John Polacek

Chicago Web Developer

John Polacek is a lead web developer from Chicago who heads up engineering at GiveSmart

Follow me at @johnpolacek

How Getting Married and Having Kids Made Me a Better Programmer

Originally published on 3/24/2013
Me and the kids

It may seem counterintuitive to think being married with children could have a positive impact on your programming. Yet, that is exactly what has happened to me.

First, there’s the obvious way. Motivation. When you have a family to support, becoming great at what you do is excellent job security. Thus, doing web development has gone from being a fun thing that I do for a job, to a very important fun thing I do as my career. Now, my own personal hustle factor is at an all-time high.

The other way is unexpected. Obviously, raising children is a tremendously time-consuming, and energy-intensive endeavor. Is there less time to program? Yes. When you do have time to program, are there lots of interruptions? Also yes. How can this be a good thing? I will tell you.

In the old days, I would hunker down and spend long stretches of time working on a project. If I ran into an issue or a block, I would just keep hacking away at it for hours. I would curse and get frustrated at the lack of progress, but eventually power through.

Nowadays, as a matter of necessity, I can only code in short bursts, maybe 2 hours at most. Sometimes, I’ll be struggling to fix a bug or work through an issue and be getting nowhere. Next thing I know, the baby is awake, or it is time to eat or any number of other things that come up in the course of a parent’s day.

This has been a blessing in disguise. The brain is an amazing thing. There is this thing called unconscious cognition, where your mind works on problems while you aren’t thinking about them, even when you are asleep.

It has happened to me over and over again. I get away from what I’m working on, then when I come back, I focus on it in a fresh way. I can accomplish in 10 minutes what may have taken me an hour or more had I just stayed ‘heads down’.

This phenomenon has made a big impact on the way I code, and deal with problems in general. It has given me confidence in my ability to work things out. Instead of getting stressed, I step back and let my brain churn away. It almost never fails. Sometimes I wake up and an answer will effortlessly appear in my mind. It is uncanny.

So, if you are thinking that settling down and having kids will mean that you won’t be able to get as much done, think again. At least for me, it has been the opposite — everything on my github was created post-children.