When programming becomes stale…

Published on and tagged with life  programming

Over the last few weeks I noticed a growing feeling that programming becomes stale for me. And as a consequence, the motivation to program dropped more and more. Programming just doesn’t feel right anymore. I don’t know exactly why that happened. But I think it has to do with my ignorance of my purpose in life.

So, how to deal with such a situation?

I think the most important step is to reduce the activity which makes you unhappy as soon as possible to avoid something worse like a breakdown or a burn out. Don’t stave it off, there is never an ideal time for such things!

The next step is to define what you want to do in the future. Should you still program? And if yes, how much? And what else could you do to earn money in the future? Difficult questions. Questions to which I don’t have answers yet…

From the answers to those (and probably other) questions you can then derive goals and a strategy to achieve them. The last step is to implement this strategy.

As you see, life comes with ups and downs. Nobody likes downs, but I think they are a good opportunity to learn. And the next up comes surely ;-)

22 comments baked

  • Brendon Kozlowski

    I felt this way when I started my higher education. I went to college to learn to program so I could become the “next gaming programmer” with all the bells and whistles of playing video games for a living – even though I now know that’s not how it works. Regardless, I got tired of all the basic programming theory that related to shell-based programming on the desktop. Where were all the bells and whistles? Who cares about BANK programs? How many solution differentiations can I possibly create on a single problem statement?

    This is when I found Perl. It was my savior. Because it was a programming language, I got to solve puzzles (that aspect of my mind is the strongest), but I also got to invoke my artistically creative side (programming – solving problems – is artistic, in my mind) as well. I completely dropped the programming-only degree (well, after getting the first level degree anyway) and found a school that offered a higher level degree on Web Development. I now sit proudly in an organization dealing with “How do I send an attachment?” on a daily basis, but I get to do what I love.

    Oh, and the easy questions are nice so long as they don’t break my concentration. They all think I’m some super genius and I saved the day – always nice to take a break AND get compliments for it.

    When I get home, I try to exercise: go for a run, bike, rollerblade, etc… It adds some physical activity to the mix. I then will converse with friends or family, play tennis, read a book or watch TV, or usually just learn more about programming – but that time should be your own regardless of what’s done with it.

    Luckily I have at least 5 projects I’m working on at any given time, so if I need to move away from programming for awhile, I can do some database work, or some artwork, or marketing. If I get tired of any one type of thing, I can just do something else and still get ahead.

  • Jetpac Champion

    You know this is just exactly how I’ve been feeling these past few weeks. It’s not a great feeling being sort of lost like this all of a sudden but like you say – the next up comes surely

  • Poncho

    I know exactly how you feel. I went through a similar period a good while back, with work piling on from all directions (in my day job) and the death of a close family member, the dreaded depression started tapping on my shoulder.

    I kept working hoping that I would just get used to it and everything would be OK, but it wasn’t. After putting it off for a whole three years I eventually had to quit my job for the sake of sanity, went and got some counselling and got a job as a waiter. The money was terrible, but the job was so easy compared to programming that I stayed with it for almost three years!

    It still surprises me how much I enjoyed that time, there was a level of comradeship and shared experience that has really stayed with me. Nearly three years after leaving the restaurant job and getting back to programming, I stay in touch with my work-mates, some of whom are long gone from this country and are dotted around the world doing different things. It also improved my temperament more than anything I have experienced. You kind of HAVE to be nice to customers in a restaurant :)

    I’m certainly not suggesting you get a job as a waiter, for one thing the pay is generally minimum wage, but I would suggest taking some time out and getting your bearings.

    With work taking up so much of our lives, it’s vitally important to be comfortable and content, not only in the workplace but with the type of work you are doing. When all is said and done, if you are not happy with your job, you won’t be happy in life.

    Good luck and give yourself a break!


  • Felix Geisendörfer

    Hey Daniel,

    I’d suggest you to grab a copy of:


    and see where you can take it. Now that being said I think that the guy who wrote it is full of shit in a way but I don’t think he’s a lier per say. He just took unusual paths to where he is now ; ).

    Anyway, I recently experienced some similar feelings like you. The solution I’ll try out is to do what I always tell people is the coolest aspect of my job: “I could do it from anywhere in the world”. For the past year or two I’ve just being telling this to people without actually leaving the country at all. Now in the next couple of months I’ll try to get some coding done while enjoying tropic beaches or beautiful ski slopes. I can already feel that I’m going to like it ^^.

    So if you feel like joining me send me an email and we’ll work out some cool trips ; ).

  • Tyler Rooney

    Don’t worry, this feeling happens everyone. Especially people who are driven into an occupation by a desire to create something greater than themselves. Writers, painters, and yes, even programmers.

    Bad news? Your already in burn out. Good news? You’ve earned the right to take some time off, and you’ll probably return with more energy.

    Your blogs a nice piece of work. I can’t see the code or critique a function call, but the end result? People reading, writing, and learning from one another. Nothing better than that.

  • http://tariquesani.net/

    I don’t know how old you are but I am 40 and have changed my profession 4 times… Photographer, Stock Broker, Doctor and now a Programmer, perhaps in another 5 to 7 years I will finally settle down to be a Farmer

    I guess I found/realized my purpose in life in my early 30ies – it was “to be happy” and the key I discovered is “follow your happiness where ever it takes you” it is not easy and there still will be periods of pain but in the end you have to do something which you feel is worth your while. Everything else is secondary

  • cakebaker

    @all: Thanks for your comments. A more detailed response follows ;-)

  • Boris Barroso

    Iam also a programmer and I felt something similar like two years ago, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me and why there were those dammed downs in life. I’ve made a quick search in google and find a buddist page, Iam not a buddist but I practice meditation. Meditation really helps to understand your innerself and comprend that life is full of ups and downs but most of the times this is a trick of our mind that is always wanting something else. It may help you a course of Vipassana Meditation, it’s basical course it’s kind of hard but I can asure you that if you do it correctly you will get out of the course very happy.
    Enjoy Life don’t waste it with the mind tricks.

  • cakebaker

    @Brendon: Cool to hear that you do what you love :) During my apprenticeship in the IT department of a company I worked in a very similar environment as you describe. It was satisfying to help people with their computer/software problems and to be the “genius”. But on the other hand it sucks when others define your day and you don’t get your stuff done due to all the interruptions…

    The evening is usually computer-free time for me, that’s when I exercise, read books, whatever. That works fine for me. But what I have to do is to diversify my projects more, up to now all projects were similar.

    @Poncho: I don’t think I need an easier job, rather the contrary is true ;-) But I agree with you that it is a good experience to work in a completely different field. During my school time I helped a local farmer during harvest times. It was hard work. But it was a very good atmosphere, and I never valued a coffee break more than during those times.

    And yes, I give myself a break to think :)

    @Felix: Thanks for the book tip, but I already read that book recently ;-) What should I say? It contains some good ideas, but the book is imo overhyped.

    At least for me the primary advantage of “working anywhere” is that I do not have to commute to some office and that a client can be located anywhere in the world. That my location can be anywhere, too, is not so important to me, as I like my location ;-) But I can imagine to live around two months per year abroad. But first I have to re-establish an income stream ;-)

    @Tyler: I don’t think I am burned out. The energy is not gone, it is still there. It is just the programming which doesn’t feel right anymore.

    Oh, and thank you for your compliment :)

    @Tarique: I am 28, and I am still in the same profession as when I started my career. So I think it is just time for a change and new challenges.

    @Boris: Thanks for your comment. I’m experimenting with meditation, but up to now I haven’t found the right “setting” for me.

  • michael

    Daniel, i found your post quiet liberating, and based on the replies, no matter where we are from, no matter our culture, no matter our geography etc etc, we are all searching – we as humans are on the great search for meaning and purpose. I, unfortunately have no answers, i too feel at a loss, or a loose end, or a dead end at points in time, to a greater or lesser degree, i think its what they term “the human condition”, its what drives us all. On a brighter point, maybe you’ve hit on a idea for a website, something where people discuss “forks in the road”. Anyway, had a lot to say on this issue, but alas could have filled up chapters on the issue – good luck to you and your endeavours, their is light at the end of the tunnel.

  • Franck06l

    This kind of period happen to everyone. I am in programming for almost 20 years. I have had moment where motivation is gone, lot of self questioning but a new project comes and the passion starts again. It seems that programming is the only thing I can do without being bored on the long way.
    I had other “passion” such as motorbike, cycling etc ,, but they all have passed except some : friends, women and programming.
    Maybe having a break will make you realize that actually you miss programming ? Or this break will open your mind to another “passion” ?
    Anyway, if you want take a break around Monaco (I know it’s not California, but south of France is not that bad), I could even find you a full/part time job., and guess .. in programming. :-)
    Have a good rest and whatever you do, I wish you the best. if you decide to travel around southern Europe, mail me.

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  • cakebaker

    @michael: Thanks for your great comment. I am thinking about your website idea currently, and so it is possible I will launch such a site soon.

    @Franck06l: Well, I realized I like the conceptual level of programming (software engineering), but not the implementation. But the latter dominated…

    Thanks for your offer. I will mail you, if I should visit the south of France (at the moment it is not planned for this year).

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  • James Eggers

    This has happened to me only about 2 weeks ago. Since then programming has become boring as well as designing web interfaces for my web apps. I think this is because I know how to use php + html + css extremely well. It just gets boring when there is nothing else to ‘learn’ besides some functions built in to php.

    I’m going to learn Ruby or Perl, maybe using these languages will make me be less bored.

  • cakebaker

    @James: Thanks for your comment!

    Yes, I can imagine how you feel. Learning a new programming language is a good way to escape such a situation and to discover new stuff (I’m currently learning Ruby myself). However, if you are bored from programming itself or from building web apps, then changing the programming language won’t help much…

    Anyway, I hope you find something that is more enjoyable and less boring :)

  • James Eggers


    I’m not bored of programming as such, just php + codeigniter. Codeigniter makes things much more complicated…

  • cakebaker

    @James: In that case it is a probably good idea to learn something new, be it a new PHP framework or a new programming language. If you want to be up and running as soon as possible, then the first option is better, as you can build on your existing PHP knowledge, whereas the second option allows you to learn more, though it probably takes longer…

  • Glavy

    bored ..change your profession :-))

  • cakebaker

    @Glavy: This is easier said than done. However, for some this is probably the right thing to do. For others, it is enough to change some part of their job, for example, moving to another company/team or doing more conceptual work.

    But before you can look for a solution you have to figure out why you are bored.

  • phil

    Problem here is that i dont know what to program.

  • cakebaker

    @phil: Sounds familiar. Unfortunately, I don’t have found a satisfying answer to this question for myself yet… The standard answer is to scratch your own itch. This works from time to time, but often there is no such an itch… Another option is to scratch the itch from someone else, e.g. from a family member or a friend.

    I’m sorry I can’t provide a better answer…

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