Do some people just not have the talent for Software Engineering?

10 February 2024


I wanted to share my story and why I'm a bit confused. After graduating college, I landed jobs as a Software Engineer at two respected companies. No, they weren't FAANG, but they were places where I thought I could grow, contribute, and make a decent amount of money.

It didn't go as planned, or at least not as I expected. (Maybe my rose glasses fell off)

At my first job, my manager frequently pointed out my pace was too slow. It stung, especially when I saw my peers, who started the same year as I did, get promoted while I was left behind. It was a hard pill to swallow, but I chalked it up to a learning curve and moved on to my second job, hoping for a fresh start.

However, after working here for two years, I was placed on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). It's been a sobering experience, to say the least. Two challenging experiences back-to-back have forced me to confront an uncomfortable truth: maybe the problem isn't the jobs or the companies. Maybe it's me. Maybe I'm not talented enough for software development?

Everyone around me (my parents included) believe I haven't applied myself enough, I havent worked hard enough to be good at development. And while I respect their perspective, I can't help but feel that's not the entire picture. I've put in the hours, sacrificed weekends, and stared at my screen until my eyes blurred. But despite my efforts, I've consistently felt like the weak link, too slow, making too many mistakes.

Don't get me wrong; I didn't enter software engineering with a burning passion for code. I'm not one of those great software engineers you describe in your article, my motivation was primarily financial, which I know is true for many others. Yet, even among my peers who share my motivations, I've seen many excel where I've struggled.

So the burning question is, perhaps software engineering isn't for everyone. Talent, as elusive as it is, plays a role, and maybe I'm one of those who just don't have it for this field. It's a tough pill to swallow, so I'm asking for advice. What do you think? Can I be just not cut out for this? Maybe I need to "pivot" my job? Do something different but in the same field?

Appreciate any help you can give.


Dear Friend,

Your openness in sharing your experiences and concerns resonates deeply with me. I understand how you feel. I felt the same way a few times, though maybe not at the same level as you did. I will try to offer you some guidance, even though our paths are different โ€” I came into programming because of my passion, not because of the money, but I will try to help as much as I can.

Firstly, let me say that your realization and self-reflection are both brave and crucial steps toward finding your true calling within or outside the tech industry. It truly takes a lot of balls to consider that it’s not the job that’s bad, it might be you. It’s a universal truth that not everyone is cut out for every career, and software engineering is no exception. This field, at its core, is about problem-solving, resilience, and a relentless pursuit of solutions amidst all the bugs. It’s very daunting โ€” staring at your screen the whole day, tackling problems head-on, spending days in a loop of fixing and testing until a breakthrough is achieved.

๐Ÿ„ It's not at all as glamorous as people portray it to be (especially how coding bootcamps overpromise the joy of working in tech).

The essence of software engineering goes beyond the act of coding โ€” Math, Mental Resilience, ability to try and fail a hundred times per day. This aspect of the job is, arguably, more taxing and more critical than mastering any programming language or technology stack.

From managing a team of software engineers, I’ve seen firsthand that those who thrive in this environment are the ones who find something in the work that they genuinely enjoy, and it isn’t money. It could be the thrill of problem-solving, the satisfaction of continuous learning, or the camaraderie of a team working towards a common goal. Without this intrinsic motivation, the job can quickly become a source of frustration and burnout, regardless of the financial rewards it offers. Without this satisfaction you will start dreading writing code.

This brings me to an important point about motivation. While it’s common to enter fields like software engineering for the financial benefits, my experience has shown that money alone is seldom enough to sustain long-term success and eventually leads to burnout and depression. Even those friends that you mentioned, that have only financial interest, are probably at least enjoying what they’re doing to a degree, they might be natural problem solvers or math enthusiasts. I’ve witnessed highly potential individuals struggle because they lacked a fundamental interest in the work itself. The emotional exhaustion from constantly facing new problems without the underlying passion for solving them can be overwhelming.

It’s also worth noting that the tech industry is vast and diverse, with a plethora of roles that require a mix of technical and soft skills. You don’t have to be an software developer โ€” you can do integrations, DevOps, tech sales, you can even move to product based roles. Your foundational knowledge in software engineering can be a valuable asset in roles such as project management, technical sales, or user experience design, where understanding the basics of coding adds immense value without the need for deep technical expertise.

As you think about your next steps, consider what aspects of your current and past experiences have brought you joy and fulfillment. Is there a way to align your career path with these interests and strengths? Remember, finding the right fit might mean exploring roles that offer a different pace or environment, such as positions in government or startup, where the work rhythm might be more suited to your style.

In conclusion. Yes I think software engineering is not for everyone, some people are not made for it. As any field is not for everyone. For example, I would probably be a bad pilot, I’m not suitable for that position โ€” I’m afraid of flying. Whether you decide to pursue a different path in tech or outside of it, the key is to find work that resonates with you a bit more than average amount.

Choose the field that suits you better. That’s it. Wishing you all the best in your journey ahead.

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  • Jade

    This is basically my story as well. Jumped into coding 4 years ago thinking it’d be my dream job; turned out to be more of a grind. Had a hard time grasping the concepts at university. Days lost in debugging, and the constant learning curve just to stay relevant felt less like passion and more like a rat race. Realized that the joy of solving problems was overshadowed by the industry’s harsh realities โ€” switched to another field altogether, now I’m pursuing a medical degree. Maybe I’ll combine tech and medical some day, will see.