Before I started making K Station, I worked at various tech corporations (small, medium, and large) for 7 years, 5.5 as a programmer. Basically, I spent my 20’s working for the man. I mostly regret it, but it’s worth remembering the positive things I took away from that time.
They can be summed up in one word: maturity. Maturity is your most valuable tool as a developer, because of the skills that follow from it…
I have more patience and I go more slowly. When I had a problem with the code for z-ordering my sprites, I said “Hm, that’s probably a deep problem underneath the surface,” so I put a to-do item on tomorrow’s schedule and worked through it pleasantly the next day.
I have real time and project management skills. Years of writing emails and design documents, estimating turnaround times, and collaborating with non-technical people gives you a feel for how to actually go about doing a technical project. My biggest tip: if you realize you’ll need something from another person, contact them immediately. There’s a reason the phrase “get the ball rolling” exists. It’s also a way to fail fast.
A hugely important corollary is that I have a sense of scope, and what small tasks might not be that small, and especially how small scope expands into plenty of work as you get into it.
Perhaps most importantly, I have a high tolerance for frustration. I’ve had projects shuttered, proposals denied, and finished products canceled on completion. I’ve been stonewalled, dismissed, disbelieved, and ignored. Getting banged around like that really shored up my sense of self-belief, because I managed to see how good my intentions were in contrast. Now when I get stuck, I know it’s still up to me.
And the downsides? Well, I was in my 20’s the whole time, so maybe I could’ve developed all that on my own. And several years of 9-5 slogging is a highly inefficient way to pick up all those skills when the hard knocks you get from going on your own could probably teach them much faster. But still — that 7-year career gave me plenty of time to recognize what I was getting out of it.
Odds are my game will flop and I’ll be back at a desk in a year. But at least I won’t have any illusions next time.