Cautionary Note

Every now and then, someone stumbles across my blog and asks me how they, too, can work in development. I try to be supportive, but usually find myself actively discouraging them, at least at first.

You’d better be strong, flexible, resourceful, good with languages and have more than the normal allotment of patience.

I’ve been stuck in cyclones, got malaria, dengue, been hospitalised from the after-effects of prolonged dehydration, had more parasites in more places than anyone really wants to know. I’ve been stung by things straight out of a Tim Burton movie. I’ve had death threats and constant, insanely unreasonable demands on my time and my pocketbook.

To put things into perspective: we had a 7.5 earthquake here a couple of weeks ago, and were laughing about it within the hour. Nature is tough and unforgiving here. You’d better be prepared.

You may think all this is exciting. It’s emphatically not. Put your Hollywood imagination away. It’s tedious, uncomfortable and often dangerous in small, boring, trivial ways.

I walked away from an affluent existence as one of the first few professional web developers to enter the field and survive now on a small fraction of what I used to earn (although I do live quite well by local standards – my new house has hot water!). That may sound romantic – I’ll admit it does to me – but the price is no security in my old age. I’m fool enough not to worry, but you may not be so inclined.

Development is a dirty, arduous grind, with few noteworthy victories. You have to measure success like a batting average. Just assume you’ll strike out more than you succeed. Most projects are unwinnable from the start, and you only go through with them because to do nothing would be worse.

On top of all of that, you’ll need to adjust to a culture so foreign to your experience that it will often leave you bemused or even shocked to the core. And you won’t have any safety net to rely on. There won’t be any police if you’re in a tight spot (unless they’re the ones who put you in it), the fire truck – if it arrives at all – will come in time to water down the ashes.

You’ll see children crippled and even killed by trivially treatable conditions. You’ll see good people die and bad people prosper.

But once in a while, someone will smile at you like this, and it will all be worthwhile….

… It better be, anyway, because most of the time, that’s all the payment you get.

If, after all that, you’re still intent on coming, then read this and come on along.