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    Meaningful is…overrated, perhaps.

    A survey of last four jobs (not counting contracting and consulting gigs, because I think the mindset is very different)

    • Engineer at small CAD software startup, 50K/yr, working on AEC design and project management software comfortably 10 years ahead of whatever Autodesk and others were offering at the time. Was exciting and felt very important, turned out not to matter.
    • Cofounder at productivity startup, no income, felt tremendously important and exciting. We bootstrapped and ran out of cash, and even though the problems were exciting they weren’t super important. Felt meaningful because it was our baby, and because we’d used shitty tools before. We imploded after running out of runway, very bad time in life, stress and burnout.
    • Engineering lead at medical startup, 60K/yr, working on health tech comfortably 20 years ahead of the curve of Epic, Cerner, Allscripts, a bunch of other folks. Literally saving babies, saving lives. I found the work very interesting and meaningful, but the internal and external politics of the company and marketplace soured me and burned me out after two years.
    • Senior engineer at a packaging company, 120K/yr, working on better packaging. The importance of our product is not large, but hey, everybody needs it. Probably the best job I’ve ever had after DJing in highschool. Great team, fun tech, straightforward problem space.

    The “meaningful” stuff that happened in the rest of life:

    • 3 relationships with wonderful partners, lots of other dating with great folks
    • rather broken family starting to knit together slowly, first of a new generation of socks has been brought into the world
    • exciting and fun contracting gigs with friends
    • two papers coauthored in robotics with some pals in academia on a whim
    • some successful hackathons
    • interesting reflections on online communities and myself
    • weddings of close friends
    • a lot of really rewarding personal technical growth through side projects
    • a decent amount of teaching, mentoring, and community involvement in technology and entrepreneurship
    • various other things

    I’m a bit counter-culture in this, but I think that trying to do things “meaningful for humanity” is the wrong mindset. Look after your tribe, whatever and whoever they are, the more local the better. Help your family, help your friends, help the community in which you live.

    Work–at least in our field!–is almost certainly not going to help humanity. The majority of devs are helping run arbitrage on efficiencies of scale (myself included). The work, though, can free up resources for you to go and do things locally to help. Meaningful things, like:

    • Paying for friend’s healthcare
    • Buying extra tech gear and donating the balance to friends’ siblings or local teaching organizations
    • Giving extra food or meals to local homeless
    • Patronizing local shops and artisans to help them stay in business
    • Supporting local artists by going to their shows or buying their art
    • Paying taxes

    Those are the things I find meaningful…my job is just a way of giving me fuckaround money while I pursue them.

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      I’m a bit counter-culture in this, but I think that trying to do things “meaningful for humanity” is the wrong mindset. Look after your tribe, whatever and whoever they are, the more local the better. Help your family, help your friends, help the community in which you live.

      Same (in the sense that I have the same mindset as you, but I’m not sure there is anything right or wrong about it). I sometimes think it is counter-culture to say this out loud. But as far as I can tell, despite what anyone says, most peoples’ actions seem to be consistent with this mindset.

      There was an interesting House episode on this phenomenon. A patient seemingly believed and acted as if locality wasn’t significant. He valued his own child about the same as any other child (for example).

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        I pretty much agree with this. Very few people have the privilege of making their living doing something “meaningful” because we live within a system where financial gains do not correspond to “meaningful” productivity. That’s not to say you shouldn’t seek out jobs that are more helpful to the world at large, but not having one of those rare jobs shouldn’t be too discouraging.

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          Meaningful is…overrated, perhaps.

          I think specifically the reason I asked is because I find it so thoroughly dissatisfying to be doing truly meaningless work. It would be nice to be in a situation where I wake up and don’t wonder if the work I spend 1/3rd of my life on is contributing to people’s well-being in the world or actively harming them.

          Even ignoring “the world,” it would be nice to optimize for the kind of fulfillment I get out of automating the worst parts of my wife’s job, mentoring people in tech, or the foundational tech that @cflewis talks about here.

          Work–at least in our field!–is almost certainly not going to help humanity. The majority of devs are helping run arbitrage on efficiencies of scale (myself included).

          I think about this a lot.

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            In general I find capitalism and being trapped inside of capitalism to generally be antithetical to meaningful work in the sense that you’ll rarely win at capitalism if you want to do good for the world, no matter what portion of the world you’re interested in helping.

            A solution I found for this is to attain a point where financially I don’t have to work anymore to maintain my standard of living. It’s a project in the making, but essentially, passive income needs to surpass recurring costs and you’re pretty much good to go. To achieve that, you can increase the passive income, diminish the recurring costs, or both (which you probably want to be doing. Which i want to be doing, anyway.

            As your passive income increases, you (potentially) get to diminish your working hours until you don’t have to do it anymore (or you use all the extra money to make that happen faster). Freedom is far away. Between now and then, there won’t be a lot of “meaningful” work going on, at least, not software related.

            [Edit: whoever marked me as incorrect, would you mind telling me where? I’m genuinely interested in this; I thought I was careful in exposing this in a very “this is an opinion” voice, but if my judgement is fundamentally flawed somehow, knowing how and why will help me correct it. Thanks.]

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              Agree re. ‘get out of capitalism any way you can’, but I don’t agree with passive income. One aspect of capitalism is maximum extraction for minimum effort, and this is what passive income is. If you plan to consciously bleed the old system dry whole you do something which is better and compensates, passive income would be reasonable; if you want to create social structures that are as healthy as possible for as many people as possible, passive income is a hypocrisy.

              I prefer getting as much resource (social capital, extreme low cost of living) as fast as possible so you can exit capitalism as quickly as possible.

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                Are you talking about the difference between, say, rental income (passive income) and owning equities (stockpile)? Or do you mean just having a lot of cash?

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                  Yes, if you want to live outside capitalism you need assets that are as far as possible conceptually and with least dependencies on capitalism whilst supporting your wellbeing. Cash is good. Social capital, access to land and resource to sustain yourself without needing cash would be lovely, but that’s pretty hard right now while the nation state and capitalism are hard to separate.

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                    Do you ever worry about 70’s (or worse) style inflation eroding the value of cash? In this day and age, you can’t even live off the land without money for property taxes.

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            Work–at least in our field!–is almost certainly not going to help humanity. The majority of devs are helping run arbitrage on efficiencies of scale (myself included).

            This 100%. A for-profit company can’t make decisions that benefit humanity as their entire goal is to take more than they give (AKA profit).

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              Sure they can. They just have to charge for a beneficial produce at a rate higher than the cost. Food, utilities, housing, entertainment products, safety products… these come to mind.

              From there, a for-profit company selling a wasteful or damaging product might still invest profits into good products/services or just charity. So, they can be beneficial as well just more selectively.

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              I think you’re hitting at a similar truth that I was poking at in my response, but from perhaps a different angle. I would bet my bottom dollar that you found meaning in the jobs you cited you most enjoyed, but perhaps not “for humanity” as the OP indicated.

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                What is the exact meaning of “run arbitrage on efficiencies of scale”? I like the phrase and want to make sure I understand it correctly.

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                  So, arbitrage is “taking advantage of the price difference in two or more markets”.

                  As technologists, we’re in the business of efficiency, and more importantly, efficiency of scale. Given how annoying it is to write software, and how software is duplicated effortlessly (mostly, sorta, if your ansible scripts are good or if you can pay the Dread Pirate Bezos for AWS), we find that our talents yield the best result when applied to large-scale problems.

                  That being the case, our work naturally tends towards creating things that are used to help create vast price differences by way of reducing the costs of operating at scale. The difference between, for example, having a loose federation of call centers and taxis versus having a phone app that contractors use. Or, the difference between having to place classified ads in multiple papers with a phone call and a mailed check versus having a site where people just put up ads in the appropriate section and email servers with autogenerated forwarding rules handle most of the rest.

                  The systems we build, almost by definition, are required to:

                  • remove as many humans from the equation as possible (along with their jobs)
                  • encode specialist knowledge into expert systems and self-tuning intelligences, none of which are humans
                  • reduce variety and special-cases in economic and creative transactions
                  • recast human labor, where it still exists, into a simple unskilled transactional model with interchangeable parties (every laborer is interchangeable, every task is as simple as possible because expertise are in the systems)
                  • pass on the savings at scale to the people who pay us (not even the shareholding public, as companies are staying private longer)

                  It is almost unthinkable that anything we do is going to benefit humanity as a whole on a long-enough timescale–at least, given the last requirement.

                2. 1

                  Care about your tribe, but also care about other tribes. Don’t get so into this small scope thinking that you can’t see outside of it. Otherwise your tribe will lack the social connections to survive.

                  Edit: it’s likely my mental frame is tainted by being angry at LibertarianLlama, so please take this comment as generously as possible :).

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                    Speaking of that, is there any democratic process that we could go through such that someone gets banned from the community? Also what are the limits of discussion in this community?

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                  Fiction, this week: Ms. Marvel Omnibus Vol. 1

                  Recently:

                  • Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet
                  • Altered Carbon
                  • Mort, the first ever Terry Pratchett I read. I think I might continue down the Death sequence.

                  Non-fiction: I finished The Information a while ago. One of the best non-fiction books I have read. I’m taking a break from non-fiction for a while though.

                  @kai3x5 - what are some of your favorite fiction books? If you like sci-fi I highly recommend The Three Body Problem series.

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                    Mort is my favorite of the Pratchett I’ve read. I should go back and read more of that series.

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                      That Discworld map is fantastic ! I shall read Mort as well!

                      I loved reading Dune (original series, prequels, & sequels).

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                        The Ancillary Justice series is good. If you don’t want to bite of a series one of my favorites of stand alone sci-fi is The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester.

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                      For the 100th anniversary, I’m reading China Mieville’s October about the 1917 revolutions in Russia. It’s extremely good so far, a narrative-style history.

                      Fiction-wise I’m still slowly working my way through Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. It rules, I just haven’t had much of a mind for fiction lately.

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                        You can skip tons of the boilerplate here by using https://github.com/spf13/viper . I have used viper for my last few projects and it’s a huge timesaver. Supports TOML, as well as a bunch of other formats.

                        1. 5

                          I touched on this a bit in the reddit discussion, but I’ll expand here.

                          I’ve checked out viper, but I personally don’t care for it for a couple reasons:

                          • Its default behavior is to use a single global config, which makes testing more difficult and makes it really difficult to use pieces of an application as a library (I ran into this when trying to wrap Hugo - it uses a global viper, so it’s really hard to just use pieces of it). It has the ability to use an explicit state, but it’s not the default and not what I’ve typically seen in the wild. This approach makes the handling of config states explicit, which is my preferred style.
                          • It’s stringly-typed by default, so if you don’t manually do something like what I suggest in this post (marshal into a struct in a single place) you can end up using reflection throughout your application, which has both type-safety and performance concerns. Yeah, my approach technically does use reflection, but it confines it to a library and does it all when reading the config. You can do the same with viper, but you have to do it manually (AFAIK).
                          • This is more of a style concern, but viper seems to expect that your application will be built around using viper. This approach is much more contained, and you can use it however you want. It’s also much smaller and much simpler. I tend to prefer libraries that fit into my application, not ones that want my application to fit into them.
                          • IMO, the boilerplate is a feature, not an issue. The vast majority of the boilerplate in this approach is just a declaration of what your config is actually supposed to look like - if you don’t do this, the shape of your config is implicit. If you do, even with another library, then you end up with pretty much the same amount of boilerplate.

                          I haven’t explored viper a whole lot, so I’m sure there are other advantages. This approach has worked marvelously for me for several command-line applications, and I haven’t felt like I’m missing any necessary features.

                          1. 2

                            Thanks for your response! I agree with all your points, I’ve just found viper to be a good solution when I don’t want/don’t need to think about config too much but it’s clearly needed. I certainly still think everything you wrote is valuable and shouldn’t have implied otherwise.

                        1. 2

                          Trying to figure out if I’m working on a Kubernetes or Serverless ebook series next. Some pros and cons for each. A lot of nay-sayers on serverless still, but then again, containers in general have their haters too, and that’s my bread and butter.

                          1. 1

                            Speaking from a workplace that uses both of these technologies, I think a Serverless resource with best practices around deployment, monitoring, and organization would be hugely helpful. I like the idea but the tooling around it all seems so bad that I’m hesitant to use it for even the most straightforward tasks.

                            1. 2

                              Thanks for the response. I do think a serverless resource would be helpful, and it’s fairly early-mover territory in our mind. A lot of what I would be doing is market level, but gets down eventually into deployment practices and such. Admittedly, we have to fund these ventures too, and right now our ties to Kubernetes-based sponsors is probably a lot stronger. Either way, both would be in the pipeline.

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                            I don’t normally post in these threads, so I’ll cover a few months instead.

                            work: I spent 7 months at a PrettyBigCo that develops financial tools and it made me depressed. Sitting in a room with hundreds of people all day every day was making me physically ill constantly too which didn’t help things. I wasn’t able to attend the therapy sessions the NHS offered me (because they clashed with work lol) so I quit.

                            I’m moving to Helsinki mid September to join Umbra 3D. They have more meaningful work and don’t have an open plan office so that should work out better. I am a little worried I didn’t take enough time off, and that the stress of 1) moving to another country 2) with like two hours of daylight will leave me feeling like crap again.

                            !work: now I’m not encumbered by employment I can start fixing the issues in my open source projects that other people have noticed.

                            I also spent some time getting my game engine to compile on Windows. I’ve been trying to keep all the obviously platform specific code separate from my game code, but of course there was all kinds of less obvious crap, like the lack of err.h, windows.h taking my keywords (NEAR, FAR, ERROR which I was using as a replacement for err), and ming giving me stupid errors (e.g. undefined reference to '__gxx_personality_seh0' - which was fixed by disabling exceptions or thread-safe statics or something…). I would like to get some kind of networking in next, because I think that will make it feel much more like an actual playable game.

                            Finally, I’m in SF for the next three weeks. I’d love to get recommendations on what to do here!

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                              Hey, congrats on getting more meaningful work. I wish you the best.

                              1. 2

                                Graphics and 3D is fun! I’m glad you found something enjoyable to work on.

                                PM me if you can talk more about it, or if they’re looking for remote contract work. :)

                                1. 2

                                  Alcatraz is totally worth the hassle. Walk through GG Park to the ocean; it’s spectacular. Eat a burrito from Farolito at 24th & Mission. Check out the Marin headlands; the views from there are otherworldly. Head up to Twin Peaks – great way to see how small the city actually is. If you need to be down in the valley for any reason, be sure to drive 280, particularly in the morning.

                                  1. 1

                                    If you like tech meetups (on meetup.com), SF is fill of them. Probably has a bunch just on 3d and graphics!

                                    1. 1

                                      Some of my favorite things in SF from my visit this year, aside from the wonderful views, were going to Giants baseball games, City Lights bookstore, and the beer bars (Toronado and Mikkeller).

                                    1. 6

                                      I’m finally back to Rust coding and picked up my work on a CouchDB client again.

                                      I’m in dire search for a catchy name.

                                      1. 3

                                        You can call it lasers because couches remind me of being lazy. And in good Rust spirit it has the letters ‘r’ and ’s' in the name.

                                        1. 1

                                          laze.rs sounds great.

                                        2. 2

                                          I like “crouch” because it’s simple and doesn’t seem like you’re trying too hard :P

                                          1. 1

                                            “Pantseat,” because that is the part of the pant that interfaces with a couch.

                                            1. 1

                                              recline.rs - Not all couches are recliners, but it sounds like a nice name.

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                                                I’ll put that into the pool, I decided to buy laze.rs - I just couldn’t pass on the opportunity :).

                                              2. 1

                                                Loose Change :)

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                                                here is a lesson I learned reading this deck: let us all endeavor to be “wage slaves,” and to educate our colleagues to be wage slaves. it really gets under this guy’s skin (he hates them precious!) that some people might actually know the value of their labor. organize!

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                                                  They know their market value and perform exactly to it and no more

                                                  Wow, what a novel concept.

                                                  1. 4

                                                    “Wage slaves… hate em!”

                                                    I wonder if he realizes that this meme comes from an incompetently evil anthropomorphic octopus (Ultros in Final Fantasy VI).

                                                    Probably not.

                                                    1. 2

                                                      What is the “wage slave” phrase supposed to mean? The way it is repeatedly used (and juxtaposed against other categories of employees) sounds more like jargon than just an off-hand choice of two words. At face value the phrase seems to be an oxymoron, as slaves weren’t known to receive wages for their work.

                                                      Internet searches yielded definitions which were unhelpful, and seem like they could describe any non-management employees of a company. What am I missing?

                                                      1. 15

                                                        This is kind of a second-order usage of the term that I’ve heard now and then. Wikipedia covers the original usage fairly well. It was more widespread in the 19th century, when wage labor wasn’t yet fully normalized, and roughly boils down to an argument the theoretically free choice to work or not work for someone often has a significant degree of coercion involved in it, since many wage laborers, especially in the traditional working class, aren’t in a position to say “no” to work they need in order to live. In the U.S. context it was a particularly big debate in the post-civil-war abolition movement, which split over whether abolishing slavery had accomplished its goals, or if things like the mining camps and factories still represented a type of unfree labor that they should push to abolish.

                                                        Anyway, the second-order usage is that terms like “wage slave attitude” were coined by 20th-century management people to describe workers who have a version of that viewpoint, “I work because I have to work to survive, it’s a job right?”. That’s seen (by such management people) as too cynical and insufficiently motivated by love of the job and company etc.: they come in, put in their 40 hours and do competent work, but you don’t really want that at AmazingCorp, you want people who believe in your amazing mission!

                                                        1. 7

                                                          What is the “wage slave” phrase supposed to mean?

                                                          The theory goes back to Marx: that a low-status worker is not appreciably better off in terms of lifestyle than a slave.

                                                          In practice, what he means is “worker aware of his low status”. He wants his peons not to know that they’re peons, because they’ll work harder. So in his usage, “wage slave” refers to the Gervais/MacLeod Loser class (as in, Sociopaths, Clueless, and Losers). Here’s a place to start, on that: Gervais Principle.

                                                          The OP is a Sociopath who wants to hire only Clueless (low-status workers unaware of their low status). Note that MacLeod Sociopaths aren’t always sociopaths or bad people. I’m a MacLeod Sociopath but not a sociopath. All of that said, the OP seems like a sociopath in addition to being a (MacLeod) Sociopath.