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Coding on drugs: Do software developers have an issue?

Everyone has their vices; software developers are no exception. A qualitative study from University of Michigan and George Mason University researchers this month scrutinized which drugs are most common among coders; several have beneficial effects. 

In the study of 800 software developers, 18% said they code after smoking cannabis at least once per month. 59% admitted to using a mind-altering substance while performing software related tasks in the past year. Which mind-altering substances? Alcohol and cannabis were most common.

The researchers then interviewed 26 software developers, from PhD students to full time tech company employees, analyzing how drugs affected work performance for them. Prescription stimulants such as Adderall were the most commonly used by far, 21 of the 26 developers actively used them when coding. 

They found that the stimulants increased productivity for technical tasks like data analysis, but that they had an adverse impact on creativity. Focus & productivity, documentation, debugging and coding were all positively impacted. When it comes to debugging, one interviewee said: "You’re all over the place, so there’s a lot of things to keep in your mind at once... And I find that it’s a lot harder for me to do that without Adderall”

Other drugs were less beneficial. Cannabis was seen as good for brainstorming, but was neutral when it came to coding itself and negative for debugging or documentation. Alcohol use was great for debugging not for overall work quality.

On the not-so-legal side, one developer saw improvements to their brainstorming ability when using MDMA. The developer said it kept them in a "naive state and let go of everything that people had told me about the problem to look at it from my own lens." Seven of the 26 admitted to using psychedelics such as LSD, three admitted to using cocaine and two said they had used opiates like codeine.

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AUTHORAlex McMurray Editor

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