Following Your Passion – Good or Bad Advice?

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On Wednesday’s I like to cover a random topic that applies to developers and today I’m going to discuss the idea of following your passion. I hear this term and this advice quite often and I’m not a fan of taking things at face value, so I wanted to look into the concept and review it here.

At a high level the advice centers around the idea that if you do work in a field that you truly love, that you will be happy. Many people point to Steve Job’s Stanford commencement speech when he says

“And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”

Following Your Passion – A Case Study

In researching this I came across Cal Newport’s book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”, where he took a deep look at Steve Job’s life and shows that if Jobs would have spent his life adhering to the advise of “following your passion” he never would have started Apple, instead he would have become a Buddhist monk living in Asia. Jobs started Apple for the practical reason that he saw a way to make some quick money selling a set of computers to a local electronics store and that sale sparked his interest in technology.

So it seems like following your passions is not a cut and dry process of doing work that you love. However my advice is not to ignore your passions, but instead to use them in order to build a career that you truly love and can excel in. Sticking with the Steve Jobs example, one of the other passions Jobs had was calligraphy, which is essentially fancy handwriting if you’ve never seen it before. When creating the user interface for Apple’s operating system, Jobs leveraged his extensive expertise in calligraphy to integrate fonts into the programs. Here was an example of Jobs combining his passions with a practical implementation.

As developers we’re in a unique position where we can work in a wide assortment of industries, if you love sports you can work for a professional sports team or if entertainment is your flavor you can work for a media company, the possibilities are really endless. One of my biggest passions is baseball, I grew up around the game and I love everything about it. I wasn’t skilled enough to play professionally, however right now I’m working towards my PhD in computer science and my topic of research is big data analysis in baseball. It wouldn’t have been practical for me to waste who knows how many years trying to make it as a professional baseball player, however I can leverage my skill as a developer and still perform work that I love to do. I’ve also have the privilege of having multiple clients that are in the sports industry, which has allowed me to work in the sector that I’m passionate about while still leveraging the skills I have as a developer.

Hopefully my research and personal experiences can help you decide on whether or not following your passion is the right decision or if there is a middle group that would lead to a better end result.

following your passion

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