While attending Google’s developer conference, I/O, programmer Dan Kim noticed a booth selling a T-shirt with a popular saying: “Eat, sleep, code, repeat.”
He was not pleased.
“‘Eat, sleep, code, repeat’ is such bullshit,” he wrote on Medium.
“Eat. Sleep. Code. Repeat.’ was printed on everything,” he wrote, adding, “I’d seen the phrase before, but this time it burned into my brain, probably because it was being so actively marketed at a large conference. I literally let out an ‘ugh’ when I saw it.”
Because, the truth is, the underlying idea of that phrase isn’t so cute.
It’s not just another way of saying “I love programming!” It’s part of the not-so-subtle message that programmers are constantly being told that if you really want to make it — if you want to command respect in your profession and be known as a “real programmer” — than you must love programming so much it is literally all you do in your life. And all you want to do.
Kim is a professional Android programmer for a company called Basecamp, which creates project management software.
And he, for one, is sick of that message, writing:
There’s a damaging subtext, and that’s what bothers me. The phrase promotes an unhealthy perspective that programming is an all or nothing endeavour — that to excel at it, you have to go all in. It must be all consuming and the focus of your life. Such bullshit. In fact it’s the exact opposite. … a truly balanced lifestyle — one that gives your brain and your soul some space to breathe non-programming air — actually makes you a better programmer.
To understand just how pervasive this indoctrination is, a couple of months ago, Alex St. John, a famous video game developer and exec, someone who has hired a lot of programmers over the years, caused an uproar when he published a controversial article in VentureBeat.
St. John argued that game programmers that didn’t love to code so much that they were willing to sacrifice themselves for the privilege had a poor attitude and should give their jobs to someone who did love it enough. (St. John called it a “wage slave” attitude.)
St. John even wrote a recruiting slideshow filled with controversial and sexist ideas on how to find programmers (preferably young) and cultivate this idea in them.
The sad thing is that for those that buy into this message, the stress of working like that has been known to literally drive some of them beyond burnout, even affecting mental health.
For instance, some time ago a programmer named Kenneth Parker wrote a blog post about the hardest working programmer he ever knew. He called it “I Knew a Programmer that Went Completely Insane.”
On top of that, of course, doing nothing but work isn’t a sign that you work at a great job, it’s a sign that your company lacks project management skills.
Kim is one voice trying to stop the madness.