I studied computer science in college mostly by accident. I applied to the major because it was less impacted1 and increased my chances of getting in. During matriculation2, I enrolled in the intro classes to see what it was like. I ended up enjoying it enough that I spent the next 16 years working in the field3. It's turned out to be a lucky (in the lucrative sense) choice and one that I certainly do not regret. However, it's become increasingly clear recently that it's not really the thing I want to do with my life.

This week I finished two longer-term4 projects. The first, an app I've been working on (that has been perpetually half-finished) finally landed in the App Store. Second, a collective woodworking project that started in November was moved to it's proper place in our friends nursery as a changing table. Now while the first project is strictly in the realm of what might traditionally be considered my "profession"5, it really wasn't my intention for this to advance my career (or bank account) in any way. So in this context, it's no different from the other "hobby" project in woodworking. In fact, even outside the context of this week the two have started to feel very similar for me. And when I include another hobby of mine, photography6, the similarities between them all become even more apparent.

I am being a little disingenuous when I say computer science was an accident. Growing up, I tinkered a lot on the computer and so was already pretty comfortable behind a keyboard and, therefore, more inclined to stay there. The childhood parallel to woodworking was certainly my obsession with Lego, K'Nex, Capsela, and Erector. For photography, the parallel is drawing. And drawing represented a smaller portion of my childhood just as photography does in my adulthood. But it's been my more recent work and focus7 in photography that has helped put my relationship with the other two into context.

A lot of the recruiting emails I get often highlight things like the technologies they using or what round of funding they are in. This is really boring. I never did a lot of continued education in computer science as I would immediately lose interest in any of the books, lectures, or articles that I tried to pick up. A lot of people I admire were really engaged in this area, so it was always a little jarring for me. I couldn't quite resolve why learning more about something I enjoyed could be so incredibly dull. Now I realize that this is because I don't actually care all that much about computer science or the tech industry and in fact only really like programming. To me, picking up a book on how linkers work is akin to staring at a hammer for hours at a time.

Both of the projects completed this week served a purpose. One helps me backup my photos in a way that Apple doesn't. The other, helps a friend change her baby. Both of these things are important to me. And in both cases, it was always about the end product. The what more than the how. Don't get me wrong, the act of building both was incredibly rewarding in and of itself. The process was edifying, often meditative, and in the one case very communal. And I've chosen these particular hows because they are ones whose processes I enjoy more than others. Still, I would have lacked focus if they didn't also have some sort of purpose. Learning how to hang drawers8 is much more relevant when you are actually doing it. Ultimately, computer science, woodworking, and even photography are really just a means to an end. They are just tools.

The act of creating something is really just a form of expression. To me, what I choose to create is important as I want it to speak for me and to be an expression of what I value. Of the things I created this week, one is an expression of love for my friend and her family. The other, an expression of my desire to be in control of my own data. It doesn't always have to be profound. But for me it needs to feel genuine and it needs to serve some purpose. To be driving towards something I value.

Now this may be starting to seem obvious. And I don't claim any of this is a new idea.9 But it's connected a few dots for me and helps bring clarity and guidance to the broader question of what I want to do in life.10 I like engineering because it allows me to create. The same is true for woodworking and photography.

This is all to say that, lately, I don't look at computer science any differently than I'd look at a table saw or a camera. That how we get there is important but, at the end of the day, not really the point at all. The challenge then, is figuring out what it is I want to say and then finding the right tools to help me say it.

  1. I was originally going to study biology. Partially because I had enjoyed the subject in HS but I think mostly because it was what both my older siblings had majored in. 

  2. Right away I felt like I was getting my (parents) moneys worth with all these $10 words 

  3. Wow I just realized I'm really old. 

  4. While these were both started well before the week started, the act of completing even just one would have counted towards my "Ship it" goal. Really just writing this blog post would have counted. 

  5. There is a question mark here as this is where I remind you that as of this writing I don't actually have a job. However, given the above 16 years I think it's fair to say. 

  6. More on this one next week, I hope. 

  7. I'm not going to highlight all the puns for you in my posts but do know they are all intentional. 

  8. There is still more learning to do in this particular area. 

  9. Nothing is 

  10. Which itself is really just a question of what I value in life.