144 RR Passion
- Published on:
- February 19, 2014
01:39 – Passion
- Avdi Grimm: The Moderately Enthusiastic Programmer
- Avdi Grimm: The Passion Gospel
- David Brady: Loyalty and Layoffs
- Ruby Rogues Episode #125: Loyalty and Layoffs
04:20 – Using the Word “Passionate” in Work and Advertising
16:24 – Lacking Passion and/or Enthusiasm?
32:15 – Startups and Passion
34:56 – The Exploitive Nature of Passion
- So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport
39:44 – “Follow Your Passion”
45:51 – Job Ads
49:59 – The Exploitive Nature of Passion (Cont’d)
Ruby Under a Microscope by Pat Shaughnessy! We will be interviewing Pat on February 27, 2014. The episode will air on March 6th, 2014. No Starch was kind enough to provide this coupon code your listeners can use to get a discount for Ruby Under a Microscope. Use the coupon code ROGUE for 40% off! (Coupon expires April 1, 2014.)
Crowdsourcing Localization with Heather Rivers
JOSH: So, do we know what’s up with David?
CHUCK: So, here’s the text that I got a couple of minutes ago. “Also sick.” Okay, he said ‘sock’ and then he said, “Also sick, but you can be a sock too. I’ve had enough Nyquil, why not?”
CHUCK: But he’s not here yet, so I don’t know.
JAMES: And with that, we hope he’s not coming.
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CHUCK: Hey everybody and welcome to episode 144 of the Ruby Rogues Podcast. This week on our panel, we have Avdi Grimm.
AVDI: Hello from deep in the warm depths of a Tauntaun.
CHUCK: James Edward Gray.
JAMES: I’m going to need your TPS reports at the end of this call.
CHUCK: Josh Susser.
JOSH: Hi from dreary California. I mean sunny. I mean– well, it’s California out there.
CHUCK: You said sunny. I bet Avdi’s jealous. I’m Charles Max Wood from DevChat.TV. And this week, we’re going to be talking about passion.
JAMES: For example, if you are passionate enough to crawl inside of a Tauntaun to stay warm.
CHUCK: Did you guys see the MythBusters where they made a Tauntaun?
JAMES: No. What? I need to see this.
CHUCK: It was two or three episodes ago. It was, they did Star Wars myths.
AVDI: Oh, man. I’m on Netflix so I just have old ones. [Chuckles]
CHUCK: Get with the times.
JOSH: Folks, I’m really passionate about doing this podcast.
JAMES: That’s true.
JAMES: No, you’re not, Josh.
JOSH: I’m overcome by emotion.
JAMES: No, you’re not.
JOSH: I can’t contain myself.
JAMES: Alright. So, what started this off, Avdi?
AVDI: [Laughs] Okay, so I guess I kicked this thing off. I wrote a couple of blog articles. I wrote one…
CHUCK: I was going to say, I read most of your next book.
AVDI: [Laughs] The first one wasn’t that long. So, I wrote a blog article called The Moderately Enthusiastic Programmer, where I basically took a look at the tendency, the increasing theme I’ve been seeing in job descriptions and job ads, and just in the rhetoric of programming in general where people talk about passion a lot. If you look at listings for software jobs, they want you to be passionate about software, passionate about this, or passionate about that, and they want to tell you all about how their team’s passionate about product development or passionate about all these different things. And so, I wrote about that and how I feel like that’s odd because passion to me is a very, very strong word. It describes the feelings that I have for a very few things in my life, things like my family, my wife, certain social justice topics, stuff like that I feel very passionate about. And it strikes me a little weird all the different things that that word is being used for. And I kind of came to the realization that despite the fact that I am somebody who talks all about how much fun programming is and how much I love it and I try to share that love with everyone else, I don’t think of myself as a passionate programmer. I am a very enthusiastic programmer. I love what I do. But my passions, the things that I am emotional about, the things that can bring me to tears, those are not coding. So, I wrote about that and then I followed it up with a much, much longer article because I thought about it for a while longer and I realized that honestly, I think the thing where job ads describe passion or require passion is really just a symptom of something bigger that’s affecting the software industry.
JOSH: Avdi, that sounds like a nice sequel for us to the Loyalty and Layoffs episode we did last year.
JAMES: That’s kind of related, I would say.
JOSH: Yeah. But I just want to play devil’s advocate for a second here and accuse you of quibbling over semantics.
JOSH: We live in a world where literally now literally means figuratively.
JOSH: So what if recruiters use the word passionate to mean really excited, or dedicated to your job, or whatever else it’s a stand in for? So what?
JAMES: I’m so glad you said that.
AVDI: And that’s something that a few people brought up in response. Though, I should say that another one of the reasons that we’re doing this, decided to do an episode on this, is that these articles got a huge response. Way bigger than I expected, just hundreds and hundreds of comments on various sites.
JAMES: Would you say it’s a passionate response?
AVDI: Yeah, kind of.
AVDI: And a few people brought up that objection, that it’s just the language changes with usage. But I feel confident in saying that this usage is outside of the norm. This usage of using passionate to just mean somebody who cares about their job or somebody who’s dedicated to their job is outside of the norm. And after I wrote the first article, somebody pointed me to this wonderful David Mitchell video which we’ll put in the show notes where he’s basically taking a look at various advertisements where companies are talking about how passionate they are for things. So, he starts out with a company that’s passionate about sofas.
JAMES: That’s awesome.
AVDI: And then moves on to a company that’s passionate about tax optimization.
AVDI: It is a hilarious video. Some of you may know David Mitchell from Mitchell and Webb and other programs, but terrific little four-minute video. But it basically points out better than I could the fact that this overuse of passion to talk about basically doing your job like you mean it, it’s not just weird to me, it’s weird to a lot of people. And it’s laughably weird.
JAMES: At one point, he talks about this group that’s “passionate about everything you do”.
AVDI: Johns Hopkins University.
JAMES: Right. He’s all, “It must be so exhausting.”
JAMES: It’s really good. How about, can we get an actual definition? What’s your working definition of passion, Avdi?
AVDI: There are a lot of definitions. When I asked Google to define passion for me, because obviously Google is the authority on everything, I get some definitions like strong and barely controllable emotion, a state or outburst of strong emotion, intense sexual love, an intense desire or enthusiasm for something. So isn’t a definition lower down that’s a little bit similar to how some of these people are using it. And a thing arousing enthusiasm. It’s also something else that a lot of people identify with that term, is the suffering and death of Jesus.
AVDI: So, something that somebody felt so strongly about that they went to their death for it. Someone else pointed out to me that the etymology of passion is interesting. And I think I’ve actually lost the window that I had that open in.
JOSH: It’s from the Latin word for suffering.
AVDI: Yes. Yes, the Latin word for suffering. So, passion comes from suffering.
JAMES: So, getting back to Josh’s question of so what if they’re trying to use this term to just mean excited about your work or whatever. I think there is an important so what there. One, words are important and language is important. And how we talk about things is important. Surely, we’ve identified that several times on this podcast. But I think what Avdi’s getting at here is a couple of things. One, if you want me to be passionate about my work, does that mean you want me to merely be enthusiastic about what I’m doing, enjoying it, et cetera, or does that mean you want to exploit me and my passion as a resource for your company? Get me to stay late, work long hours, do other things, and if we…
AVDI: Accept equity instead of actual money.
JAMES: Right, exactly. And if we don’t draw a line on the meaning of this term, if we allow it to be muddles, then how do we know we’re not falling into that darker category?
AVDI: Right. Yeah, you hit the nail on the head there. That was definitely my first point, is that I think that it is often code in these job listings for we expect you to go above and beyond, to basically dedicate yourself to the job, to work long hours. If something’s not done, to stay as long as it takes until it’s done. And the replies I got really confirmed that. I think it struck a chord with a lot of people because many, many, many, many people replied saying, “Yes, this is exactly my experience,” that it was used as code for we expect you to half kill yourself over this.
JOSH: And also, to be a public relations officer for the company 24/7.
AVDI: Right. And that’s another point that’s really interesting and that I think is a recent thing. It used to be jobs have always expected a lot of employees and they’ve always been exploitive jobs. But it seems like in the software industry, not only can jobs expect a ton of you, expect your time 24/7, but they can also expect your vocal loyalty. They expect you to be out there talking about how great this company and this project are.
CHUCK: Now, I want to jump in here because I’ve worked for some companies that I really enjoyed working for. And I don’t know that I would use the word passion, but I did tell people how awesome it was to work for them or how excited I was about what they were doing.
JOSH: That’s pretty great.
CHUCK: But at the same time, yeah to have that as an expectation without necessarily having earned it, without actually providing a terrific place to work or providing the opportunities that people are looking for and things like that. I think that’s really where the problem comes in.
AVDI: Yeah, earning it is key.
CHUCK: And then they also dress it up as a virtue and call it passion.
AVDI: Yeah. So, before we get to far from what we were talking about a second ago, yes it’s about this trend of companies using it as code for being exploitive. But the other reason that I don’t think it’s okay to just say okay, we’re going to use passion to mean enthusiastic now, is that I think that there’s a strong trend of conflating passion and enthusiasm. And basically, telling people that passion is the same thing as enthusiasm or it’s the same thing as enjoyment. And that enables stuff like basically, I don’t know. It’s hard to put into words. I wrote a ridiculous number of words on this and now I’m having trouble explaining it.
JOSH: Maybe I can help you out, Avdi.
AVDI: Go for it.
JOSH: The obsession with passion perhaps what that’s doing is that’s devaluing ordinary enthusiasm.
AVDI: Yeah, it’s devaluing enthusiasm, but on the flipside of that, I think it’s devaluing true passion. Because the thing is, I do have some things that I am very, very passionate about. And like I said earlier, things like my family, keeping them safe and well-provided for. These are things that are very emotional topics for me. And I would sacrifice and have sacrificed a lot for them. And I think for me, that’s what passion is about. It’s the things that you do because they flow directly from your values as a person. They’re things that you would sacrifice for, that you would make tough decisions for. And I think that there’s a trend in, particularly like in startups in Silicon Valley, to say, “Programming is something you enjoy. Congratulations. You’ve found your passion.” And that’s not the same as passion. Something that you enjoy doing is not the same as passion. Passion is something that often hurts. It’s difficult to discover your true passions. And embracing them can mean making some very serious sacrifices. I embraced my passion for having a family from a very young age. And that meant giving up quite a lot of things. It meant giving up a lot of hobbies. It meant giving up dreams of living a bohemian lifestyle or of just globetrotting wherever I wanted to, whenever I wanted to, a whole lot of things. And passion isn’t always fun. People that are passionate about humanitarian work, they open themselves up to illness and mortal danger and all kinds of stuff. Those are things that you do because they’re part of the deepest part of you, the deepest part of what makes you who you are and what drives you. And I think that there’s this movement afoot to say, “That thing you enjoy, that’s your passion.” And that’s bad enough, but I think what’s worse about it is that it really plays into some exploitive behavior.
JOSH: Right. Now Avdi, okay, so there are definitely places where someone’s passion does line up with their job.
JOSH: I imagine that the people working on the original Apollo program trying to send people to the moon, that’s the kind of people I imagine are supremely passionate. Or the people who built the original SR-71 Blackbird, the Skunk Works thing where they…
AVDI: I think some of them probably were. I’ve worked in the military industrial complex. And a lot of those folks are just doing, they’re doing their job and getting paid.
JOSH: Absolutely. But the people behind, the core people behind those projects, they probably had a lot of passion for what’s going on. And you can look at all sorts of businesses around and you can tell that the people who run those businesses really care deeply about what they’re doing in the world.
JOSH: But, to work at that company, you don’t have to share their passion.
AVDI: Right, right. And an example I use for programming is there’s this Sunlight Foundation where they work on a programming project that helped enable transparency and democracy. And I imagine that most, if not all of the people working there are very passionate about democracy. And they get to pour that straight into their coding work. And that’s great. But not every job is going to be like that. Not every product that you work on, even if it’s your product, even if it’s something you came up with, is going to be something like that where you’re getting to use your programming skills toward something that’s your deepest passion in life. And that’s okay. One of the things I’m trying to say is that it’s not like you have to find a way to work on your deepest passion using programming. You can be an enthusiastic programmer and still have your deepest passions lie elsewhere.
JOSHUA: You can also change things over time. The thing that I’ve been trying to do with my career in the last decade or so is I will oscillate between taking a job that I work on something that I think is a good cause or it’s going to contribute to the world in some way beyond somebody making some money. And maybe I won’t make as much in salary working on that kind of job, but then the next time I’m looking for work, I’ll focus more on, “Okay, let me get something where it’s going to take care of me.” And then five years later when I’m looking for something else, I’ll be in a better position to be able to swing back the other way and work on something for a good cause.
AVDI: Right, sure.
JOSH: So, you don’t have to do it all the time. You can follow your passion and then you can be very practical and make sure that your house is in good order.
AVDI: I think the term that we like to use for this is orthogonality.
JOSH: Maybe you like to use that term.
AVDI: Well, to use a nice programmer-y word.
JAMES: You geek. [Chuckles]
AVDI: Your passion is orthogonal to your job and those things are orthogonal to the things that you just really enjoy. It’s nice if you can bring two or all three of those things together. It’s really great if you can. But it’s not essential.
JAMES: So, I like what you just said there. It’s not essential. So, Katrina’s not here and I feel compelled to point out some of the things she’s taught me about this over time. One of the problems with this “passion gospel” is what if you don’t have it? What if you are in a job or doing something or whatever and you’re not passionate about it? You’re not this crazy, over the top whatever. The problem is if we tote this, if we say, “This is the only way. This is the only path,” then if you’re not, if you don’t feel this then what? You’re screwed? You can’t do this? It doesn’t leave any kind of option, right? I’ve worked on websites that I definitely was not passionate about the product. Or maybe I was ambivalent about it, or whatever.
JAMES: This wouldn’t be a site I was using. I understand some people might or whatever. But this wouldn’t be a site I was using. And one of the things Katrina told me once that really stuck with me was in those cases, when you find yourself in those cases, what you do is you try to get interested in the code, not the project.
JAMES: Yeah, we don’t care about this particular site, but ooh, this particular problem of how we are going to optimize this one crazy query, that’s interesting to us, or whatever. And that’s okay. It’s okay to get interested in that and to use that as a motivator for how you go through it.
JOSH: But similarly, you can take that whole thing about, “Oh, I’m not passionate about building payment systems,” it’s like, “Well, so what?” You’re probably passionate about living your life [chuckles] and that’s a part of living your life. So, “Oh, great,” you make money, you have a good career, you have a good family life, et cetera. So, it’s like…
AVDI: Yeah, and I’ll bet most of the time when you’re working on it, these things that even if the individual piece of technology you’re working on isn’t something you’re passionate about, there’s a lot of enjoyment in programming. I assume that who I’m talking to right now is 95% people who get a kick out of programming, because otherwise they wouldn’t be listening to this podcast. So, I’m definitely not saying, “Well, just treat programming as a job and get through it,” because that’s not me and I don’t think that’s who we’re talking about.
CHUCK: I do want to talk about those people just for a minute.
AVDI: They’re fine too.
CHUCK: Yeah, but the thing that’s interesting is that I’ve worked with several people where it was just a job, where they didn’t have the “passion” for it.
JAMES: I almost envy those people.
CHUCK: Yeah, sometimes. Sometimes it’s like, “Boy, I wish I could just not worry about this for a while.” But is there something we can do for those folks? Because sometimes, the people who don’t care, they really are kind of a drag on the team. And that’s why these folks are putting this into their job postings and things like that where they’re going, “We want passionate people.” What some of them are saying is certainly, “We want people that will work long hours and do whatever we tell them to,” and blah, blah, blah. But some of them are looking for people who care enough to actually go in and do it right and be excited about writing the code.
AVDI: Right. They’re just saying, “We’re looking for people who give a crap,” which my perspective on that is if that’s what you’re looking for, then put that in your job ad.
JAMES: My next job ad will say, “We’re looking for people who give a crap.”
AVDI: Exactly. Or, “We’re looking for people who are enthusiastic about programming.” It’s not so hard to say that. And I want to work with people who are enthusiastic. I’ll be honest. I enjoy working with people who are enthusiastic about programming. And I got started working with people who weren’t enthusiastic about programming and I did not enjoy that, that aspect of the work.
CHUCK: I definitely agree. It just makes a huge difference. And we’ve already talked about the problems of coining that in the term passionate.
AVDI: But I do want to say, while we’re talking about being passionate about your craft that I hear that a lot. And I’m not convinced that even that is as positive as it’s always made out to be.
JOSH: I know, I know. Yeah, I have to admit that from time to time, I do dream about writing code. But I also dream about sitting in traffic and I’m not very passionate about that. [Chuckles]
JAMES: Some days, I very passionately want to pick up my laptop and throw it out the window.
CHUCK: I’d love to see that.
CHUCK: I do have a question though regarding this. And that is that sometimes, for long periods actually, I’ll wind up on a contract that isn’t very stimulating, that’s not exciting. The code is just, I mean I love writing Ruby but you’re writing something that you’ve written a million times kind of thing. The majority of it is boilerplate stuff. How do you get passionate about that? Or do you just need to be finding something else to do?
AVDI: You don’t need to get passionate about it. See, let me…
AVDI: One thing that I…
JOSH: That’s the whole point, right?
CHUCK: How do you get excited about that, I guess?
JAMES: That’s a better question.
JAMES: Actually, I’m reading a book about that. It talked about, there are several examples, but I’ll use one from San Francisco since we have Josh on the call. But in San Francisco, the garbage collection system is run very differently than it is in a lot of places. And the individual garbage collectors have a lot of say in how the company runs and how it’s organized and when collections happen and how the process changes. And they have this ownership and this say in how everything goes. And it turns out that when you ask these garbage collectors something that we typically think of as a very undesirable job about their job satisfaction, they say it’s very high. They like it. And it turns out that their autonomy, this sense of control they have over the process and how it gets done, ends up trumping the thing that they end up having to do. And because they’re allowed to do it their way, that turns out to be more important. And they’re allowed to make their own system and that’s how they enjoy it. Sometimes in programming, we have that thing where, “Oh, this is that horrible task and I have to do it every Thursday and it drives me crazy. I know. I’ll automate it.” And we all know that sometimes automating is worth it, sometimes it’s not, and sometimes it’s just fun.
AVDI: It is.
JAMES: I’ll take this task that I hate to do and I’ll teach a computer to do it so I don’t have to hate it anymore, or whatever.
AVDI: You’ve got to do that stuff. You’ve got to do those things that are just fun.
JOSH: I worked on one project for a little bit where the team had a tradition that was fully supported by the product manager of Friday afternoons was fun feature time. It was basically developers pick. And we would just get to work on things that we wanted to put into the website. And none of them were very significant or consequential, but it kept everyone engaged in the product. And the other thing is that when we’re working on these things, often we would use that as an opportunity to refactor and just do grooming on the codebase. So, that was a nice perk to get us through the week and to keep our spirits up.
JAMES: Google has their 20% time, which we could talk about the dark sides of that too. But still, it’s that they’re giving people the ability to work on things they want. Or companies like GitHub, they have obviously spent a significant amount of effort in developing a chatroom robot that puts mustaches on people.
JAMES: It does other things too, of course. But still…
CHUCK: Yeah, it tells Chuck Norris jokes.
JAMES: Right, Chuck Norris jokes, things like that. [Chuckles]
AVDI: I do want to say one other thing about just the idea of being passionate about coding. Like I said, I do enjoy working with enthusiastic people. I’m not so sure about working with passionate people. And I say this because, well, let me give you an example. At one of the jobs that I worked at, there were these two programmers. And I think they were both PhDs and I think it’s safe to say that they were both very passionate about the architecture of the software. And unfortunately, they did not see eye to eye. And they would literally have screaming arguments in the conference room for long periods of time, screaming at each other about the design of the software and about who was right.
JAMES: Are you saying whether or not to use braces or do…end?
AVDI: [Laughs] Yeah. And so, I think that qualifies as passion, but it was not helpful.
AVDI: Those kinds of arguments, they did not…
JOSH: I’m sorry, Avdi. That doesn’t sound like passion to me. That sounds like two people who were insecure about their positions and were being defensive.
JAMES: No, I actually disagree. I think I agree with Avdi, because I think I’ve actually been that person.
AVDI: Well, that’s the thing. I have too and I’ve watched other people do it. But I’ve certainly watched myself be it. I have been passionate about software in the past. I’ve gotten upset with people for being wrong.
AVDI: For making the wrong choices. I’ve gotten upset with people for their code because it was so stupid. I’ve gotten angry and I’ve said mean things. And you know what? All those instances, those were wastes of my passion. That was wasted emotional energy. I wish that I could take them back because it didn’t accomplish anything. In the cases where I was right, it delayed resolution because I put them on the defensive. And in cases I was wrong it delayed resolution because I was so committed passionately to my point of view. There’s this other word which is the opposite of passion called dispassion. And it’s defined as not influenced by strong emotion and so able to be rational and impartial. And that is actually much closer to how I would like to be when I address software.
JAMES: Yeah, I think there are definitely members on programming teams where they’ll go through the commits and quibble over the line of code in the commit. And I say this fully admitting that I’ve been that guy. And nowadays, it’s like, “If it works, great,” or whatever. There can be value in doing things like that, but code review and…
AVDI: We’ll talk about it, sure. Code review, discuss.
JAMES: Teaching, sure. Yeah.
AVDI: But I’m going to just come out and say, I don’t think emotional attachment to coding style or to coding practices is constructive. I don’t think it’s that helpful. And I say that again, just like you James, in full recognition that I still suffer badly from this and I’m still working on it.
JOSH: There is one place that I think passion is undoubtedly an asset and probably a requirement. And that’s for being a founder, because you have to be passionate about something there. Otherwise, you’re just going to give up the first time you hit a significant roadblock. Robert Green Ingersoll, maybe that name’s not familiar to people. He was Walt Whitman’s eulogist, greatest orator of his age. He said, “The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart.” Yeah, so finding that courage and that heart is, you’ve got to be passionate about something. You have to have some sort of deep emotional connection that will keep you going in the face of the crushing defeat.
AVDI: Yes. I will push back on that a little bit though and say that the passion that drives you to be a founder of something doesn’t necessarily have to be passion for the thing that you are founding.
JOSH: Oh right, yeah, absolutely. It could be passion for providing for your family.
AVDI: Yeah. So, I run RubyTapas now. That’s my job. That is a thing that I created from scratch myself. So, I think that qualifies me as a founder. It’s a thing that actually employs me better than any of my programming jobs did.
JOSH: Congratulations on that, by the way.
AVDI: Thank you.
JAMES: Also, it’s amazing.
AVDI: You know, when I was starting it out, I was still consulting. I was doing a ton of pair programming consulting. And I was buffering up episodes so I was doing four episodes a week to create the buffer of episodes that I wanted to have when I launched. And that was a horrible time. I’ll be brutally honest. It was miserable. And also, I had a very young child, well lots of children, but one that was very young at the time, and just lack of sleep and exhaustion and very, very long weeks. So you could say that I was very passionate. But the thing is, I wasn’t passionate about RubyTapas. I love this project of mine. I love that I get to do something that I enjoy so much in order to realize my goals and I care deeply for it and I put tons of time and energy into it. I’m extremely enthusiastic about it. But the passion there was the passion again for providing for my family and for putting myself in a situation where I could spend even more time with my family while still providing for them. So, that was what drove me to make those sacrifices and to put all that work into it. It wasn’t that, I don’t think that you have to be passionate about a product in order to successfully found something and successfully found something really good.
JAMES: I’m glad you said that, because I fully believe that. I think the whole startup culture is one way to do it [chuckles]. And I’m not sure that’s even the best way to do it. And there are companies like the Y Combinators and stuff that I feel like these people chew up and destroy passion. They know the percentages. They know what’s going to hit. It’s that there’s going to be this very low percentage of megahits. And it’s those megahits that keep them in business and they can afford to have X number of failures to get to that next megahit.
JOSH: Oh right, yeah.
AVDI: And they need the churn.
JAMES: Right. They have to burn through those to find the next megahit. And they don’t care. That’s just, “You’re passionate. That’s great.” They want you to work hard, work fast, fail, so they can get on to the next one.
JOSH: Yeah. James, this is a great point. And I think this is why we’re seeing so much promotion of passion as the attractive force when trying to hire people, is that as humans we’re used to passion being associated with suffering. But we’re also used to being thwarted in achieving our passions. You fall for somebody. Most of the time, they don’t fall for you in return and you have unrequited love and it’s a terrible tragedy love story. Or you see some home and you’d love to live there but you don’t get to. Most of the things that we spend our lives dreaming about, you don’t get. So, when you pull people into these startup companies or whatever and you say you’re following your passion, you’d be passionate about this, people are used to being disappointed in the face of their passions. But they keep going for them, because you’re passionate about it. So, this is the thing that is probably the most dangerous about it, is that people assume that their passions just aren’t going to work out now, but they’ll keep working for them.
AVDI: Yeah, and I think the other really dangerous aspect of this is that it is very much in the best interests of this, the startup culture, particularly the investor class that are driving it, it is very much in their interest to convince people that their passion is to create some software product. When I was young, I had a lot of energy. I had a lot of latent passion and a great need to do something big and to make a difference in the world. And the thing is that, as all kinds of movements through history have shown us, that need is malleable. Somebody who’s influential can take that need and say, “Here. This is your passion. This is what you should throw your passion into.” And this is what I’m seeing in the startup scene, is people saying, “Yes, it is right and good for your passion to be about building Facebook for ferrets. And it’s a noble thing and you’ll be changing the world.” And there’s this echo chamber where everybody congratulates each other and confirms that yes, they are changing the world. And there are these crazy startup schools where they actually call each other world-changers and stuff like that. They’re exploiting that need that people have, especially when they’re young and starting out, to figure out, “What is my passion and what am I going to throw myself into?” And they’re saying throw it into some ephemeral software thing and saying that it is good and noble and will change the world.
CHUCK: I want a cape.
JAMES: No capes.
AVDI: They’re saying you can be heroes. [Chuckles]
JAMES: It’s also backwards. This is another thing Katrina taught me. I was very much a follow your passion believer. And Katrina beat that out of me. So now, I’m no longer a passionate person. No, I’m just [inaudible].
JAMES: But she made these great arguments and finally got me to read this book. It’s been picked on the show three times now. So, if you haven’t read it, it’s your fault now. But it’s ‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You’ and it basically talks about why follow your passion is a really bad idea. If you were to ask me if I am passionate about molecular biology, my answer would be I have no idea. I know nothing about molecular biology. That doesn’t mean no, I’m not. It means I don’t know if I am. And people think you get passionate about something and then you learn all there is to know and get great at something. But that’s backwards. How can you be passionate about something you don’t really get the main points of? Until you’ve got far enough down that road and really gained an appreciation and understanding for it, how can you be passionate about this thing? And so the whole, we’re picking on the startups I guess, but that whole mindset is kind of backwards. There are other ways to do things without this burn yourself out kind of approach. There are ways that you subtly gain skill and then you find the parts of it you like and then you move into the edges of those areas and try to branch beyond a little bit. And that’s a way you found something basically without killing yourself. And there are books written about this, like ‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You’. So, it’s just one way to do it, and an exploitive dark way, which I think is really important. That’s what bugs me about the whole passion discussion, is the exploitive nature of it. I think it’s horrible.
JOSH: Can we talk about Mr. Spock for a moment?
JAMES: Sure. [Chuckles]
JOSH: Avdi, you and I were talking about Mr. Spock the other day, right?
JOSH: Yeah so, when I was in grade school, I remember that Mr. Spock was my personal hero. He was the guy who didn’t fit in anywhere. He wasn’t human. He wasn’t Vulcan. He just was awkward and a misfit everywhere. And yet, he controlled all of his, he wasn’t hurt by it. He didn’t let his bad feelings affect him. And not only that, but he was just super awesome at everything and showed the world that it didn’t matter that he wasn’t like everybody else because he was great. So, he was just my hero. I was this awkward misfit kid and I wanted to grow up to be just like him, not to be bothered by all the bad feelings that I was feeling at not fitting in. And I think that, Avdi we were talking about this, you had a similar experience, right?
AVDI: Yeah, yeah. I loved Spock. He was my favorite Star Trek character.
JOSH: Yeah. So, I think a lot of us geek kids or nerd kids grew up with somebody like Spock as our hero, that we didn’t want to have all of those troubling emotions making us not feel good because we weren’t fitting in, et cetera. And then we grow up and we’re like, “Well, now I want to be in touch with my emotions. I want to be feeling the feels. I want to be happy and excited and passionate about things.” There’s this deep-seated need to feel emotionally engaged with your life, right? [Chuckles] So, we look for sources of that emotional engagement that are external to ourselves.
AVDI: Yes. Yeah, absolutely. It’s interesting you bring up Spock, because he’s actually a really, I think a good example of a pretty well-balanced person. And I say that because especially when you look at the older Spock, we’re getting into deep nerd territory here, but when you look at some, like in Star Trek VI and some of the later appearance and movies, you see that Spock is a person who number one, he was certainly passionate about some things. I think he had this deep loyalty to his friends. And he was also clearly passionate about humanitarian causes. He was always to be found working toward peace and stuff like that. And that, I guess if that relates at all, it points to the fact that one can be dispassionate about executing your duties, you’re doing your job, while still working steadily towards something that you feel there’s a deep stream of passion in you about.
JOSH: Oh, yeah. Okay, did we just have a meaningful conversation about Mr. Spock?
AVDI: Yes, we did. And it was awesome.
JAMES: It was amazing.
JOSH: High five, man.
JOSH: I have one more bit I want to add here, which is James used the phrase “follow you passion”.
JOSH: And that gets used all over the place.
JOSH: Why am I blanking on his name right now? He’s one of my heroes. Joseph Campbell. Yeah, that was his phrase, right?
AVDI: I did not realize that was his phrase.
JAMES: I didn’t know that either. [Chuckles]
JOSH: Oh yeah, Joseph Campbell, he very much popularized that. And maybe I’ll pick his series later. So, he says “follow your passion”, or “follow your bliss” actually was the phrase that he used. And I think that gets changed into “follow your passion” a lot. But I think a different approach rather than follow your passion is feed your passion. Your passion is a great source of energy and inspiration in your life. Avdi, you were talking about your family and how that’s your passion, and all the amazing stuff that you’ve done in service of that passion. And that’s great. So, I would say you’re feeding your passion. I don’t know. Maybe you can run with that or something, because I feel like I’ve said everything I have to say about it. [Chuckles]
AVDI: What you just said is an example of the fact that you can actually have a lot of fun while you’re pursuing your passions or while you’re feeding your passions.
JAMES: Avdi, I think that’s why some people got upset about your post. I did the thing you’re never supposed to do and I read the comments on your post.
JAMES: So, I feel very brave. But you know, there were a lot of people pushing back. And I felt like they felt like you told them they couldn’t be excited.
AVDI: Yeah, and that’s the opposite of what I’m saying.
JAMES: I know.
AVDI: I’m saying you can disengage excitement from passion and you can be excited about things even when they’re not part of your core passion, which is awesome, because being excited about things is great.
JOSH: Yes. It’s very exciting.
AVDI: That is very exciting.
JOSH: So, I guess the last thing I would say about the “feed your passion” is that if I am a passionate cook, I love cooking and nothing gives me greater joy in life than making something and putting it in front of somebody I care about and watching them eat it and smile. Maybe that’s the best moment in my life. And my job has nothing to do about that. But as long as I am engaging with my passion, set aside a little time every week to be able to cook something new, make sure I’m always buying new cookbooks and reading them, maybe I’m listening to cooking podcasts, as long as I’m keeping that, I’m feeding my passion. I’m not letting it wither and die from neglect. Then that keeps me engaged emotionally and happy and excited about that. And that absolutely spills over into the rest of the stuff I do in my life.
AVDI: Absolutely. Yeah, and that’s a great point. I think it’s actually freeing to realize that you can do that, because I think for some people, you can get into a mental situation where you think, “I’m just not going to have any fun in life. Someday, my job will be congruent with my passion. But until then, I’m just not going to have any fun in life,” or, “Until then, I’m not going to be able to move forward on my passion.” I think I’m probably guilty of doing this sometimes, because I actually do have a pretty strong passion toward music and that’s one of the things that I put aside in favor of some of my other passions. And that’s a tangent. But I guess the important thing is that you don’t have to wait until your job is congruent with your passion in order to feed that passion. And that’s a freeing realization, if that makes any sense.
JOSH: No, that makes total sense to me. So James, what are you passionate about?
JAMES: [Laughs] Too many things. I am very into it, all in kind of person, which I think is interesting because I’ve now, like Avdi, pretty much turned against the word passion. And I really get into things, or programming in general, and love learning new languages and messing with it and stuff. But do I meet the definition of barely controlled emotion or willing to suffer for it? Sometimes, I’ll suffer a little bit, like Avdi mentions of taking time off to the side making things harder for myself so I can sneak something in, or something like that. I will occasionally do that. But not like that. Tomorrow, I have an entire day off that I could do whatever I want with. And while traditionally, I would program or whatever, it’s Valentine’s Day and I want to go play. So I’m taking the girls to this indoor water park here in Oklahoma. We’re going to go. It’s cold here but we’re going to go. And this place is 82 degrees and you can go swimming and all that kind of stuff. So, I definitely have passion for my family, my kid, my wife. And I don’t think that my code is on the same level as that. And I don’t feel bad about that. That’s the great part. I finally realized that doesn’t bother me, that it’s not…
AVDI: Yeah. You know, the Buddhists talk a lot about being mindful and being fully present in whatever you’re doing. But they can’t stand passion. [Chuckles] I’m probably insulting a bunch of Buddhists right now.
JAMES: And now we’re going to get angry emails.
AVDI: That is like the worst oversimplification of a philosophy ever committed. So, I retract that. But the point is, there is a lot of Buddhist teaching that discourages you from strong passions or from strong emotional attachments. And yet, they definitely, I know of a lot of teachers that talk about being fully present in what you’re doing. And I think that’s what you’re talking about, James, is whatever you’re doing, you’re being fully present in it.
JAMES: Right, yes. I try very much to do that. I try to leave that behind and go do other things. Yeah, absolutely. There’s another angle I want to bring up to this passion thing. It comes up a lot in the Ruby community with job ads and stuff. People asking for ninjas and rock stars and people that are passionate and stuff like that.
JAMES: And I’ve seen people defend this to the death on Twitter. We have to be able to do this. Blah, blah, blah.
AVDI: Waiting for the job ad that is looking specifically for Ruby cyborgs from the future.
JAMES: Exactly, yeah. Only if you have been genetically enhanced do you, yeah, whatever. There’s one thing that’s interesting about this. Once every single job ad says they’re looking for a passionate ninja, then it means nothing anymore.
AVDI: [Chuckles] Yes.
JAMES: If we all say that, then it has no meaning and you might as well just remove it from the ad because it’s nothing. I was actually reading a book last night that was talking about this habit parents and children have in their schooling to get ready for Harvard. That’s the number one thing. If you go to any schooling expert or whatever and you ask on what’s the number one thing parents want to know, it’s, “How do I get my kid into Harvard?” And there’s this thing where there’s this formula that we all apparently know because it’s ingrained in us or something. You got to get 3.8 or higher GPA, you need to be in the right clubs and after school activities, blah, blah, blah. And these parents/children plan their lives such that they’ll meet all these criteria by the time they’re eligible to start applying for Harvard. And then, they actually talked about Harvard admission counselors. And they were like, okay, so the one thing they’ve seen five billion times is the kid with the 3.8 GPA, was in all the proper honor societies, et cetera, et cetera.
JAMES: The only thing they really want to see is something they have not seen before. This formula that we have in our head for how to make the perfect job ad by looking for passionate ninja rock stars, it’s BS. If you’re looking for a job and you read those ads, I don’t personally find jobs that way very often which I think is telling, but if I did and I read passionate ninja rock star, I promise there would be an eye-roll involved.
JAMES: I’d be like, “Oh really? Wow.” That doesn’t impress me. What would impress me is an ad that doesn’t do that and says something meaningful without doing that.
AVDI: Yeah, definitely.
JOSH: Chuck, what are you passionate about, man?
CHUCK: What am I passionate about? Well, Avdi talked about a lot of the things that I’m passionate about: my family, church. Things like podcasting and programming I really enjoy them, but they really just don’t compare.
JOSH: But do they connect with your passion in any way?
CHUCK: Yeah, in the sense that those things help provide for my family and they provide me with fulfillment in the things that I pursue. They give me opportunities to expand my horizons and learn new things and stuff like that, which I think comes close in some ways to some of these other things. But it’s still not, I don’t know if I would go to the level of suffering or anything, to learn some of the things that I go out and try and learn.
JOSH: Oh, I’ve suffered a lot to learn programming.
JAMES: Yeah, really?
JOSH: Try writing microcode for a while.
JAMES: So, you’ve also wanted to throw your laptop out the window?
JOSH: On more than one occasion. [Chuckles]
CHUCK: I was waiting for him to say, “I have thrown my laptop out the window.”
JOSH: I wish I could say that. I was looking to see if I could honestly say that, but I’ve stopped myself every time.
AVDI: You know, if you did that right now where I am, you’d actually be fine because…
JAMES: Yeah, the laptop would get [inaudible] nice and cushiony.
AVDI: It would just land in a giant snow drift. And as long as a Wampa didn’t eat it.
JOSH: Yeah, but then it would start operating as a superconductor because it’s so cold.
AVDI: Oh yeah, and then it would probably take over the world.
JAMES: I want to go back, if we can one more time to the exploitive nature or this word. Because to me, that was the whole reason I wanted to do this episode. It may seem like semantics, like Josh brought up in the beginning and several people commented on Avdi’s blog that, “Oh, who cares how they’re using this word?” But it’s a really small step from, “We want a super passionate programmer,” to, “We plan to exploit the hell out of you.” [Laughter]
JOSH: In other words, we’re looking for grad students.
JAMES: Yeah. And I think that is so horrible. I have to share this because this is so mind-blowing to me. When I was first getting into Ruby, I was really lucky and I worked with some excellent people. Back then it was called Highgroove Studios. They’ve gone separate ways, one group splitting off and doing Scout and the other group merging with Big Nerd Ranch. And one of the people I worked with back then was Derek Haynes. Super great guy and taught me more than I could every say. But one of the things he said to me that has stuck with me forever is, “There are so few problems in our industry that cannot wait ‘til Monday morning.”
JAMES: And he said that, and at the time I was like, “Yeah, whatever.” And I didn’t internalize it then until I realized that Derek is one of the only people in software that believes that. Seriously. I think almost every person I’ve worked with since then does not believe that statement. He’s right. What happens if our app goes down Friday at 6pm, blah, blah, blah? Would we be hemorrhaging cash? There may be a couple of scenarios where that answer is yes, but it is shockingly fewer than you think it is, right?
JAMES: And he was so laid back about it. It was like, “Oh my gosh, we have this big problem,” and he was like, “Eh. We’ll get to it.”
JAMES: “We’ll get there. We’ll take care of it. No worries.” And I was like, “That is such a great attitude.” And I think that has become a massive internal part of who I’ve become, is that I was finally able to see and adopt that attitude. And I believe in that mantra 110%.
AVDI: Yeah, absolutely. And, not to steal anyone’s motivation, but I think even if it’s something that you’re building from scratch, what are the odds that if your startup idea fails because somehow it failed because you didn’t work on Saturday, I don’t know. But what are the odds that you will never work again? What are the odds you’ll never build a new project, a new company, a new startup again? We’re actually tremendously privileged in this industry that we do have a lot to fall back on.
JOSH: And Avdi, that relates to something that I like to say, I’ve said this very thing to several friends who’ve been in tough spots. I’d say, “Okay, confidence is not knowing that you won’t succeed. Confidence is knowing that even if you fail, you’ll still be okay.” You’ll be in shape to pick yourself up and try again. And once I got that under my belt, when I was younger and I’d had a few setbacks and failures and I was still able to pick myself up and move forward and continue to be an overall success, it’s like I got my confidence. And I think that if you have that kind of confidence, that failure isn’t so much a problem for you because there’s always the next time. And you can fail better next time.
JAMES: [Chuckles] Fail better next time. I like that.
JOSH: Yeah, well it’s like try, fail, fail better. That’s the cycle. [Chuckles]
JOSH: And you keep failing better until you succeed. So, if you have that confidence, then you don’t necessarily need this driving passion to keep you going, because you have a different route to success.
AVDI: Absolutely. And I think people recognize confidence like that too. And that can actually help you when you have that going for you. There’s a certain desperation in the frenetic, passionate…
AVDI: I have to go 110% coffee, coffee, coffee on this or I will fail approach to life. And it’s not attractive.
JAMES: Right. Do you want to learn from the person that’s truly passionate or driven like, “You have to program this way or end of the world,” or do you want to learn from the person who’s laid back and be like, “Hey, you know what? Here’s a trick I learned that saves you nine times out of ten”? [Chuckles]
JAMES: It’s a totally different mindset and far superior in my opinion.
JOSH: Are we ready to wrap up? Any last words?
AVDI: Well, if we’re getting to that time, let me…
JOSH: I think we are. We’ve been at it an hour.
AVDI: If I may say some last words.
AVDI: For me, I think the core of all this, the biggest point that I wanted to make, is you have a limited time and energy in your life. They Might Be Giants have a song that goes, “You’re older than you’ve ever been. And now you’re even older. And now you’re even older. And now you’re older still.”
AVDI: And it’s true. Depressing, but true. And the point is in a very literal sense, you have more time now than you ever will again. You have more energy now than you ever will again, [inaudible] energy across your whole life. So, don’t let somebody tell you what your passions are. And don’t let anybody tell you that you owe passion to a project or to a company, even if it’s something that you created. Passion is something that it may take time to figure out. What you’re truly passionate may take some time to figure out. It may take a lot of pain to figure out. As a matter of fact, if it doesn’t take pain to figure out, there’s probably something wrong. I read some advice once that said if you want to find out what your real purpose in life is, start writing things down that you’re interested in and just keep doing it until you get to one that makes you cry. So yeah, you don’t owe your passion to any project or company or anything else. And if you don’t know what you’re passionate about yet, that’s fine. Like I said, it can take time. But if you’re going to throw yourself heart and soul into something, let it be because of your passions that you have worked out based on your deepest values, not based on something that somebody told you that was worth being passionate about. I guess that’s my whole point with this.
CHUCK: Alright. Well, let’s go ahead and do some picks then. James, you want to start us off?
JAMES: Sure. I have just one pick this time and I’m actually going to ask a favor. I’ve never done that before. So, I figure I can do one every three years. A friend of mine is doing this fundraising thing for raising awareness for children’s cancer. And I think it’s a super cool thing to do, and she’s shaving her head and stuff to raise awareness. And then you can have the conversation with people about that and all that. And anyway, there’s this site called St. Baldrick’s Foundation where you can donate. And so I’m going to put a link in the show notes to my friend, Christi Dawson who’s doing this. And if you haven’t done your good deed for today, I’m asking that you make it this one and give a couple of bucks or something and help her do that. Because I think it’s a really important cause and it’s a cool thing. And I think it would be great for us to support that. That’s it. Thanks.
CHUCK: Alright. Josh, what are your picks?
JOSH: I was afraid you were going to do that. What was that thing that I said I was going to pick earlier? [Chuckles] I’m flailing here.
JAMES: The guy who coined “follow your bliss”.
JOSH: Oh yeah, Joseph Campbell. Thank you, James. So years ago, Bill Moyers did a series of interviews with Joseph Campbell talking about the power of myth. And it’s great. If you’ve never been exposed to Joseph Campbell and his views on mythology, he takes a very Jungian view about mythology and explains why Luke Skywalker is the archetypal hero and all the things that he does in his path get done by all the heroes and how you can relate it to your own life. And this is where all that “1follow your bliss” came from. So, it’s a lot of fun to see him all engaged about this and hear all of his take on mythology and how it all applies to our lives in fairly meaningful ways. And there’s also a book companion to that. Yeah, so I’m going to pick that. And then I have an even less meaningful, I don’t know, even less technical pick. So Apple TV, I’ve been a little late up lately and watching a lot of TV, so new season of Sherlock is out. But it’s not on Netflix yet. And I discovered that Apple TV has this PBS app, one of the [top local] things, PBS. And you can watch all the new episodes of Sherlock on there. So, that’s been keeping me happy. So, that’s it for me.
AVDI: Oh yeah, an addendum to that. We discovered the same thing about our Roku box.
AVDI: You can get a PBS, local PBS app for that and you can watch Sherlock on it.
JOSH: Yeah, you just have to tell it what your local station is and then you’re all hooked.
JOSH: Yeah, great. Cool.
JAMES: You didn’t answer the most important question. Is Sherlock season 3 amazing?
JOSH: So far, it’s the best season yet.
JAMES: Ooh, that really sets the bar high, because… [Laughter]
JAMES: The end of the second season is 90 minutes of my favorite television ever.
JOSH: Man, you’re going to love the new season. [Chuckles]
JOSH: Yeah, the writing is really tight. I like it. So okay, done for me.
CHUCK: Yeah. Well, those guys picked up some experience doing The Hobbit movies. So, it could only get better, right?
JAMES: [Laughs] Benedict picked up some experience doing every movie, you mean. [Laughter]
CHUCK: Alright. Avdi, what are your picks?
AVDI: So, it may come as a surprise that despite not being a passionate programmer, I still have a ton of fun in what I do and so my picks today are actually both things that have been picked before on the show. But I don’t care, because I have just dug into them recently and I’ve been having so much fun with them. First off is Postgres, specifically Postgres 9.3. I finally took the time to dig into its JSON capabilities. You can put JSON columns and tables. And it’s freaking awesome.
JAMES: I love that.
AVDI: It’s basically awk for JSON data. It’s a single executable and you download it and you can start doing fancy queries against JSON data. You can pipe curl into it and stuff like that and reshape the data or select specific parts out of it and all kinds of cool stuff. I used it to take some data from an API and basically chunk it into line-wise records and then I could just import that directly into Postgres all in the command line using the Postgres copy command. And it was super-fast and an amazing way to get a ton of data in at once. So yeah, these tools have been just blowing my mind. That’s it.
CHUCK: Awesome. Alright. Well, I don’t really have any picks. I had a sinus infection earlier this week and I basically just slept all week.
JAMES: Is that an anti-pick?
CHUCK: I guess my pick is antibiotics. [Chuckles]
CHUCK: Yay, science.
JOSH: You’re not picking the neti pot?
CHUCK: I’ve never tried the neti pot.
JOSH: Okay, we’ll talk later.
CHUCK: Yeah, you and Dave. Dave might come over here and force me to use one.
JOSH: I think there are laws against that.
CHUCK: Waterboarding is illegal, huh?
CHUCK: Anyway, so yeah. So, I’m feeling much better now. I incidentally, since I slept for three days and I usually don’t make it to the gas station over the weekend, I haven’t had caffeine in five days. So [chuckles] I’ve been pretty tired anyway. But yeah, it’s been quite the week. So anyhow, by the time you’re listening to this, I should be back on my feet and feeling great. Before we wrap up though, I do want to mention that we are going to be talking to Pat Shaughnessy in a couple of weeks about ‘Ruby Under A Microscope’. So, if you haven’t picked up the book and started reading it yet, please hurry.
JAMES: I just finished it and it’s so good. You have got to read this book.
JOSH: I know, right?
JAMES: It’s really good, seriously.
JAMES: Chuck, you wanted to mention ‘The do Podcast’.
CHUCK: I did. We did an episode. Was it two weeks ago?
JOSH: Call it last month.
CHUCK: Last month, we talked about depression with Greg Baugues. Anyway, The do Podcast guys pointed out that they had done an episode on it two weeks before. And they had a little bit different conversation than we did, so I just want to give them a shout-out. Go check out their podcast on Ruby and the Ruby community. And listen to that one too, and hopefully we’ll be even more aware and better informed on how to help other people in our community.
CHUCK: And thank you for reminding me.
JAMES: You bet.
CHUCK: Alright. Well, we’ll wrap up the show then. We’ll catch you all next week.