I know what they say about putting your best face on, and to be honest my feeling is to hell with that, I'm just not that person.
Looking back to the first 5 years of my career I can tell you that I wasn't paying attention. I was working to pay enough of my loans back to go back to school and try my hand as an actor and writer. It was a very directed approach to the field, and I was able to apply myself with great focus because the real challenge had nothing to do with my day job; it was more like a very rewarding hobby than anything else.
I learned a great deal by only ever looking at the world of programming out of the corner of my eye. I learned the basic lessons of humility that a coder must learn - it is always your code, even when it's not; learn to say "I don't know" as early as possible; find people who are smarter than you and pay attention to them. I make use of these lessons every day.
After those first years, I had the chance to go do that other thing for a while. I came back to the field disappointed but confident I could at least take care of myself with my skills. It turns out, however, that merely taking care of the basics is not particularly interesting. One of the reasons why I left the field in the first place is that I am reasonably good at it, and I am not the kind of person to really enjoy being good at something. I like the feeling of struggling with difficult problems and overcoming them.
In an acting program, the basic challenge is to learn not to think at all in the normal, rational sense. You must connect with a character at a level entirely separate from the rational. The first time I did this I recognized the same beautiful astonishing feeling that I get when I code something that I feel truly proud of.
So that is my goal. I want that feeling, perhaps not every day, but on a regular schedule. I want my work to matter, and I want to struggle with it, to grapple with problems that very smart people grapple with. I won't pretend to be in the top 5%; you should take those people over me, unless they are lazy (but if they are really top 5%, they won't be). But I'm smart, and I get things done, and I'm mature enough to appreciate the immaterial rewards of the work nearly as much as the material ones. If that is the kind of person you need, I'm your guy.
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