Many people see the Instagram posts of programmer's sipping luxurious coffee in bed with their laptops at an awkward angle that would not doubt cause some form of neck pain after just 10 minutes, and wonder how they too can have such a grandiose lifestyle. My question is, where does that coffee cup go after that sip? You are in the middle of bed. You'd have to reach over to a stand of some kind each time you want to take a drink. That sounds stressful.
Being a professional programmer is much different than being an Instagram model. For one, you are not in bed. You are in traffic probably, on your way to an 8am meeting with your team as you discuss the quarterly earnings and product roadmap. You might have a daily standup that you are responsible for as well. You sip your coffee as you narrowly avoid semi's inches from you as you mentally prepare a speech that sounds like you have been carrying the company on your back alone. You might arrive late, as 8am meetings shouldn't be a thing. A few times, you will arrive late, with this slight guilty stoop as you walk into an already heated room.
And then you sit there, drowsy perhaps, looking out a window wondering why you can't be hiking or playing with your dogs. Or sitting in bed sipping on luxurious coffee with your laptop at a 135% angle from your neck. Your daily stand up goes well. You forgot everything you had planned on the drive there. You just mumble the usual 'It's getting there. This week I'll be done', to a room of people that feel equally the way that you do.
As you walk back to your desk, you think about lunch 4 hours away. You hope your best lunch companion isn't caught up doing something, otherwise you're probably eating alone again. Your task list is full and your email inbox is continuously growing informing you of server states and company updates which may or may not have anything to do with your work. By all looks and means, you are busy.
And you spend a few hours on the task that you said you would have done by the end of the week. Maybe you should have said two weeks. Or maybe you'll watch a YouTube video before you get started with work. You've been at the company long enough, where you can openly play YouTube videos and most people won't bat an eye. That's just who you are now.
Lunch time comes and you guessed it. Looks like you are eating at your desk. You don't mind, as you can finish up that YouTube video you were watching. 15 minutes later your lunch is gone and you can either get back to work, or find another way to distract yourself for the rest of the 45 minutes. So you take a walk. It's a nice day out anyhow. You put on your favorite audiobook on being present in the moment and you walk a few blocks away. Just far enough, where you feel like you are not at work anymore.
By the end of the day, you responded to a few emails and answered a few questions from your project managers and fixed a bug or two. And it felt good. You maybe even stayed a bit late to avoid traffic and have a whole empty office to yourself. You ate lunch alone sure, but now your team is sitting there too, doing the same thing you are. You flip your chair and have an impromptu meeting about what you are working on and what you had for lunch. The sun sets outside, and your workday approaches an end. It was an okay day.
So is being a programmer stressful? It depends. I'd wager its probably more stressful to carefully place 20 items on your bed in order to snap 100+ photos just to pick 1 and erase all the others. Being a programmer is as stressful as any other job out there. Every job has meetings and every job has emails these days. Your friends work there and you enjoy lunch together when you can. And when you can't, you make the best of the moment. You make people's jobs easier by sharing your knowledge with them and you make broken code work. Maybe the 1 small bug fix isn't a big deal in it of itself, but in that year, they've added up and made a noticeable difference.
It's only as stressful as you allow it be in the end. Enjoy the good times and find a way to get through the dull and tedious ones. It's just a part of your story in the end. One tiny part of a much larger whole.
Walter Guevara is a software engineer, startup founder and currently teaches programming for a coding bootcamp. He is currently building things that don't yet exist.