The new parent’s guide to surviving a programming job

Working as a programmer will keep you busy; parenting a baby is a massive amount of work. Doing both at once isn’t easy!

While it does get better with time, there are ways you can make it calmer, simpler, and easier in the short term. Based on my experience as a new parent and programmer, in the rest of this article I’ll cover:

  1. Mitigating sleep deprivation.
  2. Dealing with limited work hours.
  3. Other random tips.

Sleep deprivation is terrible

Sleep deprivation is awful. It makes you less focused, more irritable and cranky, and in many ways it’s similar to being drunk. When done deliberately sleep deprivation is literally a form of torture.

If you’re lucky your child will start sleeping through the night after a few months, but (from personal experience) not everyone is so lucky. So here are some ways to deal with lack of sleep.

Be kind

The irritability that results from sleep deprivation is going to impact all of your relationships—with your spouse/partner, your friends, and your coworkers. Keep in mind that you are going to get annoyed more easily, and try to compensate.

Remind yourself that the reason you’re so annoyed by the code you’re reviewing is probably nothing to do with your coworker’s skill, and everything to do with being woken up at 1AM, 3AM, and finally at 5AM.

Compensate for cognitive impairment

Besides being irritable, you are also cognitively impaired—you’re less smart than you usually are. You can compensate for this in a variety of ways:

  • Spend more planning up front than you usually would; you’re more likely to forget about important details otherwise.
  • Avoid writing complex code, since you’ll have an even harder time than usual keeping it in your head. Figuring out a simpler solution may take longer, but it’s worth it.
  • Keep a “lab notebook”: write down what you’re planning on doing next, what you’ve already done, and status notes. This will help mitigate the memory problems from lack of sleep. It will also help you deal better with interruptions, and to get going at the start of the work day when you’ve already been “awake” for 7 hours and you can’t remember what or why you’re at the office.

Your time is limited

Even if you used to work longer hours (and you really shouldn’t have), you really shouldn’t be working long hours as a new parent. That means:

  • Learning should be done not at home but on the job, which in any case is the best place to learn new skills.
  • You need to learn how to say no to your boss, and how to set boundaries in general.
  • Learn to prioritize. Only the truly most important things should be done first. Everything else will be done next—and if you don’t reach it, that’s OK, it was less important. “But this is almost as important!” Nope, not happening. “It would be really nice…” No.

Other advice

Pumping milk at the office: Pumping milk multiple times a day at the office can be time consuming. If your baby is healthy, I’m told you can pump once in the morning, stick the equipment in the fridge without cleaning it, and then pump a second time later in day. This saves you one cleaning cycle at the office.

(I am not a medical professional, ask your pediatrician first before doing this.)

Working at home: Some babies, I’m told, will just lie there happily babbling to themselves while you work. If you have the other kind of baby, the kind that screams continuously if they’re not held, you might be able to get a little work done at home by putting them in a baby carrier and using a standing desk.

A shorter workweek: Even if you’re not working long hours, a full-time 40-hours-a-week job may still be too much as a new parent. You can often negotiate a shorter workweek at your existing job fairly easily.

What really matters to you?

However efficient you are, having a child is going to take up a whole lot of time. And that means you’re going to have to make some choices about priorities: what things really matter you? Where do you really want to spend your time?

It’s a personal choice—I am glad I got to work part-time and take care of my kid the rest of the time, but I would hate to take care of a baby full-time. Your preferences may well be different.

But whatever you decide, just remember you need to choose: you can’t do everything.


You might also enjoy:

» It may not be your fault, but it’s always your responsibility
» You are not your tools
»» Get the work/life balance you need
»» Level up your technical skills