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Watching the future of coding accelerate into a simulated black hole

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    jen chan
Black hole 3D visualization

In ten years everyone will know a bit of code. Coding will be like a first job at Tim Hortons or Starbucks. Blue collar coding jobs for emails, Wordpress and Drupal management are dime-a-dozen. People pump out templated Wix and Wordpress pages on Fiverr. And if you want a custom Wordpress theme, you can get it for $500. Say what they might–devs who believe that such gigs are reserved for subpar coders–the crunch is here and it's not turning back!

A black hole, according to Professor Andrew Hamilton, is not only an object whose gravity is so strong that light can't escape; it is a waterfall of space.

the (happy) fish upstream can make way against the current, but the (sad) fish downstream is swept to the bottom of the waterfall.

The best of us don't believe our industry won't diminish, cheapen, be automated, made redundant. They're preparing for it. The fear of stagnation drives devs to learn, practice, read blogs for hours, figure out the best way to allocate savings for retirement. If you've been following, you may have heard last year Microsoft figured out how to use AI to generate markup from a sketch. Soon only the most elite, most successful at inventing new wheels and most rapid of learners will remain at the top. Today the most sought after are the $400k Cobalt jobs, hit-the-ground-running polyglot software engineers who become tech directors.

I want to rise above it, believe in bootcamp rags to riches, rockstar devs and CTOs... but the churn nor the koolaid is unavoidable. The myth of the self taught developer does not apply to me.

If you have management acumen you may create a position for yourself reporting to C-level, and persuade stakeholders to invest in talent, propose all-in-one personnel solutions to match your department's tightening employee budget. I have vague ideas to do this, seeing peers decline due to poor eyesight, carpal tunnel and insomnia. But first, I'll need another long lasting job, with real career growth punchlines for the resume. Then another. And another.

Through history, institutions have introduced rigorous criteria to recruit the finest specimen of worker. A notorious example would be the Nazis. To join the most elite faction of the SS Leibstandarte, male candidates had to be at least 5'11, prove they were of "pure aryan ancestry" for the last 150 years, and be in good health and fitness. Likewise, only athletes who demonstrate their potential for next-level results would be admitted to Olympic teams. Developers aren't gladiators or astrophysicists. I fail to see how solving a rubics cube or binary tree search demonstrates how well I'll build a website. I wonder if employment, dating, and every facet of life is moving towards a control-feedback optimized dystopia. People list their height on dating apps. We've got Github contribution charts and productivity scores; the Chinese have sesame credit. I'm reminded of the movie Gattaca, where every natural born person's romantic and occupational aptitudes are eclipsed by a societal preference for genetically perfect, "purebred" people.

The process of hiring a developer is predicated on one's intellectual fitness on every dimension: social, analytical, emotional. Phone screenings, hackerrank tests, no-internet bugfixing, behavioural questions and whiteboarding, and maybe some trial-for-pay weeks. I can't help but wonder if companies do this as intimidation theater or a filter designed to fail most applicants so that the creme de la creme can glide through. Of course, there's also the possibility they're just not that into you.

Bell curve diagram of high performance candidates

I taught part time university courses for some years. About 2% of the time I'd see a student go above and beyond so much I'd predict they would become an expert. Bell curved, only 2-20% of all students in class should get A grades regardless of how high their scores are. This is the kind of economy I grew up in. I took school seriously, and this system worked great for measuring oneself against a class of already-polished brilliance. ...Much less often is the potential for mediocrity acceptable.

In previous thinkpieces, I didn't get into being an ambitious woman or minority. There's everything and nothing to say that hasn't been said.

You've won the endless jackpot for being a unicorn, or being bad at it. I'm not just saying this due to imposter syndrome–it's entirely possible to be rough around the edges, to not make the cut. I’ve been there. Women should be allowed to be bad or mediocre but experience has taught me our margin for error is narrower, though affirmative action has given me the chance to have more interviews.

Anyhow, if you are truly lacking and you know it, but you have the resilience to continue somewhat as a lone hag in a cave undertaking the Sisyphean task of practicing and applying yourself, getting (welcome and unsolicited) feedback from strangers online and starting over. You're doing it. The logic is the same for artists. That time someone tells you your drawing sucks and won't hang it on the fridge but you continued anyway. You did it.

The plight is a non-plight when I realize this is exactly what I want to do.

The plight is a severe risk when I realize I put my eggs in this basket and several have already cracked--oh wait, the basket is made of glass!

Jordan Petersen would say I'm talking like an incompetent, runty lobster. According to him, if I stand with my back straight and talk the talk, I will reap the rewards that come to the confident. But his advice doesn't apply in an industry where results speak for aptitude. It only works if you believe in a pecking order of bullies vs the rest of us, (through some insane hybrid reasoning between outdated pop psych and evolutionary psychology). I prefer to be honest on the failed culture fit diets I've tried. I've nailed a 5 step anti-aging skin routine in prep for when Sheryl Sandberg says my salary will peak, apparently at 34.

In the past, desperation for validation took over. I took what I could get, acquired disposable experience, stagnated, and started over. After each job, I realize the industry had grown exponentially and I hadn't taken the time to upskill thoroughly. I was putting cart before horse. Just because I wanted a dev job, didn’t mean I could do it well. Feigning the overconfidence of a young man, I applied for jobs I met 60-80% of the criteria. Without experience you can’t gain any experience, so off I went, for the experience. I live to tell that expectations and standards are all over the place in the industry.

People are beginning to question just what's wrong with me. Why did I leave something prestigious and emerging to start something I've been cancelled twice in? Maybe I think the grass is brown on both sides? Maybe I want a job I'm not qualified for? I have brute force worked myself to mental burnout once in a different field; why couldn't I do this with another field? My gut tells me if I haven't pulled my weight enough to exhaust every option, it isn't over.

I must continue; it is the only thing I vaguely enjoy now. I might learn something; I might make nothing. I've got funfunfunction and coding rainbow videos, a pile of books, and cabbage to eat, for days.

9/11, icebergs calving, ironic racist jokes, border crossing hold ups... Nothing can surprise me.

Two dungbeetles fighting over a ball of dung

Same time next year, I'll be here cutting my wobbly teeth on, highlighting quotes from dated textbooks and masticating them between my tiny pincers and even tinier jaw, with receipts framed on the wall, watching history documentaries on how dictators succeed, spreadsheeting my sunk costs. Just like a dung beetle, feeding on old shit.