Psychological deformation of programmers. A look from both sides of the barricades

    The very presence of psychological deformation in any profession, as a rule, is a rather controversial point in view of the fact that it manifests itself differently in different people. However, the general trend can be identified and, perhaps, the time has come when it is possible to say quite boldly that programmers still have their own special psychological portrait that is due to their professional activity.

    I often came across such an opinion and did not attach much importance to it, but when the female team of our organization congratulated the programmers on February 23, having kindly called them “space troops”, I decided to nevertheless put certain emphasis on this issue, because one of my professions is directly related to psychoanalysis. And the bash is no longer silent .

    It’s worth noting right away that a programmer spends a lot of time at a computer, therefore, many of the items listed are not only specific to programmers, but also to “computer scientists” in general.


    Every programmer knows that good and high-quality work on the code requires a very high degree of immersion in the code. Someone tries to isolate themselves with headphones, someone sets timers, turns off all external stimuli, etc. The degree of concentration when working as a programmer is comparable to working at a nuclear station. Accordingly, all this causes increased irritation when this process is interrupted, which is outwardly perceived by uninitiated people as “confusion at work”, etc.

    In real life, this can also cause its effects, such as household chores, too, out of habit, begin to be carried out in a hyperconcentration mode. For example, during the cleaning of an apartment, a programmer will not simultaneously think about a million things or chat uncontrollably on the phone. Rather, he will immerse himself in some sort of his task (maybe in the cleaning itself) and will simply deal with the process. It is not necessary for a programmer to “demand external attention” when he is loaded into code or some task.

    Immersion in internal images and designs

    The work of a programmer has its own specificity, which in a similar form is most inherent in the profession of an engineer-inventor. If you are familiar with the work of Nikola Tesla, you can remember how he described what is happening in his head. In short, in Tesla’s head he could build a mechanism, start it and even “scroll in time” his work in order to understand what details will wear out and where problems may arise in the future. No less complex constructions arise in the process of professional work of a programmer. This effect is called figurative-sensual construction. If the average person sees only character sets on the screen, then in the programmer’s head this code turns into whole parts of the world. As reading a book creates images and experiences in a person, so the code is able to do the same with a programmer. That is why programmers “feel” the code, know when it is “beautiful”, when it is “dirty”, whether it will work, etc. For some reason, a good programmer is comparable to a writer of fiction.

    In real life, this manifests itself in excessive immersion in oneself, especially if the programmer is trying to understand something. If the deformation is significant, then the programmer can begin to build a whole scheme of what is happening now. That is why often “constructed schemes of social interactions”, for example, politics, cause programmers to feel “dirty code” and rejection. In everyday life, this can sometimes be partially perceived as a mild form of autism, although in fact it is not. A person is quite adequate and open to interaction with the outside world, but the mechanisms of interaction themselves have the indicated specificity.

    Low level of social interaction and its diversity in everyday work

    This moment is not “de facto”, however, it still occurs periodically and can play a certain role in the deformation of the psyche. Since the programmer spends most of his working time in the world of code, and the only “interlocutors” in it are “methods, functions, objects, modules, packages, etc.”, respectively, the level of social interaction among programmers is usually lower, than in most professions. This is not so much connected with how many people are involved in the work, but with whether the person himself is thinking about other people at the moment. If the work of the janitor can hardly be called “actively social,” nevertheless, the janitor himself can at this moment reflect on his wife, children, friends, etc. But for the programmer, there is no such possibility, he must be immersed in the code. And although there is often a work collective, but the team, as a rule, the same programmers. It is sometimes difficult for programmers to work alongside people of other professions. So if the degree of deformation in the team is high, then this only exacerbates this factor (social diversity of relations).

    Heightened perception of causal relationships

    Any code should work, but in order to write working code, you need to understand the structure of cause-effect relationships of this code. Simply put, “what, why, and how happens,” as well as “what happens if something does not happen as expected.” All this leaves its mark on human thinking. This way of thinking is also called the “technical mindset” when a person tries to find a rational explanation for everything and understand the cause-effect relationship. Individual programmers, in addition to writing code, are often drawn into technical aspects, such as developing equipment for their needs (hello to "soldering irons"). Sometimes this can reach unique add-ins in the psyche. For example, when a girl’s complex bra clasp is as interesting as what this bra hides.

    From the outside, this can often be perceived as "confusion over the little things." Something that is not of interest to most people in the programmer can generate huge streams of thought. Accordingly, since the volume of the application of mental effort is not proportional, the conclusions that the programmer makes about the effects of the real world can sometimes seem "eccentric" and be perceived with some surprise. But what is surprising, if you ask the programmer why he decided so, then most likely you will get a whole chain of cause and effect relationships, and almost always quite reasonable ones. In general, this happens in the head of every person, but it is precisely with programmers that this point is often sharpened and sometimes it is able to draw for analysis those analogies that would not have occurred to an ordinary person.

    Getting used to formalized task setting

    Since the programmer must create code that should work exactly as it is required for the task, the habit of doing what has been said is gradually flowing into other areas of life. But since in most cases of social interaction nonverbal perception, "guessing" and "thinking out" take place, the feeling of concretization is aggravated among programmers.

    Not just to say that programmers cannot read minds and predict the actions of other people, but rather they prefer to ask an extra question than to “redo it again” later. Sending a programmer to the store? Say one more sentence, but save him and yourself from unnecessary questions. For example, do not "buy eggs", but "buy a dozen eggs of the first grade fresher." And do not take it as a “robot” if you get a detailed instruction with a bunch of “unnecessary details” to your question. He is trying to do everything right. If for the majority “be easier” is “say less”, for programmers “be easier” it is often “say more precisely”.

    Victims of Engineering Glamor

    I venture to be "eaten alive", but at the moment it still requires coverage in the framework of this article. It will be not so much about programmers, but about "computer scientists." Glamor is a normal and natural product of human needs, in short, the motto of glamor can be called "Who is cooler," respectively, for real life, these are "cars, clothes, loot, etc.". In the field of “engineering glamor”, the same principle “Who is cooler," but with different criteria, applies. Since the main concentration of the “computer technician” is directed not at other people, as in the “glamor of the real world”, but at his own inner world of images and cause-effect relationships, accordingly, the goals here are pursued from the realm of this world. The latest smart phone with features; powerful computer / server / laptop to make everything run even faster; Fresh programs which make driving an autocomplete 32 milliseconds faster; new applications with smoother scrolling and a fashionable voice recognizer; knowledge of the secret features of the new version of the compiler, etc.
    Both in “real glamor” and in “engineering” there are “icons”, for example, a recent article about the US Robotics modem is a clear example of this.
    So don’t ask “why does he need the same phone” and don’t be surprised at the answer “he’s not the same, right there are 500 megahertz stronger percent”.
    An interesting point. In some cases, “engineering glamor” can be suppressed by an exacerbated requirement for causation. That is, a new computer will not be bought until its power is really needed.


    Actually, the entire series "The Big Bang Theory" is built on the hyperbolas of the phenomena that were described above. If one does not exaggerate so much what is shown in the TBV, then on the whole it would be a similar picture that would be observed in a person who would be significantly exposed to all the indicated effects of the programmer's work.

    Taking into account everything described, not without justification, programmers are perceived as “space comrades,” but in my subjective opinion, I want to say that if it weren’t for the voluntary choice of those who join the ranks of programmers, they would be worth giving “milk for harm,” but this case is of a psychological nature.

    Nevertheless, each person builds his own life and the fact of psychological deformation of the “hard workers of the code” is not so great. Most have family, friends, interests other than code and computer. So do not get fooled by the template "yes he is a programmer." This is not a diagnosis, it’s just a way of thinking)

    Evgeny Lexunin,
    “Reducing Entropy in Development”

    UPD :
    A small bonus from ikra user : Live post “Don’t wake a programmer” .

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