As a kid when people asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up I never really had an answer. For a while I talked about being a teacher. I still think I could be a good teacher, but it seems like an underpaid and soul sapping career. We did a questionnaire in the senior school that generated a list of potentially good jobs. Mine came out with social worker and prison officer. I don't think I'd make a good prison officer, I'd be too intimidated. I don't think I want to be a social worker because that depends on following ideals that aren't my own (I figured this out after applying to volunteer in a teen hostel for reprobates of some manner when I was unemployed).
For a long while I wanted to be a writer. Hell, I AM a writer. I'm always scribbling stuff. But I'm not a motivated and professional writer. You don't get a nine to five job from an application form or a CV as a writer. It just doesn't work that way.
I became a coder. It was a complete accident. I was doing stuff for the Red Dwarf Fan Club which introduced me to computers. I had access to computers at the polytechnic I was at and the internet was just starting to look like the next big thing. It fascinated me. I signed up with Demon Internet and spent much of my grant money on phone bills and ISP charges. I learnt HTML and built web pages. Then I happened to stumble across a job offer for someone who knew HTML. We were in Bristol at the time, Raz and I. However, this was pending finding a place in the Camberley area. The job was in London, the commute didn't look too bad and the pay, despite being paltry looked somewhat lucrative for someone currently without any money to call her own.
I went to an interview - it was fifteen minutes long, if that. Then I went all the way back to Bristol. A week later I was turning Quark Xpress files into HTML and uploading the FT Magazines to their home on the web. Nearly six years on, here I am - still.
Time passed. It was a weekend job but it turned full time very quickly. At one point I was working 9 days in a row, being paid per hour. The wage rose, slowly. They finally took me on as permanent staff with a contract and paid holiday and all (first thing I did was book a week off!). It was easy work - cut and paste, make a chart, screen capture, upload. Edit, tweak, tidy, build new site for new client, rinse and repeat.
Then things changed. The web turned dynamic and suddenly everyone wanted to put things in databases. Truth be told, most of the pages we were building weren't suitable for this - there wasn't enough commonality to have a template that was workable. Still, we bought the software that looked like it was the next big thing (it wasn't, it was buggy and horrible to use) and off we went. I learnt to code. It was fun to start out. Databases and loops and all manner of new toys.
They abandoned the tool after a year of painful use. We started using embedded perl - much nicer. This was the time of the dotcom boom. Work was fun. I had great colleagues, there was camaraderie among our team and it was all very new-media and relaxed but we got things done.
Things got kind of beaurocratic along the way. The company was floated and we tried to look all corporate, but beneath the spit and polish sheen we were still the same group, still having fun and building stuff that kicked ass - even if it was all financial stuff. I wasn't the greatest coder, but I had input beyond coding and my code was passable.
So then everything crashed and redundancies kept coming up. People moved on, things changed. Then it got really bad and the company was taken over. Things had become more and more strict and formal but with the takeover it really, REALLY changed. Now the beaurocracy is so bad that I sit around with nothing to do because the coders' time is being mis-managed. We don't get a say in how things are done any more, we do as we're told and we're largely invisible like some tiny hidden cog in the middle of the workings of a great big corporate machine.
I'm not sure I want to be a coder any more. I certainly don't have the motivation to go and learn the next big thing all by myself, although those around me are studiously learning new skills and making themselves marketable. I'd like to do that, but I don't know that I'm that marketable, really.
I've never been a wonderful coder. I like knocking out little programmes and things but I know full well they're hacky and inefficient and I can't wrap my head around some of the higher concepts of programming. Maybe if I hadn't done a poncy media degree (and a crap one, at that) then it would be different, but I'm not a real coder, I just play one at work.
So I come in, I do nothing, book my time to a project that we would be bug fixing if there were any bugs in it, and go home. And they pay me. They pay me an average coder's wage which is bigger than many other wages and I'm kind of used to the money. It makes it hard to get up the enthusiasm to look for something else more suitable. I've just heard that there's a lull coming up while they sort out our next project. That means we go into the resource pool. That means we officially have sod all to do but get paid for it anyway. Well, until they wake up to what they're doing and make us redundant, I suppose.
This afternoon I'm meant to have a one to one meeting to discuss whether I'm happy and how I want to move within the company, think about my career in general and so forth. Well, I don't care enough any more. I just want to be paid, really. Sad, isn't it? I mean, I'm not utterly skilless, but I don't know what I want to be (maybe it's because of the "when you grow up" clause - as far as I'm concerned I haven't grown up yet).
So if you see any 9-5 jobs for faux-coders who really want to be writers, let me know. I'll send on my CV. Meanwhile I'll have to think of some way of bluffing my way through the meeting with my line manager this afternoon...