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Andrej Naumovski
Andrej Naumovski

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What having a programmer burnout at age 21 feels like

In my first post on I'd like to discuss what's it like to experience a common programmer/developer/software engineer problem at a very young age, very early into your career.

A small intro first, I'm 21 years old, currently in my senior year of university, majoring in Computer Sciences and Engineering. I've also started working part-time as a junior web software engineer two months ago, and as an undergraduate TA at my university. Seems a lot right from the start, doesn't it?

Seems like all this isn't enough for my brain. I can't seem to stand still for a moment, I have too many ideas and projects going on in my head at all times that I just have to start working on anything I find even remotely interesting - and end up regretting it later (the time of writing this is 'later'). On top of university, work, personal projects and (some vague form of a) social life, I also freelance.

In general, on a working day I (easily) spend 12+ hours working. This has been going on for the past couple months.

To sum all of this up, in a normal day I encounter different technologies and languages ranging from Spring to React to Node to Python, and spend a lot of time. And don't get me wrong, I like all of the tools I'm using, otherwise I wouldn't use them.

Anyways, I'm currently in the final stage of a freelance project I've been working on in the past couple of days, and I'm starting to feel like programming isn't even fun anymore for me. Like I don't even like doing this. I feel I am appalled by a framework and language I enjoy writing in on regular days. I blankly stare at my IDE, I know what I'm supposed to write, but I can't make myself write 200-300 more lines of code and just finish and deliver the project. In all honesty, I feel like s**t.

There's three reasons I'm writing this. The first is because I deeply feel I need to write this off somewhere and get it out of me.

The second one is to remind every developer that is currently starting their first job, and just getting into the field, to take it easy. Make balance. Make balance, because feeling burnt out and not even being out of college is, in my personal experience, without doubt the worst feeling ever. It's a part of your life you never want to be in, trust me.

And the third reason is to ask for advice. How have the lot of you dealt with programmer burnout before? How do you recover from it?

Top comments (16)

joelkinzel profile image
Joel Kinzel

This is common in young developers. They feel a need to know and experience every possible technology and project they come across.

First thing is to be comfortable not knowing everything. You can never with any reasonable degree of expertise understand even a fraction of the different frameworks, libraries, tooling, and languages that are available to a modern developer. Pick a few you really like and run with them.

Second, you have to start limiting yourself on how many hours you spend coding each day. It is a mentally demanding and draining job. This means you will have to prioritize and even drop all together certain projects. It will be hard but if you spend more time focusing on things that truly interest you and that you enjoy, you will feel greater satisfaction in your career and your life.

Third, find a hobby that doesn't involve staring at a screen. Physical and social activities will make you a better developer. You'll gain "soft skills" and reduce stress (which will allow you to think more clearly during the time you are writing code).

Spending more time away from the keyboard and doing other things is really the only way to recoup from burn-out. You need to give your brain a chance to rest.

dmfay profile image
Dian Fay

"In general, on a working day I (easily) spend 12+ hours working. This has been going on for the past couple months." <- this is the problem. Your brain isn't built to go full bore on problem solving for the bulk of your waking hours. You can do it for a while, but it's like redlining an engine: you go faster temporarily, but it's not free energy. An engine's components degrade and it eventually breaks down; a person burns out, and, not to put too fine a point on it, eventually breaks down.

Attending university and holding down two jobs, part-time or no, is a lot. If you can dispense with one of the three, do it, and replace the time you formerly spent on it with something that isn't programming. Maybe take a short break from development entirely to recharge, go camping or something; it sounds like you might need it. Take stock of your passion projects and evaluate how much time you can spend on them without running yourself ragged, but don't give them up entirely! They are work in their own way so you need to watch your commitments, but it's important to have things you do for yourself.

ile2807 profile image
Ilija Trajkoski

You should try the sex framework. I hear people are using it a lot these days. Joke aside, been there, I feel you, take it easy, go to a mountain/lake with people you like, become one with nature. It have worked for me in the past. God speed!

andrejnaumovski profile image
Andrej Naumovski • Edited

I can't find package 'sex' on NPM, are you sure that's the correct name? Maybe it goes by SexJS or something?

parel_hutahaean profile image
Parel Hutahaean

This is interesting.

isaacdlyman profile image
Isaac Lyman

12 hours is a lot. You can get burned out on far less than that, if your work is unsatisfying or high-stress.

One thing I learned this year is that a little change or short vacation won't resolve your burnout, any more than a stick of celery or a short diet will make you lose weight. You need a lifestyle change. Say no to something. Take an easy way out. Your mental health is worth it.

elisawic profile image
Eliasz Sawicki

It's pretty easy to get caught a trap like this. If you're into many technologies and want to be up-to-date with each of them, then catching up with daily updates could be a full time job itself. I also believe that it's hard to simply cut or take a free day and not feel guilty, but if it came to that point, then you should totally do that. If you feel guilty of taking a day off then it should also be a sign for you that something is not good. As a junior developer you may feel that you have so many things to learn, but you have plenty of time to do that! This is a marathon, not a sprint. Remember that taking less things to do is not something that you should be ashamed of... So relax, grab a good book (or whatever you want) and enjoy your time! There will probably be a lot more developer years in your career and they can be really enjoyable ;)

jvanbruegge profile image
Jan van Brügge

I'm in a similar situation. I'm 20 and while I dont try out every new technology, I just have many projects. Besides my CS degree, I'm developing a product to be sold to local companies, develop software for a satellite, Co-Maintain Cycle.js and a few helper libraries and do at least 1.5h of sports a day.
While working that much is exhausting, and I am currently waiting for the satellite project to finish to reduce my workload, for me the sports help a lot. I am forced to take the time of working and go somewhere to meet people doing something I like a lot. I think without sports I would be in my burnout already.

elouanc profile image
Elouan Cottenot

As the others say, take it easy.
I was once like you, and on a project I nearly break (lose 10 kg in 3 weeks, sleep 3 hours by night, etc...). At the end my manager help me to take distance from my work.
But I keep some aftereffect, I'm not so enthusiastic about dev and it's visible in my work and hobby (I stop doing personal project and regret it a lot, but I can't make myself do it).

Take it easy, slow down on your work hours and take the time to rediscover the joy of code :)

andrejnaumovski profile image
Andrej Naumovski

Thanks to everyone for the advice, it's really much appreciated. I'll finish this project I have and then take a long break from afterwork projects until I feel like I can start doing something of my own again, without my mental health suffering. Glad to be a part of, feels really great to communicate with nice devs from around the world!

schynso profile image
Olivier Schyns 🇧🇪

Thanks for posting this because I am kind of heading in the same direction as you.
Last year I was quite depressed, I didn't wanted to program and I wasn't feeling secure with my knowledge in programmation. Now I am feeling better but I started working an all sorts of projects in a lot of various languages and technologies. And this month it is the second time that I spent the night working on a project.

Hopefully I have given myself the rule to work only on one simple feature of one of my personal project before working on my school projects. Just to start the day on the right foot.

I think the best thing to do to change your mind would be to go out hiking. That is what I did last year with my uncle. It allows you to empty your mind, do some exercises and as a bonus you get to explore the place where you live and to see some nice sceneries.

toby profile image

I like to make sure I make time every week, even maybe a little every single day for just doing "nothing".

By this I mean time that I don't plan except to plan to not do coding or work related stuff; reading a book or newspaper, outside activities, arranging future social activities, so on.

Sometimes (often) I feel guilty that I'm not learning the latest new buzz word tech, that my career might suffer for it, but ultimately I find I'm more relaxed, can focus on things at work better and even that I'm more even tempered.

Having nothing time can seem hard to justify but it's definitely worth it.

jorinvo profile image

Great advice from everyone!

I guess being able to pick your battles wisely is one of the most valuable skills we have to learn. You don't become great in what you do by working as hard as you can, but by picking the right things to work on.
We need to take care of ourselves and we only have so much energy available when living a balanced life.

One article on that topic which I like a lot:

stojanovskip profile image
Stojanovski Petar

First, I think everyone makes this mistake, I don't even like the word mistake, let's call it an experience. However, that only means that you are eager to learn new things and also, ambitious. That is everything but a reason to get mad or angry at yourself.
Second, it is a good thing to share your thoughts with people alike, that has proven me to be a good technique to get out from a rough patch, or situations like these.
Third, my suggestion is - spend the weekend somewhere outside the city - mountain, lake, anywhere without a WiFi and/or TV. Also, don't worry, since you had ideas, which you liked before, you will have plenty in the future from which you will gain a lot.

msoedov profile image
Alex Miasoiedov

Get a break, and spend some time for reconciliation of your daily routines. Don't mix a lot of technologies at the one day cause this will just melt your brain and of course productivity.

frogec308 profile image
Nejc Gutnik

What helped me:

-Table tennis few times a week
-Music streaming on morning bus to work,audio books, new earphones
-Food suplements
-Acpuncutre for easing carpal syndrome
-Talking to people.