Swizec Teller is the geek blogger who wrote the article that provided an explanation for what I thought was the uniquely eccentric behavior of Tolga. My curiousity to learn more about Swizec led me someplace interesting. I started by reading his other blog posts.
His blog was filled with geek talk & tech tips. He wrote,
“You know that one piece of shitty code that always makes you cringe? Something along the lines of months = [‘Jan’, ‘Feb’ ….]; dateString = date.day()+’ ‘+months[date.month()]; Yeah that piece of code. Let’s talk about that.”
He also wrote posts for non-tech readers, including a blog about himself making Wild Mushroom Stroganoff.
I found myself intrigued by his blog – the posts I could understand. And I was not alone in my gratitude for his ‘Why Programmers Work at Night’ article. He, however, was surprised by the response. “I felt it wasn’t a very informative post, just musings of a hacker who has always loved the night-time,” he wrote. He was ”certain it wasn’t that interesting,” and he was surprised that it became his most popular post ever.
“How did all of this happened?” he said. “I honestly haven’t a clue, there are tens if not hundreds of posts on this blog more deserving of such infamy, but I guess people like a good pat on the back and an easy ‘Yeah totally. I can totally agree with that!'”
True to geek form, he monitored his web stats and traffic. And he shared them.
”A geek with a hat” is a 5 year old blog that normally gets 30,000 visitors a month. That’s impressive enough. By the 4th day after he posted the article, he had 627 + (likes) on google plus, 550 tweets mentioning the article, 288 new twitter followers, 475 comments on Reddit, 173 comments on his own blog, 89,000 visitors on Friday alone, not to mention 7,000 facebook likes, and 192,208 unique page views. That’s a 5000% increase over the normal traffic!
I hoped he was from Las Vegas or LA so I could interview him in person. His twitter said he was from Ljubljana, Slovenia. I laughed at his cleverness. Only a geek with a sense of humor would have listed that as a location. I felt encouraged. Maybe he was one of those cool dudes from LA, a Hollywood hipster geek perhaps? I wondered if he would drive to Vegas so Tolga and I could take exclusive photographs of the geekster. First things first.
Who exactly is Swizec Teller?
The Skype Call
Swizec Teller, it turned out, could not come by for a photography session because he really DID live in Ljubljana, Slovenia. He’s a computer science student in his last year at the university. He started programming when he was 9 years old after being introduced to a computer in a class at school. His father was not a programmer but a mechanical engineer. Swizec programs primarily in python, java script, and lisp.
When I asked what he does for fun, he said, “Believe it or not, I program for fun.” Of course. But he’s also starting to spend time long-boarding, boxing and drawing.
When I asked what inspired him to write “Why Programmers Work at Night,” he responded that he works at night, and fellow programmers are online all night too. Chatting with them in the middle of the night gave him the idea to write about it. Swizec even knows at least one programmer in every timezone.
I asked him what % of his closest friends are programmers. He paused for a sec and said, “All my friends are programmers, so close to 100%.”
ME: Is there anything you accomplished in tech that you are especially proud of?
SWIZEC: When I managed to run readability on my server and we scraped about a million articles with it.
I didn’t know what that meant, so I looked at Tolga who gave thumbs up. I said, “Wow,” and included it for my hacker friends like Trevor Blaszo and others who will understand. Swizec is a hacker and a programmer, but he has never been to a Defcon or a PyCon or even a developer conference for that matter. In Ljubljan, they have “BarCamps” where attendees give a demo, a session, or help with one. He participates in those.
His goal is to finish college in Slovenia, head to Silicon Valley and launch a tech startup. Silicon Valley is the perfect place for the hipster-looking geek with the hat – they will love him there. Maybe the guys with the Hackbuscan meet him and give him a ride to his first Defcon where he can hang with Trevor or code with Tolga all night.
I suspect you’ll be hearing more about Swizec Teller in the months to come, so keep your eye on him. He’s worth following. Here’s his original article. Enjoy.
Why Programmers Work at Night
by Swizec Teller
A popular saying goes that Programmers are machines that turn caffeine into code.And sure enough, ask a random programmer when they do their best work and there’s a high chance they will admit to a lot of late nights. Some earlier, some later. A popular trend is to get up at 4am and get some work done before the day’s craziness begins. Others like going to bed at 4am.
At the gist of all this is avoiding distractions. But you could just lock the door, what’s so special about the night?
I think it boils down to three things: the maker’s schedule, the sleepy brain and bright computer screens.
The maker’s schedule
Paul Graham wrote about the maker’s schedule in 2009 – basically that there are two types of schedules in this world (primarily?). The traditional manager’s schedule where your day is cut up into hours and a ten minute distraction costs you, at most, an hour’s worth of time.
On the other hand you have something PG calls the maker’s schedule – a schedule for those of us who produce stuff. Working on large abstract systems involves fitting the whole thing into your mind – somebody once likened this to constructing a house out of expensive crystal glass and 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 investment, we simply can’t start working until we can expect a couple of hours without being distracted. It’s just not worth constructing the whole model in your head and then having it torn down half an hour later.
In fact, talking to a lot of founders you’ll find out they feel like they simply can’t get any work done during the day. The constant barrage of interruptions, important stuff ™ to tend to and emails to answer simply don’t allow it. So they get most of their “work work” done during the night when everyone else is sleeping.
The sleepy brain
But even programmers should be sleeping at night. We are not some race of super humans. Even programmers feel more alert during the day.
Why then do we perform our most mentally complex work work when the brain wants to sleep and we do simpler tasks when our brain is at its sharpest and brightest?
Because being tired makes us better coders.
Similar to the ballmer peak, being tired can make us focus better simply because when your brain is tired it has to focus! There isn’t enough left-over brainpower to afford losing concentration.
I seem to get the least work done right after drinking too much tea or having a poorly timed energy drink. Makes me hyperactive and one second I’m checking twitter, the next I’m looking at hacker news and I just seem to be buzzing all over the place..
You’d think I’d work better – so much energy, so much infinite overclocked brainpower. But instead I keep tripping over myself because I can’t focus for more than two seconds at a time.
Conversely, when I’m slightly tired, I just plomp my arse down and code. With a slightly tired brain I can code for hours and hours without even thinking about checking twitter or facebook. It’s like the internet stops existing.
I feel like this holds true for most programmers out there. We have too much brainpower for ~80% of the tasks we work on – face it, writing that one juicy algorithm, requires ten times as much code to produce an environment in which it can run. Even if you’re doing the most advanced machine learning (or something) imaginable, a lot of the work is simply cleaning up the data and presenting results in a lovely manner.
And when your brain isn’t working at full capacity it looks for something to do. Being tired makes you dumb enough that the task at hand is enough.
Bright computer screens
This one is pretty simple. Keep staring at a bright source of light in the evening and your sleep cycle gets delayed. You forget to be tired until 3am. Then you wake up at 11am and when the evening rolls around you simply aren’t tired because hey, you’ve only been up since 11am!
Given enough iterations this can essentially drag you into a different timezone. What’s more interesting is that it doesn’t seem to keep rolling, once you get into that equilibrium of going to bed between 3am and 4am you tend to stay there.
Or maybe that’s just the alarm clocks doing their thing because society tells us we’re dirty dirty slobs if we have breakfast at 2pm.
To conclude, programmers work at night because it doesn’t impose a time limit on when you have to stop working, which gives you a more relaxed approach, your brain doesn’t keep looking for distractions and a bright screen keeps you awake.
Swizec’s article originally appeared on his blog, “A geek with a hat,” located HERE.