My partner tells me that I need a hobby. She probably imagines me taking up woodworking, or maybe archery. She is not wrong. I do need a hobby. But I have never been very handy, and even though I did happen to win that team-building archery competition at our company’s conference in Copenhagen, I just don’t think that bow and arrow is my thing.
I have participated in Advent of Code the last three years. Every morning of December, I’ve been at my workstation, fervently working to be one of the first one hundred to solve the daily programming puzzle. So far, I have been unsuccessful.
The first year, I came into it, believing that I would be competing. Boy, was I naïve.
I consider myself an accomplished programmer, but competitive programming is a whole other ball game. Needless to say, I did not place on the leader board the following year either, nor the year after that.
To most participants, Advent of Code is not primarily a competition. Its something else. It is a community, or it might be learning a new programming language, To some, it might even be something their employers force upon them.
Even the creator of Advent of Code himself, Eric Wastl, discourages trying to compete with the best. Sound advice, it seems, because those who place in the very top of this competition appear to be a species of their own – with jaw-dropping speed and superhuman ability. Even the ambition to face-off with them seems like certain chagrin.
The contest aspect of Advent Of Code is precisely what gets me up so early in the morning. And even though I have never even been close to being competitive, that race is what is exciting to me.
I love working under pressure. Some sadistic part of me loves production incidents, when I need to figure out what is wrong and fix it, with the clock ticking away. Some of the same parts of my brain get pumped with endorphins when doing Advent of Code.
So, seeing that I don’t get on the global leader board merely by showing up, I’ve decided to do something about it.
I have a history of being able to quickly pick things up. I taught myself snowboarding, basically before setting foot on a mountain, and I learned French in three months. There has never been any extraordinary method. I just, find myself unable to stop thinking about something, let’s say chess (one of the latest subjects that have been in the spotlight of my attention), and then hard work, dedication and grit take care of the rest. Often to the annoyance of my friends and family.
Let me tell you about the time when I learned French. I booked private one-on-one tutoring sessions every morning before my day job; I consumed books, radio, audiobooks and movies, daily, in French, surrounded myself with French-speaking people and regularly attended meet-ups. I studied vocabulary every left-over minute of the day – whether at the subway or on the toilet. I then travelled alone around France, by train, having stipulated the following rules to myself; I am only allowed to speak French, I may never spend more than two nights in any one city, every day I must work hard to not have dinner alone.
It worked, I did learn French, but there wasn’t any magic recipe. Just lots of work.
My partner calls them my obsessions but I prefer to call them passions. It’s just part of who I am and when I have no such thing to focus on, I feel hollow and sometimes sad. I guess that, is why she is telling me to get a hobby.
Today is the 25th of January. In 310 days I need to be ready for Advent of Code 2021, because this year, my name will be up there on the global leader board. At least once.