I write code 100 hours/week, here's why I probably won't stop

I write code 100 hours/week. I’ve done so for the last 2 years and, excluding a life-altering event (illness?) I probably won’t stop.

The average week

I typically spend around:

Sometimes coding drops to around 80h/week if I feel I need more sleep, time for something else, or if I’m just not feeling it.

My calendar

My days are pretty fluid, I don’t maintain a strict calendar - but an average week does pretty much look identical to the following. (click to expand)

my calendar

  • Green is open-source coding in Zig
  • Red is time spent at day job
  • Yellow is sleep
  • Blue is being human

“That’s not sustainable”

I’ve been doing it for 2 years now with no issues - if anything, I’m more inclined to continue doing it. I like it.

When I started doing this two years ago, age 25, it was a shift from “I work and spend my free time goofing off” to “I work and spend my free time focusing on what I want to achieve in life”.

It wasn’t until 1.5 years later that I actually felt comfortable even talking about this publicly or to co-workers. It sounds ridiculous, and what if e.g. I have a bad week at work or something? If I was a manager, I’d certainly wonder if it was due to my report doing this (happy to report no issues!)

I’ve been coding for nearly 10 years professionally, turning 28 soon. The older I get, the more I seem to enjoy this. It was never an instantaneous shift, but rather a gradual one:

How my coding has increased to an insane amount over time

I’ve worked at the same startup for the past ~7 years - and I’ve certainly experienced early-stage startup lifestyle - with all the crunch that comes with that.

So it’s not like I’ve just never experienced conditions that should lead to burnout before-it’s just that I’m not sure I truly understand what people mean when they say burnout. I think it might often be used to express a feeling of “I’m no longer interested in the work I do at my tech job, but I like the benefits and I’m paid stupid amounts of money - so saying that feels weird! What do I do?” - and I just haven’t been in that situation before.

“You’re going to burnout”

I hear this from people who often bring me other grumbling messages of distaste and hatred (hello /r/programmingcirclejerk! 😃 happy to say I’m a lurker these days and get much enjoyment from you.)

I think you’ve just misunderstand, though.

Normal people vs. me: kids/family/fun vs. coding

If you have children or a significant other, think how much time you spend with them. Do you get burnt out from it? I’d be willing to bet that you take breaks from time to time, but I think most would say no.

Now replace you children or significant other with a high-stress environment - let’s say you spend the same amount of time with co-workers instead of your kids or significant other. That’s some nightmare fuel!

This is analogous to how I feel: If I was working 100h/week at my day job, I would absolutely burn out. I think that’s what people hear when I say this. But that’s not what I’m doing: I work a regular programming day job like everyone else - it’s at a late-stage, fairly relaxed startup and with a good work/life balance. It’s just that I choose to spend the “life” part of that balance doing what I truly love: coding towards some serious aspirations.

“Nobody is productive writing code that long”

Working on the right problem to take advantage of your current metal state is how you make true progress. Or, at least, that’s how I see it:

What I work on depending on mental state

But “how one could have so many projects lined up, enough to make switching between them always an option?” that’s because I have some lofty life goals (or an addiction to trying to attain the unattainable, I’ll let you choose.)

I’m working double-time on a secret ten-year vision to upend the gaming industry. Part of that includes a commitment I’ve made to build the following in Zig:

  • A game engine for the future
  • Better developer tools (not just for game developers)
  • Several real video games, which I believe can be competitive with what AAA studios offer today.

It’s not like I’m delusional about how hard that will be: I spent 4 years previously writing a game engine in Go. I spent the last 7 years of my life working on developer tools at Sourcegraph. I spent most of my teenage years completely failing to create video games in various game engines.

I know how hard and time consuming it is. My vision requires only time and diligence.

“You don’t have a life”

We all choose the life we love, and I enjoy the heck out of mine. Grew up in a family of 6 - we laugh together because we all know my life choices are crazy (who adopts 9 cats? yes I’m that person too.)

It’s absolutely not normal; but it’s also probably far from the “lone 20 year old in a basement who has not showered for weeks and is anti-social” that you’re picturing.

I do spend time with family, and recently my new nephew. I chat with friends online, I play games every week. I go to the dentist, I take care of myself. I take care of my cats, and spoil them in ways you can’t really fathom.

The reason I can spend so much time doing what I love is because:

  • I don’t have kids, nor a significant other. That’s a tradeoff.
  • I get groceries delivered, I’d rather spend the time coding.
  • I make sure I have deep technical problems I need to think through and solve, and solve it while I am making meals, eating, or doing chores.
  • I run 6 miles many days of the week to keep healthy. I do it while writing code, using a standing desk treadmill.

Most of my time is spent in a large, luxurious ~2500 sq/ft home. Just me and my 9 cats all living like monarchs, cozy and coding away at my dreams.

I regret nothing. If I die this way, I’d go out happy.

“That’s not healthy”

It’s completely 100% OK if at this point you’re just feeling a bit like:

Well I don't like that

I know this lifestyle isn’t for everyone. It’s not for you.

And I don’t think it makes me “exceptional” (in a better-than-you way). I’m just a people, struggling with a very different lifestyle than you.

I feel strongly you should never feel compelled or required to do what I am doing. Any company, manager, or person asking you to do so is horrible and you should get out quick. I don’t want to contribute to that culture or feed it.

But-I love what I’m doing. I love the amount of progress I’m able to achieve every day. I love my time spent solving problems. I love what I’ve achieved so far. I want to go further than ever before - I’ve been marathon coding for as long as I can remember, and I’m not going to stop. I need to see how far I can go.

I love the choices I’ve made in life. I hope you love yours too.

Thanks for reading

Please send your hate to @slimsag on Twitter or to the comments section wherever this ends up, I’ll see you there! 😉

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