Stereotypes of computer scientists abound. There are few professions that elicit such a clear (if not accurate) vision of personal disposition, manner of dress, work habits, and dietary eccentricities than ‘software developer’. I’m painfully aware of which portions of the stereotype ring true for me. For example, I am unsurprisingly a Myers-Briggs ISTJ (albeit one who’s able to navigate the gap between I and E, when necessary). This doesn’t concern me (and there’s probably little one can do about it, in any case). But, what’s been bothering me more and more over the years is the fact that I fall squarely into the ‘dietary eccentricities’ stereotype with respect to my soda-drinking habits. If you’re not already aware, programmers are frequently depicted as individuals who are avid consumers of cola, energy drinks, and other such beverages. In this case, the stereotype seems to have a strong basis in reality, and for me, this reality has been an ever-increasing burden.
Consumption of soda might not sound alarming (and for most, it probably isn’t), but when one considers the volumes of soda consumed by those who live up to the stereotype during tasks that require complete concentration (such as software development), one begins to realize that said consumption is mindless, excessive, and habitual. Anecdotally, my own consumption of diet cola has often well exceeded one litre per day (and there have been days I’ve known my consumption to be in excess of two litres). When viewed in this light, soda consumption alarms nearly everyone. Few can see any benefit imparted to the individual by this compulsive behaviour, particularly when taken in conjunction with the many other risks programmers (and other thought workers) face: sedentary lifestyles, repetitive strain injuries, perpetual eye strain, and so on.
While software development is hardly a risky endeavour (comparatively speaking), I’m always pleased when I can reduce the inherent risks to my health and extend my potential longevity in the industry. So, for me, a recent bout of illness that left me unable to consume diet cola for two days had an obvious silver lining: a running start. With these two days already under my belt, I decided to go with it, and have now been free of this particular habit for a full week. This might not sound like a big deal, but it feels like one. And, although I’ve made no formal commitment to stick with my decision, I’m intrigued to see how it goes (and whether or not my code-quality remains stable). Who wouldn’t be intrigued by the prospect of shattering stereotypes and of no longer being associated in any way with this:
For an excellent analysis of the ‘stereotypical programmer’, see Steve McConnell’s chapter on the topic: Orphan’s Preferred.