Human Resources

The psychological deformation of programmers. A view from both sides of barricades

imageThe psychological deformation is a disputable issue in any profession, because different people go through it in different ways. However, the overall tendency can be separated out, and perhaps, it is a time when we can say that the programmers have their own special psychological portrait that is conditional on their professional activities.

I often faced a similar opinion, and I did not attach great significance to it, but when a female staff of our organization congratulated the programmers on February 23rd (a former soviet military holiday), calling them "cosmic forces", I have decided to arrange some emphasis on this issue, because one of my occupations directly linked with psychoanalysis.

It is worth noting that the programmer spends much time at the computer, so many of these items specifically apply to the programmers and the "computer scientists" in general.

Hyper concentration

Every programmer knows that a good and quality work on the code requires a very high concentration on the code. Some people wear headphones to isolate themselves, other people set the timers, etc. The degree of programmer’s concentration at work is comparable to the work on a nuclear plant. Accordingly, all this gives rise to an increased irritability when this process is interrupted.

In real life, it can also cause its effects, such as the domestic affairs could be done in the hyper concentration
mode. For example, while cleaning an apartment the programmer will not be thinking of a million cases or talking on the phone at the same time. The programmer rather will plunge into some task (maybe in the cleaning) and just deal with the process.

Absorption in the internal images and structures

The work of the programmer has its own specific character, which is in the same form most inherent in the profession of engineer-inventor. If you're familiar with the works of Nikola Tesla, you'll remember how he described what is happening in his head. In short, Tesla in his head could build a mechanism, run it, and even reproduce it in time in order to understand what parts will wear and where problems may arise in the future. Also, the complex structures arise in the work process of a professional programmer. This effect is called figurative sensuous designing. If the average person sees on the screen only the character sets, then in the head of programmer this code turns into a whole part of the world. Like reading a book creates images and emotions in a person, as the code is able to do the same with the programmer. That's why programmers feel the code they know when it is beautiful or dirty, if it will work or not, etc. The good programmer is comparable to the writer of fiction.

In real life, this becomes apparent in excessive inward absorption, especially if the programmer is trying to understand something. If the deformation is significant, the programmer can start building the whole scheme of what is happening now. That is why often constructed schemes of social interactions, such as the politics produces a feeling of dirty code and rejection in the programmers. In everyday life it can be perceived as part of a mild form of autism, though in fact it is not like that. The person is quite adequate and open to interaction with the outside world, but the mechanisms of interaction themselves have indicated specificity.

Low level of social interaction and its diversity in their daily work

This moment is not "de facto", but it occasionally occurs and may play a role in the deformation of the psyche. Since most of the time a programmer spends working in the world of code, and the only buddies are the methods, functions, objects, modules, packages, etc., respectively, the programmers’ level of social interaction tends to be lower than in most professions. If the janitor’s work is hard to call socially active, however, at the moment the janitor may be thinking about his wife, children, friends, etc. A programmer does not have such possibility, because he should be plunged into the code. And although there is often a working group, but the staff generally consists of the same programmers. Sometimes, for the programmers it is difficult to work with people of other professions. So if the degree of deformation is high in the team, then it is only worsen this factor (the social diversity of relations).

Heightened perception of cause-effect relations

Any code should work, but in order to write working code, you need to understand the structure of cause-effect relations of this code. All this leaves its imprint on the mind of person. This way of thinking could be called engineering brain, it is when a person tries to find a rational explanation of the whole and to understand the cause-effect relation. Some programmers besides writing a code often are being drawn into the technical aspects, such as the development of equipment to fit their needs. Sometimes, it can reach the unique superstructures in the psyche. For example, if a clasp of girl’s bra provokes as much interest as the fact that this bra hides inside.

Sideways, it may often be perceived as "snowed under trifles". The fact that something has no interest to most people the programmer can generate huge streams of thoughts. Accordingly, as the volume of mental efforts is not proportional, then the conclusions that the programmer does about the effects of the real world sometimes may seem "queer", and they could be interpreted as a certain surprise. But surprisingly, if you ask the programmer why he made a decision like that most likely you will get a whole chain of cause-effect relations, and always they will be quite reasonable. In general, this happens in the mind of everyone, but at this point just in the programmers this moment is often heightened, and sometimes it can bring some analogies for the analysis that would not come to a mind of a common person.

Habit to a formal way of tasks

Since the programmer must write a code that should work exactly as required for the task, then the habit of doing what has been said, gradually flows into other areas of life. But as in most cases of the social interaction occur a non-verbal perception, guessing and some more thinking about something then the sense of concretization becomes more acute in the programmers.

I do not want to say that programmers are not able to read thoughts and predict the actions of other people, but rather they prefer to ask an additional question, than redo everything all over again. When you send a programmer in the shop, give him more information, but spare him and yourself from unnecessary questions. For example, you should not say to buy just eggs, but you say to buy a dozen fresh eggs of 1st grade. Also, you do not take him as a "robot" if you'll get detailed instructions with lots of unneeded details. He tries to make things right.

Victims of engineering glamour

I risk to be eaten alive, but this thing requires coverage within the scope of this article. I am going to talk about the computer scientists. Glamour is a normal and natural product of human needs, in short the motto of glamour can be called "who is super cool", and respectively these are cars, clothes, money, and so on in a real-life. In the field of engineering glamour works the same principle with different criteria that is "who is super cool". As the main concentration of the computer scientist does not focus on other people as in the "real-world glamour," but it focuses on his own inner world of images and the cause-effect relations, appropriately, the goals are pursued in the area of this world. The real glamour and the engineering glamour both have their own "icons", such as a recent article about US Robotics. There is an interesting point. In some cases, the engineering glamour could be subdued by the heightened requirements for the cause-effect relations. That means that a new computer will not be purchased until it will be needed to do some work.


Actually, the whole "Big Bang Theory" is built on the hyperbolas of effects that were described above.

Taking into account all factors that were described above, the programmers are taken as the "space friends", however according to my subjective opinion, I want to say that people who decided to become the programmers, definitely experience some psychological deformation.

However, every person builds his own life and the fact of psychological deformation of coders is not so great. Most of them have the families, friends and interests besides the code and the computer. So, the programmer, it is not a diagnosis, it is just a style of thinking.
Sparks 14 april 2012, 12:52
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