John Detlefs Programmer

My Five Year Plan

As a 23 year old college graduate I am often asked where I see myself in 5-10 years. I hate this question.

I’d say two thirds of my frustration when asked this type of question comes from the question being pointless, while the other third comes from some fear of not having a satisfactory answer.

If you don’t know my background, I recently graduated with both a Math and Chemistry major from the 3rd best public STEM college in the country. (This piece of bragging will come up later.) In July of 2015, in the midst of spending a summer working 3 different but equally shitty jobs I decided I wanted to become a programmer. After spending some time recovering from next-level burnout, I spent the next year working hard at teaching myself fundamentals of programming. Since then, I’ve been a Summer of Code Student, and have been slowly developing into someone with tangible experience in Open Source Software. (Shameless plug for my Github)

I have been experiencing a tremendous amount of stress in the past month which has in no way been mitigated by my credentials and achievements. I have been wrestling with the desire to become skilled without putting in the work, to get paid without having the experience, to talk about things I don’t necessarily know enough about. I want to be the programmers that I work with RIGHT NOW! Although programming and mathematical thinking align in many ways, there is a tremendous breadth to what I do not know.

But it turns out I’ve learned some things as I’ve struggled through hard Mathematics and Chemistry coursework. I’ve learned how to learn, and better yet, how to fail. Much like Andy Dufresne in “The Shawshank Redemption”, I’ve crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side. I’ve dry-heaved over a toilet after failing an exam, I’ve spent countless weeks red-eyed. I’ve figured out that a healthy diet and exercise is a much better stress management tool than beer and pizza. I’ve learned just how much I can grasp in the course of five years of hard work.

Cue Julie Andrews….

A good friend of mine, James, once asked me the question, “John, what is the difference between coal and a diamond?”

The answer: Time and Pressure.

The degrees I’ve earned have taught me how to survive the pressure of intense work. They have given me the ability to ask questions without fear of judgment from my peers. They have given me confidence that in just a few years time I can do some pretty great things!

So I don’t know where I’m going to be in a few years. It really isn’t on my list of concerns. What concerns me is what I’m going to achieve tonight, tomorrow, and next week. How I’m going to reconcile that 40 minutes of cardio, healthy eating and self-teaching with delivering on work-goals. To some degree, I consider answering the “five-year-plan” questions day-dreaming with a different name.

When I worry, I keep coming back to this speech.

I have to keep reminding myself of all the banal platitudes I’ve accrued over the years. I’m going to keep working on thinking about the right things. Talk to me in five years, if I stick to this routine, I’m certain that there are some great things in store.

If there is one thing I want to impart upon someone else, it is that you’re capable of great things. Just keep at it! -john