Peaks and Valleys in Programming

In our push to perfect our final projects, it’s inevitable that there will be some significant programmatic roadblocks along the way. These issues may seem insurmountable at times and you may find yourself resorting to some less than effective methods to resolving them. Personally, I’ve found my flow in such situations to look something like this:

  1. Try a bunch of stupid things that make the problem worse
  2. Google a bunch of Stack Overflow posts which only occasionally are related to what I want to know
  3. Finally find something online and copy paste it in my code
  4. It doesn’t work
  5. Repeat a few steps 2–4 for about an hour
  6. Mutter obscenities and sigh loudly
  7. Repeat steps 2–6 until day is over
  8. Cry on the subway home so nobody knows how weak I am
  9. The LIRR is delayed and cry again
  10. Drink heavily
  11. Have a nightmare about your own code and cry for a third time

Many of us may related to this struggle in some shape or form. But maybe there’s a better way; a strategy which I’ve noticed some people have already been practicing and had I only rearranged my misery would have yielded better results. It’s called the Ballmer peak, or an ideal BAC range which is theorized to increase your coding skill by a not insignificant margin.

This is a bit of an urban legend among programmers and the origins of this strategy are hazy but it’s believed to have been named for Steve Ballmer, longtime Microsoft CEO, who is

“known for energetic outbursts and outlandish behavior in public (with some videos gone viral), which can give the impression that he is constantly intoxicated..”

One look at the most well known footage of the man leaves little doubt as to the plausibility of all of the above.


Sadly, the method is not blindly drinking alcohol, being disconcertingly sweaty and chanting buzzwords. Since ancient times, the creative boost alcohol provided were known.

“No poems can please for long or live that are written by water drinkers.”

The ideal work mode is known as “flow” where all your aggregated skills and knowledge coalesce into a semi-conscious state where things just click. Drinking lowers inhibitions and by ignoring solidified conventions, may lead to otherwise inaccessible solutions.

There is actually slightly more than anecdotal references to support this notion however. While there isn’t exactly a wealth of peer reviewed analysis, a few real studies have concluded that moderate levels of alcohol consumption improved both quality and speed of solutions(although they only test up to a BAC of .075). The gist of their reasoning is that while alcohol certainly dampens things like focus or memory, it may be this looser focus which can free your mind to make more obtuse or broad associations your focused, sober mind cannot.

For research purposes only