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Tonight’s the Night

Programmers are machines that turn caffeine into code. If you ask a programmer when they produce their best work and there’s a high chance they will admit to – late nights. Some programmers may get up at 4am and get some work done before the day’s craziness begins and some … go to bed at 4am. So what’s so special about the night to a programmer?

Working on large abstract systems involves fitting the whole thing into your mind just like the architect in the movie “Inception” – you need to construct the whole model in your head. But as soon as someone distracts you, it all comes barreling down and shatters into a thousand pieces. This is why programmers are so annoyed when you distract them. Because of this huge mental set up, we simply can’t start working until we can have a couple of hours without being distracted. The constant barrage of interruptions during the day simply doesn’t allow it. So we get most of our work done during the night when everyone else is sleeping.

But even programmers need to sleep at night – we are not some race of super humans or mutants. Why then do we perform the mentally complex work when we are tired? Because being tired makes us better programmers. What?! You may exclaim. When the brain is tired it has to focus. There isn’t enough bandwidth to afford losing concentration. With a slightly tired brain we can code for hours without even thinking about checking emails or Facebook. Being tired makes us dumb enough that dealing the current task at hand is sufficient.

Working late at night can easily become a habit. With enough iterations, you are dragged into a different sleeping cycle. You forget to be tired until 3am, then you wake up at 11am, and when the evening rolls you simply aren’t tired. Nowadays, I seldom work late nights unless things are extremely urgent. When looking back on my life as a night owl, I still like the atmosphere of the night – the quiet environment, the dark surroundings, and the illumination from the computer screen. In contrast to the day, night makes me feel relaxed and it gives us the opportunity to exceed our limits. I hope the advance of technology can enable us in the future to work at anytime, from anywhere so that we can avoid being stuck in the traffic, filling the timesheets, and the 9-to-5 routine in the office.


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