Twenty-One

October 18, 2004

My career turned twenty-one over the weekend. I started my first full-time, paying programming job on October 17, 1983. My career is now old enough to legally drink. Woohoo!

A lot has happened in the past twenty-one years. I've worked for state and federal government agencies, created frameworks for a wafer manufacturer, headed projects at a utility company, developed software for a pre-IPO that crashed and burned, and been self-employed. I've re-trained myself several times, moving from mainframe batch processing with JCL and VSAM, to client-server development with Powerbuilder and SQL Server, and then distributed application development using Forte (still the best development platform I've ever used), and now finally thin-client or web application development using Java, X/HTML, and JSPs.

My career has literally taken me across the country and back again as I've lived in Illinois, Washington (state), South Carolina, Illinois (again), and now Kansas. I've been fired, laid off, re-hired, promoted, passed over, ignored, and appreciated. I've experienced the ego rush of placing my resume on a job search board and getting over twenty responses from around the world in less than twenty-four hours. I've also experienced the fear and despondency that comes from no offers week and week after week while being unemployed. In all these years I've never had an office with a door. At best I've had a cubical all to myself, at worst I've shared a church-table with another programmer.

For much of my career I have pursued the next technology, the next title, the next level. I've never managed to reach a point of stability or satisfaction. Sure I have held satisfying positions and felt like my career was great at times. Those times have been short, however, and I've learned that basing my job satisfaction on elements of the work that were largely (if not totally) beyond my control is foolhardy. Now I am more focused on how to meet my emotional and personal needs outside of the current job. A job is only a job. Like spice adds flavor to a favorite dish, a job adds spice to the meat of your life. It took me a long time to realize that my life was not just my job.

I can only imagine where the next twenty-one years will take me.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.