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How to be a Contented Engineer

I’ve recently explored the subject of happiness in software engineering from an organizational perspective and explored the foundations of how software organizations come about.

Let’s start with the concept of the happy individual building an application. It gets more complicated when we add other humans (customers, consumers, other engineers) and organizational or systemic factors. All of these influence our ability to deliver as our software evolves. It also influences our happiness with the software.

The Contented Engineer

We can look at motivation and the internal and external factors influencing our ability to deliver successful software. But should we truly be happy while we create good software? Do we need to have tension between dissatisfaction and contentedness to bring the best of ourselves and others to bear on the task?

This is something that has obsessed both engineers and managers for decades. If you read something like the Psychology of Computer Programming you’ll get insights reaching back fifty years in both an individual and team setting. Instead, try reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield for learning about the individual battle we have with ourselves while creating anything.

The Psychology of Computer Programming - Gerald Weinberg

Pressfield introduces the idea of The Resistance and goes to great lengths to explain how it attempts to sabotage or interfere with all of our endeavours. How it is unavoidable and gets stronger the closer we get to fulfilling our needs with our endeavours. So therefore, as a creative being, as an engineer or computer programmer we should be wary of The Resistance and choose not to give into it.

My obsession over many decades has been to build great software and understand how and why we build great software. Because it’s never the case that we just decide to do something and it appears as if by magic with no effort. The struggle, the tension and the resistance need to be there between our ideas and our execution.

The War of Art - Steven Pressfield

So let us make 2024 the search for the idea of the Contented Engineer. Let us learn to stop worrying about the motivations and the processes in place that surround us, but let us enjoy the struggle and acknowledge Pressfield’s “Resistance” but also acknowledge that is a necessary part of making the best software that we can.