Coding Vacations

A couple of weeks ago I took the week’s vacation from my job as the Producer of Pirates of the Burning Sea to sit at home, in my basement, and write code 12 hours a day for 8 straight days. It was a fantastic experience and I would love to do it again. If you aren’t a programmer that probably sounds crazy to you.

There are two things that made my coding vacation the awesome, relaxing, productive, and fulfilling experience it was. The first is that there is very little drag on writing code on the first few thousand lines of a project. The second is that I haven’t had much of a chance to code at Flying Lab in the past year and a half. Well those and the fact that I genuinely enjoy programming.

When you are at the very beginning of a project you have little to no drag on your efforts. There isn’t a large body of code to keep up and running when you make a new change. Your compile and startup times are incredibly fast. When you have a bug, there are far fewer places it could be. When you’re used to writing in a million-line code base, this is liberating. It’s also very productive, which feels great.

As the Pirates project has gone on, I’ve gradually been moving further from the code.  Way back when it was just me writing all the code (or even just Heidi and me) I had tons of coding tasks, but about the time we added the fourth or fifth programmer the amount of time I could devote to coding during daylight hours dropped to almost nothing. Once we signed with SOE, I picked up all of the management duties for the technical side of that relationship, which made it even worse. I wrote a little code here and there, but it was always late in the evening or on the weekend around all my other duties.

If you’ve been reading my blog for long, it shouldn’t surprise you that I think coding is fun. Ever since we got the TI 99-4/a for Christmas 1983, programming has been a hobby of mine. When I was deciding what to study in college, I really couldn’t imagine a major that didn’t involve tons of programming. It’s not work, it’s entertainment.

I assume that every other creative person who truly loves what they do has a similar attitude. I know plenty of artists who draw, sculpt, or paint on the weekends. Many game designers design card or board games that they never expect anyone else to see just for the fun of it. The writers I know can’t seem to stop writing for local newspapers, online outlets, or former employers. There’s no reason to think programming would be any different.

And I’m not alone.  One of my co-workers is just finishing up a coding vacation of his own. He took a week off from programming video games to program a video game. Good for him, I say.  He’s going to return to work more refreshed and relaxed than if he’d run off to some tropical island and it won’t have cost him a dime.  (Ok, maybe not as relaxed, but close.)

How about you?  Ever take a vacation to do more of what you already do at the office?


7 Responses to “Coding Vacations”

  1. Ophelea wrote on :

    If I EVER get caught up with writing all of these reviews, previews, editorials and some actual journalism (oh crap, I have some papers due for school – argh!)…

    I am going to take a week (or month) and do nothing but creative writing. I may do some editorial stuff but it won’t be about games or politics but about people (which I suppose it politics).

    However, it will all be about style, not substance.

  2. David wrote on :

    I love coding vacations. I try to do a little hobby programming nightly, but I’ll sometimes lose focus and forget about it for days or weeks at a time. Taking some time over Christmas vacation to devote to my hobby project helped me make substantial improvements and gave me a burst of productivity and enthusiasm that I’ve sustained for almost four months since then. Non-programmers might think I’m insane to come home from my job programming games and relax by programming games, but it’s definitely a different experience working in a minimal, self-owned code base on whatever task captures my interest at the moment.

  3. David Mcd said on :

    You bet :) I am exactly that kind of game designer you mentioned — I make a new, simple game for my blog every Sunday. Most of them have never been played. I do it for fun, as an exercise. I design games while I’m waiting for church to begin or on long road trips. As you say, “It’s not work. It’s entertainment.”

  4. Matthew Weigel commented on :

    I’ve taken a few vacations like that – most recently was a couple of years ago when I was taking game programming courses at Austin Community College, I took some time off to finish the game projects for two classes. I barely slept, but I had a hell of a time and determined that I definitely needed to do that stuff for a living. :-)

    About seven years ago, after I’d gotten a real job but before I graduated, I took a week off of work to sit in the Cathedral of Learning and write a paper (on encryption – the final step required for honors I didn’t get anyway on my math degree). If I had to draw a comparison, I’d probably say a page of proof feels like about a thousand lines of C++, or a few hundred lines of Perl.

  5. robusticus thought on :

    Someone asked me if I would still work if I had a gazillion dollars in the bank. I said I would but only after a year or two of traveling (and gaming!). And then only for myself, the code would most likely never see production and the pace would be much much slower yet include all the feature creep anybody could think of.

    I dunno about spending vacation time working. I think I’d opt for the tropical island.

  6. Enno replied on :

    I’m doing the same thing – when I’m taking vacation, I usually code for at least a part of it, and then I code for a few days at a stretch.

    I find that I think with my fingers a lot. Coding puts me in a state of flow real easy, it’s something that just never stops, I have at least two or three things in my head at any time that I’m going to make better when I’m done with the one I’m just coding, and when they are done I have two or three new ones already.

  7. kevin commented on :

    When I am not at work designing, I’m usually at home designing, or playing games in order to look at their designs. I rarely finish playing games, because once I feel like I ‘get’ the game’s systems, I’m done with it.

    So yes, designing is entertainment for me.

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