Smaller buckets and bigger thimbles

Just came across this essay I wrote on my morning commute from Long Island to NYC in 2007, while I was a software engineer for Morgan Stanley.

I was joking with some friends the other day that my “to read” list keeps growing every day, and it only seems like things are added but never removed. I made the following analogy: it grows by the bucket full and shrinks by the thimble full, to which my coworkers replied, “you need bigger thimbles and smaller buckets.” If only it were that easy.

Unfortunately, I’m not getting used to this 9-to-5 stuff even if it is only 9-to-5. The other day I watched a video of Andy Hertzfield (one of the original software developers on the Mac team at Apple) and he was talking about how when he was my age he would work 80 hour weeks and just poured his heart and soul and to work. And I thought: I can’t do that on my current project. Why should I?

I continue:

Even though I make good use of my commute time by automatically synchronizing my favorite reads, e-books, PDF’s, etc. along with videos and anything else I can find that’s of worthy consumption, even at a modest 40 hours a week I still feel like my life is dominated by doing someone else’s work. A much different feeling than college, that’s for sure.

I’m a good programmer. No doubt that’s what makes me valuable at Morgan Stanley and even other organizations I could probably work at. I get this feeling inside me though, it’s a feeling like, “Andrew, what the heck are you doing?”

But then I get a second internal dialogue. This one sells me on the rationality of not quitting my job and making a steady income so I can save money and set up a comfortable life for myself. Buy the things I need. Please the people around me. This little devil over my shoulder tells me that if I save money now, I can always change the world later. This little devil warns me if I try to change the world now, I may end up simply not changing it, and end up penniless.

I love software development, both the process, the problems, and even the people. My company may need good software developers, but the outside world needs them more. The world needs people to start fighting for change. But how can I ask that of the world, if I’m not even in the fight myself?

I guess for now I can just keep reading and watching and preparing for the day when I finally have the courage. It’s a cruel thing: being “content” at your job, but unhappy.

It is dawning on me: however “irrational” it may be, leaving is my only option.

See Wall Street Technologists Flee for Startup Life, What One Does, and

Leaving was, indeed, the only option. How glad I am, in retrospect, that I had the courage!

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