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It seems as though whenever I take an extended break from programming—whether to pursue other interests or simply because I fall out of the habit for a while—I invariably find that when I return to a project and set to coding, I come with an abundance of new ideas, novel approaches, and just plain better code. It may be because I have a lot of other creative interests besides programming, and my mind likes to find correlation and crossover between them, so while I'm doing one thing, in the back of my mind I'm usually also applying it to another.

So what's your experience? Do you ever return from a break (whether intentional or not) feeling not only refreshed, but also somehow noticeably improved? Is it actually the norm?

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No, we are not creative folk but plain code pounders here. –  Job Dec 27 '10 at 2:59
    
This is a question? We can conclude something useful here? –  bigown Dec 28 '10 at 17:20
    
@bigown: I'm assuming you're only asking because you think the answer is obvious enough that hearing opinions on the matter isn't constructive. But if I'm an exception, then others might be, so I think the question is justified. –  Jon Purdy Dec 28 '10 at 23:41
    
I'm just asking, if I think then the question would be closed. –  bigown Dec 29 '10 at 20:23
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5 Answers

I never felt my general skillset improved after a break (thinking about it, improving a skill without practice seems rather hard), but it's definitely so that after a break of some days/weeks my mind was clearer and it was easier focusing and seeing both the big picture and small implementation details at the same time. In other words, I'd come up with better code.

However, if the break is too long (say months), it's the other way around: then I have to get used to it again before acquiring the same level as before.

Also, the above is true for almost everything I (and likely, almost everybody) do that requires some sort of training of the mind: snowboarding, bmx, board games, puzzels, ... and even sex.

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Why the downvote, I wonder? –  Jon Purdy Dec 27 '10 at 4:15
    
maybe somene got upset with the last word? –  stijn Dec 27 '10 at 9:26
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Too bad for them. –  Jon Purdy Dec 28 '10 at 23:41
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Not really. I find that coding is something you have to continually keep doing to maintain and improve. On a long break I actually often revert to bad habits. It's only when I come across some of my previous code (before the long break) that I realise just how good I was back then.

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Depends on the nature of the break. If it is because of meetings, annual reviews, documentation, user training, etc., I may not come back as fresh as a true vacation. Returning with the feeling of needing to catch-up may provide motivation/kick-in-the-pants, but doesn't usually help come up with new ideas/creativity.

There is merit to keeping sharp and being in the habit of coding regularly. A lay-off may make it difficult to get back into the grind.

My preference is to work aggressively if I know there is a time to take a break ahead.

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My experience is that the basic mechanics of programming - or to be really explicit coding are something you need to practice continuously to keep you sharp.

In a large chunk of time mostly spent dealing with development at a higher level than the IDE I found that when doing anything other than bug hunts or quick hacky fixes I did not perform at a level I know myself to be capable of mostly because I'm not remembering the trivial almost automatic things without concious effort.

At a higher level, in terms of "inspiration", don't know... but certainly I'd never assert that any absence I've had has left me noticeably improved (though I don't know if, in, erm, about 30 years now, I have a really extended time - more than 3 weeks - genuinely 100% away from programming!)

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I do think that small breaks / periods of not programming can be useful, as they will clear you mind and take you away from the annoyances of programming.

I do, however, find longer periods of not programming to be quite the opposite. I have found that if I have several months of not programming, then I "suck" (In lack of better word) at it when I return.

Even though I have 6-7 years of experience with PHP, then when I started working again a couple of months ago, after a break for several months, where I focused on my study, I had to "get back to it", before I could really work again, which put me right back to the annoyances of programming, and therefore I didn't get much out of my "break".

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