Dev Chair : First love
My own experience is very similar. The first job I got after finishing college was with a software engineering company for transportation (mainly trains) and traffic control system, where 'engineering' meant exactly that. The company was ISO9000/9001 certified so that means every process and decision had to be clearly documented and signed off. The traditional software development model, i.e. "The Waterfall", was king and the thickness of the requirement and design documents were matched by the comprehensive testing documents. Every change request must be approved, coded, tested, and signed off before
being let loose onto the real world. Oftentimes this meant a simple one-line change could take nearly a day to complete.
Despite all that bureaucracy, the year and a half time I spent there was probably the most intellectually stimulating and rewarding time I had and since. Everyday was a challenge and we all felt the responsibility of writing safety critical software where even a small mistake could potentially be fatal. And the fruit of our labour would be used by millions of commuter everyday so we derived a lot of pride and satisfaction from our work.
Compare that against the various jobs I had since then; immigration case system, security trading back-end system, online banking application, corporate tax application, etc. All of them are challenging in some ways but none of them excites me and made me wake up everyday and raring to go to work like my first job. Developing ecto for Windows from scratch was as close as I get of being excited by software development in the last few years, and in retrospect this is a pretty sad state of affair. (Adriaan Tijsseling is the original developer of ecto on the Mac)
Is this why most software applications are mediocre at best, because they don't excite the developers who work on them? Is this why ground breaking and exciting software tends to come from Open Source developer community or start-ups because they are more passionate about what they are working on? What is your experience? Was your first job more exciting than your current one?