The stress of being a computer programmer literally drives a lot of them crazy


Being a software programmer is one of the best jobs these days for your wallet and job security, but it can be incredibly bad for your sanity.

There are two things going on that literally drive programmers crazy.

One is something called the “Impostor syndrome”. This is when you are pretty sure every other coder you work with is smarter, more talented, and more skilled than you. You live in fear that people will find out that you are really faking your wits, your skills, or your accomplishments.

Women programmers frequently admit to suffering from impostor syndrome, and this is not surprising. The syndrome was actually first documented by psychologists Dr Pauline Rose Clance and Dr Suzanne Imes as a particular problem for successful women. It is also the subject of a number of self-help books for women.

But a lot of male programmers more and more say they feel it, too much.

These people tend to hold extremely high standards to themselves and not to others. Impostor syndrome is common in professions where work is peer reviewed. Writing software is one of those areas, especially open source software where anyone can view the code and modify it.

From “the impostor” to the “real programmer”

Tired at work

The trap of impostor syndrome is that programmers think they have to work harder to get good enough. This means spending more time coding – every waking minute – and supporting a growing number of projects.

This feeling is called the “real programmer” syndrome as one article calls it. who went crazy on Reddit last week. The real programmer only lives to code. Redditor big_al11 explains:

A real programmer is someone who loves programming! They love it so much that it’s what they spend all their time doing. …

the real programmer doesn’t really think of this as “work”. …

a programmer isn’t a real programmer if they don’t volunteer to work 60 to 80 hours a week (for no additional monetary compensation, remember) because it’s “fun”. …

It permeates the culture of the industry.

… If you want to be successful as a programmer, you have to at least look like a real programmer…. So you get people who work evenings and weekends just for appearances and they start to burn out.

That programmers are expected to work insanely long hours is nothing new. But this idea that they are doing it on their own, just for the sake of it, is new.

Book of the Death March

For example, ten years ago, during the Internet bubble, a book called “Death March” has become a bestseller. He documented how the mindless hours of programmers led to health problems. He concluded that the mismanagement of the project was to blame.

In 2004, the coders actually sued Electronic Arts concerning overtime and won a settlement of $ 15 million.

Years later, in 2010, a story has gone viral of a woman married to a programmer who worked for Rockstar Games. He said how the company expected programmers working 12 hours a day / six days a week for months or years, damaging the health of some programmers due to stress.

In 2011, the change of real programmer took hold. That year, a discussion on the programming social network StackExchange went crazy, by a guy who asked: “I don’t program in my spare time. Does this make me a bad developer? “

The general consensus was that you can be a good developer if you only work during normal working hours, but the “the biggest programmers also code during their off-peak hours.

More is not always better

New Nick Floyd Relic

Nick Floyd of New Relic Nick Floyd of New Relic

This idea is of questionable validity. Stanford students studied how much time a person can really spend productively programming. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise, they found that working too much reduces productivity. Overworked coders tended to produce poorer quality code when working 60 hours / week than refreshed people did when working 40 hours / week.

That hasn’t stopped the impostor / real programmer syndrome from setting in. And there were some really sad stories along the way.

For example, about a year ago, corporate programmer Kenneth Parker wrote an article on his Ken’s Programming blog titled “I knew a programmer who went completely crazy. “

He spoke of his colleague who worked so hard that he had “a complete mental breakdown”.

He was one of the hardest workers I had seen in the industry. He frequently stayed after hours to work on projects; He was always available when management needed someone to speed up a job during the weekend…. His willingness to push himself into doing a job is what they loved about him. However, his productivity was not that great when he landed in a mental institution.

Recently, New Relic software engineer Nick Floyd started writing and talking about something he calls Nerd Life Balance. After confessing that he has already suffered from impostor syndrome, he now believes that nerd happiness comes from finding a job to love. He writes:

Being at New Relic is tough, tough, and awesome at the same time, but it’s never been a job for me. Before joining us, I had accepted certain beliefs that work should always be work, which was often frustrating, and that life was a way out of frustration at work. But I had it backwards – Life is great when this thing called “work” becomes another way of expressing the passions in your life.

On the other hand, Redditor big_al11 offers what is surely the healthiest solution:

I would really like us to live in a society where we did not define ourselves so strongly by our day jobs and where working until death was not considered a virtue.


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