Discussing software, the web, politics, sexuality and the unending supply of human stupidity.

Programmers don't necessarily want to be entrepreneurs

One thing I’ve noticed recently with tech community events is the assumption that everyone who attends a hack day is doing so in order to start a business. Or that developers wish to be entrepreneurs or run startups.

Well, confession time: I don’t want to be an entrepreneur and I don’t want to run a startup.

I quite like being a programmer. I take a certain amount of intrinsic satisfaction from solving interesting problems. I like writing code for the same reason I like writing prose: it gives me an opportunity to be logical and expressive. I like paying attention to small details and fiddly problems. I like learning new things, and I take pleasure from using good tools. I like the intellectual process of conceptual analysis; I like taking real world concepts that are rough, vague and hand-wavy and turning them into code.

The sort of things necessary to run a startup or be an entrepreneur are different. Broad, sweeping visions, that ever-present phrase “disruption”, a certain amount of pig-headed, extroverted arrogance (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), the ability to be a good salesman. Sorry, that’s not me.

I don’t actually care about becoming ultra-rich. Sure, it’d be nice if I didn’t ever have to worry about money again, but there are other priorities in my life: family, friends, learning and intellectual fulfilment, romantic love and sex, health, good food, fun, contributing to shared community projects, fighting for a better society. (I’d suggest that at least some of those things are, for most non-sociopaths, as important or more important than money.) Money is a means to some of those goals. Obviously, money is useful to buy property to live in, and money lets you buy books and travel to places and buy nice gifts for boyfriends or partners and so on. But I’m not interested in becoming Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or Warren Buffett level rich. Once you reach a comfortable level of income, getting more money doesn’t actually make you happy. Respect and admiration are what makes people happy, and having large amounts of money only helps somewhat towards that goal.

This isn’t to knock entrepreneurs or entrepreneurship: in order to actually have projects to work on, we need people to actually come up with ideas and be crazy enough to try and go through with them. And it’s not even to say that programmers don’t want to become entrepreneurs. Many do. And good luck to them. But some of us don’t. We just like writing code and solving technical problems. Please don’t assume that we all want to be entrepreneurs.

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