The name of this blog obviously betrays that I like profound Japanese words as much as the next guy, and ikigai is no exception. Literally meaning “a reason for being”, some even link embodiment of the concept to longevity. The idea has caught on in (or perhaps been appropriated by) Western culture and perhaps the technology industry in particular, and there is a particular Venn diagram that I’ve seen multiple times. The idea is that if you find something you love, you are good at, that the world needs, and that you can be paid for, then you have find your purpose in life, and will be happier, and maybe even healthier for it.
I’ve wondered for a long time whether or not software engineering can be my path to ikigai. I can obviously be paid for it. I am good at it, in certain areas now and in other areas I have the potential to be good. I’m not sure I “love” it yet, it can be frustrating, but I rarely find myself disliking it, and as my skills and confidence improve and grow I think my passion for the field will too. So the real question is, does the world need it?
Naturally it’s hard to answer. I have been telling myself for a while that even if the world doesn’t need what I am doing right now, if I build my career capital then there will be other opportunities in the future to get paid for things the world actually does need. But, perhaps that is being lazy, excusing myself of any responsibility to use my privileged position to do good in the world by procrastinating on a career level. Today, I think I have a new idea - you can sell your soul and learn the expertise you need to do the good in the world right now, you just offer that bit for free. Sure, it’s a lot of programming, and I am not so enamoured with programming that it no longer drains me and feels like work, but perhaps the pro bono stuff will not feel like a chore in the same way that being an agent of capitalism does.