My struggles as a feeling-type, emotional and highly-sensitive programmer

Unlike many in the tech industry, I’m one of the few who see the world through the emotion lens and intuition. Gut feelings guide almost every decision I make. Whenever I set down to do something, it must feel right or I just don’t do it. Sometimes, I consciously know that it will be painful for me in the future if I don’t do anything right now.

But often times, gut feelings just doesn’t cut it in the tech industry. You have to convince people of why you think or see things certain ways. After all, it is an industry that is predominantly numbers, logical and pragmatic.

So I found myself struggling quite often to articulate why I feel so strongly against or for something or explain my decisions. It is also a struggle to explain why I know a certain thing will happen or not. And when I finally do find the right words to use to make my stand, the arguments in hindsight are weak most of the time. At the end, people will not take you seriously since you can’t convince them and will brush you off if not reject you.

Rejection hurts. A lot. Then there were times when I’m just outright angry with that. I’ll admit, I did take it personally because deep down, I am really trying to help to make sure you don’t go through the same pain by getting you to be more conscientious and put in place mechanisms now that you can use easily in the future. It also lead me to feel disappointed with myself for failing to convince anyone more than anything else.

That’s not the say I lost perspective. I do know projects are time-sensitive as the customer wants the product out fast and good. Nobody got the time to wait for you to lay down the foundational properly now. I know recognize that people at the management level are pulling their hair out trying to manage the whole project and deal with the customer. I also know that some of my colleagues are swarmed with work while some just didn’t want to expend so much effort.

Ability to multi-task is expected of you when you work as a programmer. I don’t know about the other roles in other industry because I have never worked in those before. But what I do know, from the perspective of a highly-sensitive person, multi-tasking is very expensive in terms of energy use. Then you have to juggle with a whole bunch of demands, go for meetings, eat, and mingle with other colleagues. So by the end of most of my work day, I always feel so drained.

Those are the things that make me feel like just giving up working as a programmer or engineer. I just don’t feel like I belong in this industry because of my highly-sensitive and emotional nature. I just no longer have the same conviction I had when I was younger. My colleagues, despite my efforts to explain my nature, don’t seem to get it. It means that I don’t get the kind of support I need to get through my day or do my work properly. Then, there is the self-doubt. It is also my biggest enemy and leads me to suffer from higher amount of anxiety.

Until the day I finally snap and quit software development, there are a few tips I can think of to help one go through his or her day better. I have to admit I tend forget about them when I’m overly stressed or anxious:

  1. Remind yourself that there is nothing personal at work unless it is obviously a personal attack by your colleagues. Everyone is there to do their work and fuck off at the end of the day.
  2. Be mindful of how you are feeling. Walk away if necessary, collect yourself and try again.
  3. Let it all out at the end of the day by going for a quick jog or run or exercise. Go for screaming therapy if need be. Punch a punching bag or do high-intensity workout.
  4. Avoid any form of chemical stimulants like caffeine. I know as programmers, caffeine is your best friend but if you are highly-sensitive or emotional, caffeine will send your nervous system into overdrive. That will put you at higher risk of anxiety attacks or feel more restless than usual. I have been there. If you really want something to drink that is not water, try mint, chamomile or ginger tea.

Social Media – Don’t need it for news, you are only making yourself stupid

A conversation today with a friend over lunch gave me an inspiration to write this.

The conversation began when I told him about the fan event for the Marvel’s Infinity War hosted at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore tomorrow. Then he asked, “You don’t have Facebook anymore, how you know about this news?”

For context, the news article that started the whole thing was this: Benedict Cumberbatch drops by Singapore Heritage Festival

So you see, I get my news from traditional news outlet. The intentional act of searching for, deciding and choosing what to read is both liberating and empowering. There is simply no need for the army of bots or AI or moderators used by social media to tell me what I should be reading, or hide news/articles that I won’t be interested in just because I clicked ‘like’ on some articles or pages and ignore some other stuff.

I curate the type of content I like to read myself. This is also inline with my minimalistic lifestyle—that intentionality behind everything I do.

What most people don’t realize when they choose to read news from Facebook or Twitter is, they have just outsourced their critical thinking or research skills to an external system be it human or machine. They don’t really stop to think if what they are seeing is fact or fake and don’t bother asking questions because they ‘trust’ the platform to give them exactly what they want to see or hear.

They also stop realizing that they can get information through other means like forums, actual news sites or even reddit. Like in my friend’s case. He even asked me who else still read the news or even newspaper when I replied him.

That’s just one of the many issues plaguing our modern societies.

Another would be when these people see something else out there that disagree with their world view, they get all upset and call those things ‘fake news’. No one is willing to talk to anyone anymore because they don’t want to deal with that discomfort. At least that’s how I view it.

So my question is, if nobody is talking to each other, how are we going to solve problems or how are we going to progress as a society?

You need to understand one thing. Social media sites like Facebook are good at delivering what you like to read or see because they target your emotion centers through the use of algorithms to show you news or articles with titles that trigger something inside of you. As far as I know, they have experts behind the scene guiding how those alogrithm should be developed to maximize the delivery of content to the audience. Those news or articles delivered aren’t necessarily fact-checked or from a credible source.

These sites also make a person even lazier. And humans in general are quite lazy. I mean look at the amount of technology we have develop just to make our life easy and simple. As an example, I have had friends who skimmed through articles presented to them by Facebook, never checking the source, and then make stupid comments, causing unnecessary arguments or unhappiness. I’ll admit that I was guilty of that when I had Facebook too.

This form of lazy masked by the need for the next new thing will spread to other areas of one’s life too if left unchecked. Soon, people will stop thinking if they want to get red wine or white wine to drink or which car they should get, etc. They will just let algorithm decides for them.

At the end of it, they have just made themselves look stupid and their brains smaller. I for one don’t need that in my life. I like having a bigger brain.

What I learnt trying to write non-fictions

Most of the non-fictions I wrote are actually my personal journals called Daily Logs that are published almost daily. They serve as documents of what I have gone through, my deepest thoughts, and how I see the world. However, they get little to no readers because they only serve two audience. One is me, and the other is my friend.

As a writer, that’s just not the right way to grow because you will always end up writing about yourself and become self-absorbed whether it is intended or not. That was why I decided to try and write other kind of non-fictions because I want to be known as a “true” writer.

The past one year saw me writing more than a dozen articles so far ranging from reviews to my thoughts about stuff in life and published them. They are on my personal blog here on WordPress and Medium. Through those writings, there are some lessons that I learnt that are highly valuable.

Ideas are slippery things

Ideas are slippery little bastards. One moment an idea comes to your mind and you get so excited about it. Then it’s gone when something or someone interrupts you. If you didn’t note it down somewhere, you will forget what it was. When that happens, there is no guarantee you will get it back.

Therefore you should always have a notebook or something that you can write on with you. This is to ensure that you can easily jot down ideas that comes to you.

Good non-fiction requires good experiences

In order to write good non-fictions like those self-help, listicles or life lessons type contents, you need to have first experience whatever it is you want to write about. It is only then you can distill that experience down into lessons that you have learnt, what you have done, and could have done differently. The moment you try to imagine and ramble on like you would in fictions, the writing that comes out may not look authentic, could come across as pretentious, and readers are smart enough to pick it up.

So if you don’t have real life experience on something, it’s always important to stay away from it. You are better off writing about something you truly know. This is why you will never see me write anything about how to improve your lives or be a better person because I’m aware of how limited my experiences in life have been.

Informational or instructional content requires a lot more effort

It takes a lot more effort to write content that inform or instruct. However, before you can even start doing that, you need to be very clear why you are writing it in the first place and who’s your target audience.

Then you need to ensure you truly know what you are writing about and how to present that writing in a digestible and engaging manner. I’m pretty sure no one wants to read a research white paper because of its long-windedness and most of the time irrelevant to your life and what you do.

The moment you aren’t clear about the why, what and how, then your writing will be all over the place and nobody will ever read it.