I Skipped Eye Appointments for a Year and Became a Better Coder

I skipped my yearly trip to optometrist last year. This was not entirely by choice. Like many in the early stage startup world, "benefits" including "insurance" are a sort of distant goal somewhere between "keep the lights on" and "ramen profitability". I, like many a foolish man, had assumed that my otherwise youthful body was immune to the effects of so-called aging. My existing contacts would do nicely. We forge ahead.

Before i continue, i should give a bit of context here. I've worn contacts since high school and my prescription has been roughly the same since. I knew my family has a history of astigmatism, but, again, those are old people problems. When i had gone the previous year, i suspected my vision was starting to degrade past my current prescription. But i was kept in the same lenses after some mixed results during my vision test.

Fast forward to last week. I finally returned to the optometrist for a, perhaps overdue, vision exam. My optometrist had 3 early reactions to my visit. First were the questions as to why i never had my yearly exam last summer. Secondly was a shock that i, working a computer job, was seeing as poorly through my contacts as i was. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, was the state of said contacts.

The contacts in my eyes were described as "battle tested" and "worse for wear". He then acknowledged the existence of "deposits" on my contacts.

We need to pause for a moment. I am an outspoken and curious soul who rarely misses an opportunity to ask questions. When i was told the contacts i was wearing had "deposits" on them, i did not ask the obvious question, "deposits of what?" I assumed harmless proteins and kept my mouth shut. One of the few times ignorance is indeed bliss.

Suffice to say, m'lady astigmatism and i have different definitions of old. I assure you it is her mistake. She argues otherwise but we will agree to disagree on this.

So i left with some swanky new astigmatism-correcting contacts and drove home absolutely shocked at the vision difference i had. The frog in boiling water anecdote is correct. We are blind to the gradual decline of things. Perhaps the explains climate change or the us gov or... i digress.

I can see again

Of all of the changes having 20/20 vision has brought me again, coding is by far the biggest. Let me just say to all of you who can read their screens without effort: you have been coding in easy mode.

Reading letters on my screen is no longer a conscious effort. I can see where strings end by virtue of quotation marks instead of the ending of syntax highlighting. I can literally see my typos instead of just feeling when i've hit a key wrong. My second monitor, which sits about 2 inches farther than my primary one, is not longer the at a distance where all hope of recognizing letters is lost.

So what does all of this have to do with coding? Well, i've noticed two things. I type faster now that i can read what i am typing. I think this goes without saying. More surprising is that i code differently. I mean yes, i code differently because i my screen now displays letters instead of blurry colored shapes. But i also code mentally better. Over the last two years, my mind has adapted to writing more of the code in my head before i actually put fingers to keys.

As someone who prided himself on being a cerebral coder from the start, i am surprised how much more i have grown in this regard. I used to be someone who could think through problems in their head and then get a pretty decent idea for how i was going to arrange the code to solve the problem. Now, i quite literally see the code lines in my head before writing them out. I've noticed my bug injection rate has already dropped because i am no longer solving a problem at all when my fingers hit the keyboard. Instead i am sort of... transcribing an idea i already have.

But how is this actionable

I have tried to make a point of having all my posts be, in some way, actionable to my readers. On this one... i have no clue how. I do not suggest someone willfully go a couple of years coding professionally without being able to read the text on their monitors. Nor do i suggest doing any of the other foolish things i have done with respect to stretching contacts past their prime. If this experience has reinforced anything, it is the importance of proper vision to our jobs.

That being said, i feel like there must be a way to methodically train people to being better mental coders. If any of you have experienced something similar, or have some ideas to this end, reach out to me.

Many of us muse over problems and solve them without pens or paper. The work is all happening upstairs, we are just generally bad at visualizing it. Apparently that changes when you literally struggle to visualize what is right in front of you. Who knew? We forge ahead.

tl;dr:: Not being able to see all that well for the last two years has made me a better coder. How can this be trained more sustainably? Let's find out.

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Written by Ben
Denver, CO
VP of Engineering at MeetMindful. I create products, websites and consult for teams on their process and product.