Things like time off, work schedule, flexibility to work from home, job title, equity, commuter benefits, and many other things are all negotiable. And don’t have to wait until you change jobs to negotiate these things. You can negotiate these benefits with your employer today. At the end of the day, honesty is what matters when bringing these things up with your manager. If you’re more productive working from home one day a week to avoid the office distractions, let your manager know. They won’t know until you ask. And most likely it’s in their best interest to keep you happy and productive. It’s less expensive for the business than hiring and onboarding a new engineer to replace you.
Regardless of what priorities are most important to you, always remember that it doesn’t do you any good to compare yourself to others. Everyone progresses at different paces. Some people pick up new skills immediately. For others, it may take months to grok a new framework, and years to become proficient at a new language. New skills require new ways of thinking and approaching problems. It clicks right away for some people. It’s not a bad thing if it takes you a little longer. You’ll get there eventually if you stick with it.
And that’s okay.
These things take time. Just focus on yourself and what makes you happy.