The programmer's mistress

The programmer's mistress

Last week I mentioned my decision to learn Python and write a free software program. I found some cool online tutorials. I found my Learning Python book, and I was ready to begin. So like many a programmer I sat down in my chair, opened my books... and watched "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" instead.

Starting any project is a bit daunting and scary. All the notes and computer books in the world don't write that first line of code. So the first barrier to beginning a new project is procrastination. I think of it as the programmer's mistress. If a new program is like the wife of the a programmer, procrastination is like his mistress. He knows that it's wrong to spend time with her. He feels guilty when he is with her, but the incredible attraction persists.

I find that the scariness of the goal directly correlates to how much I procrastinate. If I have a mildly disturbing task to do, I'll procrastinate by watching a movie and have some icecream. With a more frightening project, I might go on a movie marathon.

So what did I do when I was faced with writing my first program in 20 years? I watched "Buffy the Vampire slayer". The complete collection. All 144 episodes! It took so long to watch them all, that I judged the passage of time by the moon phase indicator on the bottom bar of my computer.

=IMAGE=BuffyandSpike.jpg=Buffy considers driving a stake through Spike's heart. (Image credit: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" ©2001 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation / Fair Use)=

Now to be honest, I do have other things that I am avoiding. I am mortally afraid of the new school year for example, but the thought of programming terrifies me. In my gut I keep thinking that a "real" free software programmer should program for fun and relaxation. Perhaps my fear labels me as someone who is not suited to program. The doubt just makes me feel worse. I know that I shouldn't have such high expectations at the beginning of a project, but I do.

But then again, I know that waiting won't solve anything. Now is not the time for doubt. Now is the time to get over it and just try my best. I take a deep breath, open my Python book, and start over again. After-all, Spike is just so hot in season six.



marienoelleb's picture

I am not really sure that so many people develop "for fun and relaxation".

Some people donate open source software as their contribution to the community

Some people need a challenge and find a way to prove their talent in front of a large community

Some people just develop a project or a product and do not see any reason to keep it for themselves (and do not want to sell it)

Some people (or groups) need the help of the community to maintain a very large software system (like a RDBMS or an ERP)

Of course, these motivations may combine and I am sure that there are still other ones.

Marie-Noëlle Baechler
Belmont-sur-lausanne / Suisse

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Rosalyn - I know a great book for you. It's called The Now Habit.

It's by a well-known psychologist and is well regarded. A lot of people procrastinate for the same reasons your described - fear of failure. This book will help you get started in overcoming that. Good luck!

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Rosalyn Hunter's picture


Rosalyn Hunter has been on the internet since before the web was created. Born into a family of instructors, she has made it her life's goal to teach others about the important things in life, such as how to type kill -9 when a process is dead. She lives in a little house on the prairie in the American West with her husband, her three beautiful children, a cat and a dog.