Programming for the good of others

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I always think it’s good to reflect on the meaning of life. Life is short, and it’s so easy to get caught up in making money and building your personal brand. What’s your motivation for programming? At the end of your life, what will it all mean? Will there be any value from it after you’re gone?

This is a follow-up to an article I wrote earlier in the year: Programming was my god. Read that one first for context if you haven’t already.

To code or not to code

I’ve been thinking a lot this year about work and what I’m supposed to do with my life. Since I had previously pursued programming for mostly self-centered motivations, I thought maybe I should look at doing something else now that I’m trying to follow Jesus. After all, when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he said:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and great commandment. A second likewise is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:37–40)

Life is about loving God and loving people. That doesn’t leave much room for selfish pursuits.

Previously I wasn’t at a place where I could just completely drop programming. I had writing commitments as well as an app I had promised to make. The Bible is pretty clear about keeping promises. It wouldn’t have been loving to God or people to break those. But now I’m finished with those commitments, and I’ve been intentional recently about not taking on new ones. I finally have the freedom to walk away from programming. The question has been, should I?

For what purpose

One video series/book that has influenced my thinking on the question of whether to continue coding and writing or not is X: Multiply Your God-Given Potential. In it the author says:

…God has gifted every one of His children. These gifts are divinely given to build His kingdom. However, we are stewards and therefore can choose, at any given time, to use these gifts in one of three ways:
We can use the gifts to build the kingdom.
We can use the gifts to build ourselves.
We can just neglect the gifts altogether.

I may not be the best programmer or writer in the world, but God has at least gifted me with the ability to write code and explain how to do it. I no longer want to use these gifts to build myself. Also, abandoning programming now seems like it would be neglecting the gifts I’ve been given. Instead of those two options, how might I be able to use my gifts to love God and people? That seems to be related to what building God’s kingdom is about.

Even some of the comments to my previous article seemed to echo this. One reader wrote:

You may look back and find that chasing points and badges seemed silly, but don’t lose sight of the fact that at the end of the day you helped a lot of people (and continue to do so!).

Another wrote:

It takes courage to publicly claim Christ. Thank you for this. Also thanks for all the help you have provided the community through the years. I think that these are compatible endeavors provided we keep our motivations and priorities right.

I can see that. My writing has been helpful to other people in the past, so continuing to write about programming can be one means of loving people.

All this is to say, I’ve come to the point where I believe I should continue my programming and writing, not to build up myself but to build God’s kingdom through loving Him and serving people.

Where to begin

My question now is where to begin. I wrote a long list of potential things I could work on — and there’s probably enough in there to last a lifetime. I need to prioritize.

As far as I can tell, it’s a biblical principle to work hard and earn money so that I’m not dependent on others (see 2 Thessalonians 3:6–13 and 1 Thessalonians 4:10–12). However, I don’t want to be so busy with making money to put food on the table that I have no time for anything else. To that end, investing in projects that generate passive income seems like a good choice. Medium articles, books, and apps are examples of this. That’s probably where you’ll see me in the future. Feel free to ping me on Stack Overflow, though, too. I’m happy to at least add a bounty on your question.

Here are some more principles I’ve been thinking about:

  • It’s easy to become proud and think that my abilities and accomplishments come from myself. I need to remember that I could do nothing if God hadn’t given me the ability.
  • Loving people is not always giving everyone what they want or saying what they want to hear. But it is about selflessly considering what is best for them and not for me.
  • Saying yes to every request or opportunity may not be for the greatest good. Conversely, saying no to some opportunities may give me the time I need to work on something more important.
  • Improving my programming skills is not necessarily a selfish activity. Rather, it can be a way of developing and multiplying the gifts God has given me in order to serve Him and others more effectively.
  • Investing in people is a way to multiply myself and my gifts.
  • The software, books, and tutorials that I write are out of date within a year or two. Solving real-world problems and helping people learn has a somewhat more long-lasting impact. However, only an eternal perspective puts things into focus.

What about you?

You’ve read some of the things I’ve been thinking about recently. How about you? I would guess most of my readers aren’t followers of Jesus, so the things I wrote may sound strange to you. But then again, you kept reading to the end, so that says something.

This year has seen a lot of changes in my life. Good changes. I don’t ever want to go back. I wish that for you, too, dear reader.

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