It had been almost a year since I'd quit working for a large international bank. That job had been a good-paying disaster; explaining the lengthy rest period I took thereafter. Working for the bank had been like traveling back to the start of my career, at the end of the dot-com bubble. Not only because of the money being thrown around and lack of subsequent results; but also because of the tools and techniques in-use.
The team I was a part of found a way to apply Agile programming while eliminating all forms of agility. Ship often, even if there's nothing to ship. Write tests, no matter how trivial the code under test is, or how brittle the test was. Why are you alone at your desk mundanely inputing test data? Someone should be pairing with you! Within days I suspected a bad fit. Within months, I'd resigned myself to stay the year and contribute as best I could.
This experience, while the most extreme, hasn't been unique for me. In fact, it's been the norm. There's something systematically wrong with our industry. An absolute state of mediocrity. Only my lack of exposure to other industries prevents me from claiming that this is a universal problem; although I suspect that it is. Visiting a doctor is an anxious affair; if the average doctor is anything like the average programmer, I'd rather stay at home, drink lots of water, rest and hope for the best.
My time at the bank wasn't a complete professional write-off. There's value in every experience. So great is the quantity of what I learned that I have no hope of recalling it all. Some of that is lost forever, some my mind will recall - seemingly out of nowhere - when appropriate, and some has changed me profoundly. It's disappointing that most was learned within a negative context. This, I think, is the main cause of burnout and depression in our line of work. Personally, I take it better than some and worse than others. For the curious, my gap year was neither driven by depression nor burnout.
Examples of things I learned? CLOBs in a database are rarely ever a good thing. Pride is a horrible and disgusting human trait. Having fewer or even no tests is probably better than having really slow tests and definitely better than having flaky tests. I'm too prideful. Inspecting code which makes use of an ORM is likely to reveal a SELECT N+1. A friend is someone who deserves your absolute honesty; a lover should, occasionally, receive the mercy of a white lie.
Lessons learned and a year later, I found myself reading a job posting on github. Both the technology stack and location were appealing. I applied. Got the job. Started a new journey.