Programmer Burnout – When Is Your Last Commit?

Unknowing to me, on June 15TH 2021, due to programmer burnout, I made my last commit.

It looked so innocent, so ordinary:

BUG FIX - wrong question numbers

I had no idea it will come to this… I had no idea my career would be over…

This is a story about an often-overlooked subject – programmer burnout. This is a story of what it can do to your career… to your life.

Actually, this is more of a warning to all those who “don’t have time” to address it right now. The ultimate debt collector – life – is coming for you and you will not be able to say no.

Stop and look around you… not a whole lot of old programmers, right?

I am 32 years old (not even that old, I hope) and I’ve been coding for the past 7 years.

First 2-3 years I was working 12-14 hour days (plus the weekends when I “only” worked 8-10 hours).

You could say I was crazy, but I was also desperate. However, in the end, programming literally saved my family. So I will always be grateful for it – despite the high price I had to pay.

After that, I had relatively normal work hours – rarely over 10h and free weekends (can you imagine?).

Slow disaster in the making

About 6 months before “the incident” my motivation and satisfaction with coding was on a downward spiral. Instead of dealing with it immediately, there was some pre-launch rush on the project (as it’s always the case) and I just kept on “pushing through”.

As I continued my productivity fell down and it took me longer and longer to do even more simple tasks so I compensated for that by working longer.

Eventually, all my waking hours were either spent on coding or on trying to get myself to code or just staring at the screen completely blocked without any idea what I’m doing.

This made things even worse because now my entire week (Monday-Friday) turned into a never-ending coding block session… I was going insane.

Yes – I may have handled things better. But when you’re mentally destroyed you can’t really use your mind to dig yourself out.

Beginning of the end

Eventually, the project was semi-launched and the things that were left to do could be handled by other people on the project.

I talked with management and said I need a vacation and I have no idea how long because I’m in seriously bad condition. I thought I’d be fine after a month.

Oh, how was I wrong…

The first month of vacation I can only describe as if I came back to life!

I considered getting back to work but I had this bad feeling in my gut and I felt some kind of anxiety so I decided to take some more time off and maybe I’ll get back later.

Better opportunities

In the meantime, I kept getting more and more job offers so I started responding to those. Just to see what was offered out there.

programmer burnout job offers

Eventually, I got an offer that was perfect for me in every way.

And the money?

For that amount I was thinking to myself: if I had no arms and legs, I’d type with my nose if necessary, key by key.

The crash

So I accepted the offer. Sent the email in the evening…

…and then… shock!

I could not sleep until 3AM that evening.

In my mind, I was going through the actual steps of how will my day look like. And the idea of just opening VS Code and looking at the code made me feel sick to my stomach.

And I’m not saying that lightly… I literally felt like I have a 50:50 chance of throwing up just from thinking about getting myself sitting behind a keyboard and looking at the code for 8 hours.

Thinking of code made me feel something more than fear – it was an absolute dread of coding and experiencing all that pain again.

No way out

I just couldn’t do it anymore.

And even if I could force myself to do it (somehow) – how long before I get sick or something.

How many days, weeks, or months can I really endure, while I’m overwhelmed with stress and my heart wants to pop out of my chest?

What now?

But then an even bigger question arrived – what will I do now?

I thought this burnout was temporary (?)

What does a software developer do once he can no longer code? 

Imagine one day not being able to do the thing you invested so much time and effort and frustration while fixing countless bugs… and now people are literally throwing money in front of you to pay you for that skill… and you can’t pick it up.

Now you need to start all over. You are junior again. And all the game levels you achieved are lost – what now?

You’re like a professional athlete with contracts being offered to you left and right. But you just busted your knee and you can’t play anymore.

Do not take programmer burnout lightly – it’s a career-ending situation – like any other serious injury.

And once you’re broken, no company is going to pay your sick leave for the next 20 years.

New beginning – “junior” again

So what to do now?

First I started a blog – but that will take at least a year until it produces any significant results.

Second thing – I created a course that helps new and existing programmers to speed up their careers while working less.

Third thing – I created the simplest coding course ever (for complete beginners).

And finally my absolute masterpiece – I created an amazing strategy manual that helps developers raise their salary fast:

raise your salary by 30%

After 7 years, working on so many different projects in many different programming languages, in both companies, agencies, and startups – I picked up a thing or two, you could say.

The worst part is – I could have worked less while advancing faster if only someone showed me how.

And now I am teaching others how to avoid making the same mistakes (including the career-ending ones) like I just did.

Will this business succeed? – I have no idea.

I feel excited, terrified, happy… all at the same time. And a part of me just wishes I could get back to coding… to make things the way they were before.

And because of that, make sure you’re taking care of yourself.

Every time you sacrifice yourself to meet some deadline or work overtime – you’re putting a little dent into your armor.

Until one day your armor breaks.

What helped me?

Aside from taking some longer rest I also found a lot of good ideas and motivation reading these two books about burnout.

I really can’t recommend them enough and what’s best – you can get them for free.

You should be your first priority!

In a year or two, no one will remember you pulled an all-nighter. But the dent in your armor will stay forever.

From the bottom of my heart, I wish you the best of luck and a long and prosperous career.

My days are over but you just keep up the good fight.

Fix those nasty bugs one by one and keep maintaining this magic software glue that holds our entire world together.

You are my hero.

Sincerely yours,
Will
(Former) Senior Software Engineer