If you are choosing to be a software engineer for your career, then do not forget to find your Geek Zen, which means taking care of YOU! This article will focus on things that I have come up with during my 20+ year software career. These are things I sure wished I knew when I started my career. I focusing on stress since being a software engineer can be VERY stressful.
If you do not watch out for stressful situations and learn how to deal with them the right way, you might find yourself trying to deal with it with drinking or other destructive practices, which is NOT a good way to deal with stress. Dealing with stress this way will not work and will only make it worse.
I once dated a nurse that worked in the delivery room. I stupidly had an argument with her once that my job was more stressful than hers. She would have babies die in her arms and I now cannot imagine how hard that must be. On reflection, what I really meant is that when she goes home each day she can let go of the day since tomorrow will have new families to deliver babies for. Where as software engineering stress can be carried from day to day and can last months.
#1 – Find Place You Like Working At!
The number one way to ward off stress is to find a great company and team to work for. In my experience, this is the hardest thing to find. I have only found a few companies I truly liked working at. My goal is that when I wake up in the morning, I am excited to go to work. Excited to face the challenges for the day.
The good thing is that software jobs are now booming and the demand for software engineers for the near future will only grow at a very fast pace. So, if every morning you are dreading getting out of bed during the work week, find another job! You will be doing yourself a favor and your current workplace. In 2017, there is no reason to stay in a stressful job you dislike.
#2 – Dealing with Stress at Work
Ok, stress will happen and most of your stress will of course happen at work. Here are some of the ways that I deal with stress which works most of the time.
- If the stress is coming from actual work, deal with it head on. Either accept what is happening or try to change it. If you can find a way to make what is causing the better, then bring that idea to your manager or lead. If your idea gets shot down, then you will need to find a way to accept it or move to another company.
- Listen to music! For me, music always changes my mood. At work, I use Bluetooth noise canceling headphones. Do not play your music so everyone can hear, this should just be for you. I try to listen to music in the afternoons, when I am in “code monkey” mode or if I do not want to listen to others in my office or in the next room.
- If you get super stressed out at work and it is effecting your work (everything does not seem to work as you expect), then go home! You are not doing anyone any good if you slip into this mode. Recently this happened to me. It seemed everything was breaking and I could not get a single continuous deployment to succeed. As soon as my eight hours were over, I left. When I came in the next morning, everything magically worked! Why did everything work the next morning? I have absolutely no idea but has happened to me many, many times during my career. I have a name for this phenomenon, but that is better left to a future article.
- Try to find a position that lets you work from home. I have recently found that this GREATLY reduces my stress. In 2017 there is no reason for workers to be at the company location every day. Unfortunately, in southern California, remote work is frowned upon so it is very difficult to find. I am not sure if remote work is more popular in other areas of America or other countries, but it should be popular world-wide. These are just some of the benefits of working at home for the developer.
- No commuting! Commuting can start you off in a stressful state by the time you get to work. Plus, you will save hundreds of dollars a year since you will go to the gas station much less and you will be making the environment better. When I work from home I can easily go two to three weeks before I need gas.
- You will eat more at home which can be much healthier. Eating out each day is not only expensive but usually not as healthy as cooking at home.
- You can work at any time! If you are not feeling very creative, just let it pass and get to work later. If I feel like I am stuck in a rut, I will stop working and watch TV, read or even exercise! When I feel the rut has passed, I get back to work, no matter what time of the day it is.
Most companies have not realized how beneficial remote workers are for them. Here are just some of what the company will gain.
- Less overhead! Especially if all the developers work at home. This is a huge savings. I know of a company that contracts out software engineers around the San Diego area that had offices and now has none. The software developers never used the offices so there was not much of reason to pay for space. Now, everyone from the CEO on down works at home or at the company location where the developer is contracted to.
- If managed correctly, companies will get more work out of the developers. There are so many fewer distractions at home, meetings are shorter and much more. When I first started working at home full-time, I figured out that I could get five days of work done in two days! This should be the number one reasons companies should use remote workers.
#3 – Talk it Out With Someone
When stress does happen at work, and it will, a good way to let go of it is to talk with someone. Unless your loved one is also a software engineer, they might not be the best person to talk to. So, have a good group of geek friends to talk about what is stressing you out at work. I have personally been doing this most of my career.
At one company I worked at in the late 90’s, my co-worker, who is also best friend, and I started an event called “Dave’s Thursdays Beer Night”. We even had a web site! We always met right after work every Thursday at the burger restaurant called Red Robin since it had the closest bar to the company location. This event was so popular, that the manager of Red Robin made “Dave’s Thursdays Beer Night” polo shirts that also had the Red Robin logo.
Eventually Dave’s Thursday Beer Night” fizzled out. In 2017 I resurrected the event with my best friend and others. The only difference now is that we meet every other Thursday and since the Red Robin is no longer there, we move the location around the same general area in San Diego. If you are ever around the La Jolla/ Del Mar area of California on a Thursday at 5pm, you should join us!
#4 – Mind and Body
Something I think many software engineers do not know is that there is a part of being the best you can that depends on your mind and body. When I talk about mind, I am not describing your technical mind but your overall mental health. Here are the topics you should consider since I feel they are very important.
I think I am correct in saying that many software engineers are overweight, well in America at least. If you are considered overweight, it is like tying a boat anchor to your feet… it will drag you down. Not only physically but mentally too. So, if you are overweight, put down that pizza and Diet Coke RIGHT NOW!
In 2012 I started my weight loss journey and have lost almost 80 pounds! Not only do I feel so much better, have more energy, exercising is easier, I even got rid of two serious health issues 100%! I told everyone I did it to be on this planet as long as I can to bug my kids, and now grandkids which is true, but I realized I did it for myself too.
Exercise has helped keep the weight off but I had to completely change how and what I eat. I have gone to eating smaller meals more often. Going to a gluten-free diet was the biggest reason I have kept the weight off. I still have about 20 pounds to go, so I am considering the diet below.
I am not aware of any “software engineer” diets, but recently my long-time friend and well known .NET developer Carl Franklin has lost over 100 pounds on the Ketogenic diet. Way to go Carl! I might be joining you soon.
The only drawback to losing weight is you will need to buy a whole new wardrobe! I will take that any day. The benefits to you and your Geek Zen are too important.
Recently, I have gotten into acupuncture and not only does it work but it has even eliminated a chronic health issue. I avoided acupuncture for a very long time since I thought it was all in your mind, boy was I wrong. Usually, when I bring up acupuncture to someone, they almost always say they hate needles. Acupuncture needles are so small, most of the time I never feel them going in.
There are so many benefits to acupuncture I cannot list them all. For software engineers, it can really help with stress. On top of that, it can help with anything from minor aches and pains but even major ones too. They can even help that alcohol soaked liver!
For me, it completely got rid of a health issue that I struggled with for many years. I do not like to talk about things like this publicly, but I feel that acupuncture is so important to geek mind and body health, I will discuss it anyway.
For many, many years I suffered from very bad sinus issues. Every morning, I would wake up with congested sinuses and more days than not, I would also wake up with a very painful sinus headache. For all these years, I tried everything from Neti pots and power sinus irrigators (not fun) to prescription medications that included steroids. This got much worse in dry or high altitude cities like Las Vegas, NV and Flagstaff, AZ. In cities like this, my sinuses would be bleeding within 24 hours of my arrival that was usually accompanied by a very bad sinus headache that would not go away until I left the city. This made me avoid these cities like this for many years. Unfortunately, I have family in one of those cities.
So, after going to acupuncture every two weeks for about four months, I woke up and my sinus issues were completely gone! I feel so much better and I take NO medications anymore. I can even visit the cities I listed above which means I have been visiting family more!
If you find a great acupuncturist, it is worth every penny! I recommend going to acupuncture at least every two weeks. If you live in the San Diego area, shoot me an email and I will happily refer you to my acupuncturist. She is awesome! I go to visit the doctor much less now.
There Is More to Life Than Programming
There is more to life than programming and this is very easily forgotten by many developers, even me in the beginning. So, make sure you take time out each day to do something that brings you joy (that is not programming). Play with your kids. Go on a date with your loved one. Exercise! Do a hobby that you really like. There is much, much more. It is up to you.
For me, my number one thing that makes me feel better is playing guitar! I have been playing guitar since 1982 and have been a huge music lover all my life. This includes going to concerts as much as I can or afford. Playing guitar for me can immediately make a crappy day better. Since I have been playing for so long, my goal is to play at least four hours a week if not more. I even have a website dedicated to music.
The number two thing I love to do is photography. I have been doing photography since I was a kid and professionally since the 1980s. I have even won four photography awards! I specialize in doing concert photography (which is very difficult). I have done photography for bands such as Queensryche, Cheap Trick, The Cult, Buckcherry, Lit, P.O.D., Steel Panther, Gary Hoey and many other bands. You can see my photography by going here.
Something else I have implemented lately is once a month I have a “disconnect weekend”. This means no computer, no programming. I only use my phone during those forty-eight hours. Another thing I do now is at least once a quarter I go on a trip. The trip can be going to India to speak at a conference or even go somewhere close like Palm Springs, Santa Barbara, Disneyland or other cool places to go in southern California. Heck, even getting a hotel for the weekend in the city you live counts to me.
Last but Not Least
So, the last thing I would like to talk about is a taboo subject in most conversations and that is therapy. No, not physical therapy but mental therapy. I think most people need help either short time or long time. Recently, I heard a great comment and it was “It takes courage to ask for help”. This is so true. So, if you are afraid to ask, just push yourself. What do you have to lose? There is no reason to tell anyone you are going, it is private.
We all need to learn new tools to deal with not only work stress but relationships, childhood or adult trauma and much more. Unless your doctor recommends going to a Psychiatrist, I would start off with a Psychologist since they cannot dope you up on medication (which can make things worse) and they are cheaper. So be courageous and ask for help!
Wow, that was a lot of info on how to find your Geek Zen. I hope this gave you some ideas. Make a comment below if you would like to share how you find your Geek Zen.