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Intrinsic or Extrinsic

By Steve Jones,

I was listening to an interview recently that talked about life and why many of us do what we do. It was a piece that also discussed some of the problems with modern US society and some of the potential unexpected consequences of the way that we have evolved in this country. As the discussion between the individuals proceeded, there was one question that stood out to me.

The question was about intrinsic v extrinsic motivators. One example given was playing the piano. If you sit down at home and choose to play because you enjoy it or it relaxes you, that's an intrinsic motivation. There could be all sorts of reasons why, but essentially you've made a choice to participate because you want to do so. If you go play at a bar because you need to make money, or your parents force/push you to play, or something other reason that pressures you, those are extrinsic motivators.

To be clear, one isn't necessarily better or worse than the other, but they both affect you, as a person, differently. There are also likely a variety of different intrinsic and extrinsic motivations that you have for many of your actions. The world and life isn't as simple as choices being the result of one of the other. Often our decisions are a blend of both.

Today, I wanted to ask you to think about the reason you're in your career. I assume most of you are working in technology, and you have various reasons for entering this work, some of which may not be valid anymore. Perhaps you've found new reasons to continue to work with data. You don't have to publicly answer, but think about this.

Why do you work with computers? Because you have to or you want to?

I'm sure this is a blend of factors for you as it is for me. I started with computers because I wanted to. I didn't have to work with them in school because we didn't have them at first. Even through much of my university work, computers were not ubiquitous and certainly were not required for most of my classes. I chose to work with computers and technology because I really enjoyed it. Even later, since I needed a career, I chose to work with technology instead of other industries and picked databases, which weren't my initial choice. I did move to databases primarily for money, though I'd done some development work and enjoyed the database aspect of it.

Today, I do need to work, so I have some extrinsic motivation to continue on this path, but I also do enjoy technology, and I'd like to think that I'd continue to do this type of work even if I could make enough money in another area. My wife is different, and without money pressure, she likely won't ever come back to technology.

Think about your motivations and pressures today. I'd be interested in how you feel if you're willing to share. Whether you are or not, take a moment and consider how you really feel about your career. 

 
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