Don’t Trade Your Life for Tech

Those of us in the technology sector see it all the time: co-workers who put in incredible hours coding away as though they have nothing else in their lives.  And quite often, they don’t.

I used to be one of those people.

When I was working on HomeSite over a decade ago, I rarely left my desk.  If I wasn’t coding, I was answering email or doing some other work-related task.  I hardly slept, ate far too much junk food, and traded my health for what I thought was a successful career as a software developer.

If that sounds familiar to you, do yourself a favor and stop living this way.  It’s not worth it.  Eventually you’ll look back and wish you would’ve spent more time getting out and meeting people (non-geeky people, that is), and you’ll look down at your pizza-filled belly and wonder how you let yourself get so unhealthy.

A friend of mine plays for the NFL, and despite the obvious differences in our chosen careers, we’ve also noticed some similarities.  When they’re in their 20’s, football players often have their youth eaten up by their jobs, and they reach their mid-30’s with little to show for their lives outside of career-related highs and lows.  By the time they hit 40, their sagging health reflects the stress and damage they did to themselves when they were younger.  Sounds an awful lot like the world of software development, doesn’t it?

These days, I have a great wife, two wonderful kids, and a nice social life that doesn’t involve anything remotely tech-related.  Sure, I still have late-night coding frenzies every now and then, but for the most part I stop work at a decent hour and de-geek myself by spending time with my friends and family.

And you know what?  I write better code because of it, and I make better decisions at work because of it.  Not submerging myself in tech all the time actually makes me more productive when I’m sitting in front of the keyboard.  Wish I would’ve know that when I was in my 20’s!

18 thoughts on “Don’t Trade Your Life for Tech

  1. Very valid stuff !
    To my experience it´s a continuous struggle with yourself in order to *not* lose connection with “real life” — all the more your insanity might even get rewarded by e.g. your employer or your customer, and it´s especially when you´re younger that you´re taking their purposeful “patting on your back” for real. It´s extremely easy to get & stay in such a “coding frenzy”, but getting out of it and rebuild your social life is a tough thing which needs a certain sort of discipline you´re not used to.
    But I fear that this will not change as long as “coders” are in fact cannon fodder for an industry which loves to hire & exploit them for nuts — add the young and aspiring coder´s usual willingness to drastically exploit himself to that, and here comes the “perpetuum mobile” situation which *is* hard to avoid.
    Cheers,
    Günter

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  2. Sadly, Nick, employers prefer to hire the 20somethings with no life instead of the 40somethings, even though the 40something is MUCH more productive. You’re lucky you don’t have to deal with that problem.

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  3. I thought a bit more about this on the way to work today. Peter Spiro at Microsoft talks a lot about how ‘goofing off’ until the age of 30 helped him immensely.
    Regarding the comment above, I’m not sure I agree with the comment above that people in their 40s are ‘more’ productive. The best teams have a ‘mix’ of people.
    At Microsoft, I’ve seen really good teams which have been ‘designed’ this way – senior people with maturity and experience and high octane junior people. Saying any one age band is ‘better’ than the other is just wrong.

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  4. Nice to see a working programmer of the “younger generation” surviving the hype of the iNternet age.
    I personally made a decision to get off the tech fast track in 1990 where I was spending every waking hour. I left it all behind and went to live life before life was no longer there to live. Did I make a mistake?
    As I look out the cabin window 15+years later here in rural Alaska at the wildflowers and snow geese and the folks I’m privileged to drink coffee with who know nothing of nanaseconds, I realize that for me, I made the right decision. I still participate in all-night programming sessions with my geeky friends thanks to the web and love the mystery, control and buzz of programming, but now life holds more for me than 1,000’s of lines of code that won’t outlive my pair of Carharts.
    Best of luck to you Nick and anyone else whose soul nags for more out of life than a perfect sort algorithm…

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  5. Stop whinning . . . like I have a wireless keyboard and I take it with me everywhere and like the work is gone. I have a great life!!! I need to go dye my hair.

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  6. As i read this item i was chatting with a coworker over msn telling him to go home (mignight friday of a long weekend). I forwarded him the item and hope he takes your advice seriously.

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  7. hi nick ,
    wanted to share some of my similar moments with you pal . the same is happening to me too . finished my B.E in an university and i have entered a software company now .
    already for the past 5 years i have been spending more time , in front of my system , and this seems to be increasing . :(
    A friend of mine , is a movie director , at kollywood ( the cinema , here at tamilnadu , india ) . once he met me and said that he was gonna take a film , of how a youth , to get his carrier , throws away all the fruits of his youthful age , and gets to “the carrier he wanted” . but when he has found his best carrier , his health and youth are no more . He feels at the age of 40 , but no longer can he reverse it .
    i thought that he was mocking me , with such a thing . but i was always thinking if it was true . but now i am believing , that it would become true . now i am able to see the same story uttered by a man , whom i dont know .
    the story continues ???
    i am in my 20’s .

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  8. Ah a refreshing voice! Nick, far too often I find myself telling my “Propeller Head” friends (and many coworkers) that they really need to get out and get a life! And more importantly escape from the “echo chamber” of mutual virtual back slapping!
    It is nice to see the same sentiment from one as influential and successful as you.
    -JC

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  9. Thank you for sharing this Nick. My $.02 are below:
    Technology professionals are generally tempted to chase the latest technology skills in the marketplace as their peers across the world are chasing them. If too many people are doing something, then it must be the “right” thing to do. However, the moment a technology becomes hot, there is a “premium” attached to those skills just because of short supply. However, in a matter of years, there is an over supply of talent (as many people are chasing these skills) and the premium disappears. Not to worry – there are new technology skills where there is short supply and the journey begins – AGAIN.
    This is not a problem in the short term. What many technology professionals don’t realize is that they can’t endlessly repeat this cycle and keep going. As time progresses there are new concerns and breakdowns in other parts of life – spouse, children, age, health etc. This make it hard to strike a fine balance between everything that is going on.
    What is also against technology professionals is that focusing on “other” life skills won’t produce short term results. So it is easy to ignore focusing on them until it is too late :(
    Have a great weekend.
    Best,
    Raj
    PS: My book “Beyond Code” (foreword by Tom Peters) is focused on the same topic.
    http://www.squidoo.com/beyondcode

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  10. You can’t keep up no matter how bad as you are. Younger and smarter will come in and you will be a relic at 30. You will bust your ass and look back and realize that you did all that work for some faceless asshole.
    My grandfather worked for AT&T for over 40 years and every time they turn around they cut some benefit or insurance. This is the hard working man I have ever seen. They really don’t give a rat’s ass in the end.
    This is why I am working to leave the tech field within a year. I rather do something a little more to make me feel alive.
    Sitting behind a desk looking at alarms and fixing routers feels completely meaningless. I mean what do I really have invested in this?
    Nothing.
    Time for change.

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  11. Guy Kawaski wrote a book a while back call Hindsights, that involved interviews with several dozen “significant” individuals as they reminisced over their carreers.
    I remember a comment that Guy made about the book, “Not a single person I interviewed regretted not spending more time at work.” Many of them thought they might have spent less time working.

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  12. The bit about the grandfather and AT&T struck me. Essentially, coders and other producers are made into commodities as soon as it’s possible to do so. I don’t envy the lives of executives; however, the executives who make the decisions like cutting benefits, insurance, and security are really the only people who can escape the fate of becoming a commodity.

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  13. Your post really mirrors what I have experienced in the past ten years. Starting around 1996 or so, I started working “online” when no one really knew what that meant. There were several nights when I would start on a project at 6pm and not go to sleep until Noon the next day. I neglected my friends, my health, my social life….even though I loved what I was doing, my life basically existed only in front of a computer screen.
    In 2001, I hit my breaking point and realized that I needed to “get out more” because people were starting to wonder what the heck happened to me. I enrolled back in college (which I had left to work) and my life changed in so many ways. I studied something that had NOTHING to do with programming, computers, or the Internet. I majored in the social sciences and made friends, took interesting classes and switched my focus to outward activities. Since then, I met the man who became my husband and now we’re starting a family. If you would have told me in 2001 that in five years I would become a college graduate, a wife, and a mom to be I would have told you that you were crazy. You gotta have a life away from the computer. It makes you a better person and a better programmer.
    I have more fun working now than I ever did, and it’s totally because I got a life and walked away from the computer for a little while every week.
    Jen Knox

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