The Flow

by Martin Thomas


Some would be surprised to hear that programmers actually love their job (or at least most of them). This however, is not due to one being workaholic, but an extremely liberating experience called: The Flow.

Their job may seem uninteresting sitting in an office forty hours a week, especially compared to other jobs that includes exotic travelling dealing with people and other hyped activities, but because of the flow this job will be one that a programmer really loves and most people would really love to have.

Are you ready?

What is the flow?

The flow is an experience in which we completely submit ourselves to an activity. It is fulfilling and essential to leading a happy lifestyle. It is an experience in which we fall into trance and time just flies away. It is the very reason you may not notice that you spent eight hours at the office, or that it’s five am already, and the sun is coming up.

The ultimate experience

So why is all this important?

Being a programmer usually requires you to be a creative problem solver forty hours a week. This looks like a rather impossible task, because while creativity may be encouraged, it cannot usually be induced, “it just happens”. Programmers can tackle this problem by making sure that they are in the flow.

One will never be a great programmer, nor will he write great code without mastering the flow. Usually without it you are just frustrated by the complexity of the code, and can’t get any work done. However when in the flow, you just don’t notice the complexity because it becomes part of the task that you realize how to solve it, you just “know” how to get to the solution, or at least know how to find it.


Challenge vs skills

This is the very reason why it is terrible to ever interrupt a programmer with anything when he has the headphones on, and is visibly working. It is really important that the task he solves isn’t too hard, because it will break the flow, and it isn’t too easy because that will lead to one being uninterested and distractions. It is also important that when you reach a part when you can’t proceed, because you encountered a problem that you don’t know how to tackle, that you do know where to look for help in order to get going again. A seamless helping hand will not break the flow, it will be part of the solution. This is why an old Google account is really helpful, because it is “trained” to know what you are looking for. It gets the results you want in less than a second and because of the short time it takes to get going again, your flow won’t get broken.

The flow can be really addictive as it’s one of the few components that are really needed to lead a happy lifestyle. If you’re a programmer you should try not touching your computer or phone or any other electronic device for a week. You’ll go mad. You’ve just lost one essential component of your life and you won’t know what to do anymore (maybe get back to programming?).

There are some people who just seem like they were born to be problem solvers. They are actually 2.5% of the population who have this personality type, and essentially they are the people who would make a great programmer. In addition, the reason we have so few girls in the industry is that only 0.5% of the girls have this personality type, plus the culture doesn’t really help much either.

How can you help yourself get into the trance like flow state?

Music really helps a lot. Some would be surprised (again?) that the very music you hear in clubs and other venues is actually really helpful to becoming a great programmer. The genres that may help you get into the flow are most electronic music like electro, trance, psychedelic trance, dance, house, drum and bass, dubstep and trap. Your exact selection of music may vary but essentially the key is repetitiveness and seamless long mixes. Therefore you should look for mixes of any of these genres (maybe experiment a bit?) that are something like two hours long. A good mix is never interrupted, the tracks follow each other seamlessly and there are no huge changes in the tracks.

Some old video games were also really great at inducing a flow state, because you were given a clear task that was tweaked carefully to make sure that it is not too easy or too difficult. To add they usually solved the problem of failure by giving you yet another chance and helping you get to the solution easily without breaking your immersion (or flow?).

A modern wizard?

Programmers may seem like the wizards of the 21st century. They create miraculous things from nothing that have a background that usually no one understands but them. They have skills that seem inhumane when compared to others. The flow adds a lot to this image as programmers now suddenly do things in a trance state induced by rhythmic, repetitive music often filled with lots of drums. Kind of like a tribal ceremony. They also seem really mentally exhausted after such a journey in the “other world”.