Why Are Developers So Fat?

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Raymond Lewallen doesn’t mean to single anybody out, but in his latest post on the topic of living better, he observes that

…there is a decent percentage of programmers that are obviously overweight. You’ve heard people talk: that fat, glasses wearing, backpack toting guy MUST be a geek! Even if you don’t wear glasses and tote a backpack with a laptop inside, if you’re plain overweight, people assume you have a high probability of being a computer geek!

So what can you do about it? At the MVP summit, I observed many things (unhealthy things) that I believe people can do to curb their diets and become healthier, leaner people.

So based on events at a geek conference, the MVP summit, Raymond assumes that unhealthy diets and lack of exercise could be at fault. Let me propose another theory based on my experience today on the exhibition floor of the SD West conference.

Burger and
Fries

As is common at conferences, several booths were giving out those ubiquitous one-size-fits all X-Large t-shirts emblazoned with a flaccid attempt at being hip and witty. All of this is lost on me as I receive a shirt I will never wear, as it looks like a dress on me. At least it will make a good rag for cleaning the next spill on my kitchen floor.

Contrast this to when I head over to SourceGear’s booth. I had the great pleasure to meet the founder of SourceGear, Eric Sink, in person. He is the author of one of my favorite blogs, in which he writes insightful posts on running a software company and software development in general.

Interesting random connection to Eric: He and I discovered that we both lived in thesame apartment complex in Spain, but at different times.

Back to the story. They actually are giving out shirts that I would consider wearing outside of a conference hall. He asks if I would like one, to which I reply, “Sure!”. It’s his next question that throws me aback.

Which size would you like?

Uh…excuse me. What was that?

You see, SourceGear had shirts in all sizes! Not only that, they had an ingenious ploy to get everyone wearing them. They were giving out a Wii and said they would randomly walk around and give people wearing the t-shirt tickets for the Wii raffle. Near the end of the day, it seemed like everyone was wearing their shirt.

Then it occurred to me. Developers are so used to being fit into a single mold, we often don’t know better. We often do that to our users, forcing them to conform to our software rather than conforming our software to how users really work.

In the keynote, David Platt gave several examples of sites that work and don’t work. Using the Starbucks website as an example, he did a search for one in his area. It didn’t find one within the selected radius, 5 miles, and gave him an empty search result page asking him to search again. Come again?

As Platt points out, when you’re in need of a coffe, would you ask your friend, “Hey, where are all the Starbucks within five miles from here?”, or do you ask, “Hey, where is the nearest Starbucks?” and then make the decision to go or not based on that information. You do the latter and so should our software.

But I digress.

Getting back to my epiphany. It occurred to me that maybe developers are fat, because we’re all trying to fit into that X-Large conference t-shirt. Perhaps, if more companies focus on the user like SourceGear, we’ll see thinner developers wearing shirts that actually fit. Just maybe.

If so, remember to thank Eric for giving developers a reason to not get fat.

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24 responses

  1. Avatar for Andy Stopford
    Andy Stopford March 21st, 2007

    Aimed at Raymond and not you Phil but my own take on this is while as geeks we can out geek each other, in terms of family, health or personal matters there is a line. Telling geeks "gosh so many of you are so fat!" is IMHO crossing that line. Is it there lives and no one has any right to tell them how to live it.

  2. Avatar for punky
    punky March 21st, 2007

    Brilliant!
    I use conference T-shirts only when painting the house.

  3. Avatar for Mark Wisecarver
    Mark Wisecarver March 21st, 2007

    yup...My MSFT 'New Day' shirt was so large I could swim in it. Maybe that's the point...Keep them as souvenirs, not for wearing.

  4. Avatar for Scott Banwart
    Scott Banwart March 21st, 2007

    Some of us have the opposite problem. I haven't worn an XL sized shirt since my second year of high school. Admittedly, I could stand to lose a few inches around my midsection, but I am far from being obese.

  5. Avatar for David Crowell
    David Crowell March 21st, 2007

    If only I could get down to an XL shirt.
    Although I'm 35, I've only been a professional developer for about seven years. Before that I had much more physical jobs.
    I have felt my body's slide into blubberdom, now that I sit at a desk all day. Yeah, I know, get out and exercise. I will, really, as soon I write some more code :)

  6. Avatar for WED Fan
    WED Fan March 21st, 2007

    I started gaining weight after I left the USAF. I took a technical instructor job in the semiconductor industry and gained 10 lbs. I got married, gained 10 more. Got divorced, gained 10 more. Took a job as a developer and was chained to a desk, gained 20 more. Recently my wife and I started a diet. 7 months into it, I'm down 35 she's down 40. I've lost 6 inches off my waist. It was no special diet plan, we just started controlling what we ate and boosted our activity. No more cholestrol problem, I sleep better, I'm no longer borderline diabetic, and my acid reflux is gone. I'm writing better code, and I get lucky 3-4 times a week as opposed to twice a month. Life is good.

  7. Avatar for Scott
    Scott March 21st, 2007

    That's not my problem. My problem is I'm lazy. (duh!) That and once you have a kid (tick tock tick tock) and both parents work, it's hard to work in a work out.
    Now that's she's walking, and running, and listening to our instructions. We should be able to start going for family walks, which will help with my waistline.
    All that aside, when I am working out I still don't fit into an XL. All that stuff around my middle turns into muscle and moves up into my chest and shoulders. Usually the seams of the sleeves on an XL shirt end up somewhere around an inch and a half from the base of my neck. So it looks like I'm wearing a too-tight wifebeater from Hoodiehoo systems inc llc.
    The XL shirts make great sleep and painting/work shirts for my wife though.

  8. Avatar for Dave
    Dave March 21st, 2007

    Crap, I have a backpack, glasses and am overweight. I guess I can wear my contacts, get a new bag. The weight thing is going to take a little longer.

  9. Avatar for Raymond Lewallen
    Raymond Lewallen March 21st, 2007

    Andy,
    While telling people how to live their lives is certainly not my intent, some people just need that bit of motivation. Ask anybody who has lost weight and started exercising (or just read some of the comments here or on my blog) and they'll tell you how much better they feel! I'm just trying to prompt the issue for people to feel better physically and mentally. Certainly not trying to offend anyone, but rather, jump start people.

  10. Avatar for Nicholas Paldino [.NET/C# MVP]
    Nicholas Paldino [.NET/C# MVP] March 21st, 2007

    When I got out of school, I started an increase in weight that I found very, very undesirable. I ended up adjusting my eating habits (nothing crazy, just being more sensible) and exercising, a combination of cardio and weightlifting that I cycle over six days every week. Some might think it's a little crazy, but an hour of intense physical activity compared to the other 23 where I don't do much isn't much in the scheme of things.
    As a result, I have a body much closer to what I want than what I don't. I'll take a medium please. =)
    There is a great episode of the Simpsons where Homer decides that he doesn't want to work anymore. While looking for ways to classify himself as disabled, he comes across obese, which (in the show) is classified as 300 lbs or more (this results in a great scene where he eats play-doh in order to creep above 299 lbs, only to find the towel bar was supporting his stomach).
    Anyways, at one point, he goes into a shop to buy clothes, and the salesman asks what Homer does. He responds "something to do with computers". Homer ends up getting a mumu.
    While I think that it was incredibly funny, it is also incredibly telling.
    I applaud Eric as well for helping curb the tide of fat developers.

  11. Avatar for Picacodigos
    Picacodigos March 21st, 2007

    I'm 35, obscenely fat and I carry a backpack around ALL DAY. Sadly, I don't need glasses. :)
    In my case I believe is genetic: I'm genetically lazy. Although I've worked on more physical endeavors such as factory work, bars and so on prior to my coding devotion, I've always been overweight. Now it's really over the top: last December I weighted 165 Kgs on a 1.68 meter frame (that's 363.76 pounds on 5.5 feet on your scary and non-standard system). Yeah, I know. Strangely, I'm in good health: my analysis show that my only deviation from the norm is taht I'm a little bit low in sugar (ain't it ironic?).
    Anyways, since December I've started a diet combined with acupuncture that's working really well: I've lost 55 pounds to date. :)
    So I guess I'm on my way to an L-sized convention T-Shirt, thank you Eric. If only I could attend conventions... which brings me to another topic, one that I'd like to raise a debate from: how come all the COOL T-Shirts avaliable to buy via the Internet are for Linux guys? How come I cannot show proudly my true colors to the world? Where can I get the "Gimme Windows, .NET and SQL Server or gimme death" T-Shirts? :)

  12. Avatar for Raymond Lewallen
    Raymond Lewallen March 21st, 2007

    BTW, Microsoft did cater in some rather healthy food for people to eat. Beef, salmon, sandwich meats such as turkey and roast beef etc. It was all the soda and the snacks that people consume. And the amount of potatoes people would eat was amazing. It was more of an observation of people in general and not a reflection of what kinds of food are being provided at conferences.

  13. Avatar for The Other Steve
    The Other Steve March 21st, 2007

    I'm fairly certain the health habits have less to do with t-shirts, and more to do with inactivity. I never take those free t-shirts, because I'm picky about my clothes.
    Anyway, my advice... Get a dog. Walk the dog 30 minutes a day.
    Now one could say just walk 30 minutes a day, but there is always something more important to do. The beauty of having the dog, is that the dog will remind you that going for a walk is important.
    We have a miniature long-haired Dachshund, and she's a sweetheart and she loves going for walks. She's also helping keep our cats healthy and fit by chasing them.

  14. Avatar for Paul
    Paul March 21st, 2007

    Development is not, in my opinion, an average 8-5 job. And i sometimes feel that one can be outgoing and fit and social and be just an average programmer at the same time.
    If one wants to be great at programming, i guess it goes beyond just 8-5. For me i choose to be an 8-5 developer...no more coding and devote time to other things like staying fit and being social. I learnt a lesson in my grad school CS program that the more i worked the less social and fatter i got.

  15. Avatar for Scott Muc
    Scott Muc March 21st, 2007

    I hear yeah! I hate those XL shirts. I'm a M or a L depending on the shirt. I believe that being phsyically active also helps out the mind too. I hit the gym 3 times a week and that 30-40 minutes on the cardio machine is a great time to think about coding issues.
    Also, I used to be a fat computer playing kid growing up. When I was around 20 I decided to lose the weight and now I'm a much happier, healthier, more productive person.

  16. Avatar for Haacked
    Haacked March 21st, 2007

    @Andy, I felt Raymond was merely making an observation. It's no secret that software development can be an intense profession and that passion for the craft can lead to other inactivity and perhaps an expansion of the beltline.
    Of course, his observation is purely anecdotal, so it could be completely off base. But judging from the comments, it certainly struck a nerve.
    I felt his post was meant to be encouraging to those who are looking for support. We're not supposed to talk about these things, but many struggle with it.
    Ironically, one of my posts with the most comments (and still coming in) was in at throwaway post: http://haacked.com/archive/...
    The comments section has become a confessional!
    It's the title of *this* post, not Raymond's, that makes a strong generalization. But my post was really about a different topic. I merely used the weight issue as to frame the real point. One-size does not fit all.
    It was a joke to suggest that people would get fat in order to fit in a large t-shirt. Interestingly enough, most comments are more interested in the weight issue than that point. :)
    Not that I'm complaining.

  17. Avatar for Brandon K.
    Brandon K. March 22nd, 2007


    That is actually interesting to me. I have a feeling at least for me living at my computer, drinking way to much coffee and caffeine products matched with pizza (easy to eat while working) probably doesn't help a lot with trying to not fit into the stereotype. Also I wonder how much work environments play into it by adding additional stress or decreasing stress. Do you happen to know if David Platt's presentation is available anywhere? It sounds extremely interesting.
    @Paul I agree 100% with you about programming not being the 8-5 routine. It is nice to have the flexibility. I just need to utilize mine a little better :-).

  18. Avatar for Great post
    Great post March 22nd, 2007

    Great post Phil, especially with summer directly on the horizon and we are all thinking about getting into better shape for those long days at the beach.

  19. Avatar for Dave Frank
    Dave Frank March 22nd, 2007

    I've given this much thought. It's tough, it really is, but it *is* possible to code all day and be healthy.
    Behold, the ninth wonder of the world...
    The bowflex series 3 treadmill:
    http://davefrank.com/archiv...

  20. Avatar for Shiva>
    Shiva> March 22nd, 2007

    Isn't the entire Country getting fatter and fatter ?Look at the trends in the past 20 years !
    Why focus only on developers ? Start looking at other professionals too - barring the likes of athletes and such - and you may find similar "shocking" facts :)

  21. Avatar for Keyvan Nayyeri
    Keyvan Nayyeri March 22nd, 2007

    Sleep man, sleep :-D
    I read about this in some papers and heard about it from radio. More than eating, sleeping affects our bodies and makes us fat. As long as we don't sleep, we feel hungry during day and eat more and more and this is the main reason to become so fat!
    Since I got off to military training and returned to normal life (sleeping for 6-8 hours per day) I lost 8-9 KG and now feel better.

  22. Avatar for Mads Kristensen
    Mads Kristensen March 24th, 2007

    I thought the one-size-fits-all t-shirts died in the eighties

  23. Avatar for OndeVai
    OndeVai February 15th, 2013

    Stop spending time on GitHub and get into the gym! Stop snacking at your desk!

  24. Avatar for ManeatingCouch
    ManeatingCouch October 29th, 2013

    Or just not overeat, which is what I do.
    I did recently start exercising, but that wasn't to lose weight.