This article is all about how learning programming completely changed my life aka. how I was able to move from the insufferable 9-5 to freedom thanks to programming.
To give a little bit of context into my current life and what its privileges mean to me, I’ll build a little foundation of what my life was like before I learned programming.
The foundation: 3 key facts
Everyone should come up with a list of their priorities for feeling good about the day-to-day of their life.
- Do you like to work alone? In a team?
- Is it important to you to get 6 hours of sleep? 8? 10 hours?
- How much time do you want to spend with your family versus work?
- Do you need freedom to plan your days or do you prefer having structure given to you?
- Do you like to develop your own ideas?
Answer these questions for yourself to determine your key facts. If you don’t know what you need to be happy and content, how can you begin to pursue your ideal situation?
So, before we really get into it - here are the 3 key facts I use to determine priorities for feeling good about my life.
#1 - I like feeling like my life is mine.
“That’s awfully vague, Max. What does that mean?” You might ask.
It means I don’t like being overly limited about what I can and can’t do during a day. I don’t like having someone tell me "Max, you must sit in that ergonomic chair in this stuffy office from 9am to 6pm everyday. Your lunch break is from 12:30 - 1:00. Please be back before 1:00."
I like knowing I have the freedom to make my choices.
I don't want to have to spend forever asking this person and that person if I can test out a new algorithm. I don’t want to hear about how I have to clear this idea with this team and that manager before I can begin testing it. (Oh, by the way, that process can take up to 3 - 4 weeks.)
These issues are the ones that wreck the creative process, wreck consistent progress, and wreck self development.
I don't think your life should revolve around your work - I think your work should revolve around your life and your priorities.
I want to be able to go for walks on the beach or read a book by the pool for an hour or two. I want to be able to lift weights during the day, and I want to be able to cook myself a nice lentil dal for lunch. I also want to choose when my brain works and when to give it a break.
#2 - I want to be excited by my work.
It's weird because often times, people react to this fact like "That's ridiculous. Not everyone can like their job. You're asking for too much."
I'm asking for too much? I'm looking for work that inspires me, work that excites me, work that fuels me.
As the French say: la passion.
Sorry, I don't want to spend 6 hours formatting a powerpoint when I could be spending 6 hours writing a neat little program.
I sometimes think that the world is slowed down because people aren't working on the things they love. If everyone was working on ideas, programs, or businesses they loved with 110% of their being - how fast would things get done, honestly?
That world would be seriously double rainbows and butterflies. People would run to work, counting down the minutes of their commute, eager to get off the train and into their office. The 8-hour days would fly by, and they'd be excited to be back at it again tomorrow.
#3 - I don’t like living for the weekends or holidays.
Do you know what I mean?
The whole week, you’re just waiting for Friday and the weekend. Then Sunday rolls around, and you’re already annoyed because it means Monday just around the corner.
I don’t want to say TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday) - I want to be able to say Thank God It’s Monday, Thank God It’s Tuesday - why? Because I want everyday to be great. I don’t want my whole life to revolve around 2 out of 7 days, and be miserable from Monday - Friday. That’s a lot of my life being miserable.
I also don’t want to live for my few weeks of holidays per year. Depending on which country you live in, you could have 1 week up to 1 month of holiday per year. That stinks! I don’t want to count down the days to my holiday and then spend my whole holiday thinking about how I have to go back to work soon.
I want my life to be a perfect balance of work, family, friends, hobbies, good sleep, health, self-development, playing fetch with dogs, making bagels, and everything else that I enjoy doing.
So - those are the three main facts and my priorities in my life.
#4 A Bonus Fun Fact
I’m a really bad sleeper (just like, the absolute worst at sleeping). It’s my biggest frustration and curse in life. If there was a competition for who could sleep the worst - I’d win every time by far. I am not only bad at falling asleep, I am also bad at staying asleep - yes, I’m very multitalented.
So? What does bad sleep have to do with anything?
Me being a bad sleeper means I tend not to get enough sleep regularly which is unpleasant all around and makes it very difficult for my brain to function as intended throughout a day. When I constantly have to wake up early to get ready for a job, commute to my job - it is really, plain awful for me.
You know the whole thing where you’re stressed about falling asleep so you end up not falling asleep. Yeah - literally story of my life.
Okay - so now that we’ve looked at my basic priorities and talked a lot about (too much) about me, let’s move on to what my life was like before and after learning programming.
I want to preface this by saying - I know tons of people love the standard 9 - 5. They love the structure, they love the steady paycheck - they might even love the work. That’s all fine and great. This is specifically about something that personally did not work for me.
This is for all the people who read this article saying "Yes…. exactly! Max, I feel the exact same way. How do I fix this?"
If you’re sitting there like ‘I love my 9-5. I like my office, I like the coffee machine, I like the company retreats, and I like Ann from Accounting. I don’t know what he’s talking about.’ Good for you! But this article probably won’t make much sense to you.
So without further ado, here’s what life was like before programming for me.
The first few work experiences I had were all quite similar in nature - they had both good sides and bad sides. Nothing was ever 100% horrible, but nothing was ever 100% great. I had experiences working in sales, in tech, in retail, and in research before I got into programming.
Each time, I was really excited to start doing some “real work” and to also make some “real money”. They were all really interesting experiences. I met a lot of very nice people (including my lovely girlfriend), and I got to do a good amount of traveling and experiencing ‘adulthood’.
I mean, It’s what we were taught to do, right?
- Step 1: Graduate university with good grades
- Step 2: Go straight into a 9-5 job at a big, reputable company
- Step 3: Work everyday until you retire
- Step 4: .... Profit?
It's all about that #adultlife.
But most of the jobs that I had were nowhere near perfect. Let me specifically address why the jobs were not a good fit based on the foundation I gave you.
#1 - I did not feel like my life was mine.
I was told what to do, and what not to do all day long. I felt very forced to sit somewhere for 9 hours of every weekday. I didn’t like not being able to take breaks when I needed them, or to make a berry smoothie when I wanted one.
This may sound like a child’s temper tantrum summed up as ‘I want to do what I want when I want’ - but yeah!
That’s exactly what it is. And I’m surprised more people don’t feel this way.
Why is it that the job market is still set up to be so rigid?
Sure, some companies have begun to realize that treating your employees like real humans with passions and ideas, and giving them freedom to structure their days is beneficial not just to employee morale but also company well-being - but still the majority of companies focus so much on controlling and micro-managing that they’re unable to grasp this idea.
#2 - I couldn’t pursue my exciting ideas. I had to wait.
Just the bureaucracy of it all was just so inconvenient. Everything was very limited by rules and guidelines. I wasn't working on things that were interesting, that were exciting.
Everything moved so slowly, and no one was eager for change to happen.
Even when I had really great ideas, the pace of the approval for a project was very slow. This, in turn, meant I couldn’t learn or develop as fast as I wanted to.
It didn’t develop me quickly, and it didn’t challenge me; these jobs were essentially just about logging hours. All the personal learning development I’d made was done in my free time and in the rare moments I had to myself after work in the evening.
#3 - I lived for the weekends.
I would wait all week just for the freedom I had on the weekends. I would squeeze everything I liked doing into the weekends - working out, learning and developing my skills, spending time with my shawty (my girlfriend), cooking food, going on walks, bouldering, traveling, hang out with family and friends, petting dogs, etc..
But I just don’t like that idea of life. I don’t like the idea of wanting the week to go by fast just so I can enjoy myself for 2 days out of an entire week. That just doesn’t seem optimal.
#4 - I was really tired all the time.
You may have guessed, I often had to get up sunrise-early for all of my past jobs.
I spent almost everyday getting up early, hoping the night before that I fall asleep on time so I am not tired and miserable the whole day.
Spoiler alert: I was very tired almost all the time at all my jobs because I’m so bad at sleeping.
Hopefully that has shed some light into why my past jobs were not a good fit for who I am and what I want my life to be like.
During all this, I was teaching myself programming, data science, machine learning and some other cool stuff.
This is the part of the movie where it shows a fast-forward montage of me studying programming and doing coding projects. This is the ultimate transition that has led into my current life.
Flash forward past all of that and all my time learning and self-studying programming to today.
Currently, I work as a data scientist for an esports analytics company (yes, it’s literally a dream job). I work entirely remotely and from home. That basically just means I don’t go into an office everyday - I work from anywhere with a solid internet connection, whether it’s a beach in Taiwan, my couch in Munich or by a lake in Zurich (#truestory).
1 - FREEDOM
I’ve got flexible working hours, sometimes I get an early start on the day, and sometimes I push it back a little, and work a little longer into the night.
I can take breaks in between to reset my mind, be that through going on a walk, watching an episode of Masterchef, playing a little video game or doing some exercise.
2 - LA PASSION
Guess what? I actually like my job. I love what I do!
I’ve got the freedom to develop myself, and it’s expected of me to try out new exploratory analysis, or develop and try out new techniques that we could use. I’m fully encouraged by my coworkers and my boss to not only develop the product, but also to develop myself, because that goes hand-in-hand. (Who would’ve thought?)
3 - weekends? What are those?
Because of my passion for my work and my daily freedom, I no longer live for the weekends. Everyday is a good day. Everyday is a Saturday. I even work on the weekends sometimes just because I genuinely enjoy my work. Wild concept.
4 - FInally - a good night's sleep
If I don’t sleep well one night, I can just sleep half an hour longer and feel great. I can wake up at 8am, at 9am, at 10am - it doesn’t matter.
How I’m Able to Work Like This
Learning to program enabled me to start development of stuff on my own. Most of the time (for most things actually), you don’t need to be held up at the same place all day, and a lot of the work we all do is independent.
We live in the 21st century with high speed wifi and a crazy amount of ways to stay in contact. Why are we still set on working in an office all day every day?
For brainstorming sessions, you can have calls; you can also have calls to discuss individual and team progress. You don’t need to sit in a suit in a hot office from 9 to 5 or 6 or 7. Everyday, I sit in comfortable clothes (read: sweatpants) at my work table, or maybe I’m on the balcony in the sun, taking calls on my phone.
There’s so much work flexibility coming into our world with remote working becoming more and more common.
I know that some people like the structure of the 9-5 office job, and that’s completely fine. You do you. I’m talking directly to the people that want something else. You want the freedom, you want the flexibility, and you want the time to take care of yourself and your development.
Maybe you just want to be able to just relax at home if you feel a little sick, instead of having to get a doctor’s note to take a sick day from work. Maybe you are tired of having just 2 weeks off for vacation a year. Or maybe you just want to be able to spend time at home with your kids and your cats and not be at work all day.
There are 100% ways to do that.
You just have to:
- find these opportunities
- make yourself the perfect fit for who they’re looking for
The Power of Programming
Learning to program opened doors these doors for me. It gave me that state of independence. It gave me a skill that is highly sought-after, and that many companies are looking for in the job market. It gave me a competitive leverage over others in the market, which in turn meant that I could choose the exact type of job that I want to do.
After discovering the cool field of data science, I pushed further into it, learning on the side and developing my skills. This enabled me to get into the field through having these demanded skills (along with creative thinking) that allowed for both great solo work and teamwork.
Developing my skills in programming allowed me to:
- fulfill the requirements I needed to enter the market
- not be reliant on other people when I wanted to create things
- form my life around living and enjoying it, rather than logging hours
So if you have a similar mindset and you’re doing something you don’t fully enjoy, do something about it! Do some research, learn a new skill, learn a better skill that sets you apart from the rest and gives you access to your priorities in life.
It doesn’t have to be through learning programming or data science specifically. This is just how I personally made it happen (though I have to honestly say - programming and data science are great markets to get into right now).
All I’m saying is: ignore all the people that tell you that you have to work a 9 - 5 to be successful or to “do well in society”. Set aside the judgement of people who don’t support a non-conventional way of living. Stop sacrificing your contentment for other people or for your fear of failing.
It’s never too late. Sure, life is short, but life is also actually, really long. Go out and take what you want. Go and build a life that fulfills your list of priorities, and don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re asking for too much.
If you're interested in getting started with programming, check out my courses in Python (my not-so-secret favorite language).