Programming Advice from Poker Players

Caption: What on Earth could programmers have to learn from poker players? It turns out, quite a lot!

Other than sharing the same first letter, the similarities between programmers and poker players are not immediately noticeable. Our image of a professional poker player might be rather glamorous, a person used to the bright lights and a party atmosphere. Our image of a professional programmer, on the other hand, might be a more secluded type, lit by a computer screen, poring over numbers. It could be a professional role in cybersecurity or software development – any programming position will usually require time, analysis and plenty of peace and quiet. You might be surprised to find out then that both occupations have a lot in common. As a programmer there’s a lot to be learned from a poker player – and perhaps vice versa too!

Repetition, repetition, repetition

Any great poker player will tell you that learning the rules of the game is simply not enough. Great poker players practice hands over and over, they familiarise themselves with all the different variations of the game, they obsess over the details. This kind of dedication is exactly the sort of thing that a good programmer should be practising. Learning code is like learning a new language; you only become truly bilingual when you immerse yourself in it. Dedicate half an hour a day to learning a new code, set aside a new project in it, read up on it in your spare time. You’ll be amazed how quickly you begin to pick it up when you dedicate time to it regularly and often.

Perhaps you have a general understanding of a couple of secondary codes, alongside the one that you primarily code in. Make a point of really going over the finer details and not only will you feel more confident, but you might also have tripled the opportunities for work. Programmers tend to be naturally curious types, so learning more about codes you already understand and even picking up some new ones should be an exciting task, rather than a daunting one.

Look After Your Back

Caption: Not everybody is a natural at yoga, but that shouldn’t stop you stretching out your muscles regularly.

One of the downsides to both professions is spending a long time seated. Whether playing at the table or online, poker players spend hours at a time unable to move; a problem that all programmers will be familiar with. The one advantage a programmer has though, is that it is totally possible to get up and take a break from coding, whereas that’s a little more difficult at a high-stakes poker game.

Try to make a habit of stretching and warming up your muscles every hour; your body will thank you for it. There are plenty of 5 minute exercise routines that you can find for free, but the most important thing to stretch is your back. It’s all too easy to slump into a hunched posture, but this can play havoc with your back and neck, so regular gentle stretching is key to keeping it healthy. If you really can’t avoid hunching, then a stand up desk could be the solution you’re looking for. Not only is a standing desk better for your back, you also burn more calories standing up, so as well as your posture improving, you might even notice those legs toning up too.

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

Another benefit that a five-minute exercise and stretch break can bring to your life is increased mental ability. We all know that our bodies benefit from short bursts of exercise, but the effects on our brains are incredible. Getting lost in work for hours at a time may feel like true productivity, but in fact most of us work most efficiently for no more than twenty minutes at a time. Most professional poker players will tell you that when playing online they take regular breaks to declutter the mind and re-energize themselves. Like programming, poker is a rather sedentary pastime, so taking periodic breaks can keep your body active and your brain razor sharp.

A man called Francesco Cirillo founded a similar technique, which he called the Pomodoro technique, some thirty years ago. He would set a timer (in the shape of a tomato, hence the name) on his desk and work solidly for twenty-five minutes, then break for five. That’s literally all there is to this technique, but it was so successful that he began teaching it and it is now famous across the world. It sounds almost too good to be true, most bosses would raise an eyebrow at taking a break every twenty-five minutes, but if you really knuckle down, those minutes seem to count for double. Also, as before, those five-minute breaks are just long enough for a stretching break, so you can stay fit in both body and mind – oh, and get your work done in half the time!