How We Lie to Ourselves about Work (and How to Profit from Knowing It)

As a computer programmer, I write computer programs. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But, there is more to this. When you read the words, “I write computer programs,” you aren’t hearing the emphasis in the words. You have to supply the emphasis yourself. Is it, “I write COMPUTER PROGRAMS,” or “I WRITE computer programs.”…?

Most computer programmers I know think that sentence the first way. They think the writing isn’t the important part. The computer programs are. If you want to get ahead in your job, will you try to improve in areas that don’t matter?

What if the writing is the important part, and computer programs are only a part of what you write? That little shift in how we read that sentence makes a world of difference. A writer is a communicator. Writing computer programs involves more than dealing with computers. The computers don’t care how well you write (or what you write). Only people care about that. If you write programs no one wants to use, it doesn’t matter if the programs run without error. If you always argue with the people who hired you, they won’t care how fast you crank out code. If you offend your co-workers with rudeness, they won’t care about the programming. It won’t matter how many computer programming languages you know nor how well you know them.

Besides that, I have frequently been called upon to write requirements for computer programs prior to writing the programs. I have also written test cases and documentation and status reports. I have had to communicate about outages and about the benefits of one strategy versus another. I have needed to talk about schedules, and deadlines, and consequences for failure. I have often talked with users of a system before reworking it and have supported the system while it runs in production. Most of my co-workers are in the same situation. As computer programmers, we have to know some project management and some architecture, and testing strategies. To coordinate the efforts of those groups and groups of business people and customers computer programmers need to communicate with people well and often. Communication in general (and writing in particular) is much more important for being successful as a computer programmer than the programming is over the long run. But most computer programmers tell themselves the programming is the more important part of their job…and when they tell themselves that, they lie to themselves.

How about you? Are you a recruiter? If so, what do you do as a recruiter? Don’t you persuade people to take jobs? Don’t you persuade people to pay you to help them find workers? So, you sell in both directions (when doing sourcing AND when doing business development). That seems a lot like being a labor broker (you earn commission by making a sale happen, where the sale is a transaction between a buyer, aka employer, and a seller, aka worker). Most recruiters I know (and I know hundreds) find the bulk of their leads online. So, they make money online. That sounds a lot like marketing. In order to do that, the recruiter writes emails, invites people to connect on LinkedIn, writes ads and/or articles for sites like Indeed or Glassdoor. So, the recruiter is part broker, part salesperson, part marketer, part writer (maybe copywriter, maybe content producer).

When people start looking to change jobs, or careers, this idea has to become important to them if they are going to find something more satisfying to them. A teacher might be happier being a corporate trainer than working in an elementary school. Or, an English teacher might enjoy being a writer more than being in a classroom. Maybe a salesperson would enjoy copywriting more than one-on-one selling. Maybe a writer would like the money earned by copywriting more than the satisfaction of the greater freedom of trying to be a poet or of trying to write novels. Until we take a step back and think about the different parts of what we do, it is hard to be honest about how we might be able to change things to make things better.

Do you know what lies you tell yourself? Do you think you aren’t good enough and then worry about people finding out? What are you afraid of: failure? Success? These are things which are common to writers. I know a lot of writers who talk about these things. I rarely hear computer programmers talking about these things. And yet, I know computer programmers have these same fears and lies they tell themselves. If computer programmers saw that they are actually WRITERS of computer programs instead of people who write COMPUTER PROGRAMS they could benefit from finding out how WRITERS do things. The same thing goes for recruiters: if recruiters saw themselves as marketers and sales people, it could help them a lot. So, go out and conquer someone else’s problems for a change! Get past writer’s block and get more done in the job you’ve always thought was so different from what WRITERS do.

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