December 30, 2003

The Life of a Computer Programmer

For many years I had the following framed and hanging on the wall by my desk at work. Since I almost always work one-man projects, it served to amuse the occasional user who wandered in while simultaneously explaining my somewhat eccentric work habits.

Every programmer has some experience with bodily abuse. Sooner or later, all of us do things to ourselves we wouldn't admit to Mom. Most of the time we say we're provoked by circumstances: whether it's the representative from your client's company -- a not pleasant man who looks a lot like Herman Munster, breathing heavily on your neck -- or some towering, unstoppable endorphin rush that threatens to rip your medulla out of its socket if you don't code up that monstro algorithm RIGHT NOW and forget about your wedding. We generally attribute our protracted binges to some external force.

This attitude bespeaks a hideous wrong-headedness among programmers. We seem to get some masochistic pleasure out of responding to pressure by sitting in front of our machines until our fingernails are too long to type. Our eyes get varicose veins. We run fingers through our hair until we get split ends. We drool. Why?

Because, the deluded among us would answer, we have to. Some specter is chaining us to our chairs, making strangers of our families, removing us from the throb of humanity. It's not a pretty job, we sigh nobly, but someone has to do it. This is, as my sister used to say, pompous fudge-cakes.

We do it because we like it.

I never knew where that came from, I don't even remember where I got it from. Continuing my one-man quest to convince humanity that 'Google is your friend', I managed to find the truth. And in a Paul Harvey-ish twist, it turns out that there's a 'rest of the story' too. The author (or someone who claims to know who the original author is) not only states the above but goes further and codifies his philosophy of Metabolic Fascism.

Go ahead and read the post at the link, it's short. The following snippets especially resonate with me:

There is no better way to accumulate a comprehensive, detailed knowledge of one's body than by abusing it regularly.


One pays much more attention to an engine about to explode than to one that is idling, and a metabolic fascist knows his body to a degree of detail that, among other humans, only long-distance runners and new mothers achieve.

Yes, I've been there and done that. I suspect Pixy has as well. Programming is for the young and strong and stupid. As you get older, you either move into teaching or theory or burn out and fade away.

Posted by: Ted at 06:42 AM | category: Square Pegs
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1 I don't look forward to the allnighters so much these days.

No, hang on, I always hated allnighters!

But I'm a long way from ready to stop programming. Long long way. Maybe even bignum way.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at December 30, 2003 08:41 AM (jtW2s)

2 I've always thought of it as wildly focused autisim. I can't remember how many times I've gotten phone calls from the girlfriend at 7 pm saying "when are you going to be home?", telling her soon and then crawling in the door at 2 am with hand cramps and eyeballs that feel like peeled grapes coated in sand.

I think it's because programmers and sysadmins are crazy.

Posted by: Matt Navarre at December 30, 2003 08:47 PM (n/wkr)

3 No wonder I can't find a job, I should be in teaching by now.
I wish you would have told me that a few years ago.

Posted by: Starhawk at December 31, 2003 07:53 AM (p+3Jo)

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