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Abbey Perini
Abbey Perini

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Coding and ADHD - Where We Excel

While being aware of our struggles and finding healthy coping mechanisms are necessary, we receive enough negative messaging on a daily basis. This article is all about how ADHD traits can be a benefit when you're coding.

When I started this series, my goal was to normalize the daily struggles of those coding with ADHD. As a result, I barely mentioned positive aspects of ADHD traits. When I did, it was mostly to say the structure of development jobs can mitigate some of our struggles. I've realized that highlighting the struggle wasn't enough - it's time to celebrate being a firework in a world that wants you to be a cube.

Absorbing All the Information

Distractibility is probably the most well known ADHD trait, and it can be quite a challenge. However, a large part of that distractibility is not being able to filter out information. This means I may notice things other people don't and I often make connections other people don't.

As I'm taking in the whole picture, I'm naturally inclined towards full-stack, systems thinking, and product engineering. Rather than being pigeon-holed into one system, I enjoy traversing the whole stack and thinking about how the puzzle pieces fit together. I love projects about getting the front-end and back-end to talk to each other. Where other people can get tunnel vision just making sure a feature works on its own, by default, I'm thinking about its role in the system and whether the user would actually benefit from the design.

Creativity

If you're hyperactive, the constant flow of thoughts can be daunting. I can rattle off several ways it makes my daily life harder. However, it is the definition of brainstorming and coding is a creative endeavor. We can struggle to execute or choose the best ideas, but there is no lack of them. In a team environment with a work prioritization process, this natural brainstorming is supported and can really shine.

First panel: superhero characters watching planes fly by captioned Brainstorming sessions, agile mindset training, creativity seminars, techniques to think outside the box Second panel: superhero characters labeled People with ADHD saying Look what they need to minic a fraction of our power

If you're not hyperactive and your inner monologue is less or not at all constant, that doesn't mean you don't have plenty of great ideas. People with ADHD often reject the status quo. I know "we've always done it this way" has never worked on me. I'm up front with employers in interviews - if you don't want someone who asks lots of questions about your process and design, don't hire me. Uninhibited by the status quo, inquisitive, and constantly making those unexpected connections, we're thinking outside of the box automatically.

Passion

If you can explain to me why I should care, I'll be all in. The passion people with ADHD feel for a subject or task often becomes all-consuming hyperfocus. This includes not stopping to question if it's hard, being too willing to work long hours, and wanting to talk about it non-stop. In fact, during the interview process, many hiring managers took the way I talked about coding and learning to code to mean I was the elusive Passionate Programmer. In reality, I'm passionate about anything that grabs my interest and coding puzzles are really good at grabbing my interest.

Rabbit Holes

ADHD people love to go down a research rabbit hole. If it piques my interest at all, I'm Googling it. Development is made up of Googling rabbit holes. I can think of numerous examples of how reading about a JavaScript quirk because I was curious came in handy months later.

If you think about it, troubleshooting a bug is a series of rabbit holes that leverages many of our skills. It combines systems thinking with brainstorming every possibility. Once you've thought of a possibility, you have to research and test it. We're often hungry to keep throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks because we need to know the answer.

A tweet by Dani Donovan: the ADHD urge to whip out your phone and Google everything because unanswered questions make your brain itchy

Easy to Reset and Reward

Those with ADHD often experience more intense emotions, but they also experience them much more quickly. Even if we're stuck in rumination about something, an external distraction that grabs our attention can snap us out of it almost immediately. This means we're pretty easily bribed to move on from something that went poorly with new things, which is a common situation in a development role. Work broken up into sprints really suits us because we know some novel work is often just around the corner.

We're also often sensitive to criticism and praise. Many of us struggle with perfectionism. This means you may have to be more delicate with feedback, but we're highly motivated to refactor our code. In general, frequent rewards and praise from a manager are usually highly effective for those with ADHD. In that vein, I strongly recommend any developer keep a brag document, but it can be especially important for those with ADHD.

Conclusion

The response to this series has been overwhelming. I am truly touched by the sheer number of comments rejoicing in feeling less alone. I've also read a lot of comments clinging to decades-old stigma, sometimes in an honest attempt to relate. My response was to try and keep this series helpful for and focused on those with ADHD, and in doing so, I've gotten much further in my own self-acceptance journey. My ardent hope is that if you struggle with ADHD symptoms, this series can help you wherever you are on your journey too.

Did I miss a way that you feel your ADHD has helped you in your coding career? Leave a comment!

Discussion (28)

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dailydevtips1 profile image
Chris Bongers • Edited on

This one I can really relate to.

I never resonated with "pick a niche" it scared the living shit out of me.
Like always I just did what I enjoy, pick broader topics that I enjoy writing about and so far it didn't disappoint me.

My ADHD brain needs this vast variety of topics to let go of all the thoughts going through it.

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Max F. Findel

I totally agree that picking a niche can get very boring very fast. This article really resonated with me, maybe you'll like it ;)

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dailydevtips1 profile image
Chris Bongers

I'll give it a read 💖

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spsalsm profile image
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Sean Salsman

can really relate too.

*to

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abbeyperini profile image
Abbey Perini Author

🤣 bold and super lame to nitpick the spelling of a person who can roast you in at least two languages and basically writes a technical article every single day.

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spsalsm profile image
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Sean Salsman

Haha thanks. It was a grammar error though, not spelling.

Perhaps it will help them not make the same mistake in their many many articles.

dailydevtips1 profile image
Chris Bongers

Ah don't worry it's not my native language.
We are all here to learn

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Really appreciate this series, and this is a great post.

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Abbey Perini Author

Thanks, Ben! Glad you've been enjoying it.

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BekahHW

Brainstorming with other ADHD ppl tips my list of favorite experiences. I seriously cannot predict how it will end or what the takeaways will be. The energy bursts out of the box.

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Erin Kennedy

Just wanted to say this was the first series of articles I read on dev.to and I relate to EVERYTHING you've covered within it. Thank you for writing it because it resonated strongly with me, and also introduced me to dev.to :) I also feel less bummed out about having ADHD as a developer and it gave me the spark to keep trying even though I've had multiple failures and setbacks since I first started pursuing this career. Thank you again!

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Abbey Perini Author

Oh I am so happy to hear that your spark has returned. Thanks for reading!

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taijidude profile image
taijidude

You have done awesome work with these articles.

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abbeyperini profile image
Abbey Perini Author

Thanks for reading!

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sylwiavargas profile image
Sylwia Vargas

Thank you for these articles. I shared links to a few today in our discord after a community member asked about learning to code with adhd.

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Abbey Perini Author

🥰 so glad you're finding them useful!

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Antariksh

Loved reading this post and I relate a lot!

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nabeelaejaz

I love you all, my fellow ADHD people!

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Munaf Sheikh • Edited on

This is incredible! Well done. It helps me understand myself better. Not having a niche suits me perfectly as I'm a generalist.

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Drazi Crendraven

Thank you.

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abbeyperini profile image
Abbey Perini Author

Thanks for reading!

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rogiwa profile image
ROGiwa

Thank you for this.

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iamberr profile image
iAmber™🎀😏

Thank you for this Abbey! This was such an interesting read. (:

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igmuska profile image
igmuska

ADHD? ADD? Autism? Quant? Autodidact? Coder? Programmer? Hacker? Tekkie? Geek? Headbanger? WHEEEEEE! lol....I suffer from ADHD
The funny part is I really like Foundation, the CSS framework...then ADHD and all the above kicked in, Bootstrap, LESS, Compass, Sass, React, Vue, Tailwind....now I am like uhhhhhhhh insert cute crossed eyed cream tabby
knowing all the tech is awesome however having a use case, sometimes, that is what ADHD sometimes holds back...remember Google Gears, Yahoo Pipes or Netvibes (I enjoyed Netvibes with its dashboards of modules wheeeee
Then when hitting that rut, the writer's block...click on StumbleUpon [having such a site would be great, nothing like a random relatedness to give another insight]...wheeeeeee hours and hours of information foraging, all kinds of world shaking solutions....refreshed
Soak, lather, rinse, repeat

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Haroun Hajem

Totally agree, ADHD when tunneled correctly can be a great super power.

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Nick Groot

Thanks for writing this articles, i recognised a lot of the situations. Good to know i am not the only one experiencing this.

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Sebastian Vargr

sheet

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Andrew Baisden

Love the Invincible reference!

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