Not once in my childhood did I dream about growing up to be a software development manager. No, I dreamt of being a starship captain or maybe a super-scientist, like Dr. Benton Quest (Johnny Quest’s father). Unfortunately, there are no starships to captain and the super-science field requires more capital than I can scrape together.

Like most people, I had to set my sights on more attainable goals. So, I chose the field of software development. For someone going to college in the 1980’s, software development was the most futuristic and high-tech thing available. In grad school, I chose to specialize in Artificial Intelligence, the wave of the future (can you hear the biting irony in that, “the wave of the future“? No, it never came to pass). Unfortunately, the number of job openings in AI are right up there with those designing giant fighting robots and captaining starships.

Most of my career has been spent on developing more mundane things, like medical billing applications, credit checkers, mortgage analyzers, etc. There have been a couple bright spots, though. I did get to work for Harris Space Systems developing a new launch system for NASA. And my current job at SlickEdit is still my favorite.

Developing a programming editor may seem pretty mundane compared to my lofty dreams of AI and super-science, but I truly love working on something that I can use. Throughout most of my career, I developed software for use by other people. Now, I’m developing software for the things I do. For everything else I developed, I had to elicit requirements from subject matter experts. At SlickEdit, the developers are the subject matter experts!

It’s also great when I talk to other programmers about what I do. No matter how animated you get while describing the uber-cool design of your credit checker, people’s eyes glaze over.

“No, seriously, did I tell you it uses a priority queue with full transactional semantics?”

See what I mean? When I talk about developing a programming editor you can actually see a degree of interest in their eyes—usually followed by a forlorn look when they realize how boring their work on a credit checker is by comparison.

Finally, the coolest thing about working at SlickEdit is knowing that thousands of programmers, in all fields of development are using our product to write better software. Like most developers, I had dreams of one day working in game development—once I knew that the super-science, starship captaining, and AI weren’t going to pan out. Though that never happened, I feel that I am still making a contribution.

SlickEdit was recently nominated for the 2009 Front Line Awards by Game Developer magazine, in the category of Programming/Production Tools. This kind of recognition is so rewarding! Not only are other people using us to write games, but they like SlickEdit enough to nominate us for an award.

OK, so maybe I didn’t write a cool blood-splatter effect for when you take that perfect head shot, and maybe I didn’t write the code that makes zombies shuffle around more realistically. But it’s fun to think that someone who did write that might have used SlickEdit and that maybe my work and ideas made their job just that much better.

The warm feeling I get from this can carry me through many tough days. Yes, I have some tough days at SlickEdit. When I’m pitching a new feature and I see the other developers’ eyes glaze over—”did I mention that this feature uses a priority queue and full transactional semantics”—I can focus on all the ways SlickEdit is being used to write better software.