When choosing what we want to study, and do with our careers and lives, we all have some expectations of what it is going to be like. Now that I've been in the industry for almost a decade, I've been reflecting a bit on what I thought (back when I was studying Computer Science) programming working life was going to be like, and how it's actually turning out to be.
My two biggest shocks (or should I say, broken expectations) by far are the sheer amount of maintenance work involved in software, and the overall lack of professionalism:
Maintenance: At uni, we were all told that the majority of software work is maintenance of existing systems. So I knew to expect this in the abstract. But I never imagined exactly how overwhelming this would turn out to be. Perhaps it's something I mentally glazed over, and hoped I'd be building cool new stuff from scratch a lot more. But it really is the case that most jobs are overwhelmingly maintenance, bug fixing, and support oriented.
Lack of professionalism: At uni, I always had the impression that commercial software work is very process-oriented and stringently engineered. I had images of ISO processes, reams of technical documentation, every feature and bug being strictly documented, and a generally professional environment. It came as a huge shock to realise that most software companies operate no differently to a team of students working on a large semester-long project. And I've worked in both the small agile hack shop, and the medium sized corporate enterprise. While I wouldn't say that it's always been outright "unprofessional", it definitely feels like the software industry (on the whole) is far from the strong engineering discipline that I expected it to be.
Has anyone else had similar experiences to this? What are the ways in which your expectations of what our profession would be like were different to the reality?