Illustration of man hiking in mountains.

A few weeks go I decided to hike along the old French/Spanish border. About 250 km, over a week or so. With a backpack, sadly not a jetpack. Seeking remoteness, to try to understand a general feeling of dispondency.

I have become increasingly disillusioned with working in the IT industry. Maybe in the past ten years, but overwhelmingly so in the last five. Too often it feels like a satirical tragicomedy.

To reduce frustration I used to think up allegories.

The next task arrives with a ping, the writer lets out a weary sigh. The task is to write a fictional scene using the given prompt. This prompt, “twenty past ten on a Tuesday morning, and Sisyphus is at work.”

All writers in this office convert prompts into scenes. But not chapters or stories. Those are assembled by non-writers, from the submitted scenes. The non-writers also come up with the prompts, whenever they have an idea. Nobody knows how many stories will be assembled, yet the list of ideas grows exponentially.

This writer creates the required two hundred word scene, and clicks submit. Immediately another ping, “Balor escapes through an open window.” Another sigh.

Sound a bit Orwellian, Kafka-esque? This is pretty much how the IT industry now makes software. From an infinite stream, we mechanically process micro tasks. Commoditisation of software production has nullified the intellectual creativity it once had. Working with technology wasn’t supposed to be like this.

I have tried to escape three times. Each time I found a niche problem and solved it with a prototype. But my motivation deserted when trying to create a business around the idea. I failed to reach launch by running out of steam. The worst is, I could not understand why I was failing.

The superpower of an engineer is solving problems. So I began to troubleshoot myself.

For years I have travelled long distance by foot or bicycle. Edinburgh to Istanbul, to the Sahara, up through Norway. Crossing Europe many times. Every journey has periods when things seem hopeless, but I always kept going. Why? What is motivating me in those tough times that I’m missing at work?

A note I made on my hike into the French Pyrenees:

Climbing a goat track up to the col. Rocky, narrow, and very steep, it clings to the mountain side. Pause every five steps, for breath. I stop a few metres from the top, sheltering from the wind. Breathing hard. That was tough. I sit, with pack on.

Looking back at progress made. From that ridge over there, down into the valley scented with juniper trees, and up this steeper side to the col. I can see bits of the track through the trees. Feeling good, positive. Breathing easing now.

A thought. In the IT industry we only ever look forwards. Into an infinite stream of tasks. For humans, this seems absurd behaviour. No wonder we are disillusioned.

We instinctively build courage by looking back at what we’ve overcome, and letting it sink in. Later, by re-telling the story to others. Or simply going back through memories, photos, or journals. Re-living the journey, recalling that we endured.

Yes! This makes sense. Why disillusioned with IT, and why failing to launch technology businesses. The de facto project management framework we use in IT is inherently demotivating to me.

I have been building prototypes while preoccupied by future tasks to turn it into a business. Thinking almost exclusively about the greater distance to go. My motivation just drained away.

What is urgently needed is a lightweight method of planning that is inherently motivating. Probably a method that is sparse for far away ideas. Though direction is important, and waypoints to help stay on course.

I don’t know any project management tools that fit the bill. So, to move forward, I will create one. With sustained motivation my current prototype will make it to launch. Which makes this the most important task right now.

Without a co-founder, gumption traps are mostly fatal. I had in mind creating a kind of Solo-Hitchikers Guide To IT Rebellion. Every odd-numbered chapter should probably be on motivation and gumption traps. This could be chapter one.

Bonne route, et vive le solo.

– started on the 10:02 train from Dieppe to Rouen, France.
– continued on the 14:38 train from Paris to Avignon, France.
– continued in room 4, Hotel du Port, La Port Nouvelle, France.
– continued camping near Axat, France.
– continued in room 102, Hotel de Lons, Foix, France