Recent activities, or why I’m not a rock star

There are many, many evenings when I come home and don’t feel like doing anything. This is a normal feeling for the 9 to 5 wage-earner, I suspect. The last few years I’ve felt like I’m wasting my life if I sit around and do nothing after work, but if I force myself anyhow, I feel burnt out and tired. So that’s not good. But there’s so much I want to be doing, and I hate when I’m at work and the day is creeping along, and I think, “I could be doing something so much more meaningful with my time, if I didn’t have to be here right now”.

This is a long way of saying, “I don’t really feel like blogging right now, but all day I thought of things I wanted to write, so I’m forcing myself to do it anyhow.”

I miss the free time I had when I was only working sporadically or part time a few years ago, except it was a depressing and stressful experience in all other respects, so for now I’m keeping the day job. I just really wish I could pick what I worked on during the parts of the day when I feel motivated and energetic.

Anyhow, when I’m not at work, or moping, or finally managing to find the energy to code, I’ve been going to things like the Portland Ruby Brigade meetings, or Perl Mongers, or Portland BarCamp meetups, which often seems like my entire social life in the soccer off-season consists of drinking beer with programmers (not that this is bad, or even that different from the soccer season when my social life is drinking beer with soccer fanatics).

I always plan to take more pictures at these gatherings, but the lighting in most bars is pretty terrible, and I often forget to bring the camera out before everyone has already downed a few pints, which can lead to some strange photographs.

One of things I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, to the extent that I’ve been picking people’s brains about it during the various social hours, is the rockstar attitude in the tech world right now. There’s an article about it on that really grosses me out.

I asked [the founders of Yelp] where they thought they would be in five years. This is what they said:

Stoppelman: Sitting on top of a pile of money … [in unison with Simmons] … surrounded by women! Yeah! [high five]

This isn’t actually what first brought the issue to mind for me, though. Once again, it’s the job postings. Here’s the sort of thing I’ve been seeing lately: Rockstar Web Designer Wanted!, We’re looking for a rock star architect-coder (top 1%), ASP.Net/C# Rockstar Needed for Name Brand Luxury Website.

And maybe this is just me, but when I read the increasing numbers of job listings with this attitude, I think, “my god, now it’s not just enough that I’m smart and articulate and professional, but I have to be a cool kid on top of that? What the hell?”

Someone I mentioned this to at the BarCamp meetup said perhaps I just needed to try thinking of myself as a rockstar and not feel intimidated by the wording, but I’ve realized I don’t actually want to be one. I want to make amazingly cool things. That’s all. I don’t need a fan club, I don’t need the attitude, and I really don’t need the upkeep or to worry about whether wearing jeans is some kind of statement.

It’s not that all of the jobs are like this, but almost everything else is “Seeking Enterprise C#/.Net/Java Developer for Large Soulless Corporation”. That’s terrible in the other direction, and anyhow I’m still desperately hoping to avoid any significant contact with .Net and The Microsoft Way in my future activities.

So that’s my current existential angst, in not quite a nutshell. I thought if I wrote about what’s bugging me, I might get around to something actually interesting, but if not tonight, there’s tomorrow or the weekend. I want to talk about Atom XML, and Amazon’s new business direction, and the thought-provoking article about Howard Dean and the DNC in this week’s New York Times Magazine. And kittens. Did I mention I have a kitten?

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5 responses to “Recent activities, or why I’m not a rock star

  1. I kind of like the term rockstar. Instead of assuming that it is a programmer acting like a rockstar, it makes me think of a world where people who make really cool things naturally have fan clubs. Which is a world I’d like to live in.

  2. Whoops. That was me, Herr Fish. Hi.

  3. I saw a posting recently for a Kung-Fu Master of CSS/HTML/XHTML and web standards.

    I still think it’d be much cooler if they wanted a CSS/XHTML master who also knew kung fu, but I applied anyway..

  4. Fish: I understand what you’re saying, but I think it can get in the way of continuing to make cool things, and become an end in itself. Two reasons: success and especially personal recognition make it harder to try something new and risky, because now you have a reputation to keep up. Also, if the people using whatever cool thing you made are more focused on you than your product, I don’t think that bodes well for its long term sucess.

    Instead of creating a situation where people want to use what you made because it makes their lives better or easier or more interesting, they’ll only stick with it as long as you’re cool. Kathy Sierra has some great commentary on their sort of thing. I think she’d argue that it’s more important for your work to have a fan club, than you to have one yourself.

  5. I mostly agree with your assessment of the rockstar programmer. The attitude is totally gross. And in the long run, I don’t think they’re all that great for business. I worked for one of these people a few years ago. Sure, he had some good ideas and could do some amazing things. But his execution totally sucked. Doing 75% of the work and cleaning up after him got old really quick.

    However, there are a few aspects of the rockstar programmer you don’t see in the average programmer that are admirable, such as creativity, unorthodoxy, and fearlessness. Combine those with the ability to execute and you’ll beat up on the rockstars every time.