Category Archives: Spiritual Programmer

Why working at night doesn’t work

Lots of programmers insist on working late. That’s a bad idea. For every one time a programmer reaches “flow” state and effortlessly produce reams of brilliant code late at night, there are a hundred inefficient programming sessions with low productivity and high error rates.

In most organizations, it is a near certainty that you will be spending most of your day doing something other than what you had planned. Most solutions involve company culture, managers, scrum masters, and colleagues. But there is one solution that is completely within your control: Show up early and complete one important task.

If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.
Mark Twain

If you are a night owl like me, that might be a significant change to your life. But it pays off handsomely in more happiness and less stress. Stress is caused by a feeling that you are not in control of your situation; starting early and actually getting a task of your own choosing done each day defeats this feeling.

Try starting work two hours earlier than everybody else for two weeks and see how much more you get done.

Do You Need to Learn a New Technology?

TL;DR: Yes.

Developers often ask me which language or tool they should use or learn. I have definite opinions on good and bad tools for various tasks, but the most important tip is to continue learning new technologies. This gives you joy in your life, prevents burnout, and provides a platform when the time comes to move on from your current technology.

For your day job, you want a language that is stable or increasing. It doesn’t matter if it is outside the top ten in rankings like the TIOBE index. For example, Oracle’s proprietary PL/SQL database language has been hovering around place number 20 for many years, and PL/SQL programmers are not likely to be out of a job anytime soon.

But you still need to continually add to your skill set. People who keep doing the same thing lose the joy and wonder of making something work, which is often what got them started in IT in the first place. To prevent burnout, carve out time to work on something new every week.

Don’t expect your employer to give you this time. In some organizations, you might be able to use allocated training time to learn something on your own, but even Google’s famous “20% time” for side projects is 20% on top of the 100% you already work.

You should be grateful you have the privilege to work in IT. To keep that privilege, you should invest time in yourself and your life.

This is an excerpt from the monthly Spiritual Programmer newsletter. Don’t miss the next issue, sign up here

How to Hack Your Brain Chemistry

You feel happy when your brain releases dopamine. This happens when you experience a success, reinforcing the behavior that led to the success. Unfortunately, dopamine is also released in other situations, and your brain can’t tell the difference between useful success dopamine and bad addition dopamine.

When you get angry, your brain also releases dopamine. This is being used in the outrage industry that churns out slanted reporting designed to make you angry. No matter if you are for or against Trump, your chosen media is likely to supply a never-ending diet of outrage.

To channel your energy into more productive pursuits than internet-fuelled rage, reduce your consumption of social media, and make sure your body produces a healthy amount of dopamine itself. There are all the usual things like exercising, sleeping well, etc.

In addition to all the usual good things (exercising, sleeping well, meditating), there is another thing you can do: Achieve goals. You get a dopamine boost when you achieve your goal, and the size of the goal doesn’t affect the dopamine release. Working in IT, you have many good ways of getting your dopamine kick – for example by writing tests before you write code. You also want to release software as often as possible, so look for work in an agile team that releases every few weeks.

You don’t want to be at the mercy of the outrage, entertainment, and junk food industries. Free yourself by making sure you get your dopamine from healthy activities like programming.


This is an excerpt from the monthly Spiritual Programmer newsletter. Don’t miss the next one, sign up here.

That Universe Isn’t Going to Fix Itself

I’m decompressing from Oracle OpenWorld with a 6-day Qigong retreat in Minneapolis, and one of my insights is:

It is up to each of us to make the world a better place

I’ve met many people whose natural mode of operation was to complain. I appreciate these people, but they are not improving the state of the world.

Every day, each of us have the possibility to improve the world. We can show kindness to a friend, colleague or stranger. We can share some knowledge we have – on the project Wiki, in a company newsletter, through a public blog post, an article or a conference presentation. We can contribute somewhere – be part of an Open Source project, volunteer in a user group.

That universe isn’t going to fix itself. Think about what action you can take today to move us all to a better place.


You’re Better Than You Think You Are

We’ve all met people who are not as good as they think they are. But more people are better than they think themselves.

The Oracle ACE Program

ACEDI’m an Oracle ACE Director. That title is the highest level in Oracle’s ACE program for independent experts on their technology, and there is a little over a hundred of us world-wide.

As with all programs of this type, some people are not part of the program and believe they should be. These people are very vocal in their criticism, claiming the program is rigged against them in some way. Sometimes, their criticism carries over into personal criticism of the people who are part of the program.

I don’t care what these people say. However, I’ve noticed that some members of the program worry a lot about what others might think of them.

Impostor Syndrome

Sometimes, even very accomplished people exhibit exaggerated sensitivity to criticism of their skills or achievements. Psychologically, this is known as impostor syndrome or “the fear of being found out.” Sufferers worry that they are not as good as others think they are, even in the face of massive evidence that they are world-class experts.

Improving Self-Esteem

If you suspect you suffer from just a tiny bit of this, I recommend you start writing a success journal. This can be an app or a physical book, and you write down your successes every day. You might have solved a difficult problem, received thank-you comments on your blog, had articles published or been accepted to speak at a conference.
Every week, read through your success journal and enjoy your successes.

If you’re good, you’re good.

A Happiness Project

How would you like to become a little happier? At this time of year, many people return from summer vacation to their day jobs. For most, this leads to a drop in happiness. That’s why it’s a great time to execute a little happiness project.

seven-1426637_640Your task is very simple: Each day this week, at least once a day, register your general happiness level on a scale from 0 (deeply depressed) to 10 (couldn’t be happier). If you are into apps, you can surely find an app to help you, but a piece of paper or a sticky note will do fine.


On Sunday, set aside 15 minutes to look at your stats for the week. Then think of three things that would each increase your happiness score by one point on one of the days. For example, you might decide that you could have had coffee with a friend on Thursday. Or you could have gone to a movie instead of watching TV on Saturday. Or maybe you could have refrained from correcting somebody on the internet, even though they were obviously wrong. used under CC BY-NC 2.5

Next week, your task is continue to track your happiness and put these three ideas into action. On Sunday in two weeks, when you reflect on next week, calculate your total weekly happiness and see if it has increased.

While sum_week_happiness < 70 repeat.

Power Packs for Your Devices and You

I was in Chicago for the Oracle Development Tools User Group (ODTUG) conference last month. This was a typical technology conference in many ways, and one of the vendor giveaways in the conference back was a power pack for your smartphone.

However, it was different in one interesting way: It also offered a power pack for the participants. Each morning, there was a Qigong session by the river. Qigong is an ancient health practice that improves the flow of life energi (Qi) in the body.


Traveling techies are always on the lookup for an opportunity to recharge their devices. Remember to also recharge yourself.


The Binary Career Choice

Because I advise people on which technology to use for their projects, I am also often asked for IT career advice. Much to my DBA friends’ surprise, I’ve garnered a “most viewed writer” rating on the topic Oracle DBA on question-and-answers site

This does not mean that I am an expert DBA, but rather that much IT career advice is general and carries over between specialties.

Why are you in IT?

The first question you need to ask yourself is why you are in IT. There are two possible answers, and in true IT fashion, they are binary.

  1. For fun
  2. For money

Many people try answering “both,” but that is a poor answer. If you try for both, you get neither. In order to be happy, you have to either be happy to work with the technology, or be happy that your job brings you the money you need to pursue happiness somewhere else. Make a choice.


I discuss this topic in more detail in this week’s Spiritual Programmer newsletter. Sign up here

Inbox Zero

My IT class was staring at me in shock and I couldn’t figure out why. Then I noticed their eyes sliding between me and the projector on the wall behind me. I turned and noticed that the projector was now showing my Gmail account, because I had just used Gmail to send a code sample to the class.

“What?” I asked.

“You have twenty-three thousand unread emails,” stammered a participant.

Getting to Zero

My Gmail account serves as a backup – I forward all the mail from my various accounts to it as an archive. So I don’t read the mails in my Gmail account, leading to a build-up of many thousands that seemed unread to Google.

My real email inbox is empty at the end of the day. Yours should be, too.

The reason your inbox should be empty is that any kind of unfinished business occupies part of your attention. If your inbox is full of new things you haven’t read, things you haven’t decided what to do about, and things you are just keeping because you’ll work on them later, your brain will keep thinking about your inbox, and you will be compulsively checking it several times an hour to make sure you’re not missing anything.

There is more about Inbox Zero in this week’s Spiritual Programmer newsletter. Sign up here:

Notifications are Evil

I just received yet another promotional email from Apple, touting a new, improved watchOS2 as well as new colors and wristbands. And I’m not buying.

Wearable devices have two reasons to exist:

  • To gather data more conveniently
  • To present data more conveniently

Interrupting you by beeping, buzzing or tapping you on the wrist with clever haptic alerts are not reasons to buy yet another device.

A large part of all wearable devices are various health activity trackers. If you want or need this data, fine, get a device that gathers those.

Some wearable devices present data more conveniently. For a number of specific jobs and situations, devices like Google Glass will be the right tool for the job. For other use cases, having information available on your wrist might be useful. I don’t mind my watch knowing that I’m in the airport and automatically placing my boarding card on my wrist display.

Most people leave their devices at the default notification settings, which allows way too many notifications and alerts to disturb them. Adding another device will lead to more notifications, and notifications are evil. Turn them off!