1. 49
  1.  

  2. 10

    So don’t look for hard problems—important ones are ultimately more fun!

    For some people, yeah. My current employer definitely has more of the “important” problems (impacting the lives of millions of people) than the “hard” ones, and it’s very satisfying to work on something and be able to say “wow, this feature I worked on, which only 0.2% of our users even look at, is still helping thousands of people!”

    But the problems I’ve had most fun working on are the hard ones, even if they’re relatively unimportant. I’d much rather work on lots of hard problems which affect barely anyone, than lots of important problems which are nevertheless straightforward.

    1. 5

      I sympathize with this perspective very much, and I have a hard time working on seemingly-interesting problems when I don’t care about the outcomes or users.

      But—there are plenty of easy, important problems that involve building the same web app over and over again, and, I just can’t do that. I deal really badly with boredom, and I get bored really easily when I’m not learning.

      So at least part of my personal career explorations have been about “how can I both work towards worthwhile goals, and not end up bored out of my skull”.

      1. 4

        One way to look at it:

        If you aren’t working on a hard problem there’s still room for some improvement.

        Something along the lines of: Churning out CRUD apps? That’s what DHH and the 37 signals folks did until they upped their game, created Basecamp and the Ruby on Rails framework that sparked innovation that changed web development even in the enterprise Java world.

        But they used to be a consulting/web development agency.

        Me, I’ll probably not do that but there’s plenty of hard problems still:

        • deliever my contributions faster and more predictable on existing projects while learning new stuff and maintaining a healthy work-life balance? Can be hard.
        • trying to improve broken processes as an individual contributor? Can be hard.
        • trying to contribute to open source/church/other community groups after taking care of other responsibilities? Can be hard.

        If you want to play life on hard there are opportunities.

        And: I’m lucky as is many others here I guess. For me it is optional and I only do it to dthe degree I choose it myself. For many others hard is the default setting.

        1. 4

          Lately, I’ve been feeling more and more that one of the fundamental choices around what you sink your time into is where it falls on any of these mostly equivalent continua:

          • Type 1 fun <-> type 2 fun
          • Process <-> product
          • Journey <-> destination

          Basically, do you experience the reward during the doing, or after in the having-done. Relaxing in a warm bath is purely the former. There is no great sense or reward or pride after you take a bath. You extracted all the joy you are going to get out of it while you were in the tub. Conversely, cleaning out your garage is almost all latter. It’s dirty, hot, there are spiders. It’s not fun. But it feels amazing to gaze upon your neat, organized garage afterwards.

          The author argues that we can (or perhaps should) prefer work that is the latter. Where the job ain’t fun but what you get out of it makes it worth it. This is a fine moral stance, but I think it’s important to understand what your own motivations are before you pick a point on the spectrum.

          Personally, I’m happiest somewhere in the middle. I get bored and feel like I’m wasting my time if my work doesn’t affect anyone else in a positive way. But I’m miserable if I don’t feel like I used my brain in an enjoyable way during the day.

          1. 4

            In fact, these turned out to be even more interesting! Why? Because “hard technical problems” wasn’t my root goal—my root goal was to use my skills to get the most possible leverage on improving the world.

            A lot of people when they say they want to work on hard problems, really mean interesting or important. People don’t want to get bored. They want to be challenged. It seems the author’s point is too build up this straw man and knock it over.

            1. 3

              You are right but I think the main point of the author is something else: As a student he could only imagine that hard technical problems can be interesting and important. Having worked for a few years, he realized there are plenty of interesting and important problems which are not hard technical ones.

              1. 4

                Having worked for a few years, he realized there are plenty of interesting and important problems which are not hard technical ones.

                Yep. You realize there’s a ton of problems that need someone who cares a lot to bear down on them. Sometimes those are labeled ‘hard.’ And sometimes they’re not.

                I think the blind spot of the author is presuming that their own intellectual interests + value set would always align with the entity that pays them. There are a lot of people for whom that is not the case. Underemployment is rampant in tech.

                1. 1

                  Good point. I think it’s very difficult to understand the meaning of these words though, especially on the internet. Technically hard vs organizationally hard, interesting or important, etc

                2. 2

                  They want to be challenged. It seems the author’s point is too build up this straw man and knock it over.

                  I don’t think it’s a straw man; I think he genuinely used to believe this, even though it’s ridiculous. I’ve met people like that.

                3. 2

                  I do what the author does. At work, I’m mostly doing stuff anybody here could do without much training. I’m also trusted to handle stuff that takes lots of experience or creativity. I’m often in customer-facing positions so I can talk to them, hear their perspective, and do activism/outreach. They can definitely be a burden. Ultimately, I like that I’m doing ethical work that helps lots of people. Nice that I get to see many of them, sometimes hear them say it, and occasionally how what we do impacts their lives in a big way.

                  Outside of work, I have a hobby out of solving hard-to-impossible problems in tech or society. As an independent, I can focus on, say, or do whatever I want. Can’t build much of anything with current resources. So, I just give those that do have those resources ideas and tech they can use. That’s probably had more ripple effects than any piece of high-assurance code that I’d have built myself.

                  During past few years, I was reading more on business and marketing to broaden my horizons on those. I’ll probably end up doing something akin to project/program manager since that will lead to the most impact in terms of whats built and how it benefits people. One person rolling up their sleeves can only do so much. I’ll get to it once I’ve finished my 2019-2020 outreach, personal transformations/introspection, etc. A lot of unexpected stuff going on there. Many challenges.