Do Startups Have a Drinking Problem?
Sarah Jane Coffey

I’ve seen exactly what you’ve described, and in my role as a technical lead, project manager and a brief stint as a personnel manager, I’ve picked up beer and I’m usually pretty good about making sure there are non-alcoholic beverages around as well.

But what worries me about alcohol being used to “get over” burnout is that it doesn’t work. I was recently chatting with people who work on exercise-related equipment and I mentioned that exercise is a great way to burn off the stress hormones that accumulate from long hours of high-stress development and start-up related forced-marches.

Alcohol doesn’t do a body good. What we lack in ferocious teeth and sharp claws we make up for with some pretty amazing feats of endurance and a brain that is the envy of the animal kingdom. Kegs and cases of champagne weren’t on the African Savannah when we were climbing down from the trees — we didn’t evolve to drink that stuff.

Ten years ago I was working on one of my most amazing projects, and it was another forced-march. The hardware was questionable and running late, the firmware crashed, and the management applications were delayed and suffering from everything else that was broken. What I learned from that experience is that what we do so often in tech — parties where alcohol is routinely served — are the opposite of what we need. We need to get up and move our bodies, and instead of alcohol or caffeine, we need water. Just plain water, to help flush out all the metabolic products we make coping with the high stress of demanding projects.

I try to drink a lot more water these days, and I’ve been hitting the gym as often as possible. My body works a lot better and I’m able to handle stress far better than when my answer to “a long hard day of coding” was to grab a beer.

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