I loved this. I think your experiences is one of the best outcomes I’ve seen of a gifted developer. A lot of others get side-lined because of horrible management practices. Nowadays, people frown when I say that programming is a creative endeavor.
I think your outcome is great because you worked with management even though it may not seem like it at times. You also lucked out at having some managers who really understood you. Truly gifted developers who are not so lucky end up taking time out of their career and never come back. But, you know the best problems to solve are the ones close to the business. The easier problems are the ones that you can start from scratch with a blank sheet of paper. So, for the challenge, these gifted developers should keep working for companies even though they have to deal with management hoopla.
I really identified with that “How do we rein him in, at least just a little, and not destroy the creativity.” and “ I give it a problem to solve, read sci-fi or watch TV, go to bed and wake up the next morning with a solution.”
At one time, I was pushed toward management because I also loved to work with the users to find problems to solve. Well, because I was a woman, I found it hard to say no and ended up on a management path. But, years later, I still find the programming part to solve those problems a lot more satisfying.
I think the best programmers are true thinkers. I find it hard to turn my brains off on difficult problems. I not only think about them after work, but I think about them sometimes when I’m on vacation. It’s a compulsion (good and bad). But the best solutions come from not pondering them in the office but actually living life. I see the same with writing, my better essays are the ones that were developed in my mind as I cared for my son during the day. Creativity need “space” to develop. It’s a physical endeavor for some people. They need to move around. I see that in my son too.
I really love how you set your boundaries at work and just was who you are. I think if I work in a corporate setting again, I will learn to do that more.