Do you know any programmers that exhibit these personality traits…?

I’ve been observing an unusual programmer friend of mine for some time now. (Yeah… a “friend”, that’s it….) He has such a strange combination of potential and incompetence that its hard to tell if he is just lazy or if he has a “light” form of autism or some other disorder. I try to avoid “easy” pop-psychology terms when discussing him, but try to be as specific as possible when listing his qualities:

* Inability to absorb too many details verbally. Extreme learn-by-doing and learn-by-example learning style. If in a class situation, tends to need to engage somehow by asking questions and relating material back to other experiences– seen as disruptive by “normal” people. If asked to work on something concurrently with the lecture, will focus so much on the task at hand that he won’t catch additional instructions that were not presented in the main– and he’ll often ask the exact question that the teacher just answered.

* Inability to multi-task.  If you tell him to do three things, he’ll do one really well, misinterpret what you meant by the second, and completely forget about the third.  If you need a quick favor, your best bet is to tell him you really need it and then stand right there until it’s done for the three minutes or so that it takes.  (Think Butterbur from Lord of the Rings: “One thing drives out another!”)  Tends to have a “tell me what to do, but don’t tell me how” attitude.  His theme song is “I Did it My Way.”  He hates phones and prefers emails.

* Inability to manage or even to “see” certain classes of “mundane” details. (Knowing what to eat from the fridge and when; strong aversion to balancing a checkbook or going through a stack of bills. When cleaning the kitchen, only certain zones get attention; practically unable to get every last dirty dish to the sink– sorta need someone to help by putting the dirty dishes in the sink so they’re all identified.)

* Inability to organize. (Cleaning method: put everything that doesn’t have an obvious place into one or more miscellaneous boxes. Once a year throw out most of the boxes when the contents are “stale” enough. Paperwork management technique: accrue random papers. Act on the most urgent and throw them away. Periodically clean off desk by boxing up the remaining papers and throwing them all away when they get sufficiently “stale”.)

* Capable of working through entire books of information; does especially well with brief descriptions/examples followed by exercises. Capable of working for extended periods of time. Capable of relating the information to other experiences/activities in creative ways. A strong “visionary” streak. Good in brainstorming sessions. A strong focus on the implications of new ideas/frameworks/strategies. Can do a great deal on his own, but will often miss key techniques due to his “detail blindness” and lack of thoroughness– he relies on common sense, inspiration, and brute force in order to keep up with “normal people.”

* Capable of coming up with pretty good project ideas on his own, but does not take on projects for the purposes of finishing them– he’s mainly interested in projects as a means of mastering a skill or proving a point. Worried about “being ready” for a time when the skill/idea will be needed in a “real” situation. Very lazy in the mathematical/programmer sense– will spend incredible amounts of time to get something “right” so that “work will be saved later”. There’s generally not a net gain in time saved, but if a set of details is dealt with well enough, they no longer have to be bothered with– freeing up a great deal of mental capacity for this person!

* While he can’t absorb details verbally, he has an unusual degree of empathy. He can view things from other peoples perspectives somehow unlike the usual “arrogant programmer geek.” He also has a sense of timing, flow, balance… some sort of artistic flair that shows up occasionally.  Stereotypical “top notch” analytical problem solvers tend to lack these qualities.

* Faults tend not to show up terribly badly unless he’s put in a situation where his weaknesses are key to the task at hand. In order to excel in one sphere, he will often sacrifice another– it’s as if there’s only so much “detail” stress/worry his brain can handle and it just shuts down after a certain point. Faults become obvious when there ceases to be a reserve he can “steal” from in order to fuel his efforts in other areas. The structure of school covered up his problems for many years– his worst failures were viewed as “slacker” laziness. The fact that most classes were over in a few months meant he could just move on before things could come to a serious crisis. It’s only in long term situations where his personality really starts to have obvious detrimental effects on things.

* If he can team up with a solid detail oriented checklist/calendar type person, he can be an awesome supplement to a team or company. This doesn’t always pan out due to personalities and politics, but when “the stars are aligned” things can really hum.

Is this guy sick?  Looking at it myself, I tend to think “irresponsible.”  At the same time, it seems to take him enormous amounts of willpower to do ordinary things.  Should he content himself to finding a niche where his problems aren’t as relevant, or should he try to fix this? Are there drugs to fix this, or is he just naturally a square peg in a round hole that walks to the beat of a different drummer, etc etc? Will fixing this sacrifice his creativity? Do you know of any other programmers like this and what they did to cope with their weirdness?

112 Responses to “Do you know any programmers that exhibit these personality traits…?”

  1. Ron Says:

    I haven’t a clue how you managed to watch me, but….. Seriously, the aversion to phone, checkbook, bills, etc., pegs me very well. I wouldn’t apply the “high-functioning autism” (Asperger Syndrome, for example) label: you mention empathy, and the autism usually goes with lack of empathy and poor nonverbal skills. In my case, I volunteer as a support group leader, and carry out various pastoral activities with good outcomes.

    Your “friend” may, like me, be dealing with some degree of what is popularly called “ADD”: whatever its origin, difficulty focusing (and switching focus especially) unless the adrenaline is poring into the system (perhaps the “there’s too much blood in my adrenaline system” problem). Yes, I can focus on *new* things, new techniques, maybe even new ways to do bills: but after 30 years, the new bills look a lot like last month’s. Got an important deadline? That raises the internal pressure, and we can focus. Got a [potentially bothersome] co-worker standing next to your cube? Deliver the solution and get him away from you in a few minutes.

    At the same time, your “friend” can be able to do things with artistry: there’s elegance, creativity, and delight that says he’s not just a detail person…or perhaps he’s “just not a detail person”.

    Keep him around for the “this can’t be done” tasks (which is my niche, or was when I was consulting for DEC); let him learn and try new things, like an R&D department of one; keep the adrenaline flowing now and then with a deadline.

    Medication? I’m told they tend to help (I can’t take them myself because of other reasons). But I would worry you lose the incredible giftedness you have to work with there, even if day-to-day work is difficult to put through.

  2. Ron Says:

    Oh, by the way, the “lazy”, “irresponsible”, “slacker” labels might be the key to the distraction disorder. I used to hammer myself with these labels, and never wondered why it was that I actually could enjoy a death march week or two as long as I was creating something incredible and unique. It’s not laziness, necessarily, but a difficulty in focusing.

    Ah, yes, switching focus: that would doom me. I can hear the details for one thing at a time, and build a picture of it in my mind, and see the whole system (and its weaknesses, perhaps) before I’m done hearing the spec. But if you want to then add something unrelated, the whole picture vanishes before I can internalize it; and a third thing? Aieeee!

    And yes, there are things I can’t see: I can take out one recyclable bottle without noticing the empty milk jug next to it; I’ve trained myself to act when I finally notice that there’s a laundry basket on the stairway (if I don’t, it will be ignored 20 more trips to the third floor); dishes, pots, all done! (“Dear, there’s one glass, as usual, on the kitchen table.”)

    Oh, yes, and run for your life if you ever move something I’ve put down: it’s gone forever if I can’t see it where it was supposed to be, even if that was NOT its place (disk drive on the dining table? checkbook in the bathroom?)

  3. Shamiq Says:

    As the commenters have stated, this sounds like ADHD – Primarily Inattentive.

    And, with a bit of help, we can be geniuses! It’s about letting us get in the flow and not letting anything distract us. One of the best methods to maximize his potential is to allow him to create an ordered list of whatever he needs to get done.

    You know the type of things he is proficient at and the types he’s not. Cater to that, and give him a tool such as: to get things organized.

    With me, I stopped doing whatever it was that restricted me and let my mind flow. Works like a charm.

  4. Chris Says:

    i recognize myself here.

    i’ve begun to think that it’s the stress level that is inhibiting my memory. i’m getting stressed as soon as any human is around, or could be around in a moment. i can deal with room mates as long as i know they won’t knock on my door more often than once a month.

    two people talking to me, trying to get me to do something at once… my brain just locks up and i can actually stop understanding the noises they make with their mouths. yep, it’s just sound, no meaning, when that happens. i then have to stop both of them and preemptively assign each of them in turn time on my brain.

    doesn’t happen all the time. as long as none is taxing my brain fully, i can handle several conversations.

    assuming you’re describing yourself here, and not a “friend”… i’m amazed at how detached and unbiased you can view yourself. how easy was that for you?

  5. lispy Says:

    >> i’m amazed at how detached and unbiased you can view yourself. how easy was that for you?

    I’ve see-sawed from “superstar” to “total schmuck” in enough situations (and I’m under a tremendous amount of pressure to figure out what’s going on) that I’m looking back on everything and trying to put all of the clues together to make a pattern. I’d ignore or otherwise slack on the topic of “general self-improvement”, but somehow this issue has come under the attentions of the fickle hyper-focus analytical mode.

  6. Michelle Says:

    I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  7. adamo Says:

    No the man is not sick. Just buy him Lakein’s book.

  8. Jesse Says:

    It’s like you *know* me!

  9. blather Says:

    If I didn’t know better I’d say you were following me, documenting every move. You aren’t are you?

  10. A.R.M. Says:

    lol. He is obviously an INTP with particularly strong extroverted intuition (Ne.) If someone is labeled ADD/ADHD, it usually means they have primary or secondary extroverted intuition. It’s a normal personality trait.

    This means a few things:

    o He is heavily right-brained. Call it artsy or whatever, but he has a firm grasp of holistics.

    o Abstract logic is unnatural for him. He can’t reason about something independently of it. He first has to consume the subject so that its mechanism are clearly visible. He reasons about things by interning and “simulating” them.

    o This interning and simulation is powerful. He can struggle for a bit when learning something new, and often appear dumb, but it’s something of a snowball effect, and once he learns something, he *knows* it. It’s interned and inside his right brain which is the “parallel processor.” So he can “see” how everything fits together, and when a problem presents itself, a solution is rarely more than a few instant lookups away. This is across his entire “knowledge base.”

    o Extroverted intuition is very intelligent. Kids with Ne are usually bored as fuck at school because the things they’re learning are usually too easy or intrinsically boring. But of course, motherfuckers have to cure anything that doesn’t look like them, so motherfuckers invent ADD for the extroverts with Ne (ENFP/ENTP) and ADHD for the introverts with Ne (INFP/INTP)

    o He is probably bored as fuck right now. If he’s lazying around and stuff, he could be in a bout of disillusionment/existential depression. This is in sharp contrast to the same type of person who has found their passion. Einstein is such a person, who from the outside may have appeared to be a “hard worker,” but what he did was not work to him.

    o He is a creative. His task is creating things, not actually building them. Doing “detailed” things runs counter to the grain of his nature. This might sound questionable, because what use is someone who just comes up with things and doesn’t help implement them? Well, he’s not just creative. He’s *intensely* creative. Part of it is that he “knows” the subjects he’s pondering, and part of it is that the nature of Ne is very heuristic. But the point is that if you put him in a position where he is a creative director (say, lead tech., UI/interface/experience/usability design, etc) then he will be in his element, and he will do his job amazingly. But as soon as you have him dealing with deep details, his energy will start to drain rapidly. Novelty is his fuel, and without it he is a crippled shell.

  11. adnan. Says:

    A.R.M, that’s very scarily close to describing me (or at least what I think of me at this point in time). But at one point I was all into the details, and now I can’t get back.

    Specially the last two points, wow.

  12. michael Says:

    I feel that way all of the time its nearly impossible for me to work on 3 or 4 things at one time but given just one project I can work quickly and accomplish a lot.

    Please not another to-do list website 😉

  13. rapind Says:

    describes me as well. I haven’t quite figured out how to manage it though (because that’s boring), but I seem to do OK overall. Sometimes we gotta buckle down to knock off boring, but important stuff. I hate it, but it still feels good when I can cross it off. TODO lists, etc. are kinda boring too 😉 I always saw it as being childish, but that’s probably too simplistic.

    Have fun with it is my only advice. Life should be enjoyable right?

  14. Ryan A. Says:

    I reckon you should focus more on ‘learning the hard stuff’, you average programmer.

  15. web design company Says:

    No true justification for it, but I can’t help but wonder if information overload and stress are leading more and more people towards ADD like characteristics.

  16. awalkabout Says:

    I would have gone with dead on Aspergers till you said the Empathy. I’ve got two of these at my house. You described them very very well.

  17. Aaron Says:

    I have experience with a few programmers who are incapable of simply listening to an idea about something visual, no matter how simple or how detailed the description is. I could say “the text is on the left side of the screen” and the answer might be, “let me see what you mean.”

    I have also been frequently interrupted to repeat points I’ve just made, and the repeated answer seems to be satisfactory as long as I don’t get pissed off about repeating myself. I’ve noticed that I do often have to repeat the same sentence or idea multiple times VERBATIM because it lacks the correct context or is misinterpreted the first two or three times I say it.

    I’ve also been asked weird clarification-style questions that seem to have obvious answers, usually by way of repeating a detail I just mentioned. IE: “The text goes on the left and it’s blue.” “So… the text goes on the left?” “Right.” “And…. it’s blue?” “…. right.”

    So yeah, these things are not uncommon 🙂

  18. Graphain Says:

    Heh I thought this was a parody of most programmers.

  19. Dan Says:

    For me the creativity came with a dark side: bouts of agonizing depression (sometimes an hour, or a day, or a week). I did well enough in college so they told me it wasn’t ADHD, and put me on the happy pill instead (Celexa).

    I used to rise up in the night and build cathedrals on foundations of Red Bull and gdb, and in the midst of depression founts of poetry would burst out of my skull.

    Now I’m just passive; not unhappy. I eat cookies and sometimes I write some rails code. Moral of the story: tell them to shove it when they offer you the blue pill.

  20. labels Says:

    ARM – why is the label ‘Ne’ acceptable but the label ‘ADD/ADHD’ is not. They are both simply ways of describing something, ‘labels’ like these are used to make it easier to describe a group of symptoms/characteristics/whatever that often occur together without listing all of them. ADD/ADHD is a descriptor that can be very helpful, but it has been demonised by many making it seem ‘bad’ you’re just applying a different label that hasn’t been demonised. I know this is going off the track a little I just wanted to have my 2 cents worth on that topic.
    Everyone has strengths and weaknesses that they have to find their way around, so yes finding the niche that suits your strengths and weaknesses is the idea. Yes, as others have said it is when other people that you want to be able to live with/work with/interact with enter the equation that it can take some compromise – these characteristics don’t need to be ‘fixed’ unless they impact negatively on others and the person possessing the characteristics wants to have a relationship with the otehrs (be it lover, colleague, whatever)

  21. Michiel Trimpe Says:

    As far as I’ve been able to analyse this thing, the biggest problem is that we tend to _try_ to settle down and focus far too much.

    When I’m completely free to go where the flow carries me I’m fine and I feel amazing. That’s considered a selfish way to live though (insert nagging voice: you only care about yourself) but for me, when I don’t live that way I do more harm than good and when I do live that way I make tons of people happy.

    My theory is that this way of living, while better ;), presents too great a source of uncertainty for most people.

    Just imagine suddenly dropping work on a major project for some company because you feel the approach is not optimal and is presenting you with unnecessary complexity which means that in the grand scheme of things you’d be performing in a suboptimal manner.

    It may be perfectly true, but that company isn’t going to like it 😀

  22. anon Says:

    A couple points.

    The standard stimulant medications for ADHD can be helpful for some of these things.

    If your friend approaches them as “medicine” to “fix” some condition, it’s a formula for disappointment…both the framing is wrong (a condition that needs fixing), and the effects won’t in-and-of-themselves “fix” anything, anyways.

    What they *can* do is make it easier to direct attention to ordinarily-uninteresting topics (in effect: lowering the threshold of intrinsic *interestingness* some task needs before it becomes possible for it to catch your attention).

    Used with an outlook that “these are tools to be used for specific purposes and with specific intent in mind” your friend may find them helpful at times; if your friend decides to go that route, finding a good, cooperative psychiatrist will be essential, and your friend should plan on (being up for) trying most of the stimulant options.

    There’s a lot of options: methylphenidate versus amphetamines (ritalin family vs adderal family); methylphenidate comes in either mixed-isomer (ritalin) or just the d-isomer (focalin), and amphetamines also come mixed or just dextro; there’s “instant” and also a variety of slow-release formats; and sometimes you see modafinil thrown into the mix (either as a primary stimulant or in addition to some primary stimulant).

    The point of the above isn’t to sell you on drugs: it’s to point out that there are a surprising amount of stimulant drugs…and despite the similarities of chemical composition and bodily activity, different formulations can cause markedly different psychological responses in a given individual (and there’s a lot of different formulations). Thus if your friend wants to investigate this route, your friend needs to know there’s actually a lot of closely-related options, and that it can be premature to give up if the first N don’t work (and, also, it can be a sign that a psychiatrist isn’t that good if the psychiatrist only knows of one or two options).

    Another point: sometimes people have very lopsided skillsets, and this causes them all kinds of misery because they peg their expectations to the exceptionally-developed (or exceptionally-weak).

    Think of someone 5’2″ with 90% 3-pointer accuracy; they’re never going to be in the NBA, but maybe they can put that skill to better use somewhere else…and being too attached to the NBA is not going to help the marksman midget, is it?

    I point this out to say: possibly your friend needs to “downscale” his life to the point he can manage it comfortably (dropping any droppable obligations and responsibilities until he hits a level of responsibility he can comfortably manage — meaning, without any half-assery or partial fulfillment of obligations). Once that level has been found, he can very cautiously try ramping his obligations and so forth, each time pausing to make sure that he can handle his new, more-committed workload.

    I deleted a more rambling explanation of the connection between the previous two paragraphs: the gist of it is that you may be overcommitting yourself (unintentionally / without even thinking of it as “committing”), and putting more on your plate than you can actually handle; examining your expectations for unexamined idees fixees you can do without could pay dividends, by cutting your obligations down to a level you can handle.

    Another point: consider, very strongly, getting a personal assistant or an organizational consultant or a housekeeper or a personal accountant.

    There’s a couple ways to get a personal assistant for not *crazy* money:
    – a college student, part time (15k /year tops)
    – some virtual personal assistant from india (varies widely, at one time same ballpark)

    …basically someone to manage your calendar for you, remind you of important dates, optionally to pay your bills or do basic bookkeeping. If you’re technical enough setting up a way to share calendars and so on shouldn’t be that hard.

    It’s not something most non-executives do, but most non-executives aren’t like your friend…your friend might benefit hugely.

    Organizational consultants are also worth looking into: pay some super-anal-retentive ocd-sufferer to build out a super organized, color-coded organizational scheme for your life, then use it…much better than reading some stuff in a book that’ll just go out the other ear anyways, and for your friend it’ll be easier to adapt a finished system than a hypothetical system (paradoxical but true).

  23. Nick P. Says:

    I exhibit many of the traits described here (right down to the phone phobia), so if you figure out what’s wrong with this guy, please let me know :). Seriously, though, I think A.R.M is right on the money–INTP with perhaps some depressive symptoms.

    From strictly my own experience, I’m not sure drugs are the way. I spent 10 years on Zoloft, only to discover that physical exercise works nearly as well for my mood, and without the nasty de-motivational side effects. Only a *competent* mental health professional is likely to know for sure.

    Pushing an organizational tool at this guy is not likely to accomplish much. If he’s like me he’ll attack it like one of his “projects”, only to throw it out once the interesting issues have been solved and the rest goes stale. The best form of organization may be extrinsic and interpersonal.

    I understand your frustration. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had code pushed back to me because I didn’t read the whole spec. Or the number of times my work rate has slowed to a crawl because, having figured out the best way to solve a problem, the details of implementation have become soul-suckingly boring. Might be worth noting that we’re doing some experimenting at work with XP (especially pair programming), and my productivity is better than in the standard “waterfall model.”

    I don’t think there’s anything necessarily “abnormal” with this fellow. Quite a few in my family are similarly wired, and by the grace of God we’ve all turned out as well-educated, happily married, and productive members of society. Hope all goes well.

  24. maetl Says:

    Sounds like an artist.

  25. anonymous Says:

    I would say your “friend” is not sick, not autistic, not in need of “fixing” or drugs. Your description could have been written about me.

    If you haven’t read it, I’d recommend picking up a copy of Keirsey’s “Please Understand Me II”. I can’t say for sure, but your points resonate the NF temperament: focus on future possibilities, strong sense of empathy, teams well with a rational (NT) person.

    The first time I read Keirsey’s description, I cried; my friends agreed it was exactly me. We’re few and far between, so it’s not unusual you’re grasping for an explanation. I’ve only known a few others.

    I’d recommend against drugs or any other quick fixes. What I would recommend is finding people and activities that complement your strengths and weaknesses. A rational roommate or S.O. can bring out the best in you, and you them, for example.

  26. Dan Lewis Says:

    “ADD/ADHD is a descriptor that can be very helpful, but it has been demonised by many making it seem ‘bad’ you’re just applying a different label that hasn’t been demonised.”

    So should we just call a spade a spade, labels? There’s a reason we avoid pejorative labels: they introduce inappropriate contexts and associations, clouding our minds as we try to get to the truth. They can even offend people and derail the entire conversation.

    For me, ADD/ADHD call to mind, first and foremost, unruly kids and medication. Not exactly what Ne is about… and my son has autism spectrum disorder! If someone like me who is sensitive to the issues can’t get the association right, the label is actually counterproductive.

    This reminds me of a discussion of branding I heard on NPR. It can cost more to rehabilitate a failed brand (Java: slow; Microsoft: evil monopolist; Vista: sucks; domestic auto: inferior) than to just burn it to the ground and start over from empty, rebrand with a totally new, unrecognizable name. That’s really what this is about.

  27. Wally Says:

    Wow… Except for the ‘inability to organize’ part I would have said that I was 100% like that. Your friend might aswell will just have to overcome some obstacles, or create his own workarounds. I had a rough time learning how to organize. And by the way, does your friend has a girlfriend? Because somehow that is what mostly did it for me.

  28. Corinna Psomadakis Says:

    Hahaha! Programmers are totally autistic.

  29. Cathy Says:

    sounds like my son who is hfa/asperger’s. he is sensitive to other’s emotional states,though may respond inappropriately, and he is highly verbal, too. someone else pointed out these traits aren’t hfa/asperger’s. and the creative associations and multistep processing (3 things to do) deficit, etc. i have worked with students very similar, too. sounds like you’re paying a lot of attention to him as an employee/co-worker. if you can see what works best for him/how he works best, you may want to discuss with superiors best ways of doling out work to him. but that’s about it. treat him with repsect in ways that seem to work for him, and i’m sure he will return in kind.

  30. Geno Z Heinlein Says:

    “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”

  31. blogblackstreetbbw Says:

    I just wanted to say something based on what A.R.M. said earlier about creatives who create things but never actually build them. That kind of person sounds useless at first, but then think about architects. All they do is design buildings, and they only know enough about the actual construction process to know enough to ensure they don’t draw up plans that are structurally impossible. Other then that, they may be a bit supervisory, but the actual detail work of putting the pieces together is left to the construction crew. The architects may be very poorly suited for rough dangerous construction work and not have the qualifications to operate heavy equipment, but they can stand back and create buildings from nothing and the others can’t. And then of course, the word architect isn’t ALWAYS used with buildings…
    But yeah, your ‘friend’ might just be an architect type person. Someone who has an incredible ability to create things, but lacks the strength or qualifications or desire to actually build them, and so needs others to do the rest of the work.

  32. Rupert , c/o Stewie Says:

    You make a good slave. Move to Papua New Guinea.

  33. proto Says:

    Some years ago, I remember seeing a headline something like: ‘40% of children diagnosed with attention disorders’.

    I remember thinking that, if 40% of the population exhibits some characteristic, it’d definitely NOT a disorder, it’s just the way humans are.

    I have a lot of friends who exhibit the traits you describe — maybe we need to expand our concept of ‘normalcy’. Stand up for your strengths, get people to work with your weaknesses.

  34. Michael Alan Miller » Narcissistic post Says:

    […] 11:51 pm | Tagged as: Uncategorized The parent post doesn’t describe me all that well, but this does. o He is heavily right-brained. Call it artsy or whatever, but he has a firm grasp of […]

  35. Sara Says:


    This was a great list.

  36. Ricky Clarkson Says:

    Sounds like a Ruby programmer to me, alright.

  37. Do you know any programmers that exhibit these personality traits…? | Hackers Dot NL Says:

    […] further on: learning lisp Ingezonden door alex / artikel […]

  38. dom88pao Says:

    There are different kind of people, some can build walls, some other can build houses and some other can build cathedral and the one who build cathedral certainly can build walls but it would be a shame to hire a ersonality how has uhe ability to build cathedral just to make a wall from my point of view.

  39. Johan Says:

    interesting read. I could be that person. I think A.R.M. is absolutely right. According to I’m an Rational Archtect (INTP).

    I couple of years ago a friend of mine told me about personalities he kept running into. He meet new people and felt like, I know this person. He started to look into it and found many answers in “Please understand me II” by Keirsey.

    I can’t thank him enough for recommend it to me. I’ve always felt a little different and bored in school. In some areas I couldn’t understand why others didn’t understand and in yet others I was just dumb and felt like an idiot. It’s still like that but I try to be more subtle. There are a couple of roles at work I probably could do just as well or better than the ‘specialists’ but they would probably bore me to death. I think coffee helps me to put up with some of the mundane stuff.

    If Rationals (NT) is 5-7% of the general population and Rational Architects maybe is 1-2% it’s perfectly natural that we (INTP) feel different and alone at some point. Especially with all those Gardians (SJ), maybe 50% of the general population, trying to push their definition of ‘normal’ and often try to change people (Pygmalion project) not normal.

    My recommendation to everyone is learn more about different personality traits. In some sense where all alike but we are different too. Teamwork and group dynamics is kind of interesting when it works really well.

  40. jonpeltier Says:

    Have you been spying on me? You describe some of these characteristics as though they are bad, but in fact they help make me who I am, and make my work what it is. And make me a PITA, but that’s part of life.

  41. Brian S Says:

    >For me the creativity came with a dark side: bouts of agonizing depression
    >(sometimes an hour, or a day, or a week). I did well enough in college so
    >they told me it wasn’t ADHD, and put me on the happy pill instead (Celexa).

    >I used to rise up in the night and build cathedrals on foundations of Red
    >Bull and gdb, and in the midst of depression founts of poetry would burst
    >out of my skull.

    >Now I’m just passive; not unhappy. I eat cookies and sometimes I write
    >some rails code. Moral of the story: tell them to shove it when they offer
    >you the blue pill.

    Here’s a vote for this, although my situation was much worse. I’m bipolar, and it threatened my family, marriage, job, everything. The swing from intense work to hyperactivity to pure rage… not a cool thing for those you care about.

    The flip side is that with Lithium, Zoloft, and Adderall I’m a drooling, passionless typist with some mediocre talent for code rather than the man who kept his job despite the mood swings because he was so good. I used to want to write a book, had several chapters done. Now… nothing comes. I used to want to write a game… had tons of quests, things to do, ideas to implement. Now… nothing comes. Hell, I used to be able to sit down with Legos and my son and have a great time. Now… I stare at them.

    My family no longer lives in fear of me though. And in the end, this is the choice I made.

    The existential doubt rings a bell as well. Why am I bothering? Worse, I’m afraid to mention that to anyone in my life because I really don’t want to end up in the “mental hospital” anymore. I just want a purpose beyond surviving…

  42. Joe Grossberg Says:

    One idea: you could try to pair with someone who’s “yang” to your “yin”.

    My introverted, engineering-trained stepdad had a business partner in the 80’s who couldn’t turn on his own computer but was a people-person par excellence, and they did business like gangbusters.

    Maybe there’s someone you know who’s great with multi-tasking but can’t concentrate worth jack?

  43. Tom Says:

    Your programmer is broken! Try re-compiling. 🙂

  44. Sam Says:

    Ahh this sounds like me. 😦

  45. DJ Says:

    Yes, I know someone like this: me.

    I struggle with my right-brainedness in a field that I love. Some people seem to view me as irresponsible when in fact I’m very conscientious – just not always able to bring attention to bear at the right time…

    I often feel I’m in the wrong field. Love of computers and programming, plus a moderate level of success and compensation – keep me here. Brute force (persistence, tenacity – whatever you want to call it) is definitely one of my coping techniques. Unfortunately, it has it’s own cost, in stress and energy depletion.

  46. josh Says:

    nailed everything but the checkbook, with which I’m notoriously scrutinizing. At the end you asked how they/me deal with this weirdness and yet I didn’t really see anything that weird in what you described. Guess I’m just weird.

    There.. I feel better now that I’ve come clean about my weirdness. Thanks for starting this support group. 😉

    Nice post, this was interesting.

  47. sapphirecat Says:

    If you change the inability to “prefers not to” then it’s a good description of me. Particularly the staleness technique of organization: I’m thinking of junking some stuff that’s been in a box for ~5 years (3 moves), and some other boxes have already suffered the same fate.

    I could take care of things “more sensibly”, but there’s no reward to it, so there’s always a conscious effort involved to do it.

  48. xeon Says:

    This is me in a nutshell… but I just started getting headaches… I have an appointment for a brain CT next week.

  49. GreatGazoo Says:

    Stalking me is so not cool.

    Seriously, it was humbling to read that description. Then again, even as negatively couched as this description is, I wouldn’t want to be the Type-A superguy either who would be the opposite of this. He sounds like a anal-retentive douche.

    It takes all kinds, and the mix will often produce suprising (and better) results.

  50. Elaniamh Says:

    As many have said, you’re describing a common type of programmer personality.

    The strategies mentioned in other posts provide many starting points for implementing a new system for control.

    Some of the traits you’ve described are (from a female perspective) inherently male. You may want to reflect on the environment in which you grew up to find a correlation to why cleaning tasks and “mundane” details are often overlooked. If one grows up in a household where messes are picked up after, one tends not to notice messes. They were gone before they inconvenienced you, so the concept of “mess” was shallowly embedded. If you’ve got someone else who’s concept of “mess” is deeply ingrained, and they’re not willing to pick up after you, you may want to attempt to change your habits with dishes, etc. For example, as soon as the dish is empty, put it in the sink. Practice to ensure no dish is placed anywhere other than the sink when you’ve finished with it.

    As to the difficulties absorbing verbal input, the only thing that’s ever worked for me is writing things down. As each item, detail or instruction is given, make a note or drawing or other small iconographic representation of the item so it is incorporated into the whole. The book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards, describes a process for giving your left-brain something to do so your right-brain can come to the fore. When the two halves are competing for processing time, the right-brain is more often subjugated than the left. Thus, if you provide your left-brain with an activity: i.e. write down all detail items as they are provided; the right-brain is made available for integrating the details into the whole.

    One reason for the apparent loss of focus is that once you’ve given over to the right-brain, it becomes very difficult to process auditory input (which is left-brain processed.) However, if you maintain a low level of left-brain engagement it becomes easier to keep track of both detail and big-picture.

    I highly recommend the Betty Edwards book for a process through which you can develop recognition of the change in mind-state as you switch between creative visualization and detail monitoring. Simply developing that awareness allows one to prevent ones self from “entering the zone” or “zoning out” prematurely (i.e. when you’re being given verbal instruction.) It also makes it easier to return to a task if you’ve been interrupted.

    As others have mentioned, you can get medicated under the auspices of ADD/ADHD or depression, but you’re better off learning to recognize when you make a state-change, start drawing or otherwise expressing any ideas, and returning focus to the input until its completed.

    Funny things; creative brains.

  51. Josh A. Says:

    Hmm… sounds remarkably like myself. :).

    But it’s worth remembering that just because you’re different doesn’t mean what you do doesn’t matter. There’s a certain fruit company that knows that only too well.

  52. canadiangeekgirl Says:

    Um… do I know you? You obviously know me…

    I’m not sure if I’m insulted or flattered. I am perturbed about the discussions around medicating people like myself, however. I’m okay with who I am… and if you’re not… well, bite me. But don’t call me to tell me about it, because I’m not answering the phone.

  53. James Van Leuvaan Says:

    heh, this was fun to read. I AM A programmer, and work closely with other programmers (yes yes, amazing in and of itself) however I can say whole heartedly and candidly that I do and have exhibited these traits, either all simultaneously, or individually depending on any given circumstance.

    Also in response to one of the comments regarding the Myer’s Brigg’s Kersey temperament assessments, I am an INTJ. Which of course means that I’m probably insane, and a genius depending on how much liquor you add when you’re listening to my little diatribes…


    Good blog. And thank God that I’m not so insecure that I won’t be able to just openly and comfortably accept the realities of how difficult a personality I am – or in this case “may be.”


  54. bro Says:

    What do you mean ‘problem’ or ‘fixing’. In my world, this guy is totally normal. I know several people like this – not all programmers – and it could very well be I’m like this too. I have job. A girlfriend. What’s the problem?

  55. pawsinsd Says:

    First half I’m married to. But left-brained, detail-oriented, methodical, non-empathetic, successful and an inventor, too. Why are you still coding Perl? Time to move to the big leagues, bud. Work on your math and you can do anything.

    Cheers! A right-brained artist-y, yin/yang writer spouse

    ps Ok I do cook for him. And clean, and there’s no more of his clean pile/dirty pile laundry mess for the past seven years.

  56. medpad Says:

    It is almost an ADHD, symptomatic of most people who cannot control their work, sleep and rest patterns effectively. But I guess it happens to most of us once in a way.
    Inability to multi-task is now a accepted universal male phenomenon.

  57. Lisa Says:

    Oh my God! You have just described my husband perfectly! Everything is true! LOL!

  58. loveguru101 Says:

    lol kind of like me… When im doing something completely new from something I normally don’t do.. It would feel sort of weird.. I would feel insecure ’bout myself.. It’s like the first day of school… Dat kind of thing.. IF anyone, the person u might be describing seems to be like my lil’ brother. I’m sure alot of programmers are like dat. Dats wat makes them.. great programmers..

  59. Adam Bard Says:

    Like other posters have mentioned, this sounds awfully familiar, except I don’t think I’m quite so extreme an example.

    I found a good niche in freelance work. You’re never doing one thing for so long as to get complete bored of it, and while you are subject to occasional checkups you basically have the freedom be told what to do but not how to do it.

  60. Shannon Says:

    I saw a lot of myself in this, and my thoughts were, “this person is very intuitive and sensitive.” Sensitivity can cause shyness and is one reason why I also prefer e-mail to phone calls. Sensitivity and high empathy go together in my experience.

    I think people don’t realize exactly how much power they have to reprogram themselves. It takes a long time to see the results you want but you can do it. At the same time we have differing abilities to change certain things. I also request deadlines from my managers, which helps me set priorities.

    Fortunately I can be very detail oriented. I’ve also made myself be more organized, by making use of PIMs and online calendars and such, and I express my creativity outside of my job.

    In my opinion this person probably needs reassurance and praise more often than others, and would probably benefit from your telling him your analysis while also being sure to emphasize where the person shines. I think they would benefit greatly from a coach. Of course, there needs to be a desire to improve first. We can all stand to improve no matter who we are anyway.

  61. aboyinthelife Says:

    like him, i learn better visually and through a hands on approach. some peach just can’t absorb things in verbally.

    also, some of the things you listed seem to conflict with each other.

  62. katemcnamara Says:

    I reckon Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner had autism. Why o why do you all seem to insist on a reductionist view of humanity? There are as many ways of being intelligent as there are human beings on the planet. Consider any so-called primitive society reliant on the moon or the tides, the cyclicity of Indigenous Australian tribal Dreaming, the ability to co-exist within any number of time frameworks, the Malaysian culture that relies on its Dreamers to make decisions etc, etc, etc, Where did the idea that intelligence was a fixed and linear set of cognitive responses ever come from? The idee fixee of modern pseudo-science of categories and systems of classification a la Aristotle or even Confucius is is like a plague of maggots in the collective unconscious. Be easy, all of you, aint nothing worth classifying around here.
    Kate McNamara

  63. AJ Says:

    I almost feel like I am that person you were observing. Specially the bit about brainstorming. If I could have a job spinning out “what ifs”…

  64. mcloide Says:

    I don’t think is ADHD. Seems more to be stress. A high level of stress can make the simplest of the tasks as the most difficult one. By the way, Kate, I agree with you, classifying is not the way.

  65. Prithviraj B Shankar Says:

    It is incredible that you have observed him to such fine detail. Such an in-depth analysis is almost impossible at a place of work unless it is some sort of an alter ego. It is very likely that this person is none other than yourself, or a creation. If this person is indeed what you describe him to be, he may have what we old-timers call a one-track mind, with a lot of insecurities thrown in. His well lit areas are not denied, of course. Cheers.

  66. Annoying Programmers « ilegirl Says:

    […] (coding, management) Call it Kismet, perhaps: when I logged on to WordPress today I ran across this post describing a great many programmers I have met over the years.  They are sometimes difficult […]

  67. Dennis Says:

    I only exhibit 3 of those. Does that mean I’m not a real programmer?

  68. stikiflem Says:

    i can relate to that phone phobia and im a programmer. i think every programmer hates phones (in office specifically)…because it means there’s a bug or the like. hehehe.

  69. Anya Says:

    Ahh, this is my programmer almost down to a T (except I’ve never thought of him as lazy as he is always working on something, I just don’t necessarily understand what it is or why it makes him stay up all night). To help with the multi-tasking, it helps to have one other hobby/activity away from the computer. My programmer took up yoga and it actually helped him work out programming problems AND do a few other things around the house/eat/sleep without him feeling like he was being deprived of his computer for too long.

  70. oryxandcrake Says:

    That could have been me! except for householding and bills part (for which I probably have to thank Flylady (, or the fact that I am female and a mother of a family, or both). And yes, I am an INFP. I am not sure whether this is a disability and should be treated with drugs or a guillotine. In my case, changing jobs from programmer to translator (and becoming self-employed) obviously helped. I deal with small tasks with clearly defined deadlines and normally don’t have to multitask (when I have to, I procrastinate like hell on the other task until it’s half an hour to deadline or so.) I also hate telephone!

  71. This is an exact description of me « Tania Samsonova’s Blog Says:

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  72. Dedric Mauriac Says:

    Fits me to a T, as well as A.R.M. I started seeing someone for it and tried different depression meds. I had odd reactions or started “forgetting” things and feeling tired all the time. I’m off the meds and thinking clearer, but just more aware of what it is to be depressed when I am not focusing on solving a problem. I’m not lazy, but more like … don’t know how to explain other than feeling disconnected or lack of desire. I already know how to do things. Their is just a big cloud of not wanting to do something simple. Things are in my power to do them, but I prefer to focus my attention on stimulating things like discovering how to do things. Our society is automated as such, but trying to do something with simple bill pay goes deadly wrong once a check bounces – and it’s just a downward spiral from there with bank fees in the hundreds nearing a thousand dollars pay check to pay check unless someone sits there until I sort all the bills out. I figure it will sort itself out eventually or just get depressed thinking about the state of the situation. I prefer to have control over things, to set up simple things and forget about them or automate processes. Why bother when their is a simpler solution? You don’t see people reinventing the wheel every hour. We often buy it from someone else who had the motivation and need to improve upon it for us.

  73. stikiflem Says:

    IMHO, programmers stay up late at night because nobody’s bugging them anymore, no phone rings and stuff. then, they can concentrate more on solving problems. 😀

  74. gecampbell Says:

    Sounds like classical Attention Deficit Disorder. See the book “Driven to Distraction” for details. Hint: one feature of ADD is the ability to “hyper-focus,” to focus so completely on one thing that you lose track of others. ADD types usually make great programmers, terrible cleaners.

  75. zacca Says:

    I know someone that fits this description. Great post!

  76. Naresh Khokhaneshiya Says:

    It’s everything about you, right?

  77. akosma Says:

    I can’t believe it! You’re watching me? Where? How?!?! Arrrgh

  78. armageddonsaviour Says:

    Precise Diagnosis …

    You dont need any other degree to be a Psychologist
    You are quite good at it …

    Excellent use and misuse of sense of Humour Anyway …

  79. The Runaway Pride Says:

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  80. salmanlatif Says:

    Man I am on my way to become a programmer – yet a year or two more. And such articles really haunt me!! lol

  81. SimilarMan Says:

    Thats me! (despite some differences, like, the phone. Cos’ i never part my phone)

    I am happy to have read this, now I know that I am not alone and this is one of the types of many guys

    Great post

  82. links for 2008-08-27 « News to Me Says:

    […] Do you know any programmers that exhibit these personality traits…? « Learning Lisp (tags: programming programmers personality) […]

  83. Do you know any programmers that exhibit these personality traits…? « Learning Lisp « The Maudlin Press Says:

    […] Do you know any programmers that exhibit these personality traits…? « Learning Lisp. […]

  84. buffalo web marketing Says:

    I would tend to agree with some of these assessments specifically tackling a project to learn a new skill or sharpen an old one. This get’s extremely complicated in an environment with dozens of programmers.

  85. Mara Says:

    Sounds like you should take a look at :

    At least it will bring humor to the situation!

  86. How to Get the Most Out of Your Eccentric Programmer/Genius « Learning Lisp Says:

    […] to Get the Most Out of Your Eccentric Programmer/Genius I recently posted about a set of programmer personality traits that I’d noticed. At first I thought they were […]

  87. Top Posts « Says:

    […] Do you know any programmers that exhibit these personality traits…? I’ve been observing an unusual programmer friend of mine for some time now. (Yeah… a “friend”, […] […]

  88. Daniel Says:

    Judging by your post on 8/26, you sound a lot like this guy. So where you, before learning the skills that helped you cope?

  89. Bernhard Says:

    “Left-siders” are plodding crufters and your post is a splendid example. List everything in sections, sub-sections and sub-sub-sections, so you can tick them off “methodically” – and grandiosly miss the whole picture. Why do you left-siders have to be so boringly linear?

  90. Chipping the web: August 27th -- Chip’s Quips Says:

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  92. Rodolfo Says:

    Yes, I know one guy something similiar to your friend: myself.

    Never tried any medication but now I am 40 and I’m seriously willing to 😉

  93. James Says:

    Oh man! I got all the way down here and forgot what I was going to say… Did somebody say cookies?

  94. BlackKettle Says:

    Damn pot-headed programmers I tell you…

  95. James Says:

    What’s wrong with liking cookies?


    I usually don’t read through all the comments after reading the post, but after reading the first couple I was interested in how many people are programmers with a lack of attention span and/or organization skills.

    I find myself focusing my attention on challenges that I may encounter, while still trying to allow my ears to listen to the details, like what font color the text should be. The small details seem to be the ones that cause the most issues when you least expect them to.

    While I tend to be pretty disorganized, I find myself to be almost obsessive about clean code and properly commented code. I chuckle when I come across sloppy code, but the whole “dishes, pots, all done! (”Dear, there’s one glass, as usual, on the kitchen table.”) ” (Ron’s 2nd comment), I can totally relate to that.

  96. jeepndesert Says:

    i’m a lazy programmer who dropped out. i could produce a lot of work in a short time and had creative skills, etc. i just usually ended up getting fired or laid off before i got bored.

  97. SPB Says:

    You forgot a trait:
    You / your friend is able to engage in dialog — but not the whole thing. When any given person starts talking, you ‘space out’ for small amounts of time, and tune in just long enough to get the gist of what’s being said before ‘going away’ again. You’ll periodically miss something ‘important’ that was said and must resort to asking the other person to repeat him or herself. You’ll generally get the whole thing the second time.

    I don’t know anything about autism or ADD/ADHD, but did recently take the Meyers Briggs personality test at work and came out — yeah — an INTP, so there may be something to that (and, yes, I’m a software developer).

    The most annoying of these traits, for me, is the inability to complete personal projects. I’ve been long convinced that if I could just see ONE project through, I’d be able to sell the damn thing for a pretty sum and retire early.

  98. th@talldude Says:

    I Just Learned A Lot About Myself…

    I just happened across the blog Learning Lisp, courtesy of somebody sharing a link on SocialBrowse. Two posts in particular, How to Get the Most Out of Your Eccentric Programmer/Genius, and Do You Know Any Programmers That Exhibit These Personality…

  99. Chui Tey Says:

    Heh. You should have added at the end, you are “Aquarius”

  100. Warren Says:

    Just another “me too” commenter here.

    I’m now starting a series of my own posts in an attempt to explain these parts of my psyche for my parents, sister, and wife. Please feel free to comment there.

    Thanks for going out on a ledge and typing out your thoughts… Most of this post (and its successor) were like reading my own thoughts echoing back to me in text form. Cool experience.

  101. richard Says:

    I certainly identify with a lot of the traits mentioned. Find it hard to concentrate in a normal office environment because my brain simply struggles to filter everything out. As a result I tend to work best at home. Anyone found a way to deal with this, apart from finding a job that allows work from home?

  102. michelle hollingham Says:

    We all need one of these in our lives because a common factor is the wicked sense of humor. We all need to laugh at ourselves too.


  103. INTP female programmer Says:

    (Cleaning method: put everything that doesn’t have an obvious place into one or more miscellaneous boxes. Once a year throw out most of the boxes when the contents are “stale” enough. Paperwork management technique: accrue random papers. Act on the most urgent and throw them away. Periodically clean off desk by boxing up the remaining papers and throwing them all away when they get sufficiently “stale”.)

    I used to do this with paper stuff until about a year ago. Throwing away the stale papers is a bit stressful, because you know the cleaning system is illogical.

    A solution to this is to use a filing system. I got the idea from GTD and productivity blogs. Surprisingly, a filing system compresses a lot of paper, and you don’t really need to clean out the paper. If you get incoming paper, you can just shove the paper in one of the hanging folders, organized with your own labels (I think of my folder labels like tags, although you can only file it in one folder). Now I can actually retrieve the old paper if I ever need to, and it’s not a big pile of unorganized stress. I also don’t have to throw stuff away, as it compresses quite well.

  104. chuck Says:

    Hi Lispy. Been a while. Hope you didn’t think I’d stopped following your posts.

    This is great stuff you’ve got here, and seems to have attracted a lot of attention. I agree to a degree with those commentors decrying categorizing people, but on another level I think categories for things and people are necessary. They provide us with an abstraction layer for talking about things in a general manner. If we had to account for every unique individual case in every conversation, we’d never get anywhere and never arrive at anything useful.

    I kind of prefer to see things like personality as a multidimensional space (of potentially unlimited dimensions), and you’re describing a particular region of the personality-space, and it’s a region I too live in. Myers-Briggs tests have usually put me at INTP, but I’ve taken it a few different times and at least once it came up ENTP. Depends on my mood when taking it, I think. Left-brain/right-brain tests tend to put me very close to straight down the middle. Tons of what you’re describing sounds just like me, but of course there are specific points where I differ a little.

    What’s become apparent through the comments is that for whatever reason, there seems to be a noticeable correlation between these personality types and the programming profession. Perhaps programming just attracts folks like us because in some ways it agrees with how we operate. The need for learning through doing and by example would seem to be very common among programmers; that could be why so many programming books are structured around walking you through an example project.

    As a kid, I just felt as if I was misdesigned for the world. It was very trying and frustrating for me to just get along with people, keep my stuff organized, get my homework turned in, and so on. In my young adulthood I was notoriously terrible at keeping track of my bills and things, all those mundane adult things. I lucked into some very understanding landlords and roommates. I lived upstairs from a business run by my landlord for several years, so I would just walk downstairs and give her my rent in cash. Sure beat trying to keep a checkbook balanced. Also was terrible at keeping my place clean.

    I think I came up with mechanisms, or routines, for handling the mundane things as I got older. I started to see it as another programming problem I could tackle and try to solve: given a machine with certain characteristics and capabilities (myself, or my brain as it were), how to introduce a new program into it for keeping the checkbook balanced? Now, there are things I’m crazy meticulous about. My wife remarks on how thoroughly I get the cat hair off the couches. I also have a filing system for papers, as INTPFP suggested above. Typically, a piece of paperwork I think I might need to hold on to will sit around my kitchen table until I get sick of looking at it, at which point I walk it down to my filing cabinet and put it in a folder labeled with some relevant category of things.

    What may have happened for me was that a messy environment became a distraction not much different from a noisy one. It’s hard to concentrate on work or on learning or reading something at home if the house is cluttered. It became visual noise, or noise to some other sense. When the cat litter smell starts distracting me from being able to concentrate, I know it’s time to change it 😀

    I get knocked out of concentration very easily and have a very hard time getting back on track. Working in an office with a bunch of people swarming around is a sure-fire way to make sure I have the hardest possible time getting work done, and having a hard time getting work done leads me to frustration and stress. Then I often end up pissing around for hours, reading or writing blog posts or working on music, trying to get myself geared up to get back into programming. Once I’m in the zone of it, I love it, but it’s a hard slow slog to get started sometimes.

    I’m with some of the commentors that having a creative hobby helps. Writing may not quite be it, for a programmer, because in some ways writing and programming are very similar. I got into playing music and really dedicated myself to it in my teens, and still put a lot of time into songwriting, playing guitar, recording, and playing gigs in little bands no one has heard of. It’s different enough from programming: it’s really easy to get mentally in the zone for, and there isn’t always a specific right way to do, or if there is, sometimes you can only find it by accident. If you played a wrong note, at least a sound still came out, instead of like, your guitar crashed. 😛

  105. Psychoanalyzing a programmer « Jim 2.0’s Blog Says:

    […] came across a few articles written over at The first article was titled “Do you know any programmers that exibit these personality traits…?” I’ve been observing an unusual programmer friend of mine for some time now. He has […]

  106. Mark Miller Says:

    Many of these traits sound like me.

    Something I’ve observed about myself recently, because I moved, is I HATE excessive clutter. It overloads my brain, and has a depressing effect on me emotionally. It’s like my mind tries to take in the complexity of it all at once, freaks out, and I feel like giving up immediately. I’ve noticed myself having minor panic attacks in these situations. The way I’ve found to cope with it is to try to “push through” the panic, not focus on the whole pile, and visually focus in on just a small part, creating small tasks for myself. Then I don’t feel so scared. It takes me working with myself for a bit to get to this point psychologically. If I don’t work at calming myself down I just put stuff in “miscellaneous” places, smaller piles that feel less threatening and more manageable. I’ve found that in cases where I see a pattern developing with my “stuff” I can categorize things well. It’s the one-off, oddball items that drive me nuts. They really discourage me, because I can’t think of a place for them. This might be a reason I like computers. If you need a virtual “bucket” to put a one-off item in it’s real easy to create. In the physical world it’s a lot more challenging for me.

    When it comes to computer work I much prefer hours of uninterrupted time where I can focus. If I’m an expert in my area of responsibility, I don’t mind getting interrupted frequently so much, because I already have most of what I’m working with organized in my head. In fact it helps break up the tedium and boredom of working with stuff I already know.

    I may have mentioned this to you a while ago, but Alan Kay said something in a speech he gave several years ago that at least helped me feel like I’m not alone. He said, “When we’re learning something new, we feel anxious,” because we want to learn it all at once, and it feels like a large hill to climb. I know exactly what this feels like. It happens when I know what the end goal is, I just don’t know how to get there, and I feel frustrated that I have to learn a bunch of intermediate ideas to get to the goal of understanding.

    Then he said that when we’re working with stuff we already know, we get bored. He said, “So we spend a lot of our life either feeling anxious or bored.” This has helped explain a lot of what I’ve felt working as a programmer. It doesn’t help explain how I’ve felt as a student, though. There were times when I was learning something new, but I was bored out of my mind, not because I already knew most of the stuff, but because the subject (or perhaps the way it was presented) was so dry, and seemingly irrelevant.

  107. Gleef Says:

    You sound like you’ve described me as well.

    One thing I’ve been doing to work on that, it seems to be helping in the short run, but time will tell if it offers any long-term fixes:

    Work as a clerk in a busy convenience store, or anyplace where you’re expected to be doing three things at once while helping out all customers who walk in the door. Do this while remembering that every day is a new day, every customer contact is a new experience, reminding myself to live in the moment.

    I’m getting much much better at multitasking and switching focus, synapses are firing that have never fired before in my life!

  108. @~ Says:

    Wow, I didn’t think we’d met before, but clearly we have. Are you stalking me?

  109. Why I’m Not A "Mad Professor Genius" Programmer Says:

    […] 1. Do you know any programmers that exhibit these personality traits? […]

  110. Links and Updates 2008-August-29 | PTS Blog Says:

    […] Do you know any programmers that exhibit these personality traits…? on the Learning Lisp blog. Cleaning method: put everything that doesn’t have an obvious place into one or more miscellaneous boxes. Once a year throw out most of the boxes when the contents are “stale” enough. […]

  111. Seann Alexander Says:

    It’s me too a tee.

  112. codemenkey Says:

    i dunno why i’m commenting on such an old thread; bored i guess. just looked interesting, so i thought i’d drop my two cents. anyhow, the real question you should be asking is: can you find a programmer that doesn’t exhibit most of these traits? to me, you’ve merely described the quintessential software developer.

    – it does not surprise me that personalities who learn best by doing are attracted to a discipline such as programming. programming is very much a “learn-by-doing” skill.

    – the “arrogant programmer geek” is, in my experience, just a stereotype based upon observations made by laymen (who somehow fail to understand why they’re so god damn frustrating!)

    – not a single programmer i know can multitask well. other simultaneous tasks will be viewed as distractions, and that’s what they are until the primary task is completed. prioritization is key!

    – verbal comprehension of details seems to vary from person to person. i can follow a focused, structured discussion, but not one that goes all over the place.

    – in the workplace, completion should be the primary goal of course. this is mere habit-forming. there are other places, such as the FOSS community, where “programming to program” is a real asset, and not something that can be dismissed as “laziness.”

    that’s all i have. cheers. 🙂

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