Maverick Traveler

Location Independence, Geo Arbitrage, Individual Freedom

Why My 7 Years Of Working As A Computer Programmer In Silicon Valley Was A Complete Waste Of Time

I spent around seven years working in various tech companies in Silicon Valley. I worked in small and large companies, including famous companies such as Yahoo!, Facebook and others. Looking back, I can say without a shadow of doubt that it was a complete waste of time.

I reflected back on this sad and confusing period of my life when a friend forwarded me an article that talked about how Google had introduced some new perk to its employees. I believe it was an on-site Thai massage for your dog or cat. If I’m not mistaking, that’s probably Google’s 2,633rd perk.

The next thought that popped into my mind was the sheer number of naive young men who’re salivating at the mere thought of working for a company like Google. And I immediately felt sorry for these misguided youths. Because I was a misguided youth like that once.

First off, if you’ve never been to Silicon Valley, let me transport you there so you can understand what it’s like. I’ll cut through the bullshit so that you don’t have any illusions. Imagine a piece of flat land. Fill it with concrete so that it resembles an enormous parking lot. Drop a bunch of nondescript, medium-sized grey buildings here and there. Dress up each building with a company logo. Then, drop a bunch of fast food chains such as McDonalds, KFC, Quiznos that serve crappy food laced with chemicals. Welcome to Silicon Valley.

Santa Clara

Silicon Valley is a barren, grey and depressing piece of land. There are no cities. There’s no civilization. There’s really nothing there. During the day, its population swells when vast armies of engineers arrive, go to their cubicles (or a loud open space), write code, and then go home in the evening. If you’re coming from Europe, or pretty much any other place except America or Canada, you will be underwhelmed. Guaranteed. It’s no surprise that my friends and I joked that Silicon Valley is “the armpit of America.” It’s really that soul-destroying.

But make yourself at home there because this is where you’ll be spending the majority of your waking time, toiling many hours per day. During important product launches, you’ll be working well into the night (sometimes even pulling all nighters).

Of course, there are concentrated population areas that might resemble cities (e.g., Mountain View, Palo Alto, Santa Clara). But these are only cities on paper; calling these areas cities is a an insult to any great world metropolis such as Moscow, São Paolo or Paris. At best, those are little man-made villages with one main street on which you have your typical fast food joints mixed with a couple of half decent restaurants.

(There’s also San Francisco, a nice and picturesque city where I lived for many years. But for one reason or another it has a way of draining you if you live there for a long time. It’s ridiculously expensive and ridiculously politically correct even for many of my leftist friends. For one reason or another, most of the people I know usually spend few years living there and then move somewhere else, either back home or to another city.)

But I’m not going to try to convince why you should never work there based on how it looks from the outside; for, the actual problem runs much deeper than that.

Truth be told, I’ve always wanted to work in Silicon Valley. “The Valley” holds an almost mythical appeal among the young tech-savvy crowd. Not only do they come there from remote corners of America, but they also come from places like Europe, Brazil, India and Australia. Startup and programmer message boards are always full of guys discussing ways of obtaining the coveted work visa in order to move and work there. They come to Silicon Valley for the same reason all kinds of people come to a place like New York: to pursue their dreams and make something of themselves.

Luring The Young And Inexperienced With Promises Of Riches and Greatness

church-google

Eventually I realized that, more than anything, Silicon Valley is a symbol and nothing more. Through the use of clever mass psychology, it acts like an enormous sponge, mopping up dreams and aspirations of young people everywhere. These young souls are lured to this mythical land by money, various perks and benefits, but most importantly, by the chance to work on something “great,” “life-changing” and even “world-changing.”

“Come work on our product that’s used by 5 million or 5 billion people worldwide” is usually a popular marketing slogan. And what naive young man wouldn’t want to be part of something big?

Economically speaking, most Silicon Valley companies operate on a well-known scam called the pyramid scheme. The goal is to “growth hack” the company to a level where it has many users—regardless if it ever makes a single cent in profit (who cares about money when you have a bunch of people using the product, right?).

As soon as a product or service attains a certain number of users (not even active users, just users), it provides an illusion of future profitability. It’s like buying thousands of fake Facebook likes, in order to trick visitors and customers into thinking your site or product is much more popular than it really is. It doesn’t even matter that these likes don’t even represent living and breathing humans who adore your product.

Companies with zero revenue cleverly incentivize their employees into working long hours by dangling a carrot in front of them. Apart from working on “life changing products,” that carrot is usually in the form of some paper money: stock options, employee stock purchase plan, etc. Once the army of mechanics (aka programmers) builds the actual product, the company is then taken public, making its founders and their close friends insanely rich.

If the company goes belly up, which happens quite often, founders usually walk off with millions of investor dollars and other bonuses, leaving the employees holding stock options that are worth less than the paper they’re printed on. Such examples were rampant during the last dot com boom and bust. This also happened fairly recently when a couple of well-known companies crashed and burned, and their massive valuations came vanished into thin air.

Many people think there’s another bubble happening right this moment as a result of crazy valuations (a glorified taxi service called Uber is valued at $51B-$75B) that have no basis in reality. I completely agree.

Ripping Off Those Training Wheels

Free, At Last

But let’s forget about money for a moment. There are more important things besides money. Things like your time and your life. As you know life is short. Very short. Much shorter than you think. Furthermore, your most productive years are typically your 20s and 30s, a fraction of your entire lifespan. And if you’re someone who wants to do something important with his life, spending those years as a glorified car mechanic isn’t your path to success.

Joel Spolsky, the guy who co-founded Stack Overflow—the biggest  Q&A site for programmers—used to run a very popular blog, “Joel on Software.” He’s one of the most authoritative voices on programming and software development. I personally don’t read many blogs, but I judiciously read his because Joel is a very intelligent and articulate guy. If you’re a half decent developer, you’ve probably read his blog too.

One of his articles is called “The Development Abstraction Layer.” It’s a story about a young programmer who decides to start his own software company. Eventually, things don’t work out and the company closes down. Joel says the company failed because the young programmer underestimated what it takes to run a real software business (i.e., it’s much more than just writing code). Of course, as a software company owner, it’s in Joel’s best interest to sell you on the idea that starting your own business is so damn hard that your only option is to work for another software company, much like his own.

(In programmer speak, the abstraction layer is a blueprint or a map from where things are implemented or built. The abstraction layer could be the blueprint for a building; the implementation layer is the actual physical building that got build as a result. Joel goes further and talks about all the things that make a company successful (HR, marketing, sales, support) as product of this implementation layer. When you’re a programmer who’s working for a company, you don’t have to worry about this implementation layer; when you’re starting your company, you have to build all of this out yourself.)

But Joel is wrong here. This is exactly what you don’t want. You want to break down someone else’s “implementation layer.” You want to rip down the walls that are holding you in. You want to do things your way. And you don’t want to listen to guys like Joel who tell you that you need his implementation layer. Not just in terms of programming, but in terms of life in general.

When you’re alone, you must build it all out—you really have no other choice. You’re forced to figure out how to build your own products, how to market them to an audience and how to eventually sell these products. It’s really not that hard, and you don’t even need to make a lot of money to have a comfortable lifestyle around the world.

The point is that you’re testing yourself and learning new things. You’re learning how to create value. You’re learning how to make money. You’re learning how to build your nascent business. You’re building your kingdom, brick by brick. You’re building your empire. And there’s absolutely nothing else out there that cements you as the captain of your destiny than knowing how to make money in your own terms.

Large programmer sweatshops like Silicon Valley inhibit that. They inhibit your growth. They inhibit you from realizing your true potential. They inhibit you working on your terms and traveling/living wherever you want. They’re a cleverly disguised pyramid scheme where the owners/founders get super rich on the backs of young and naive engineers who join companies based on cleverly constructed marketing slogans that promise a chance to “change the world.”

Well, you know what? I’ll be really blunt and direct with you. You’re not going to change jack shit. Nobody cares that you helped write some obtuse peace of functionality in a program like Microsoft Word, Adobe Photoshop, or a web app like Yahoo! Mail. It’s not your goddamn product. You didn’t create it. You don’t own the rights to it. It’s the company’s product. And you’re just a mere employee. A cog in a wheel. Nobody will remember you. All you’re doing is wasting your best years making someone else very, very rich. Unfortunately, by the time you realize this, it’ll be too late.

A World Without Silicon Valley?

After traveling and living around the world (more than 80 countries) for the past seven years, I spent a lot of time thinking whether the world would be better off without places like Silicon Valley. Would my life been more productive and fulfilling if I grew up in a country that didn’t have Silicon Valley? After lots of pondering, I reached the conclusion that, yes, I would’ve definitely been better off. The world as a whole would be better off without such programmer sweatshops.

Living around the world helped me see why. In Eastern Europe, where I’m originally from and where I’m living now, it seems that every other guy is hustling and making money some way or another. Many of these guys are very bright and understand technology (Eastern European software developers are one of the most highly sought-after in the world), so they can easily code and build websites. But because there isn’t a Silicon Valley in Lithuania, Ukraine, Belarus or Russia, they’re forced to be creative and build an actual business that actually generates money (even a little) instead of constructing a pyramid scheme only to unload on the unsuspecting masses (i.e., going public, IPO).

Instead of applying for a job at some tech company that gives you a billion benefits (while there are plenty of tech companies here, due to lack of capital investments, nothing here even comes close to Silicon Valley’s might), they build a product, build a website to market that product and learn how to reach out to their customers. Before they know it, they have a small but thriving business selling software or some other products.

These guys go from having specialized skills into ruthless businessmen because they’re forced to learn how the entire process works inside and out. They have no other choice: they must learn the entire process, from front to back, everything from making the product to marketing and sales. They must learn how to feed themselves without a dedicated marketing and sales teams that does it for them.

That’s exactly what happened to my friends back in New York. While I was working in Silicon Valley, my hustler friends in Brooklyn continued to build out their businesses. They didn’t get things right on the first and even second try—who does?—but, through trial and error, they eventually stumbled on things that worked. By the time I left California seven years later and began working on my own stuff from the tropical shores of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, they already had a sizable six-figure businesses that were growing rapidly.

It’s All About You

One of my core beliefs is that everyone must become the captain of their destiny. This is what being a Maverick is all about. An integral part of that includes knowing how to make money. “Making money” is a metaphor; it isn’t so much about “making money”; it’s more about learning how to provide value by monetizing what you’re really good at. It’s about being the captain of your destiny. It’s about taking your skills and turning them into a well-oiled enterprise. Everyone must cultivate their inner entrepreneur—even if you don’t even have an inner entrepreneur and don’t consider yourself as a business person. (I’m far from a business guy, but because I need to feed myself, I run several online businesses).

It’s the fundamental skill that keeps on giving. This is what gives you freedom and allows all your dreams to come true. When you’re writing some code in some dark cubicle, you’re not cultivating any important skills. None whatsoever.

When I look back at my years of working there, I ask myself, what did I really learn? Sure, I became a better programmer. No doubt about it. I learned a couple of new languages. I learned a couple of cool frameworks. I became friends with other geeks (who are conspicuously absent from my life now). I learned how to design better software with less bugs. I learned how to use a debugger. But so what? Who cares about all that? All I learned was how to use tools that someone else built. I became a glorified mechanic and nothing else.

None of these are real world skills. None of them are. These skills don’t scale. These aren’t skills that contribute to my freedom in any way. If I were suddenly airdropped on some uninhabited island or even in the middle of Mexico or Brazil, how would these skills help me in any way? How would these skills let me live a better life? The answer: they would not help in any way whatsoever. They only have value as a component of a well-owned machine.

For seven years, I lived in a permanent bubble. I was surrounded by people whose minds were occupied 24 hours a day by some new app they were designing or building, or gossip about certain “hot” company going public. This bubble burst as soon as I moved to South America and began meeting guys who built very successful and profitable businesses using nothing but their creativity and determination. Before I left America, I had no idea such guys even existed.

These guys weren’t paper millionaires or billionaires. These guys weren’t running an elaborate pyramid scheme. And, guess what, they were also successful in other areas of lives. They had it all figured it out because they took the time to figure it out.

Can I say that those seven years were a complete waste of time. Absolutely. Without a shadow of a single doubt. Abso-fucking-lutely! If that isn’t a definition of a waste of time, I don’t know what is.

Of course, it’s not easy to do your own thing because there are no rules. There are no instruction manuals. Each of us has to leverage what we’ve got. It’s much easier to choose the path of least resistance and join an army of similarly-minded people who are already doing the kind of work you’re doing. It’s much easier to join an army than to make your own army, even if it’s a 1-person army that just includes you. It’s much easier to join the mass than to independently carve your own path.

In this sense, my biggest coup was moving as far from Silicon Valley as possible. After I left America, working for a tech company was no longer an option (there are tech companies outside America, but as a non-citizen you need to navigate lots of bureaucratic tape to get a job). This forced me to become creative and learn how to build my own things. The other option was to move back with my mother and get a job—not much of an option, at least not for me.

To reach greatness, you must make your life temporarily difficult. Like the Spanish conquistadors who arrived to the New World, you must burn all your boats. You must eradicate all paths that will make your life easier. You must destroy the “implementation” that someone else built. You must rip off and throw away those training wheels. There’s no other choice.

Because instead of spending your precious life wasting away in some nondescript, soul-sucking environment, you want to be sitting in a cafe in Buenos Aires, Argentina, or sitting on a beach in Bali, Indonesia, or working in a co-working space in Chiang Mai, Thailand, or, like me, sitting in a nice studio apartment in the center of Kiev, Ukraine. Or maybe, instead of living a nomadic lifestyle, you want to permanently live in a new country. Such freedom isn’t free; it comes with a price. And that freedom will not be found in an enormous concrete parking lot that someone, long ago, christened, “The Valley”

As one very enlightened person once said, “You’re either building your own dream or helping someone else build theirs.” Spend your time wisely.

6 Reasons Why Young Men Should Not Become Programmers

My background—and one of my passions—is computer programming. I’ve been programming computers since my early teens. I can code in all the major languages for all kinds of platforms such as web, desktop, and mobile. I’ve worked for some of the largest companies in Silicon Valley, including Yahoo! and Facebook. I’ve also worked in a good number of small startups. Software development is one of my solid skills even though it’s been some time since I did it for a living.

Having said all that, quitting my lucrative job and leaving the world of programming behind was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

If I could do it all over, here’s why I would never become a programmer:

You don’t develop crucial social skills

Instead of interacting with real living and breathing human beings, programmers interact with machines made of glass, plastic, and metal. It’s a surreal way of looking at it, but that’s exactly the way it is. The more you program, the better you get with communicating with machines. You learn to type code, test it out, expect a certain response, fix what doesn’t work and try again. Do it long enough and you’ll be more comfortable dealing with machines that with real humans.

You can only do one thing at a time, so if you’re sitting and building an app, you’re not at a bar, a party, a gathering where you’re mingling with new people. If you’re already introverted, then you become even more introverted. If you have decent social skills, those skills quickly atrophy. That’s even more so if you code at work and then play video games at home.

I cannot underscore the importance of social interaction. It’s pretty much the core of any male self-improvement. Do you want to have better friends? Learn how to meet people. Do you want meet new women? Learn how to meet people. Do you want to get a job or upgrade from the shitty one you have now? Learn how to meet people.

It’s ironic that something as natural as meeting other people is now in the realm of an actual skill that can be taught and improved. That wouldn’t have been the case if you were dealing with people all day, every day. For instance, I don’t think a salesperson who makes cold calls all day and deals with endless rejections has any approach anxiety at a bar—he approaches for a living. Same goes for an aggressive real estate agent, lawyer, or advertising executive.

Moreover, the people with whom you spend most of your time are programmers just like you. They’re similarly introverted and socially awkward. They’re not going to  teach you how to behave around women. They’re not going to teach you how to conquer new lands and be real men. I can probably count on one hand how many programmers I’ve known that also happened to be very social and not awkward around others. Most were introverts who were scared of women. The most inspiring people in my life were go-getters who build businesses and not sat around and wrote Javascript closures.

You don’t develop emotional intelligence

Programming is a very logical process. Computers don’t have emotions. At the core, all computer code is made up of zeros or ones. All control statements are evaluated to true or false. A computer can’t cry, get angry or feel empathy for someone else. A computer only understands zeros or ones.

That’s what happens to your brain, too. A human mind is very elastic and can adapt to pretty much any kind of work. When you spend most of your time dealing with rational problems, your mind becomes more rigid and logical instead of more flexible and emotional.

You start seeing the world as a collection of zeros and ones; colors compress to black and white instead of beautiful shades of gray. You lose that emotional/irrational “scent” that enables you to feel a person instead of asking them a logical question and expecting a logical answer. That’s called emotional intelligence. And you lose the ability to reason emotionally when you write intricate “if” and “else” statements all day.

It’s only after I stopped communicating with a monitor and a keyboard and started dealing more with people, that I finally started building this crucial emotional intelligence. Life is much richer and more rewarding when you’re not always being introspective and breaking everything down to its logical components.

You’re giving away your best value

You know the saying that, “you’ll never get rich working for someone else?” I’m pretty sure a programmer invented it.

We’re living in a capitalistic society where people with money (capital) hire workers to do stuff for them (labor). Programming is a form of labor. When you program for a salary, you’re giving away your time and expertise in exchange for money. You’re helping to create value for the company, and all you’re getting in return is money that’s eroded by inflation and the rest eaten by taxes.

That’s not an ideal situation to be in. Capitalists get richer by hiring labor because they know that after paying their wages, they’ll still come out much more ahead.

Tech companies perfectly understand this, so they provide all kinds of perks and financial incentives (stock grants, options). Nonetheless, don’t be fooled: unless you’re one of the founders (or one of the first ten employees), the amount of value you’ll give away will be always greater than the value you’ll receive. That’s just how capitalism works.

Generally speaking, it’s a good rule to avoid situations where you’re trading your time for money. I know many guys who used to make a killing in freelancing, but have moved on and started their own companies that make money even while they’re sleeping. That’s the beauty of letting capital work for you.

Programming is not an “empire” skill

People understand the above point (that you cannot get rich while working for someone else), but they still believe that being able to code is somehow different. They think they can build an app in their basement, launch it to the world and have a $25 billion valuation tomorrow.

Well, I’m going to tell you a little secret that took me some time to figure out. You will never become rich or successful because you happen to know how to code. Unless you’re one of the best programmers in the world and Microsoft or Google are luring you with a $2M signing bonus, you’ll never really strike it big. That may sound obvious, but that’s not what I thought for a long time. I thought that because I knew how to code and build the next Facebook or Google or WhatsApp and immediately strike it big.

It doesn’t work that way. Yes, I can easily build a Facebook app. Yes, many of the founders of tech companies are engineers with tech backgrounds: Bill Gates is an engineer; Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google) studied engineering in school. The founders of WhatsApp have an engineering background. Even Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) is a computer nerd.

But that’s not why those companies became so successful. They became successful because the founders created a great product that was in high demand. Any programmer can build a Facebook clone (it’s actually really easy), but it takes special talent and skills—and, of course, timing—for it to be a blockbuster success. It’s no surprise that many of the founders went on to more executive and strategy roles at their own companies; they have skills that are way beyond sitting at the keyboard and writing classes and functions.

A good example of an “empire” profession is marketing and sales. Another great skill is knowing how to hustle. Figuring out what customers want and being able to deliver that to them is golden. Besides, you can always hire (cheap) programmers to build your app if you have a great idea that you think will be successful.

It’s a low barrier-to-entry job that’s rapidly becoming commoditized

Someone once said that programmers are nothing but modern day mechanics. When I heard it for the first time, it didn’t click: I’m getting paid lots of money for doing something that I enjoy, so how could I be like one of those mechanics that just changed oil in my car? I have absolutely nothing in common with a mechanic at a body shop down the street. Or do I?

Now it makes sense. Perhaps I was in denial all long. The thing about programming is that absolutely anyone can be a programmer. And I mean just about anyone. Programming is now less of a science that requires a creative and imaginative mind, but something that one can learn via a book and apply the next day. One of the reasons is because lots of new tools have been created that simplified building an app by the order of magnitude.

Nowadays, pretty much anyone can find a tutorial (there’re millions of them), learn one of the web languages like PHP, Python or Ruby and build an app. It’s one thing to learn a very simple language like PHP, but it’s another thing to master an entire framework and build a Facebook clone in an hour. That process was a lot more involved just five years ago. Not anymore.

Instead of being a niche profession for a select people who are gifted with an engineering mind, coding is now a mass-market phenomenon. There are lots of boot camps and classes for pretty much anyone and their mom that guarantee that you’ll build a “complex” app in an hour or so. And it’s not even a hyperbole. I wouldn’t even be surprised if you can build a Facebook clone in an hour or two (or much less).

That leads to commoditization of the profession. There are so many people in the world who know how to build a Facebook clone, that anyone can jump on one of the freelancer sites and hire a cheap programmer from India, Russia or China, and pay him a fraction of the money that a Western engineer would get.

It’s a poor long-term career choice

If you browse any of the development or startups forums, you’ll notice that many programmers begin to question the meaning of life (and their career choice) once they get closer to 30, 35, or older. That’s because programming is mostly a young man’s game. Kind of like being an athlete but without all the money, fame and women.

It’s not surprising that software companies love to hire people straight out of college. They send their best recruiters to the top-tier universities to pimp their companies to prospective employees. Then once they hire them, they pamper these new recruits with generous perks and amenities: campuses with full-size gyms, free food, on-site massages, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. They do that so that you don’t have any reason (and why would you?) to make the trek home.

When I was in my teens and my twenties, I loved programming. I was surrounded by other ambitious guys who thought they would build some amazing operating system. Guys that lived on pizza and noodles while coding for—what seemed like—entire weeks straight without sleeping.

But once you hit the age of 30, or even the age of 35 or get a serious girlfriend or even a wife, your output will decrease compared to some new kid out of college. You’ll no longer be able to put in all-nighters at the office before a new release because you’ll have someone waiting for you at home. There will be pressure for you to move to a higher “management” position or change career paths.

This means that a programmer’s career is comparably short. I’m not saying that you would be treated any differently if you’re, say, 40+, and are looking for a job (although it’s a dirty secret in Silicon Valley that most companies only hire young whippersnappers). But even if you did get hired, you’ll probably feel strange taking orders from some pimpled-kid who’s half your age while being surrounded by a bunch of other kids who look like they’re going through puberty.

Think bigger and wider

Most guys who get into programming but later find it unsatisfying don’t realize that programming is only a tiny fraction of endeavors they can embark on. There’s a whole plethora of other problems and challenges that’s perfectly suitable for their creative and analytical minds. The key is to think bigger and wider. Start thinking in terms of people problems instead of software problems. What kind of problems are some the people might be facing that you can help solve for them?

Starting a software company that builds and distributes software services is one. Building a freelancing business that solves specific challenges for your clients is another. What else? You decide.

Think of programming as a specific tool in your toolbox that’s designed for very specific problems. For instance, I’m very fortunate that I can easily pull up a WordPress theme and implement a new feature, or quickly customize a signup form without asking anyone for help.

But these are all small problems that are done in the context of bigger and more complex challenges. Challenges that involve building real permanent capital. Challenges that are much more ambitious and rewarding than debugging an annoying Javascript function all day.

Why I Left My Programming Career And Haven’t Looked Back

Over seven years ago, I quit my programming job at a promising startup. The decision was anything but easy and straightforward, but nevertheless ended up being the absolute right choice in the long run.

My job certainly wasn’t the worst in the world. It came with lavish perks. The office was spacious and airy; it had tall ceilings and was furnished with overpriced leather chairs. We had access to complimentary snacks and drinks. We had flexible hours. In exchange for surrendering our precious time, eyesight and youth, the company dangled carrots (stock options) in front of our faces. The best part was being compensated for writing code, a very fun and addictive hobby that I enjoyed.

After finishing a critical project that I was working for several months, I collected my overdue vacation and took a three-and-a-half weeklong trip to Central America. It was one of the first “extended” trips that I took abroad. Unlike my previous vacations, this time, instead of staying at hotels, I backpacked from country to country, staying in various hostels while mingling with other backpackers and locals.

After the trip, I flew back home and rejoined the daily grind. As I attempted to settle into my old routine, something was off. It wasn’t like all my previous vacations where getting right back on the hamster wheel was as easy as jumping off it. This time, the process of going to work became an unnatural and robotic slug. Instead of seeing my work as “important” and “life-changing” (words recruiters love to use to describe a position), I began viewing it for what it really was: driving to office, writing some computer code and going home. Since the money wasn’t a strong initial motivator, It mattered even less that I was receiving a paycheck for it. The work began to feel monotonous and repetitive.

Feeling that continuing along this path wasn’t in my best interest, I met my manager, and informed him that I would be quitting. He was disappointed but sympathetic; he assured me that the job was always mine should I change my mind down the road. We shook hands, and I left the building.

I never did return. Although, I couldn’t initially pinpoint the exact causes of my discontent, over the proceeding years the jigsaw puzzle slowly started to come together. As always, the issue was the most efficient way to spend my time.

Once the fog cleared, and I had a chance to look at things in a more objective matter, I realized that I can either spend my scarce time communicating with a lifeless computer or spend it communicating with real, breathing people. And the more time I spent telling a computer what to do, the more rusty I became when dealing with humans; by perfecting my skills of talking to a computer, I was simultaneously atrophying my skills when dealing with actual living and breathing humans.

Since it’s physically impossible to do both, I had to choose one. In economics, it’s called opportunity cost. Every additional minute that I debug an obscure bug is an additional minute that I’m not reaching out to perspective clients or business contacts. Every additional minute that I look up a vague function is an additional minute that I’m not seducing a cute girl at a coffee shop or at a bar.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it all came down to whether I wanted to interact with real, living and breathing humans or keep trying to get some device with transistors to obey my commands. In the end, I chose people.

It also doesn’t hurt that I was deserting a commodity field. Thanks to the plethora of tutorials, manuals and guides available, it’s completely possible for anyone in the world right now to learn and master the same exact skills that I have, enter the market place and begin making money — competing with guys like me in the process. These days, a person doesn’t need much beyond time, dedication and an Internet connection.

Programming is a skill without barriers and competitive advantages. More competition means less job security and lower wages, something that should be concerning to anyone who relies on a commodity skill to pay his bills. That’s a great scenario if you’re an employer but terrible if you’re an employee.

In the new globalized world, in order to matter, you have to add some kind of value. And more often than not, it means dealing with people. The very best skill in the world is the ability to deal with people, whether it’s arranging deals for a new business, or seducing that cute girl in the coffee shop.

After all, it’s the people that make the world go round. And you can’t get really good at the latter if you spend most of your waking hours staring at a computer screen trying to catch some obscure memory allocation bug.

Although I no longer code for a living, I still spend a lot of time staring at a blinking cursor on the screen. I’m using the computer to communicate, but the difference this time around is that I’m communicating via a human language (English) that’s understood by actual people, instead of toiling in some dark cubicle constructing arcane instructions that only a computer can understand.

Furthermore, it makes sense to leverage the fact that there’s a vast army of developers looking for projects and are willing to work for low wages. So, for my next project, I’ll be looking to hire a developer instead of doing it myself.

I’m more than certain that the contractor I hire will be much more capable than me; in several years my programming skills would rightly atrophy as a result of spending more and more time in front of people: arranging business partnerships, seducing women, and writing in English and other human languages instead of funneling my time on a very specialized skill that only a computer can understand and appreciate.