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Programmers and Depression

Three years ago, I was at the top of my game:  Eager to learn, eager to produce.  Perhaps a lot of my energy was derived from the nonstop calls I got from recruiters, or perhaps the continual unexpected salary increases - I don't know. 

Today, I barely have enough motivation to get my work done.  My pay's been cut.  (Everybody who hasn't been laid off has taken a pay cut.)  Benefits have been slashed left and right.  Privilege after privilege has been taken away (i.e. free soda, working from home, casual dress, etc.)  I don't care about doing things well - I wouldn't get rewarded even if I created the greatest software ever written by man.  I really doubt that being a developer is a viable career path, and I've given up on the pipe dream of ever retiring.

Are there lot's of developers who feel really depressed?  Is there a reason to produce good code even though you won't be held accountable for substandard code?  (In plenty of cases, if you _do_ produce good code, it'll make some superior feel inferior, and you'll be worse off for it.)

If you do keep a positive disposition even when things look bleak, how do you do it?

Monday, February 9, 2004

Well Anon, the only advice I have for you is that work is what gives you money to do the rest of the things in your life.  Don't try and find meaning and purpose in your work, you won't find it (that is why it is called work).  Find meaning and purpose outside of work. Get involved, be active in your community, attend church. 
Don't see work as your life.  See work as a means to enjoy the part of your life outside of work.

Keep your chin up.

Matt Watson
Monday, February 9, 2004

My advice is to see the writing on the wall and move on.  If the company is de-motivating its workers that much, then there's a good chance that it is in a death spiral.  It may or may not stop, but in the meantime it's dragging you down with it.

Look for a new job.  Look hard.


Steve Barbour
Monday, February 9, 2004

Leave your job. Get a new one.

Do it soon.

Mr Jack
Monday, February 9, 2004

>> "Leave your job. Get a new one."

But aren't these kinds of demoralizing things happening across the board in our industry?

Monday, February 9, 2004


I worked in a god awful job for two years, it got steadily worse all the time I was there. Eventually I finally got my shit together and left.

The grass is greened here.

Find a small company with a stable buisness and you'll be fine.

Mr Jack
Monday, February 9, 2004

Again, no.

Granted, your pay loss may have you still making more than I make in adjusted dollars (IT market is very light here in the semi-rural south), but even I don't have to put up with thinking that I'm working somewhere where they would punish me for doing well.

Hey, you might have to take a temporary pay cut, but to me that beats feeling depressed all the time.


Steve Barbour
Monday, February 9, 2004

People spend quite a bit of their lives at work. At times you see your boss and co-workers more than you see your family. Shouldn't it be worth it?

A job which serves the only purpose of making money will eventually burn you out. Even if you had a six figure salary, a job that doesn't satisfy you and make you say "Oh boy! I get to go back there and continue where I left off" when you wake up in the morning, is simply not worth it. You will not have the feeling of belonging, your life will be meaningless, and you'll get depressed as you are right now.

I'd say be brave and start looking for a new job or perhaps a new career. People tend to start feeling secure where they currently are. They'll even invent reasons to jastify not leaving the place even though they know deep inside they shouldn't be spending another second there.

I'd say move on before your soul is completely killed by being somewhere you don't want to be. Better yet, as someone else mentioned, what if it gets worse and you get kicked out anyway. Take initiative. Make your life a great place to live in. If you are good at what you do, you'll be sought after no matter what. Don't let moron managers take that away from you and make you feel inferior.

By the way, Joel has some nice articles about the work place. I can't remember exact titles, but if you search for them, you'll find them.

Monday, February 9, 2004

"Don't try and find meaning and purpose in your work, you won't find it (that is why it is called work).  "

Do mean to say that one shouldn't find their purpose in life through their work, or that one shouldn't find purpose in their work? I'd agree that it's a dead-end street to find your life's purpose in work, but I'd wholly disagree that you can't find meaning in the work that you do.

As the old saying goes "Do what you love to do, and you'll never work another day in your life."

I can't imagine doing anything else for a living. I feel a twinge of guilt when someone comments "Mark sure does work a lot of hours." Heck, it ain't work. I'd be doing this on my free time if I did something else for a living.

Not to say that there won't be jobs or periods of time when it becomes drudgery because of circumstances or pin-headed bosses. That's where having a passion for this stuff will push you through, or at least push you into the next job!

Mark Hoffman
Monday, February 9, 2004

There's a book "Taking Care of Business" by a guy david Viscott who was a pretty good psychiatrist. He dealt with this issue all the time. Not just programmers, but in all fields. The problem is that work is your family but it should not be. Why? Because they are NOT your family. If it comes down to it, they will lay you off or screw you over. That is life That is 'business'. Now, your own personal networks of family and close friends and groups you choose to be with hopefully do not screw you over like in the dog eat dog buisness world. That's why you need them. And its also why you need to start working 40 hours a weke and go home at the end of each 8 hour shift and then spend your free time with people who care about you as opposed to people who are pretending to be nice just as long as they thing you have something they want.

Take Care of Your Own
Monday, February 9, 2004

> The problem is that work is your family but it should not be. Why? Because they are NOT your family. If it comes down to it, they will lay you off or screw you over. <

And by extention, you don't really care about the business, you care about not getting fired, so you subvert and repress your natural desires (to do good work, even if it means rocking the boat) in favor of what you think your boss wants.

Also, don't discount Seasonal Affective Disorder. When's the last time you spent any time in the sun?
Monday, February 9, 2004

Here is an uplifting article:

Why shouldn't you find your dream job (whatever or wherever it might be) and make every second of it a happy experience?  :)

Monday, February 9, 2004

Been there.. find a new job, like everyone else said. That's important.. While that's happening though...

Find some other interests.. I went back to reading, from about 1 novel or so a month to about 2-3 a week. Find something that you're interested in (yes, sit down and watch TV if you must).

I know it is lousy to suggest this, but if you're not gaining anything but depression from your work, then it is well to try and limit the number of hours you spend there.. speed through your work, try to bring some of it home. Don't compromise on how much work you do (or you may be fired), but spare time to think of more uplifting, important (to you) activities to do..

and did I mention, find another job ? Things are looking up now, you know. I would prefer to look around for a job now than in 2001 (which was when I had a similar crisis)

deja vu
Monday, February 9, 2004

I don't know if this is good advice, but think back to when you were happier and start doing the things you were doing back then. If those things were programming it may not work so well, but if those things were spending time with friends, playing video games, exercising, and so on go on and do it. Some of this stuff needs to wait for warm weather, but not all of it. I heard recently about an indoor basketball court you can rent by the hour.

A lot of this is probably breaking out of the inertia you're currently experiencing. Once you do that, things should start to pick up.

Start doodling comics, you can be the next User Friendly or Dilbert. :) Start a Weblog about how miserable the beauracracy is at your work place. Detail all the intracacies, and I'm sure you'll shoot up to #1 in no time. Find a nearby gym and start exercising on your lunch hour. Start working on your dream product (I have 3 or 4 things I'd love to see made, probably more if I thought about it more). Be determined to eat lunch in a different location every day for a month. Find a local bar and go there after work, it might start giving you something to look foward to every day. Adopt a puppy, well, a kitten may make more sense if you live alone, and take a week off to spend with it. Take a vacation the "remind me why I don't just quit my job and live here?" type. Develop conspiracy theories and blog about them (just don't choose the same fake ones I choose). Start coding hidden "features" into your companies apps, like video games that will only become available in 2010. Read a good book. Start sending flowers to someone at work as a secret admirer. Make them out of Postit Notes. Rather than make your code look functional, make it spell out interesting things in ASCII art. Write a program that will format any code this way. Come up with a really look list of silly things to do. Try and figure out whether or not your boss would pass the Turing test.

Write a killer app (an app that kills other apps, but only other killer apps, see who can write the strongest app). Have a contest with the other programmers in your company to see who can write the best (fill in the blank) application in 1 week. Publish your weekly apps to a pseudo anonymous website. Write a program that, based on scientific principles, will help you get out of your depression. Create a networking site called Fukit that allows you to leave anonymous hate messages for anyone.


Build a kite and fly it from the tallest building you have access too. Paint forks and knives next to every manhole cover in your city. Put an X-10 camera in a bubble and tie a brick to it and throw it into a body of water. Build a robot that you think could go to Mars. Make a home movie about the Martians that attack it. Plot your revenge on the Martians.
Monday, February 9, 2004

The fork and knife next to a manhole cover is the best idea I've ever heard on this forum. Did you come up with that yourself, or did you see it somewhere? If you saw it somewhere, do you have a link with examples?

Too bad it's not exactly legal, or else my city would soon have plenty of manhole cover place settings.

Monday, February 9, 2004


I just copied your comment to my desktop.  That is the MOST inspirational post I've seen in a long time.

Much better than the typical "suck it up" or "welcome to life" comments that usually get posted.

Monday, February 9, 2004

Mark Said :

"Start a Weblog about how miserable the beauracracy is at your work place"

Worked for Philo :)

Monday, February 9, 2004

To a certain degree, market realities dictate less perks for most programmers these days; free sode? fine, keep it.  But reverting away from casual dress?  That one boggles my mind and makes me think your bosses have gone crazy and are just being mean because they can get away with it. 

Unless job cuts mean that programmers at your workplace have to interface with clients a lot more, I don't see why they'd cut out casual dress....

Mr. Fancypants
Monday, February 9, 2004

Just to expand on one of MarkTAW's many great suggestions, consider volunteering at an animal shelter or animal rescue organization.  The little guys need all the help they can get.

For example, most shelters have a need for foster parents to raise baby kittens for a few months until they're old enough to be adopted (when they're around 8 or 12 weeks.)  My partner and I took in two orphans last summer, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences imaginable. 

There are lots of other ways to help, too -- check with your local shelter for details.

Robert Jacobson
Monday, February 9, 2004

> Today, I barely have enough motivation to get my work done.  My pay's been cut.  (Everybody who hasn't been laid off has taken a pay cut.)  Benefits have been slashed left and right.  Privilege after privilege has been taken away (i.e. free soda, working from home, casual dress, etc.) 

I'm gonna come in from another angle.  You sound a little spoiled.  So you got a paycut?  Well, perhaps you were overpaid before?  If so, then be content with market rates. 
* No free soda?  Who gives a shit?  Grow up. 
* No work from home?  Get over it, most people don't have this option
* No casual dress?  Wear a suit.  Get over it.

If you don't care about your job, and are burnt out, that's one thing.  But don't confuse those petty trivialities with your more potential burn-out issue. 

Monday, February 9, 2004

Actually, I thought of it in High School. I was going to start a band with one of my friends and my sister and we needed a name. Out of nowhere came the utterly rediculous name Plastic Fork Funk Band.

Then, the fork/knife thing came as an idea for marketing.

We used to spend a lot of time... like all night every night and all day every day on skates. Rather than sitting around talking, we skated around talking, and it's really amazing how the brain just starts to work if you stop sitting down. This is when we came up with the theory that our brains were located in our asses, and that's why hey didn't work while we were sitting on them.
Monday, February 9, 2004

Thanks, everyone, for the ideas.  They were all interesting, and I'll look into them...  And to Robert Jacobson, as it happens, my dog died recently, and I currently live in a place that won't allow me to own a new pet, so I started to take in dogs & cats over the weekends from our local shelter.  It is very enjoyable for me and hopefully for the dogs & cats.  (BTW, isn't the tech questions guy concerned about dogs & cats in shelters too?)

Monday, February 9, 2004

I think you're not unhappy about the lack of pay and perks.  The problem is you were never happy at that place to begin with, but the high pay and perks made it feel "worth it."  As Optimist said,

"They'll even invent reasons to jastify not leaving the place even though they know deep inside they shouldn't be spending another second there."

It took me 3 years after I started my career to realize I was unhappy.  Then I spent another 3 years feeling depressed, and hopeless, because I thought there was nothing I could do about my situation.

During that time I was slowly building the attitude and skills (not talking job requirement skills here) to be able to find a satisfying job, which was critical, but I was still mentally trapped, like a broken-in circus elephant who thinks it's chained up even though it's free to escape.  It took a big kick in the butt, via a drastic life change, to help knock me out of the rut I was in.  Then I was able to see things much more clearly.  Though my future happiness isn't any more guranteed than it was before, I feel more confident and have more hope, because I've learned a lot of important things from the people around me, and I've learned to be more proactive in my life.

Mark's advice to change your daily routine is an important one.  He talks about breaking your inertia.  If you do the same thing every day, you start to think the same way every day.  And it's your current thinking that has you stuck in your current situation.  It's so odd, but sometimes changing the most trivial aspects of your routine can have drastic effects.  Though if you're in a big rut, you might need a bigger kick.  Then again, don't quit your job cold turkey, sell all your posessions, and become a street performer.  I'm pretty sure you'll be unhappy doing that too ;_)

Read this to learn one way to become proactive in your job search:  One of the key lessons is building good relationships with people will help you find the right job, and will help you enjoy your work.  People will also teach you a lot of things you never thought you needed to learn, if you learn to listen.

Then read the first few chapters of "First, Break All The Rules."  Yes it's a book about managing others, but don't well all have to manage ourselves first?  The most important lesson you can get out of that book is to not waste your life trying to improve your weaknesses.  You only put enough work into them so they no longer become a liability (bring your F grade up to a C, not an A).  Or find ways to compensate for them.  Or better yet, find a job where your weaknesses are a non-issue.  Then spend all your energy making your strengths even stronger.

Ah well, I dunno how helpful all of that was.  Just remember you're not alone in how you feel.  Sadly a lot of people are unhappy with their careers.  School for sure doesn't teach you how to succeed in life, and your parents can't teach you what they've never learned for themselves.

Anyways, take care and best of luck to you.

Monday, February 9, 2004

Find a pastime or a hobby. Something that involves physical activity is good. Some suggestions:

Painting (suggested before), but going for  a walk in the country and stopping to sketch in watercolours rocks!

Ski-ing (or other snow sports). Great exercise, lovely environment, and a great way to spend all your time in the office dreaming about being elsewhere.

Surfing. If you live anywhere near the ocean I reccomend this one. It is bloody hard to do, but incredibly rewarding when it works. And frankly there are very few things that comapre with the thrill of being in the water at dawn on a winters morning, with a perfect swell in front of you....and the buzz keeps you going all day.

Running. Go for a run in your lunch break. It is a really good way of relieving stress, getting some fresh air and feeling fitter. It is also surprising how many people you can meet doing this. If you aren't very fit, take it easy to begin with. Bear in mind that the hardest bit of going running is getting to the point where you can run a mile without wanting to die!

Hope it all works out. Regards

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

This is a good article, that goes along with some of MarkTAW's comments:

J. D. Trollinger
Tuesday, February 10, 2004

so i am not the only one ...
no ..
so i was not the only one ...

Prashant Jain
Tuesday, July 20, 2004

The real problem is: How do you find a non-depressing job in the software industry? Everyplace I've ever seen or heard of in the industry exhibits the worst characteristics of the race to the bottom. Work nights, weekends and holidays to get a 12-month project done in 3 months and your reward will be to have management spec the next project for 2 months. (Don't say that we need clueful management - in my experience all management will be driven into these kinds of decisions by business pressures - other companies that promise it in 2 months will get the business instead). It would be nice, though, to have managers that realized that if you're intelligent enough to create good products, it's difficult to swallow their typical BS.
The best reward you can hope for is to buy 1/1000 of the 20% of the company that the VC's don't own at your own expense. Try to do things right, advocate for the customer or fix extra bugs, only to watch all semblance of quality get squeezed out by the race to hack together the next version in time to get it sold. (Unless you're selling to end-users, you're at the mercy of the most pointy-haired person in the customer chain).
My particular problem is: Software is the only thing I can do that makes enough money to support a family (maybe if I spent the legally-requisite 4 years scrimping along as an electrician's helper, I could get my license and make OK money). Don't think I could become a car salesman or a manager any more so than I could become a woman. Therefore my choices are to stick with an inherently-depressing industry, or start making choices like "which week can I buy groceries given that health insurance is due this month?"

Corey Mutter
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

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