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I'm 17 and I've started programming and reading SE all day, every day. I absolutely love it and want to program for a living, but how much is too much? Is it unhealthy to sit at a computer all the time? Is this just a phase? Did this happen to you? If so, what did you do about it?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by gnat, GlenH7, Kilian Foth, MichaelT, World Engineer Oct 23 '13 at 12:59

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Obsession is a problem if it negatively affects other aspects of your life. –  Macneil Dec 18 '10 at 6:35
If SE looks like the seductive better half, do read whatever you can of Knuth. If you really like the read, or even some of it, welcome to the club!! –  Fanatic23 Dec 18 '10 at 8:06
Yes. It's just a phase. My phase started about 15 years ago... wonder when this phase will end... –  Steve Evers Dec 18 '10 at 8:12
@John: Be careful not to get into the trap of reading too much and doing too little. Be careful not to compare yourself to the Wayne Gretzkys of the programming world, you will only feel inferior/defeated. Please read the "do less reading" part of this article (yes, I noticed the disconnect there): blog.developwithpassion.com/2010/12/… –  Jesse Buchanan Dec 20 '10 at 14:36

16 Answers 16

up vote 41 down vote accepted

Are you learning? If so, then I don't see what the problem is.

That said, it's wise to practice moderation in all things, including moderation..

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Jeff I agree 100%, however on a slight tangent: "Moderating Moderation", there seems to be a logical fallacy -> one can not begin to Moderate if it is itself under the same condition of moderation which in turn is under moderation ad infinitum. –  Darknight Dec 18 '10 at 10:28

Obsession is a problem if it negatively affects other aspects of your life. For example, if it gets in the way of you performing your job or schoolwork. If you cancel social activities with friends so that you can click on the "reload" button. If you forget to eat or sleep.

If any of that happens to be the case, you need to take steps toward change. And to do so you'll need to seek someone else's help.

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@Pierre: In high school I would come home and read C++ books until dinner. Not sure how well that helped me in school, but I'm certain it helped me get into college, and then later get a job. –  Macneil Dec 18 '10 at 18:27

I am 20, I program, I sit in front of the computer for 14+ hours most of the days, and I am sure this is not just a phase for me.

I'll do this till my passion for Programming fades(which is unlikely to happen).

You spend so much of time thinking/learning Programming, that's infact very good.

Follow your passion, that's what matters.

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It's just a phase. But that shouldn't stop you from following it. :) And it can last for 20 years, easy. –  Lennart Regebro Dec 18 '10 at 7:46
14 hours a day in front of the computer may result in you having too little time to spend on friends, family and sleep. Optimize your life. –  user1249 Dec 18 '10 at 9:14
@Thorbjørn: I have very less friends. And yes, I am unable to mingle with my family :(. Trying to get over my addiction. Maybe, now there's a boyfriend in my life, that might help me out. :) –  ykombinator Dec 18 '10 at 10:11
@Pierre 303: LOL! Maybe. But I have on-line friends, who study in the same campus as mine, but we've never faced to each other in the real life. –  ykombinator Dec 18 '10 at 11:36
  1. Work no more than 10 hours a day. Leave time for other things.
  2. Always wear pants while programming.

Follow these simple rules and you'll be a guru hacker in no time.

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Rule 2 can be relaxed for women. Dresses are nice. –  user1249 Dec 18 '10 at 9:16

Its probably just a phase. I did this when I first started getting into programming as a career. I was in kind of a bad situation with my career at the time and had some technical exposure before and liked it but just had never tried programming. I threw myself into it and basically worked non-stop (didn't have a job at the time) consuming tutorials, building things, etc.. I did this for probably 3 months where I would do it 16 hours a day. Basically, I wanted to get myself up to being on par for an entry level programming job and I finally did by getting some telecommute freelance work then a few months later I landed a part-time job with a regular web application company as a programmer...

After I started getting paid for it, I drastically cut down the time I spent just working on personal projects and my life is back to fairly normal now.. you should only do that sort of thing for a little while, such as when you're trying to make a real push into getting familiar with the paradigms of programming. Once you become familiar with design patterns and the basics, learning new things comes easier and can be done through reading, etc not just trial and error types of things. But doing a lot of programming work at first will give you confidence in your abilities to get a career started.

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oh yeah, and once you feel you can start applying to jobs, go for it, its better to get paid to learn than to do it for free :-), just be honest with them and don't make up lies about how you have more experience than you do (at least not at first :-) ), this way you get to learn from other programmers too rather than just doing it yourself and using SO –  programmx10 Dec 18 '10 at 6:41

There is only one situation when obsession is not enough

As Jeff has pointed out, everything should be in moderation.

However there is one situation, when no amount of obsession is enough:

When you trying to solve a problem, that has yet to be solved by humanity. It is only right and proper that one must think about it at all times. When he is dreaming he should think about it. When he is walking, talking or breathing he's only focus should be that problem. It is then obsession becomes a requirement.

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I think I should add, problems that have real value for the benefit of man. –  Darknight Dec 19 '10 at 16:27

I am 32 now, and when I was seventeen, I used to sit for more than 14 hours per day. It's good to be passionate about the things you like, but you have to be careful. It's important to learn, it's important to enjoy it, but it is also really important to not lose track.

You have to keep in mind that you need to exercise as well, otherwise, when you reach 32, you will feel your body ache like you are 60. Apart from that, if you feel happy, and you are feeling your improving and doing useful things, keep walking...

P.S. I failed to mention that despite being 32 I still sit for ~11hours per work day in front of the computer. Weekends I try to spend as much time as I can with my daughter.

And yes, my body aches, really... You need the exercise!

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I'm 20 too, I had a horrible job, and for weeks I needed to work from 14pm to 8am next day because the boss was from New York, and he believed in total dedication. (There were no weekends.)

I had my reasons to accept this tempo for some time, but barely got anything done those days.

When your senses are telling you "less is more", you won't need to trade more time. Look for inspiration outside of your room, spend time with your family/girlfriend.

If you're constantly feeding your brain, it'll eat less than in an ideal speed.

Unless you have photographic memory.

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I myself spend at least 8 hours a day in front of the computer and sometimes more. Obsession is healthy if it causes you to do beneficial things. Yes, it is unhealthy to sit in front of a computer all the time and so is watching TV at least on the computer you mind might be engaged. I have no plans for changing my behavior but as with all things you will ultimately need to come to your own conclusions.

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I work a standard job, and I am a programmer. I spend time in front of the computer while at work for at least 6 out of the 8 hours, and then when I get home I sit down in front of my computer again to spend another 4 or so hours that night in front of the computer.

Do I consider it an obsession? A little bit, but it is also very beneficial, the amount of information I read helps me get better at my job and helps me challenge myself to do better and learn something new that I have not yet had any experience with.

I do spend time away from my computer though. I read books, I go to practice Kung Fu every other day, and I like to spend time walking around. All of those are mainly just for me to think more about what I have learned and to process the information I have just pilled into my brain.

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You just described me, I too am 17 and plan on majoring in Computer Science in college. As Jeff said, as long as you are learning, there is no problem whatsoever. I learn at least one new thing a day just from lurking on StackOverflow/StackExchange. Whether it is a more efficient way to accomplish a task or some new framework or buzzword, I always learn something new and feel that I am making a good use of my time. I do balance it out with some other hobby to rest my eyes every hour or so.

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If you want to be a GOOD programmer, you need to learn very much, so definitely you will spend a lot of time to facing computer. Many people have this phase, spend 12+ hours per working day, event in weekend. If you have interesting on this, you do so as well. Otherwise, learn enough knowledge, and start working, until you need to learn more. Or you can find a job which needn't to refresh knowledge so frequently.
BTW: The phase maybe persistent a very long time, depend on how much things you want to learn and do. My suggestion is(for normal human) :
14+ hours per working day is too much.
12+ hours per working day is more or less acceptable, but should NOT persistent more than 5 days. 10+ hours per working day is OK.

A general rule is : If it harms to your health, that's too much.

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Programming is like running. Unless you are extremely good you cannot run a marathon every day. –  user1249 Dec 18 '10 at 9:18

I think obsession is just to much when you start to realize that the things you like have happened and you dont even realize.

So, take some time for yourself, tacke breakes and dont push it, i understand your passion on the matter, but things work out if you go with the flow. Remember, life is a long way, you cant spect to live it all in 14 hours.

Happy programming!

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If what you're doing does not have a negative impact on your social life or health, it's not called obsession - it's called ambition and enthusiasm. And the line between the two may be very thin indeed. So know where this thin line lies - not necessarily to walk it, but to avoid stepping over it.

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It's only unhealthy if you're not putting the time you've spent on programming and reading SE sites to good use. You should try reading my question here. It's kind of similar to yours :)

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If you want to be an expert in anything, you should put in at least 10,000 hours. I've been programming since age 13, and I still don't think I've done enough. Keep at it unless it's hurting the rest of your life.

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