You may have come across this form of questioning most likely in an interview. Its a classic question but usually asked in terms of 5 year projection, however the concept are the same. The problem with well worn questions are that the answers mostly follow in a predictable manner. If you have never given this question any serious thought, then I suspect you would be in the majority.
So why is this question so popular among interviews anyway? The motivation for this question allows interviewers to ascertain some key information. By looking at the career aspiration of the candidate clear goals can be identified. These goals allow the company to see how well the candidate aligns with the company, further it shows how well the candidate fits the job itself.
For this reason its clear why these lines of questioning are popular. But the popularity also means that there are many “ready made” pre baked answers floating out there both online and offline. A cursory Google brings back numerous answers. Below is one template that has probably been memorized by many an anxious candidate:
In 5 years time, I see myself progressing in (the field) and in (the company), earning new skills to the benefit of (the company). I find this (job position) extremely interesting and motivating. I can see many challenges lying ahead of me, which I am eager to experience. And therefore, I am willing to invest my 5 years time learning all aspects of the job towards professional advancement.
To sum up – I want to be an expert in my (field). (source: Job Interview Site)
But let us change the context, away from the theater of interviewing. What does the real long term objectives of a programmer look like? Of course this is a vastly open ended question, generalization are thus not a good fit. Each programmer has his or her own dreams and desires, their path may lead to many different places.
Life version 1.0
During my childhood, grown ups would always ask “What do you want to be when you grow up?” ask any kid today and you may get some interesting responses. As a child I knew exactly what I wanted to be, I wanted to be an “Inventor”. I had a passion for building things, opening things up to find out how they worked. Of course no one told me that an “Inventor” as a job didn’t exist.
Fast forward past the bubble wrapped world of academia and to the serious world of professional work life. In hindsight I’d probably love to make a lot of changes but it is now a distant memory. When you are single, life can be very carefree indeed. Looking back now this is time that should be used to its fullest. When you are only responsible for yourself you can take a dive into the well of knowledge, don’t worry you will never reach the bottom. Coding at work and going back home to hack through the night hours was exciting and powered by the “buzz”.
Some people do live the bachelor life, but for rest of us the bachelorhood is soon replaced in time by family. With family comes increased responsibility, life is not as carefree as it once was. Family unlike code can not be placed on hold, family always comes first in the priority queue. The horizons of life are now vastly more expanded, you will have to juggle many things at the same time. Its a constant struggle to get this delicate balance right. I can’t speak for other programmers, but personally I hadn’t given much thought about 10 year projections. The only objective for me was being happy and to continue coding for as long as I could. But I know while admirable it is also very naive, in hindsight I know now the real value of trying to look 10 years ahead. I’m only starting to think about the next ten years, I just wish I was doing this back then.
If you have not yet spend some time to think about the next 10 years, then this may be a good time to do so. As for the seniors out there that have walked the path, why not pass some of that wisdom down? perhaps we could use those debug tips to optimise our life version 1.3.