Information Technology Dark Side

Struggles of a Self-Taught Coder

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August 10th, 2007 · No Comments

Dave Kokoska

As I sat watching the movie 300, I wondered how this movie with such quotes as “We are with you sire! For Sparta, for freedom, to the death!” could be relevant to our lives in the IT world. Even though we’re currently ‘suffering’ compared to the booming Internet years, our careers seem to hold less importance than those where lives hang in the balance on a daily basis.

Fortunately (or unfortunately…), I was also reading a book from Paul Tillich about courage. Perhaps, there may be more in common than I had thought, at least when it comes to courage. Courage, in its simplest terms, is the ability to overcome fear. Driving down deeper, fear is rooted in anxiety. I.e., fear comes from a concrete object, such as heights or spiders, while anxiety is a more general feeling that has a more abstract quality. As Tillich describes it, there are three root causes of anxiety: fate, loss of meaning and guilt. At this point, we’re now at a level where we can compare ourselves in IT to other industries which might not be as pleasant, as I’m sure everyone has had these feelings. In fact, I would argue that because we hide ourselves behind lives in a 24×7 world that we may be dealing with anxiety even worse than others.


An interesting word that implies a meaning of a couple fairies trimming strings in a mythological world. However, in the current state of IT, it’s fairly easy to understand that a couple mistakes here and there might mean the difference between a 400k house and a 150k one, or perhaps, your spouse may need to get a job while you stand in the unemployment line, or maybe you take that job at the Best Buy to get through a couple months. Unfortunately, our fate is now increasingly in the hands of a corporate being who might not be able to tell you from your employee identification number…. So… how do we apply courage in the face of this anxiety especially since we’ve moved from the anxiety of fate to the fear of a job loss? I’ll take it back to another movie quote “We did what we were trained to do, what we were bred to do, what we were born to do!” A simple statement that causes you to think ‘Is this what I’m good at doing?’ and ‘Is this what I want to do?’. If you can’t answer yes to both of those, then your anxiety is well-founded and I would advise looking at your career path. If you can answer yes, then, in the words of a friend, ‘Go strong’. This means to take action and enjoy your job. If you have motivation and ability, then your current job will create a career path for you.

How do we apply meaning to a corporate IT world? A simple answer: do the best that you can possibly do. Your job should expose who you are to those around you. Your relationships with your team will provide more meaning in your life than trying to climb a corporate ladder. That doesn’t mean that you should strive for mediocrity, but that you should strive to derive meaning by accomplishing goals in your career. If you apply courage to overcome a meaningless job, then others will follow and create a positive feedback cycle. However, if your job has gotten to the point of simply punching the ticket, then perhaps you should either change jobs or become a bit less self-involved.

We’ve all heard the quote “While I’m lying on my death bed, will I remember the details of that super-important meeting that I attended and missed my daughter’s soccer game…” A conundrum… Do I spend enough time at work so that my daughter can afford the soccer jersey in tonight’s game or do I I miss the meetings, attend the game, and posssibly not be able to pay for next season’s uniforms? Typically, the situation is not that dire and thus the solution is simple: do the best that you can possibly do. Definitely a repeat from above, but I can assure you that your anxiety will lessen if you spend more time thinking about others than yourself.

In our world of current IT, courage is not often displayed. We need to encourage ourselves and others to step up by proving that we’re not the corporate gimps as we’re now portrayed. We do add value and we do bring dollars to the bottom line, but, more importantly, we’re intelligent beings that can overcome the fears that currently exist within our domain. I’ll end this segment with a final quote from the Spartan king “The world will know that free men stood against a tyrant, that few stood against many.”

Dave Kokoska is a project manager at a Fortune 100 insurance company in Indianapolis, IN. Don’t let the devil picture fool you – Koko knows what he’s doing.

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