Due to programmer burnout, unknown to me, on June 15TH 2021, I made my last commit, and my life changed forever.
This is a story of how to turn defeat into a victory.
The Story About Programmer Burnout
It looked so innocent, so ordinary:
BUG FIX - wrong question numbers
I had no idea it would 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 motivated and driven. In the end, programming provided me with resources and opportunities I wouldn’t get otherwise. So I will always be grateful for it – despite the high price I had to pay.
After the first couple of years, I had relatively normal work hours. Rarely over 10h and free weekends (can you imagine that, LOL?).
Slow disaster in the making
About 6 months before the incident, my motivation and satisfaction with coding were 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 the 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 I would just stare 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 crazy.
Yes – I may have handled things better. But when you’re burned out, 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 others.
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.
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.
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.
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 what 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 panic.
And I’m not saying that lightly… I literally felt my heart pumping just from thinking about looking at the code for 8 hours.
No way out
I had to come to terms that 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? All while I’m overwhelmed with stress, and my heart wants to pop out of my chest?
What happens after programmer burnout?
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 contract offers coming to you left and right. But you just busted up 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 one is going to pay your sick leave for the next 20 years.
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.
In a year, or two, no one will remember you pulled an all-nighter. But the dent in your armor will stay forever.
So please make yourself your top priority.
A New beginning – “junior” again
So what to do now?
The good news is you’re never really a junior again.
After 7 years of working on so many different projects and programming languages. Going through companies, agencies, and startups… I picked up a thing or two, you could say.
And the most beautiful thing is that the IT industry is filled with many different opportunities.
Whether you can code or not.
And since this is a new beginning, I feel excited, terrified, and happy, all at the same time.
What helped me with programmer burnout?
Aside from taking some prolonged 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 is you can get them for free through Audible free trial.
These aren’t even affiliate links. I just genuinely think your life would improve if you read these books.
Primarily because they will change the way you think.
Actually, my burnout was a blessing in disguise.
It opened me to new opportunities and new areas of interest.
What I always liked and knew how to do was write.
On top of that, I went on to master the SEO knowledge, so I watched and read everything I came across.
And not just that, but I applied the learned knowledge and got some amazing results.
So I’m very excited about the future and what it brings for me.
Wish you all the best,
Senior Developer Content Writer