Motivation is a mindset
I come from the old school: when I was a kid, around eight years old, there were no mobile phones, and computers were uncommon. Technology was definitely less ubiquitous than today; working in tech was not something we heard a lot of; connecting computers to other computers could only be done by using an expensive phone call, and only a few people knew how to do it.
When my father bought me a Commodore VIC 20, I was just one of three schoolmates out of thirty (!) owning a so-called home computer. We were the nerds.
Long story short that was the moment when my life changed forever.
I started typing commands on the keyboard to play games.
Then came the time to figure out what changes I could make to those BASIC-written games.
Eventually, the time came when I could write simple programs to execute small tasks like drawing stuff – I can vividly remember a time when I made my computer draw a house via BASIC commands only.
How can an eight-year-old learn how to code if he does not know much of a foreign language (English) and even less about computer programming?
You got it right: motivation.
My motivation was to solve puzzles, think organically, and analyze things to understand how they worked.
Fast forward 35+ years and the World is different: embedded microcontrollers orders of magnitude more powerful than my VIC20; full-touch mobile phones are everywhere; there is a thing called the Internet; there are social media, and literally, everyone uses technology every day in some form.
Working in tech is cool and well-paid nowadays, bringing hordes of juniors from other occupational sectors to attempt a career switch. A percentage of these juniors is less passionate about tech than many of us were in the old days: they are passionate about money, though, and don’t get me wrong, this is fine. However, once they land their first job, they still need motivation, LOTS of motivation, to survive in an unforgiving market.
This brings me to the point of this post.
Luckily for me, I had one (of many) life-changing experiences during my late teenage years. Uncertainty about my future loomed over me: I was still into my passion for technology and could write simple software, but I needed a degree to get noticed. Only short and unrelated summer work experiences populated my resume. There was no way in for me. I was one of those juniors in a much smaller market, where the only tech companies I could work for were the few in my small area.
While figuring out a way forward, my need for some income made me apply for a job in a road maintenance company. The interview went well; the day after, I was on the road, mixing concrete and learning how to plan and draw zebras, install lamplights and road signs, and so on.
The job itself was not too bad: although covered in dirt and inhaling paint fumes, car exhausts, and wet with rain or sweat depending on the weather, there was little pressure, and to my engineering-oriented mind, tasks like calculating the number of stalls for a parking lot, or figuring out the best shape for zebras, were somewhat trivial.
But it was all utterly repetitive.
Then came my team leader: he was a guy older than me, I daresay in his early fifties, and he gave me the best life lesson. He told me:
I know this is a dirty job and does not require much skill. But here is what motivates me every day.
When I install a lamplight, no one will know it was me. But I know, and that is all that matters to me because I take pride in looking at that light after years and seeing it still perfectly straight, in the right position — the same thing when I draw lines and zebras or do anything else. There is always something new to learn and apply.
So here is my motivation: I go back home every day, conscious of giving my best to this job. I will not get a reward for this, not a raise nor a promotion, but I am also not making my life revolve around my job, which pays my bills.
However, every day I give my best without destroying my life by overwork.
These words inspired me, and I hold them dear even after 24 years: this guy knew his job was not attractive, or creative, but this did not prevent him from becoming creative in his own way, always figuring out new techniques and approaches, despite the scarce wiggle room.
These words made me understand that motivation should permeate every aspect of our lives, including work, hobbies, families, and friends.
We are in this World to become better humans; in becoming better, we indirectly make society better, and humanity grows better as a result. We are drops in the ocean, but without drops, there is no ocean.
So if you are one of those engineers and I ask you what areas you want to grow professionally, and your answer is you only care about becoming better at hobbies, then you are not a good fit for my teams.
Because motivation is a mindset, and people who want to become better versions of themselves do not make any distinction between areas of their lives: they want to get better, always, in any way they can.