Profession Versus Job

I often find inspiration for posts in places that you wouldn’t think to look. Today’s post comes courtesy of Bill Bridges from his Green Market Press blog. The post in question is the Taipei Journal entry for today—there are many of these journal entries, all entertaining and educational about the human condition. Bill is a professional journalist and a good friend who has often inspired me to excel with his seemingly simple posts. The reason that today’s post struck a chord with me is that it answers part of the question of how to become a programmer. My initial post discussed the mechanics, the precursors that someone might pursue to become a programmer, but that post didn’t answer the question of how to make programming a profession.

Today’s journal entry answers the question of profession versus job rather succinctly. Susan writes an article that constantly mentions “the French system of government” without ever explaining what the term means. Bill asks her about it and her response is, “I did sort of wonder about that.” Susan has a job, Bill has a profession. Education, no matter how complete, is only a precursor to a profession. In order to turn a job into a profession, one must also become involved, learn to think for oneself, and have a desire to excel. An aspiring programmer must have integrity as well and be willing to devote long hours toward the goal of delivering the best possible code. Mind you, the code a particular individual delivers is unlikely to be perfect and it’s always possibly that someone else will write better codeI’m talking here about excellence within the individual’s ability to deliver it.

Anyone can perform a job. Only a few people have a profession. However, I’m not talking about a particular sort of profession. When Rebecca and I lived in San Diego, we’d go to a particular restaurant (the name escapes me at the moment, but the restaurant is no longer there anyway). There was a man named Kevin there who waited tablesit was his profession. You could see it in the way he performed the tasks of his tradewith enthusiasm, vigor, and more than a little subtle humor. You felt honored to be served by him and the lines were often long with people who specifically asked for him. Application development is a trade that requires no small amount of education, but I’ve seen more than a few people obtain the required skills by simply reading a book. The difference between a job and a profession remains the samethe professional takes responsibility for successful completion of the task and delights in seeing the task well-done.

While my previous post described a job, this one describes a profession. Many people have questioned why America has been losing it’s place in many different technology areas. First of all, I submit that statistics lie and often tell the story that they’re designed to tell. Don’t believe the lies that you readthink for yourself. Americans still have what it takes to create some of the most amazing technologies ever and I’ve discussed more than a few of these technologies in previous posts. If America has truly lost its edge, then where do these technologies come from? Second, far too many Americans are focused on getting a job, rather than a profession. When you view America of the past, you discover that we have had an array of professionals that delivered new technology is all sorts of waysmany never thought about before.

The bottom line is that you need to consider what sort of programmer you’re going to be as part of your journey. Education isn’t enough. If you really want to become a good programmer, then you must be willing to do what it takes to become a professional. As a professional, you’ll have a higher quality of life, discover the benefits of job satisfaction, and contribute to society in ways that you can scarcely imagine. So what do you havea job or a profession? Let me know your thoughts at