Passion narrative considered harmful

I’ve gotten tired of seeing articles on programming blogs mentioning the word “passion” in the opening paragraph so I’m going to explain why you should ignore all such articles and focus on the mechanics of programming. To become good at programming you just need to practice. Programming is a skill and passion is not a prerequisite for practicing a skill.

First, it’s an exclusionary narrative. Can you imagine telling folks that want to become car mechanics that they need to be passionate about cars? How many fewer mechanics would we have if every car mechanic had to be passionate about it? Some jobs pay well and if you are skilled enough to do the job then it’s a practical decision about economics. People will pay you to do it and so you should do it instead of starving on the streets and pursuing your passion. The real world is not all sunshine and roses and it takes all kinds to make the world go around. Programming is more like being a car mechanic than people would like to admit.

Second, I’m not passionate about programming but I’m damn good at it. I wasn’t always good at it. I practiced and got better. There is no magic formula. I didn’t have an extra reserve of passion that other people didn’t. I just practiced a bit more and was fortunate enough to have a good support network. At the end of the day I like solving problems and programming lets me do that and get paid while doing it. For me it’s all about economics. If I could solve problems through some other means and get paid as well as I do in programming then I would be doing that instead of programming. Programming is a means to an end. I’m not passionate about a means to an end.

Third, it’s a false narrative. You will get much further in life by developing discipline instead of passion. Discipline is all about setting goals and following through with those goals whether you are passionate about the goal or not. So if you are going to listen to some narrative then listen to those that extol the virtues of discipline and the passion part won’t even matter.

Fourth, there is no fourth reason but you are welcome to fill in your own reasons why the passion narrative is harmful to the programming industry.