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Daragh Byrne
Daragh Byrne

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Software development and spirituality - what's the connection?

I have a question for you inspired by one of my favorite (non-dev) podcasts, On Being.

It's about spirituality and whether it plays a role in your life as a developer. Here goes:

What is your spiritual or religious background and how has it changed since your childhood? How does it feed into your life as a dev (if at all?).

It's something I've been thinking about a LOT for, well, years. I've written about it before on my blog, but I've been going deeper into the question this year since I started a two year long training in mindfulness and compassion.

I've had to get very familiar with the original Buddhist teachings on meditation.

Now, I don't consider myself religious, yet it's undeniable Buddhism is practiced as a religion in many parts of the world (I tend to have a more philosophical relationship with a secular, Westernized version of it).

I'm grew up in Catholic Ireland, and went through a process of questioning and rejecting that faith during my teenage years. I studied physics at university and make a living trying to get (largely) deterministic machines to do rational things.

I am, more or less, a rationalist with a materialistic bent. I guess there are a fair few people matching that description in this community?

Nevertheless, I find great value in these teachings on mindfulness and meditation that come from Buddhist traditions. They have undoubtedly improved my life, including my career in programming (so much so that I started this blog).

I've been able to practice them without needing to take on any specific rituals or supernatural beliefs (so far!).

But... even though I like the materialist worldview, there's something interesting and perhaps inexplicable about the fact that there is something rather than nothing. That I appear to exist in a really awe-inspiring world, that I can be conscious of that fact and reflect upon it.

That, dare I say it, I exist in some sort of interdependent relationship with the world I'm embedded it - my volition and action and creativity have an affect on it, and it has an affect on my experience in terms of joy and suffering.

That I'm surrounded by similar conscious minds who might also know joy and suffering. That perhaps I can act in ways that might maximise joy and reduce suffering and create value in the world.

That sometimes it feels like there's something ineffable and just plain old mysterious about being alive...

I think this is the essence of my current idea of spirituality - the nature of my relationship with the universe I find myself in and how I can cultivate that relationship.

It shows up for me as a dev by considering writing code as a creative and moral act. Creating code has some kind of impact on the world around me, given that it's used by others and can hence create joy or suffering. It's a moral act because what it is used for matters. I personally wouldn't choose to write code for weapons systems for example.

So how does this show up for you? Are you aligned with one of the worlds historic spiritual traditions? Or a hardline athiest materialist with humanist principles? Or something in between?

I'm dying to know!

If you're interested in checkout out my writings about meditation for programmers, check out the articles on my blog.

Top comments (6)

krhoyt profile image
Kevin Hoyt

I have been in the field of developer relations for over a decade, and I have leaned heavily on my spirituality - faith - as a Christian to build and model teams. After all, few people groups have spread a message as successfully.

When I started this line of work, people in the field were called "evangelists" and that term strikes pretty close to home in the Protestant traditions. An "evangelist" is someone going out to "spread the good news". It is an outward, mostly one-way, activity. Then I began to think deeper about the choice of terms.

Take for example a "pastor" is somebody who tends to the local congregation. This might be akin to a local meetup. So now we have somebody out there spreading the news (conferences), and somebody tending to the local needs/questions (meetups).

Taking this further, not all ministries are evangelistic in nature. Food banks, building schools in less developed nations, etc. These activities are about serving, which I connect with the role of "advocate" used in developer relations today. And indeed, I feel that organizations that neglect the breadth of these roles/titles actually do the field a disservice.

If all we focus on is the serving, then the marketing team (evangelism) is going to feel neglected - or whatever misalignment of balance you want to infer. Too much evangelism, and you become a corporate shill. And so on ... balance is key.

Depending on how deep you want to take it, I have even found the way Jesus teaches and deals with the apostles to be very informative. For example, rather than give a direct answer, Jesus typically presents parables (stories). This allows the learner (hearer?) to make the mental connections themselves. I can give you an algorithm, or I can help you discover the algorithm.

Jesus even spent time meditating before a big "project". Or you can look at code as an act of creation. There are so many wonderful intersections between spirituality and our lives as developers (and of course simply as human beings). I feel it is a bit taboo to speak of in this manner though, so I really appreciate you bringing it up.

codingmindfully profile image
Daragh Byrne

Thanks for sharing - wonderful to hear how your faith has let to positive contributions to your working life, that's a fabulous answer. And yes, it can be a taboo subject. But I find more and more developers who have some kind of larger framework, or at least a curiosity. Spirituality is both so personal and so universal. Interesting to hear your take on pastoral care and the sharing of information in Christian terms - absolutely spot on about how effective the sharing of the word has been!

I'd noted the evangelist terminology myself, I found it quite interesting.

There is so much to be found in the wisdom traditions of the world. I'm very curious about the commonalities and the differences, and applying what I discover to my own life and work.

Thanks again for your thoughtful answer.

casen profile image

Judging by the lack of answers here, this is still a relatively taboo topic for the intelligentsia, even after the two-year global awakening during the pandemic.

For me, being a software engineer led me to greatly improving my mental power. Working on mathematical models, and huge information systems sharpened my logical abilities, and my abilities to probe the limits of what is knowable.

Along with those mental powers, came increased depression, frustration, isolation and anger. When I was very identified with this powerful mind, I believed I knew everything, and I was depressed at how unintelligent the world appeared. Nobody understood what I understood. I felt alone. I saw the abuse of the environment, the history of genocide and many other atrocities as signs that humans were doomed.

At the peak of this depression, my father killed himself.

The pain, despair and isolation I felt during that time completely destroyed my sense of self. I couldn't hold that much pain, and I fell apart.

Quite mysteriously, after six months I began to feel joy again for the first time in over a decade. I stopped taking life for granted. I realized that every moment is precious. I began to have compassion for all beings, recognizing that suffering is universal.

At this point, I started reading a lot from the Vedic yoga traditions, and the Tibetan Buddhist traditions. I fell in love with listening to Ram Das speak, and I found the beginnings of a spiritual path. I began meditation and doing yoga daily. After a couple years, I found Autobiography of a Yogi, which had a further impact on my spiritual life.

Ever since, my life has been a flowering tree of exquisite joy. I dare say, I'm an even better software engineer now that I have more balance.

theprash profile image

I'm a dev and I had a sudden awakening this year after not realising I was spiritual for over 30 years. I feel more content than I've been since early childhood.

It's made me want to spend less time working and looking at screens. I wonder if there's something else that I'm supposed to be doing, even if it's just meditating.

I haven't found community around the topic in professional life, but I'm seeking it elsewhere. Perhaps we're meant to spread love and realisation in the software industry... ❀

sn0n profile image
Rob Foraker

Page not found on the meditation link.

codingmindfully profile image
Daragh Byrne

Thank you! Fixed it.