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How to Stay Motivated

It is a wonderful and surprising fact that programmers are highly motivated by the desire to create artifacts that are beautiful, useful or nifty. This desire is not unique to programmers nor universal but it is so strong and common among programmers that it separates them from others in other roles.

This has practical and important consequences. If programmers are asked to do something that is not beautiful, useful or nifty, they will have low morale. There's a lot of money to be made doing ugly, stupid, and boring stuff; but in the end, fun will make the most money for the company.

Obviously, there are entire industries organized around motivational techniques, some of which apply here. The things that are specific to programming that I can identify are:

  • Use the best language for the job.
  • Look for opportunities to apply new techniques, languages and technologies.
  • Try to either learn or teach something, no matter how small, in each project.

Finally, if possible, measure the impact of your work in terms of something that will be personally motivating. For example, when fixing bugs, counting the number of bugs that I have fixed is not at all motivational to me, because it is independent of the number that may still exist, and it also affects the total value I'm adding to my company's customers in only the smallest possible way. Relating each bug to a happy customer, however, is personally motivating to me.

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