Saturday, May 22, 2004

Depression, Isolation and the Career Programmer

If you’ve known me for more than a week, you know I battle depression. Maybe battle is the wrong word. How about “I’m Depression’s Ho and didn’t make my quota this week.” Yep, that’ll do nicely.

One of the things that makes my symptoms worse is isolation, and this new job is filled with isolation. Programming is a solitary activity, unless you get into that wacky Pair Programming the XP proponents espouse. Actually, Extreme Programming is starting to sound really great to me, after working the past 7 months from home, alone.

In his book, Understanding The Professional Programmer, Gerald Weinberg shows that only 30% of people who enter the profession are still programming after 6 years. That is, to me, a shocking statistic. Gerald has lots of insights to offer, and I suggest you get a copy of his book, but I don’t think he fully addresses the reasons for this statistic. I think the one of the biggest is the extreme isolation that most programmers endure. The pair programming approach of XP would not only result in better code quality, but might even extend the useful careers of programmers who work for a company with enough foresight to use it as a development methodology.

Stealing again from Dr. Weinberg, our highest needs, once our basic survival is taken care of, are, in order of importance:

  • Belonging: Being part of a group.

  • Esteem: Being highly regarded by others.

  • Self-Actualization: being highly regarded by oneself.

Normal people working from home can probably get their sense of belonging and esteem through either casual, infrequent interactions via email or telephone, or through relationships outside of work. My friend Chad worked from home for a time, and didn’t seem to suffer too much from it. It isn’t working for me, though.

Now that I’ve brought you this far, you’re probably asking yourself, “What’s the answer?”. I dunno. Change jobs? Maybe, but I know the problem isn’t the job so much as a flaw in my own character. Ask for help? I wouldn’t know who to ask, or what to ask for. Cry? What do I look like, a sissy?

If you have any suggestions or stories to relate, I’d like to hear them. Share…


iearnmoney said...

great insight into depression and programming. I am a programmer and have just been diagnosed with depression, so alot of the stuff makes sense now. I remember the days when I would hole up in the "nerd cave" for marathon code sessions when I felt like telling everyone else to die. Take care!


steven said...

I could relate to this, although i haven't been formally diagnosed for depression, i certainly have the symptoms. I have been coding and researching code for a very long time and have gotten 'lost' in it. during my postgraduate studies i was holed up isolated for months hacking away at my project, now after all that i have become very introvert, i could not perform efficiently as part of a team when i got the job i wanted, and now i have lost that job and back to sitting holed up. I love programming and computers but now i am completely demotivated and angry at the world.