Sunday, May 23, 2010

Why I do what I do

I've wanted to write about this for a while, but this tweet and the responses convinced me that I should do it now.

I first taught myself how to write BASIC on a Texas Instruments TI 99/4A when I was in 5th grade. All I wanted to do was make video games. (Gaming is the gateway drug to programming for many young people, but that’s a different story.) I had always liked making things and even had a box of junk that I called my "Invention Box."

During junior high and high school I was sure I was supposed to be a missionary and travel to other countries to preach the Gospel. The only other computer programming experience I got in those years was a high school class on the Apple IIe. Everyone who had ever taken that class got an A and we played video games 90% of the time.

During my freshman year of college, as a missions major, some friends talked me into joining Amway. Now Amway (later renamed Quixtar, and now back to Amway) is a great company and I learned a lot in my 12 years as a Distributor (currently called an Independent Business Owner), but I never made any money. I truly believed that the business would work for anyone who followed the 7 (later 8, then 9) CORE steps. I spent a lot of money attending seminars and conferences and buying tapes and CDs hoping to get motivated to go "show the plan". The results that were promised sounded great: Ten to fifteen hours a week of work to make millions of dollars a year and retire on a beach within 5 years! Freedom! So, after 2 years of college, I dropped out. Who needs a degree when you’re going to be a millionaire in a few years, right? However, the problem was that it was a distraction. It was me trying to be something that I'm not.

A year later, I decided to go back to school because a friend of mine raved about how much fun he was having. I picked Computer Science as a major thinking back to my experience in fifth grade, but had no intention of making programming a career. It was during those classes that I realized that I had a special ability for writing code. I loved the mainframe assembly language class, but everyone else really struggled with it. This was something that I was really good at!

Obviously, I didn't have to listen to any motivational talks to write code. I actually enjoyed it so much that I spent one holiday weekend learning QuickBASIC just for the fun of it and came up with a program that moved various colored squares around the screen bouncing off each other. I stayed up late (or even all night) writing code! My childhood "Invention Box" had morphed into a PC. This is what I was born to do!

Unfortunately I spent the next 10 years treating programming as something that I was just doing temporarily until my millions came in. I was a good programmer and people paid me well for my skills. As for being a Distributor, I wasn't good at it and I wasn't making any money. The choice finally became clear: If I was ever going to make millions, I had a much better shot as a software developer than I did anywhere else!

Part of the turning point for me was getting married. I had to get practical and focus on the thing that was making money and was getting results instead of continuing to strive for something that wasn't working.

So now that I was finally ready to make a career of computer programming I decided to become the best programmer I could be. I joined a user group, started listening to podcasts and am now speaking at user groups and code camps.

I like who I am now. I'm not constantly beating myself up for not prospecting random people I meet. I enjoy meeting people for who they are instead of analyzing why they'd want to join my business.

I don't think it's a random coincidence that I was born at this time and have these skills. I can now clearly see that this is what God created me to do and I can't imagine doing anything else. I often wonder what I would have done if I had been born back in the 19th century, and to be honest, I really have no idea.

We get our English word "talent" meaning "gift or skill" from the story Jesus told about a man that left some money with 3 of his servants. A "talent" was a Roman unit of mass used as a monetary value similar to the way "pound" is used in the UK. The moral of the story is that if you take what you are given and invest it and make it grow you will be rewarded, but if you bury it in the back yard you will be punished. My focus now is to invest the programming talent I was given and make it grow and produce as much as I can.

It's not hard to know what one is supposed to do in life. Just take a look at what you're good at and how that can be used to improve people's lives. Invest what you've been given and become the best at it you can be. My rabbi, Daniel Lapin, says that profit is God's way of rewarding you for taking care of His other children.

Sunday, May 16, 2010