A complete guide to staying sane as a developer

A day in the life of a developer can look very different depending on the project.

Whether the day calls for back-end server work, transitioning clients onto a new hosting platform, fixing bugs, or CSS and JavaScript – developers need to remain flexible and adaptable. 

“It’s like different languages,” explains Matt Horning, Developer at Rock & Bloom, as well as self-proclaimed R&B Tastemaker.

“You go from coding, where you’re literally speaking a different language in your head, to a creative meeting where you suddenly have to use the other side of your brain.” 

It’s challenging work, but it’s the kind of stuff that gets Horning excited about his job. 

“I like doing different things and I like being able to stretch or use different muscles. That’s why I prefer to work at a place like Rock & Bloom versus a different company where they focus on their own product. It is enjoyable to have different projects, and those projects require different things. It keeps you on your toes and it keeps you learning.” 

Unfortunately, being flexible and adaptable can be a double-edged sword. Developers become so adaptable that they need to be good at managing their own time and their own mental state.

“It’s difficult to go from CSS and styling in the morning to a creative name jam, and then into fixing a bug on your server or into JavaScript in the afternoon. It’s really taxing – the context switching that your brain does, and it becomes a skill to manage that, because it’s so easy to burn out as a developer.” 

Luckily Horning has a few things that keep his mental health and productivity in check.

Matt Horning’s 3-step guide to staying sane as a developer: 

1. Focus

Try to give yourself as much focus as you can. Block off time and eliminate distractions. At Rock & Bloom we utilize Focus Time twice a week. Focus Time is a 2-hour window that team members block off in their calendars, and no one else can message you on Slack during that time. This allows you uninterrupted, productive work time. 

2. Exercise your brain

If you know you have a creative day coming up or there’s tasks that will involve flexing your creative muscle, try to exercise that muscle early on. For Horning, that means listening to music or singing or trying to do something where he’s feeling rather than thinking.

3. Reset

Going from something super technical into something creative? Reset your mind. Something as simple as going for a walk is often enough to reset and help you transition to a different kind of task. 

We’re incredibly lucky at Rock & Bloom to have the most diverse trio of developers. Developers who can tap into their right brain when needed, and their left brain when needed. Developers who can speak in code, but also in colours and textures.  

“That is why we work here; because we have such an ability to make an impact on every different level,”

“You have such a separation of roles in some places where ‘devs are just devs’, and if it’s code, then they can do it, and if it’s not, then don’t ask them. Those people are fantastic at what they do and they have a great home at other companies, but it would never work here. We’re kind of a bunch of jack-of-all-trades, and we’re a really special group.”  

With such a diverse skill set, it’s no surprise that Horning had trouble coming up with a favourite project. However, the first one that came to mind was Sask Jazz. 

It’s not a project that I’ve done a ton of work on,” says Horning, “but I think the creative landscape of that project and the ability we have to really make something that’s physical that people can actually experience is really cool.” 

He describes the feeling of going to the festival, being a part of it, seeing your work on posters and lanyards and stage design. Being immersed in something you helped create.  

“Those mean the most. Being able to see it; that’s a big part of my drive for a project. I want to do something, but I want something to happen because of it.”

” I don’t want to just put nothingness into the universe. I want there to be some sort of ripple back of enjoyment. I want to be able to create something and then see it and physically experience it.” 

The highlight reel doesn’t stop there, though. Horning’s had success with other favourite projects such as creating loading animations for Remai Modern, and adding unique touches to Motif to help highlight their personality. At the end of the day, Horning’s goal is to create something that allows a person to experience something they haven’t before.

It’s this passion that really sets a developer apart from the rest. Horning often gets asked if he fears that Squarespace or Wix is going to steal his job. His answer? 

“No. If you need a vehicle, you can go and buy a bicycle. You can buy a car for a thousand dollars that’s going to get you from point A to point B. Or you can go and buy a Mercedes. It’s also going to get you from point A to point B.”

“It doesn’t matter which you buy, it’s the experience that you have while you’re doing it. “

Similarly, if you want to make a website, you can go make a website. You can make a website today in 10 minutes and it’ll probably achieve a lot of the goals that you’re trying to accomplish. But at the same time, it’s not going to have the experience that we can create.” 

Experience is crucial for a brand. Not just for your customers, but for your employees as well. Creating an environment where employees can thrive and be the best version of themselves takes a company from good to unstoppable. 

Horning is grateful to have found what makes his feet jump out of bed in the morning and his heart feel full at the end of the day. His advice for other developers is to find what makes you tick.  

There’s a large push to get jobs in tech because it’s a very safe path and an area of business that is only going to grow. However, as Horning notes, it’s so wide and variable that there is so much opportunity to get lost and to work for people who don’t value what you do or get pushed down a path you’re not going to enjoy.  

“Developing is a tough job,” says Horning. “I hope there’s a moment where you’re able to just stop and say, ‘Why do I want to do this? What do I want to get across with this career?’ The money is always going to be there. But where do you make your impact?”