March 11, 2008
The Choose Your Own Adventure book series was one of my favorites as a young reader.
The Choose Your Own adventure books are still around; modern versions can be found at your local bookstore. I bought one today at a local Barnes & Noble to refresh my memory, and although the overall experience is intact, I'm not terribly impressed with the updated art. The original illustrator, Don Hedin (using the pseudonym Paul Granger) had quite an eye for the often fantastic and surreal topics depicted in these books. Here are two illustrations from the first book in the series, The Cave of Time.
The cover art is just as brilliant, and in full color. Joey DeVilla put together a great montage of the original 66 Choose Your Own Adventure book covers. You can pick up the original Cave of Time – with funky, freaky late 1970s art intact – for a mere penny.
The Choose Your Own Adventure series are early programmer books, I'd say. Whether reading the modern updates, or through inheriting a worn hand-me-down copy, it's encouraging to think that future generations can have the same fun pseudo-programming experience I had reading and re-reading these classic books. Every few pages you make a decision, which leads to a different page in the book. If that sounds like branching and if-then logic – maybe even recursion and stacks – well, it is. Here's a diagram of all possible outcomes in the original Cave of Time book:
Although it's fun to explore and test all the permutations, the book is also a little bit grim.
||11 return home
||15 new life
Of the 39 possible outcomes in the book, only 11 are positive. More than two-thirds of the outcomes either result in the player's death, or being trapped somewhere in time, leading out an alternate life.
I suppose this is on my mind today because 28 years later, I feel like I'm still playing Choose Your Own Adventure:
You have landed your dream job as a technical evangelist for Vertigo Software. It is by far the best job you've ever had. Every day is fun. You've become close friends with your coworkers, who are all as passionate about software development as you are. However, over the last three years, the growing online popularity of your blog has eclipsed everything else you do, and opened up many new – but risky – opportunities.
If you choose to continue working and having fun with your friends at Vertigo, turn to page 8.
If you choose to quit your job and wholeheartedly pursue blog-related opportunities, turn to page 10.
I've spent the last six months staring at this page trying to figure out what to do. With some trepidation, I'm now turning to page 10. Thursday will be my last day at Vertigo. I will sorely miss the camaraderie and the many close personal friends I've made at Vertigo. Vertigo remains a fantastic place to work, and if you're a Microsoft ecosystem developer, I can't recommend it highly enough. I'm proud to be a distinguished Vertigo alumnus.
Sometimes choosing your own adventure means closing one door to open another. And I have to close the door on Vertigo, however reluctantly, to fully and wholeheartedly explore the alternatives. It would be unfair to Vertigo and to myself to do anything less. I'm not sure what exactly lies on page 10. I won't lie to you. It's scary to trade the security of a safe, salaried job for the unknowns of your own small business. But the way I look at it, if it's not a little scary, then it's not the right choice. Failure is always an option.
I can tell you that Coding Horror will continue, with a slightly increased emphasis on advertising – but always tastefully. I don't like ads any more than you do, even if I am now relying on them for a substantial part of my income.
But I refuse to become a full-time blogger. I think that's a cop-out. If I look at the people I respect most in the industry, the people I view as role models – Paul Graham, Joel Spolsky, Steve Yegge, Eric Sink, Rich Skrenta, Marc Andreesen, Wil Shipley, Douglas Crockford, Scott Guthrie – they all have one thing in common. They're not just excellent writers and communicators. They build stuff, too. The world has enough vapid commentary blogs. I want to build stuff – and talk about it. I have a little micro-ISV startup opportunity I'll be working on, a web property I'm building out with one of the above people. I'm not ready to announce the details yet, but when I do, you'll read about it here.
I can't guarantee I'm making the right choices, but nonetheless, I am choosing my own adventure. I invite you all to read along with me.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
Best of luck ...
..and you were not alone in enjoying these books (and probably for the same reasons)
I especially loved Steve Jackson's "Sorcery!" series and Dever/Chalk's "Lone Wolf" (you gotta the Magic Spear found in #2!)
oh... Good Luck, Jeff.
Good luck Jeff, and big congratulations on coming to such a big decission!
I usually come to this blog and leave thinking "today's blog post is my favorite!" Bringing back memories of the Choose your own adventure books, the hilarious chicken illustration... I wish you a lot of luck! You're a great inspiration, and I enjoy coming here.
I loved those books! Good luck on page 10 (and keep your finger on the current page so you can go back if you don't like it)
Good luck and thanks for the writing so far.
Welcome to the club. All the cool kids are here.
Good luck Jeff! I appreciate this blog and I wish you success. I've already turned off my ad blocker for this site because I know that you won't inundate me with ads.
There are no 'right' choices. Only the ones we make. There may be more desirable paths those choices lead us down but we can only speculate since we chose the alternate path.
Good Luck and I will keep reading.
Oh, the nostalgia is killing me! Seeing the cover from "The Cave of Time" brought it all back in an instant. Seriously though, good luck with everything Jeff - and I can't wait to see what else you have in store!
Hey Now Jeff,
Good Luck, your new workstation will be a great post to see when you move.
Coding Horror Fan,
I started my microISV just over 3 years ago. It has been quite a ride, but I haven't regretted it (yet!). A good description is "trading the illusion of security for the illusion of freedom".
Best of luck with the new venture.
Congrats and good luck Jeff.
All right, I have three things to say:
1. Thanks for continuing blogging at CodingHorror!
2. Thanks for not becoming a full-time blogger!
3. Wish you all the best for your new adventure!
Can't wait to read the next chapter :)
Good Luck Jeff! I have enjoyed this blog everyday for the past year or so. Advertise all you want! :)
Good luck. I've been in your position, and will likely be there again soon - it's one of the most stressful times in the world. You might succeed, you might fail, but at least you made a decision.
Kudos to ya!
Jeff, thanks for reviving some awesome memories. Our development group is pretty much exclusively composed of late-20's to mid-30's folk, and we had a great time on the Choose Your Own topic.
I also had quite a laugh following your digressions. Enjoy the fireworks, but be prepared for the smell of burning short-hairs.
Good luck Jeff!
We all root for you (at least until you stop blogging :).
Good move, Jeff.. I commend your extended commitment to the developer community!:) Keep up the great work!
Ah... Prisoner of the Ant People...
Jeff, thank you so much for that bit of reflectance. I had forgotten all about this period in my childhood and the influence it had on my current career.
I absolutely loved those books growing up.
Good luck Jeff. You listed your 8 or so tech role models, but did you know you're on that same list for a lot of other people - including myself?
Fortunately, the stuff after 'page 10' hasn't been written yet! I'm sure you'll do well in your new adventures and I'll be following along here the whole time.
If the current trend sticks, your writing is only going to get better.
After reading an influential post from one of the guys on your list earlier this year, I took some actions that effectively caused a few events to occur and subsequently caused an abrupt shift in my career direction - and life has been a lot better since.
People don't always have access to the right information, and the insight/wisdom provided by great blogs go beyond the mere act of making money, they can change lives for the better, and put others in positions where they can make better decisions for themselves, it's perhaps the best thing anyone can do for another.
Congrats on making the move and all the best, keep it rolling.
Although only related to the CYOA books, my first experience was with the Dungeons and Dragons Endless Quest books. This was my favorite: (http://www.gamebooks.org/show_item.php?id=900.)
And Jeff, good luck.
"Just keep clear mind, go straight ahead, and try, try, try for ten thousands years." Zen saying
Your blog is one of the best, if not the best I've ever read. Good luck!
Best of luck Jeff!
Also, those books were great. Those along with Encyclopedia Brown were all I read when I was a kid.
Jeff - You are passionate about what you do, and I know you will succeed. You only live this life once, I'm glad you decided to take the risk. I'll always be a faithful reader, advertisements or not.
jeff, does this mean you'll have time to have lan party with me again?
Congrats, Jeff, and good luck!
The one CYOA book I remember the most is "Inside UFO 54-40" (#12 of the original series). Throughout the whole book you are searching for this utopian paradise, and there is actually a "Congratulations, You found it!" page in the book, but THERE IS NO WAY TO REACH IT!
I didn't make a graph, but I remember searching through the entire book to see if there was a "turn to Page 101". There was not.
So do we call that unreachable code? Should the book not compile?
Best of luck!
I still love choose your own adventure books.
Seeing Douglas Crockford as one of your blogging role models just propelled you to a higher level of coolness.
I'm really glad you're not going to be blogging full time. It's the time spent doing other things that gives the best ideas for blog posts.
As a fellow (still) (not much lately) coding blogger, I say, do it. I love my new job, but still wish I could make something new and independent again.
Good luck man, I love your blog and I'm glad to hear that you'll be keeping on with it. I can't wait to read about your experiences working for yourself!
Does this mean we'll have to put up with a lot more posts about blogging instead of posts about actually coding?
"The original illustrator ... had quite an eye"
I think nostalgia has affected your judgment. That artwork is hideous.
You sure do need a lot of words to say, "I'm quitting my job. It's scary."
I'm glad you're going to continue developing. People who talk about developing, but have stopped doing it themselves, tend to start losing touch with reality IMHO.
One of the most important things is not to give up too early, even if it sometimes is an effort to get up as there are zero sales!
Best of luck to you on your new endeavor, Jeff.
Too bad you can't cheat like with the books and just keep flipping back whenever you find yourself somewhere you don't want to be ;)
Dang, I'd forgotten about those books.
I got kinda disenchanted with them when I picked the most sensible option on one page and ended up dead.
But I was already coding at the time, and it got me thinking a lot about the differnces in the two media. For one thing, the stories were dissapointingly short, even though the books themselves were normal-sized. This graphicly shows how much more work it is to provide interactive content than non-interactive.
As for the career change, I'll join the chorus and wish you luck. It might not work out, but when you're old and gray you'd be more upset with yourself for not having tried than you would for having tried and failed.
Congratulations on your new choice. Looking at job decisions as a "Choose your own adventure" seems practical.
I myself am at the stage where you stare at the page, with the two decissions on my mind...
I think I too, will choose for change.
It's Peanut Butter Jelly Time!
Actually, I like computer games of this style more.
In real life, the life is seldom changed just by single decision. Some of the choices may have no immediate effect, but have effects later in your life. Computer games can easily keep track of these, but in books, once the storyline merges, it'll become a single line. There's no hidden option(s) that opens if you've done something before, and makes it less entertaining. :P
I don't want to throw water on this--It seems that you have made your decision and I hope your employment shift turns out wonderfully. So I hope that your description of your Vertigo job was a bit exaggerated. You said,
"You have landed your dream job as a technical evangelist for Vertigo Software. It is by far the best job you've ever had. Every day is fun. You've become close friends with your coworkers, who are all as passionate about software development as you are." If it is your dream job and by far the best job you've ever had, why would you leave for anything less than the monarchy of the United Kingdom?
I'm not the biggest of bloggers, but I'll make an exception here.
I've had the pleasure of working with Jeff over the past 2 years or so while at Vertigo and probably the one thing that I've taken away from that is how "real" he is. Jeff is probably one of the most genuine, down to earth people that I have worked with and it's been excellent having him around to help out and bounce ideas off.
Jeff, I wish you nothing but the best of luck in your new venture!
Adding another voice to the choir Jeff; Best of luck - I can always appreciate courage, and leaving comfortable surrounds for the unknown is brave in my book.
Man I loved those books, too. It does seem to be quite common in programmers, you're probably on to something.
Jeff, I hope your new opportunity involves authorship because you're a pleasure to read. Best of luck, keep writing -- code and otherwise.
Congratulations and best of luck! I started an ISP back in 1994, and in the end made next to no money on my original investment - didn't sell out in the boom years when we should have - but the experience and understanding I gained from it made it entirely worthwhile.
If you make a fortune, great! If you make a living, great! If you end up with deeper self-understanding, better still.
"It's a magical world, Hobbes ol' buddy. Let's go exploring!"
Heh, just added your blog RSS to my iGoogle two days ago, and now you turn pro. The coincidence!
Good luck, Jeff!
To respond to the first part of your post, a colleague of mine has just launched a website that is in the same vein as the Choose Your Own Adventure books. It's called protagonize (www.protagonize.com). Authors login and collaborate on stories, create branches, etc. It's very cool. Enjoy!
"Failure is not an option." ~ Gene Kranz
(Sorry, I couldn't resist when I saw you say failure is always an option )
i guess i better start clicking on your ads so you don't stumble onto page 16 which is DEATH!
Wow, well done Jeff.
You're very brave.
It must be hard leaving the bosom of salaried work, but i reckon altogether more satisfying when it works out!
(Love the blog)
i've gone the indy/small biz path, and wish I did it sooner. Only I'm a consultant, and would love to have the opportunity you have with blogging and the small, secret project. I'm sure it will work out well, and you'll land on your feet no matter what. just don't ever quit this blog!
I too, feel it necessary to wish you a heart-felt good luck. That certainly is a brave decision and I look forward to hearing about your new endeavor.
Good luck Jeff!
BTW: In my experience, you are probably better off reducing your hours at work (but not quitting) instead of working full-time on your new project. I also dumped my job a few years back to start my own business and it blew up in my face. Full-time work seems like it's the only obstacle between you and great riches but sometimes you find out this isn't the case.
Case in point, sometimes I'd get stuck in my business and it would be great to work on something else until I figure out the solution but once you quit your job there isn't anything else you can do. What I mean to say is that your business productivity doesn't necessarily go way up just because you quit your job (though it's fun doing away with the distractions).
Who cares one more GOOD LUCK to you: Jeff.
Who want's to play the Lottery when you can have more fantastic results in real life decisions!
Visit our life choice - Music creation vs. Engineering at:
Now Mom supports the family while Dad develops Music for media.
I can totally relate to the whole 'I want to build something' itch! Hope the startup lifestyle doesn't cut into Coding Horror. It's a lot harder to blog regularly when the 'other thing' demands your attention (or at least that's *my* excuse).
Hope to see you around at some random MSFT events!
Jeff, you tell a great story.
I love your technique of "take something obscure show why we should be interested set the stage and move in for the kill give us the punchline/news and commentary". Most folks either do the interesting but unimportant OR the news part, but you marry those expertly.
So thanks, keep up the good work, and congratulations!
Wait...isn't page 10 where you're attacked by a Gru?
Oh no....that's Zork...silly me.
Best of Luck Jeff!
Congratulations! I'm always excited to read what comes next, your site has been a big influence on me, and I wish you all the luck with what comes next!
Dude, that's awesome.
You could probably do "funding drives" every few months and be successful with your readership levels.
Any thoughts to more book opportunities?
Congratulations! I hope the adventure treats you well.
While I've enjoyed reading your blog for a couple of years now, if you've posted on any of your projects, I've missed it. SO I look forward to seeing what cool things you build when the time is right.
This post reminded me of my first little personal programming project (as a wee kid) back in about 1981 - I coded out one of the Choose Your Own Adventure books - I can't recall which one - in Basic on a TRS-80. I even tried adding some rudimentary graphics to go with the text. I (somewhat) fondly recall saving and loading my code from the attached cassette recorder (!)
In some odd way these books helped make me interested in CS. I owned dozens of them at one point in my adolescence...
Thanks Jeff for the fun flashback...
Best of luck! I've always enjoyed Coding Horror and I'm excited to see what you do next.
Unfortunately, not everything is what it seems.... come on, you've been fired for reading and posting to your blog too much, haven't you!? Having fun on company time... tsk tsk tsk, :)
These books were a favorite of mine when I was younger... and I never could wrap my head around them. Thanks for the greater picture, so to speak.
Congratulations on your adventure through the new door and I wish you the best of luck.
Love the series too. I read them in my own language (there are translations of the books in Malay).
Good luck Jeff.
Its a tough decision that you have taken.
Wish you best for your future.
It would be like a Candle offering favor to Sun. But still if any help is required from us readers don't hesitate.
On other side being selfish. Jeff has always been a pathfinder for us.
Now if Jeff succeeds or fails(I trust Jeff and God it wont happen) the readers are one who are going to always gain from the experience of Jeff.
3 cheers for the new CEO of fortune 10 company.
One more CYOA thought: man, some of those had some BADDD titles "War With the Evil Power Master"?? "You Are A Shark"!?! I mean, I know the market is for kids, but those sound like titles thought up by kids.
Any life changing event can cause anxiety and I'm glad you made *a* decision; either definitely stick with Vertigo or definitely leave.
I think you really had three options and not two though - using trinary logic (yes/no/null).
Others could quite well be stuck in "null land" when faced with this kind of decision; staying at their job yet never making that definite decision to stay (or leave).
Good luck and godspeed!
From one of your blog's long time lurkers,
Best of luck! Look forward to reading about your adventures :)
Many of your posts were related to your work at Vertigo. Now we get the feeling that your blog will change
Wish you all the best Jeff. I am sure you will do great as usual in your new venture
Best of luck! I hope this means more frequent updates! :-)
All the best for your new endeavour! Looking forward to more great insights posted on your blog.
Congratulations on the big leap! I hope your startup project and all future ones are even more successful than your blog.
The good news is if you ever need good developers to help you're a blog post away from more interest than you can handle ;)
Good luck Jeff!
Looking forward to your next stop.
Lucky You Jeff!! At least you are in a position to make such a step. Keep the good stuff coming..
Good luck Jeff!!! Best wishes to you to find a very interesting "page 10"!!!
Man, my wife ends up in the hospital for a couple of weeks and the whole world falls apart. Don't be a stranger, and my newborn daughter (IIS) thanks you for the drum pads.
Good luck man! At least real life isn't as dangerous as a Choose Your Own Adventure (or the excellent Fighting Fantasy books) - and there's always the option to start reading again (not that you'll need that option I'm sure!).
I know it must have been hard to leave that sweet Rock Band rig at Vertigo. Good luck, and rock on, brother.
Good luck with everything Jeff
Nothing beats the original CYOA books (I must've read every single one of them growing up), but I also remember the "Time Machine" and "Which Way Books" as well.
Was I the only one who begged for these as birthday presents?
Jeff I am convinced that through your intelligence and incredible insight that you will find a way to succeed. Good luck on your future endeavors.
Congratulations Jeff, and good luck!
hellz yeah, man! 433rd Good Luck! XD
Now you can start charging Vertigo to advertise on your blog...hehe.
At the risk of sounding a bit smarmy - oh what the hell!
InstaSmarmAtwood, you are the reason I am at the place I am now in my professional career. I consider myself to be the young apprentice who still to this day can remember all of the lyrics to "Big Ol' Gold Belt" and "Baby Got Back" in the office as you ripped my code up to a bloody pulp and spit it back out at me in the form of raw gold! I learned much from you then, and I continue to reap the benefits of your stylistic bloggings./InstaSmarm
You've changed the way I approach technical challenges as well as the way I approach my craft Atwood - no joke. I have no doubts that you're heart will go on.
You've heard enough Good Lucks... :-) Still Good Luck.
Also, I love those freaking books! I totally forgot about them. It is interesting that you relate them to programming... I probably would have never drawn that parallel, however I have to agree.
Good luck with your new adventure!
Does this mean we get to look forward to MORE posts, I certainly hope so I love your blog, it sits on my Google homepage and I check it at least once a day, and I've ready EVERY post.
Good luck Jeff!
I made this decision some time ago and appreciate it every day.
Being trapped somewhere in time to live out an alternate life isn't necessarily a negative outcome!
Been avid reader for a couple of years, and hope that you find happiness (and those couple of millions), while continue this amazing blog.
Best of luck with the new opportunity. I can't wait to hear how page 10 turns out, live the dream.