Passion isn’t Enough

Photo by Jefferson Santos on Unsplash

Passion is often talked about in computing as the secret key ingredient in the work that we do. The true power that separates you from the “pretenders”, the newbies that are in it for the money. It has grown louder of late as the field has grown increasingly larger and more diverse. The newbies are often decried as not being “passionate” about programming because they don’t think about it day/night. They’re not spending every spare moment polishing their code late into the night. Heaven forbid they have other interests or priorities.

That’s not what’s most important in the work that we do. I find it often used as a tool for gatekeeping, seeing those who see tech careers as a path to upward mobility as somehow undeserving. As someone who spent most of my youth doing manual labor in agriculture and the service industry, not once was my “passion” ever questioned. Other than at a pep rally for my job at Arby’s, passion was never even mentioned (people get worked up over Beef N’ Cheddars).

But you know what was questioned? My competence and commitment.

Passion is hailed as the thing that will keep you going when thing go sour or as a defense against of burnout.

It’s simply not true.

I started programming when I was 12 but I was burned out on programming a few years ago and needed a break, precisely because my passion allowed my life to get out of balance.

Passion doesn’t imply greater ability either. I went to high school with many passionate basketball players who just weren’t good enough to make the team.

And even after accounting for competence, we often assume passionate people willingly provided what’s needed by the team. There are plenty of talented and passionate running backs that are not committed to picking up the blitz. Similarly, I know many passionate developers uninterested in mentorship, even when the organization sorely needs it. You have to understand what people are specifically passionate about. They may be passionate about “their” code. Passionate developers can often be an impediment to team success, if the passion is self serving.

I live in Mexico and one of my favorite activities is taking early morning walks. I like to see people get ready for the day, watching a city literally wake up before my eyes. All the shop owners, vendors and employees, often getting ready before sunrise, so that people like me can get a coffee or tacos de canasta as we start our day. They have bills to pay and mouths to feed. I have no way to quantify their passion but I’m certain of their competence and commitment because they show up each day without fail. And I’ll take that over passion any day of the week.