On Your Health and Your Career

People haven’t really heard from me in a while, and there’s a few reasons for it, but I’m about to talk about the major one.

Sometime around the Kaizen Open Space in Austin, just a little before actually, I stopped being able to look at my computer screen. On an average day, 5 to 10 minutes looking at the screen and I wanted to gouge my eyes out. I was getting severe headaches. I was extremely tired, or at least, my eyes felt like they were. I was irritable. My eyeballs itched. It sucked man.

So that meant very little computer time on most days. No twitter. No blogs reading or writing. No writing code. Basically I kept the time limited to email that I needed for work, and the bare minimum time in visual studio. Since I’m all manager-y now, I don’t get to write a lot of code anyway, so that kind of just worked out. During that time a new WoW expansion came out, and trying to keep up with my friends was a chore, and most of the time I was online I was actually not looking at the screen. (Which is a shame, because Blizzard put a lot of work into it and it’s very visually stunning.) When I did have to spend non-trivial time in the IDE, I just dealt with the pain.

So this has actually been happening off and on to me since late 2004. At one point I bought grocery-store reading glasses that seemed to help just so I could write code and get through the day. But the problem kept going away after a couple of weeks, and, me being me, I just let it go. But this time it was way worse than ever, and going on 2 months duration. I broke down and finally went to an optometrist (with much prodding from a close friend).

Now comes the part of the story where I start coming to grips with the ravages of time. Having spent all my life with perfect vision, I was unprepared for an eye test where I couldn’t read the bottom two lines of the chart. The tech actually got impatient with me because I stubbornly sat there trying to will my eyes to focus on those letters, but it didn’t happen. Long story short: I had somehow gone from perfect vision to nearsighted, farsighted, and a slight astigmatism. Were I the designer of the human body, nearsighted and farsighted would cancel to an acceptable middle state. Anyway, I now am bespectacled at all times except when sleeping. Advancing age and upwards of 15 hours of computer time per day were to blame said the doctor man, and so my glasses also have some special whosamawhatsit on the lenses specifically for computer work.

Were it not for the fact that I need the computer to live I might have been content to let this eye thing go until they got fed up and leapt to their deaths leaving me with gaping sockets. But now, well, last week I paired all day 2 days in a row and was ready for more. And the headaches are gone. And I don’t feel tired anymore (not from sitting around on the computer anyway). And while I’m still not completely adjusted to them (my eyes are still pretty fatigued by the end of the day), I know the glasses are helping. And I’m kicking myself in the ass for ignoring the problem for so long.

Your health affects your livelihood brothers and sisters of the sedentary knowledge-worker persuasion. I know when I put on a few pounds it’s reflected in my productivity and I can guess what the scale will say by my average level of energy change over the course of a few days. And when I’m not getting enough exercise my mood is unpredictable, my irritability and anxiety are high, my posture suffers and my time at the keyboard becomes physically painful. And when I eat poorly for a few days my code quality measurably suffers. And when my eyes don’t work, well, I’m not good for anything at all.

So, in this upcoming time of annual stock-taking and resolution-making, this is my reminder to you and me that your health matters, and your productivity as coders and managers and members of society is very closely linked to your physical well-being, so keep it in mind. And stop pretending you aren’t getting older, and make those doctor appointments to keep things in order. You are the most legacy system you’ll ever work with, so you need to take extra care to keep it performing optimally.

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