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Does it get lonely working as a software engineer?

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Data Scientist at Apple2 years ago

I come from a non-Computer Science background, and I'm exploring other paths in tech, one of which is software engineering.

I have a vision of a software engineer working on the same piece of logic daily: Is that what it's like and if so, can that get lonely? Or is that actually what most SWE love and find exciting?

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    Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero, PayPal
    2 years ago
    • The scenario outlined here can definitely happen, and it can definitely get lonely, especially in the age of covid-induced remote work. I've known (past tense as they're largely out of these scenarios) a couple engineers in situations like these (doing the same kind of work on the same component every day), and they all hated it.
    • However, there's a big variable here: Variety and depth of work. I'll use myself as an experience down below.
    • I worked on a pretty specific part of Instagram for 3 years: Instagram Story Ads. However, I had a lot of fun during this time, despite working on the same thing for ~1000 days. It's because I had impact on this product through a large variety of methods:
      • I mentored other engineers who would then carry out my vision on the product for me
      • I fixed bugs, a lot of which were SEVs. I got really good at it and came to enjoy these exercises as a game of detective.
      • I added features, putting new pixels on screen (this one's the most obvious one)
      • I led efforts to improve the process and culture the team overall used to write new code for this product. This manifested as refactors, testing efforts, revamping the oncall system, and a lot of other workstreams.
    • Since I was able to do so many different things to ultimately made the code for this product better, I was able to grow a huge variety of skills and I was pretty much never bored.
    • Zooming out, this is another thing that's more dependent on team/company. Weak teams/companies will have weak collaboration culture and treat software engineers more as "code monkeys", where they just kind of code in their corner for 8 hours a day. Stronger teams/companies will find ways to provide more autonomy and variety for their software engineers similar to what I experienced at Instagram, which leads to less lonely software engineers who are just happier overall.
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    Tech Lead/Manager at Meta, Pinterest, Kosei
    3 months ago

    I'd argue that you should not feel lonely if you're doing your job correctly as an engineer.

    Of course, there's a difference between what should happen and what does happen: especially in the post-pandemic era where many people are remote or hybrid, many software engineers do end up feeling lonely.

    But as I mentioned in this question, I fundamentally believe software engineering is a team sport. You should be having brainstorms, pair programming sessions, and reviews with your manager, peers, and broader team. These interactions are necessary to keep the team functioning well in a growth environment where engineers actually have autonomy and decision-making power. (read: a good company!!)

    Some companies treat engineers as pure resources, just code monkeys who do their assigned work without much interaction. These engineers can feel lonely, and beyond that, their career growth will be stunted. The best thing for them to do is leave their job and find an actual team they can join.