So you want to become a software developer or you already have a programming job and don’t know exactly which way to go next. There are so many possibilities for programming – such as game development, web development, embedded systems, consulting and many more.
Guess what? You’re not alone, my friend. Let me give you some advice, guided by my own experience and conversations with various programmers.
Follow your passion?
In almost every professional field there is often this phrase: “You should follow your passion”. If you have learned to write software or if you have studied computer science, but in your spare time you like to go out and take pictures of landscapes, should you try to make a living with photography?
Or maybe a more realistic example: You’re a web developer, but you love video games so much that it’s your long-cherished dream to become a game developer. Maybe even an indie game developer, where you can really create the game of your dreams without a stupid boss telling you what to build.
Sounds great, right? Well, let me tell you, I’ve been there. I developed games professionally in a company and released my own indie game, but the “follow your passion” thing… not the best advice.
Don’t get me wrong. Let’s stick to the example of game development. Making games is amazing. If you have played many games as a child and teenager and have always dreamed of making your own games, it can be extremely satisfying to do exactly that.
But… and here’s the harsh truth, this excitement fades away. In the beginning, it’s cool to stay late in the office, crunch time sounds great and is fun, and earning a lot less money than you could make isn’t really that bad.
If developing games is really your absolute passion and you don’t care about any other aspect, then do it. Try it out for yourself. Really.
If you can’t think of anything else that makes you happy, then you should and will find a way to achieve your goal. And I definitely recommend going down this road. Because if the love to make games is so great, you will regret it if you do not at least try to publish a game.
In my case, it was exactly like that. Getting a position as professional game developer brought tears to my eyes. Releasing an indie game on Steam and showing it to journalists at GamesCom in Cologne was beyond amazing.
I’m glad I did it because it was a dream come true. And you can do this, too.
And as soon as you did it, you’ll know if you want to stick with it. This is the best way to decide which route is the right one for you.
But what if you realize that all of a sudden you’re not passionate about your presumed passion anymore?
Imagine that you are a business. And you can even buy shares from this business.
If you do a job that is extremely satisfying, enjoyable and you learn a lot, your stocks will skyrocket. But when your passion is gone, your stocks fall to the ground.
Let’s say there’s a way to reduce the risk of this happening by owning a business or a stock that grows slow but steady and is less prone to crashing. That would be a job that also makes you smile but is not perfect all the time – and to be honest, no job makes you happy all the time, even if you’re following your passion.
In this case, you can be happy by learning new skills, enjoying your evening, knowing that you have done a satisfying job and you can change jobs at any time because of your required skills. And maybe you’ll even make more money.
The last option would be to sell your stock as soon as it hits the sky. That means you’ve had a great time, but now you need something solid.
I know these lines may sound a little harsh to you. But I also know from enough people and from my own experience that if you start following your passion by developing games and then you want to change industries, chances are you have to start from scratch. Employers may not appreciate your knowledge. Let’s assume you want to build web applications in ASP.NET after five years of developing games in Unity. Your C# skills must be amazing, but do you know how the communication between front end and back end works? Do you know how to create a web service and store the data in a database? If you’ve only been working on gameplay, physics or graphics, probably not.
So think about your career path. Again, if you really want to experience a certain software development field then go for it. But do it early in your career. If you don’t try it, you’ll always regret it. You will always dream about this one job in game or app or embedded development without knowing how it really is. After doing it, even if it’s only an internship for three months, your expectations will change. You will have the experience.
As always the best way is to find a happy medium between a fulfilling job and earning enough money. There are far more opportunities that will make you happy than just following your alleged passion. And these opportunities might even lead to a more secure life in terms of job stability and financial independence.
So think about your next steps. It probably makes more sense to live out your “passion” in your spare time and to concentrate on the skills that are in demand – and which of course will continue to interest and satisfy you.