A passion fruit cut in half.

The Privilege of Passion

In Programming, Solving the World's Problems, Technology by Pete

An oft-repeated lie in software development is that passion is required for success. Dev Twitter has been on fire with this “debate” for the past few days, but this isn’t new. Early career developers are repeatedly told that they need passion and some misguided hiring managers explicitly look for “passion” as a marker of future success.

This is bullshit.

The only two things required to succeed at software development are skills and judgement. Passion doesn’t confer those skills — practice does.

It’s certainly true that passion can be the motivating factor to do that practice — which can be long, difficult, and boring — but passion itself is neither necessary for greatness nor sufficient to achieve it.

So why do so many people believe and repeat this nonsense? Mostly, I believe, because of privilege.

People who have always been able to follow their passion, who have never needed to do something they weren’t interested in, can’t imagine a world where there’s something as motivating as passion. They assume that a dev who isn’t passionate will quit to follow their passion because they could do that if they wanted to.

It also belies either a fundamental misunderstanding of what’s required to be a good developer or a tacit admission that they lack the willpower to do something hard if they’re not motivated by internal drive.

You’ll see early career devs parroting this line, too. Mostly because they’ve had it drilled into them, but also because it makes it seem like you can be a good dev if you just care enough. This does those folks a disservice. It breeds impostor syndrome (“am I passionate enough?”), it makes them less likely to negotiate (“I’m not in this for the money!”), and removes attainment and progress as a function of their own actions.

Being passionate is one path to being a great developer, but it’s not even remotely required, nor is it a guarantee.