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Ask HN: Novelty addiction is ruining my life and career. What should I do?
174 points by atemerev on Dec 13, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 190 comments
I have an extreme case of neophilia. Well, most of HN readers like new things, but in my case this is really extreme. I start many projects, but never finish them because they are inevitably losing novelty (I had better luck with shorter projects). I am a fairly decent software engineer, but I never held a job longer than 1 year (for the last 12 years), and recently I realised that the only thing that motivates me in software engineering is learning new things and trying new fancy toys, not building something working and useful (this is obviously an invalid approach in engineering, and it makes me sad enough to consider leaving this career path for good). I've been fired from 2 jobs this year (having a stellar start, then quickly boring for good). Everything I do seems to be motivated by novelty, it seems like a dangerous addiction now. I am 32, jobless, and have more than $50k in debt now.

What should I do? Is there a cure from novelty-seeking behavior? Or how it can be managed to be useful, not disabling? Please help, if you have any experience coping with this...

I have found people like you really useful to know because you have had contact with such a broad range of techs that when I have a problem, I can quiz you and get some killer pointers for where to look next.

I wouldn't want you to change, just to find your place in the world and satisfaction in being naturally you. Its like you have pockets full of keys and really good at finding new keys just no locks to use them with. There are other people who have the opposite problem and have locks they obsess over but find looking for keys exhausting, frustrating and confusing. You can be a force multiplier for them.

One idea, if you wrote a blog about each new thing you try, you accidentally create something "you stick with" because its about all the things you are not sticking with :) When your attention moves on, its not a failure any more because each article is a success. Documenting what you are doing might also let you spot some patterns that take you to the next level.

I wonder if you might find teaching \ training a rewarding occupation. Keeping up with continually moving tech and having a breadth of knowledge might make you excellent at that.

I love this comment. It may be true that he is suffering some ill-effects of his ADHD (which he describes as being diagnosed with in another comment) but instead of pointing it out like the rest of us you really did a great job of highlighting some of the great benefits of it. I actually took something from this with regard to myself and it's really awesome to know that this kind of thing can be appreciated by someone!

Yeah, I've got the opposite problem. I'm naturally conservative and dislike novel things because I figure they're a flash in the pan. I'm very cynical of new hype, and prefer tested technologies.

My enormous blind spot is that I then miss legitimate trends, and I can completely fall behind in the industry.

I also find myself not learning new tricks and techniques that would improve my workflow, and have to take time out of my schedule sometimes just to play around with new approaches.

I can definitely see how both approaches lend something, and both approaches have huge weaknesses.

The biggest issue that I've actually seen with novelty-seekers it that they'll build something based on some new framework or tool--that turns out to be be really rough and they hit those rough edges and get frustrated. Then instead of trying to fix the tool they're using they move on to some other new shiny tool of the day. That behavior can leave a ton of tech debt in its wake.

I am also one of the novelty-seekers.

As you mentioned I do really have 'ton of tech debt'. I hope I could change my behavior and reduce my tech debt.

You nailed it with Infiniband by 10 years.

It's funny you say that, and for entirely related reasons that I work in the news/media space where this sort of behavior can be sculpted into a positive (and got out of being a professional programmer where it's not such a positive). I'd write more but I just saw something new and shiny come out.. :-D

Funny, I have the same issue as OP, but I'm not in tech, and lately I've been thinking journalism may satisfy my addiction to novelty (I never thought about framing it this way, thanks OP). Unfortunately journalism just doesn't seem financially viable enough these days to do all the things I want to do.

> I can quiz you and get some killer pointers for where to look next.

Sure, as long as the quiz doesn't involve how to use something in ways not spelled out in its README. Or issues and limitations in applying it --- also not in the README which is more of brochure from a fanboy perspective.

In other words, don't ask, "How did you use that to solve a similar problem? What problems did you encounter, and what were the solutions and workarounds? Would you use that again?"

Someone who knows about alternatives isn't nearly as useful as someone who has the inside knowledge to evaluate them in a relevant way (that is bang on).

Of course, I am actually using most of tech stacks I evaluate.

But, by your admission, not for very long and to get anything actually done, right? Though, to be fair, probably long enough to have something to say as far as an evaluation of the tool.

I'd agree on the teaching / training suggestion, except make sure you mix it up. Teaching the same thing can become boring.

Do you often show up to work late? Are you seen as generally unreliable? (Be honest with yourself.)

Do you procrastinate a lot?

Do you have a hard time transitioning? Are you late for things because you a) can't accurately estimate time and b) can't pull yourself away from the thing you're doing at that moment even though you know you're going to be late if you don't?

Do you have a very unstructured sleep schedule?

Do you have high impulsivity? Spending (sounds like it)? Speeding? Substance abuse - including alcohol?

Did you breeze through HS with decent grades without trying but then suddenly find college and its unstructured environment and lack of supervision much harder and hard for you to succeed in?

If you answer yes to many of those questions, then you may want to talk to a psychiatrist about the potential for you being ADHD.

I was very much the same way and was diagnosed at age 29. Best thing to happen to me. I've managed to turn my career and my personal life around.

Everything you describe sounds like the impulsive behavior of ADHD to me, but I am not a medical professional and I am not trying to diagnose you. You just sound an awful lot like I once did.

Best of luck..

Interesting. My answer is an emphatic yes to all of those questions. In the back of my mind I've always suspected that I would be diagnosed with ADHD, but never talked to anyone about it. In the end I just chalked it up to being a different kind of person and catered my life around my behaviors instead of trying to force my behaviors into some ideal notion.

Looking back at the age of 40, my life has been much richer for it, having met interesting people, traveled to strange places, and worked on amazing projects. Most of the behaviors you listed have naturally attenuated through experience and age.

But to be honest I still struggle (albeit somewhat successfully) daily with a lot of it, so I'm wondering what treatment you got that worked so well. I'm definitely not interested in drugs for myself, but would still like to hear your thoughts on that if your treatment included them.

I've come to appreciate my ADHD, as well. I realized that it was the spark in my personality everyone seemed to always recognize but never be able to put their finger on. My intensity, my creativity, my wit (I don't mean to brag here, I'm no world-class comedian..), etc. are all part of a charm that I believe directly come from my impulsive, no-filtered ADHD brain.

It has also caused me to be less risk adverse and take career moves that have really helped me over the years. I haven't been afraid to try new things, to gain new experiences, etc.

But those upsides all had their downsides. The same impulsivity that let me drop everything and move to NYC for bigger and better things is the same impulsivity that saddled me with an embarrassing number of speeding tickets and car accidents, substance abuse issues (alcohol), etc. The same intensity that is a large part of my charm is also a large part of the reason many of my relationships become strained.

Being diagnosed and getting a handle on it has curbed the negative side effects greatly while still allowing the positives to shine through.

Adverse: preventing success or development; harmful; unfavorable. Averse: having a strong dislike of or opposition to something.

So, I'd say you are less "risk averse". (Trying to be helpful, not a grammar nazi... I hope)

I.. did say less risk-adverse. Did I miss something?

It's a common mistake. The word "adverse" almost makes some kind of sense but the correct word is averse.

Just realized you had asked for what treatments I had.

I use medication and cognitive behavioral therapy. They are a tandem duo and neither alone would be nearly as effective.

First, do yourself a great favor, read the book Driven to Distraction. It's a super easy read and will give you a great amount of insight.

Second, try to really re-evaluate your fear of medication. ADHD medication gets a bad rap. My opinion is that it's because it's over diagnosed in children and abused heavily at the college level. For those who truly have ADHD, however, it can be a life-change overnight. I mean that.

The ADHD brain lacks dopamine, this shortage is a major component of the behaviors that follow. A low amphetamine dosage should have no ill effects on the patient (you're not trying to get high on speed here..), but what it does do is artificially boost the dopamine levels in the brain. This covers the shortage that your brain is constantly trying to fill by jumping from exciting thought to exciting thought or through thrill-seeking. Suddenly, your executive functions are much better and you can direct your focus far better. You'll never be "normal", but it's a world of difference. For me, not only did I immediately regain better control over my focus, but I also found I could transition better, I didn't procrastinate as much, and I wasn't as emotionally reactive as I normally was which has always been a major issue in my personal relationships.

This alone, however, won't fix all the issues. Once you have the medication and are able to wield your focus, the next step is unlearning all those bad habits you've learned over 40 years of struggling and compensating for your ADHD. This is where Cognitive Behavioral Therapy shines.

These two things together, along with accepting and learning to appreciate your brain for what it is and making use of tools (lists, calendars, regimented scheduling, written goals, etc.) that complement your way of thinking will go a long, long way.

Anyway, your mileage may vary, and your feelings on medication are between you and your doctor, but this is what worked for me and what I recommend to everyone I know who is thinking of seeking treatment. Best of luck.

> Second, try to really re-evaluate your fear of medication.


And know that those medications works wonders for lots of people, at least Ritalin which is the one I have seen in use.

Only be aware that the effects seems to differ from person to person, so work with a qualified person when trying these things out. I have seen some weird examples (same dose giving wildly different effect, even on siblings, same weight and generally similar) which is why it seems most professionals will generally start at 10mg and work carefully up to around 40 - 80mg/day. As long as instructions are followed however, highly recommended.

OP here — I am on treatment now, including medication. Didn't help me strategically, but it was worth it being diagnosed nevertheless. At least, medications helped me stopping losing things.

I'm confused, you ask a question like this (which is already hard to answer without knowing your full background) and you leave out the fact that you were diagnosed with ADHD recently (and are on treatment), only to mention it in a reply-comment? Do you think these are unrelated?

Based on his other replies, it seems he's given up on adhd treatments and probably didn't want all the replies focusing on that (oops!). I guess he was hoping there were some strategies others use that weren't related to treating an underlying neurological condition. /shrug

I currently take Elvanse (the long-action form of Adderall). It works for some issues (like forgetfullness and occasionally focus-related things), but it does nothing for novelty cravings. Before recently, I considered it to be a good thing, but when I understood that it is a primary driver of everything I do in life, I had doubts. Hence the post.

Aye, I understand. The impulsiveness is a big part of ADHD. I believe you should continue to work with your psychiatrist. Point this out to them specifically and let them know that while you are seeing improvement in some areas, this one is particularly bad for you and that you would like to explore some other medication options - either dosage change or new medications all-together. Worst case scenario is you go back to the medication you're on now which at least helps somewhat.

You may want to continue to look for better treatment options. Your medication may not be right.

Additionally, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been huge for me. Since I was diagnosed late in life, I had just shy of 3 decades of bad habits to unlearn and replace with better ones. I still struggle with some things - punctuality, sleep schedule, for instance - but I'm far more productive and far happier.

Hey OP, I'm not keen on publicly talking about my exact medications / treatment specifics (though most can be gleaned), but if you are interested in talking offline more about what has worked for me, leave me an email address or some way to contact you and I'd be happy to offer any insight or help that I can. I'm not some professional expert, just another guy who can relate to you emphatically and who's happy to share what he can.

sorhed at gmail

That $50K hole needs filling next I think.

Just a suggestion from an outsider (I'm not a programmer). What is your 'time constant' (like an RC circuit) in terms of getting bored? You mentioned a month up the screen. Can you get contract work on tiny projects that last less time than your 'time constant' and thus generate some income and give yourself time to see how the treatment goes?

This is actually a great suggestion provided OP has the organizational skills to keep clients happy and his obligations in order. He also needs to ensure he does not procrastinate.

I found out the hard way that the freelancing life did not work for me. Double booking clients on accident, forgetting deadlines, not being able to motivate myself to start projects, etc.

I certainly don't mean to project my experiences onto OP as fact, but ADHD often makes a lot of the skills that are required to run your own freelancing business very difficult to master and stay on top of, alas.

That being said, I think it's a really great suggestion if OP finds himself out of a job again. Especially if he can do projects serially and try not to overlap them. That's where I got myself into trouble.

> Interesting. My answer is an emphatic yes to all of those questions. In the back of my mind I've always suspected that I would be diagnosed with ADHD, but never talked to anyone about it.

Same here, I always suspected it, but as I'm 25 and don't want to take medication, I never thought there's much that could be done.

I would love here what y0y did to work with his condition as well.

Medication and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Don't be afraid of medication. Find a healthcare professional that you trust and will work with you.

There is a book I recommend to everyone who suspects they may have ADHD: Driven to Distraction

It's a very easy read and will give you a lot of insight.

One of the lines I use from that book often with regard to medication and the stigma it has is: would you deny yourself glasses if you couldn't see? The medication helps focus your mind the way glasses help focus your eyes. The medication is the catalyst for other treatment options to be more effective. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, for example, works far better when you are able to actually concentrate and do the exercises properly without your mind wandering on you.

Most people find that the medication dosage they need of amphetamine is actually quite low. You're not trying to get high and become a speed freak like college kids popping Adderall the night before Finals to cram. Your brain simply lacks dopamine and is forever craving a fix for it - thus always latching on to the most exciting thought and causing impulsive thrill seeking behavior. A small dose of amphetamine feeds the brain this dopamine, rids you of the shortage, and restores the balance you need to be the person you expect yourself to be+.

+Very simplified explanation, obviously. But, it's the best way that I can relate to my brain's behavior - by always thinking of it in terms of a dopamine imbalance. While it's true, other factors are likely involved and ADHD is also often comorbid with anxiety and depression as many of the same chemical pathways are shared.

People are mentioning treatment for ADHD. Here's what you can expect in England: http://www.nice.org.uk/Guidance/CG72

It's currently being re-evaluated, but it's good enough at the moment.

Just out of curiosity ... if medication is an effective treatment for you, why the resistance to it? Do you avoid medication generally? Are you worried about side effects?

There are some really valid concerns with ADHD medication, to be honest.

Long term amphetamine usage has been shown to potentially be toxic to the brain, especially at high doses. It also increases risk for high blood pressure, heart attack, and renal failure for those with pre-existing conditions or who are at-risk for other reasons: genetic conditions, obesity, etc.

Most of us (myself included) will take long breaks from their medication. I don't take it while on vacation, I take most weekends off of it, etc. I take it when I need to be at my best for work and I take it if I am on vacation and feeling like my emotional reactivity is too high, etc.

Ritalin is actually shown to mitigate the effects of amphetamine toxicity, as well, surprisingly, because while it also work on dopamine it uses a different strategy. Instead of causing your brain to produce it (thus potentially frying the cells that do so), it simply prevents the brain from re-absorbing it, much like an SSRI does with serotonin. So, I've heard of some people switching back and forth between amphetamines and Ritalin, though I have not done so myself.

Lastly, there are other drugs such as Cymbalta and other SSRI/SSNRIs that seem do help some people. SSRIs have a whole slew of side effects (especially weight and sexual side effects), and, while SSNRIs tend to have far fewer side effects (Cymbalta seems to have barely any for most people), they are still a fairly new class of drug comparatively so I could understand someone being cautious.

All that being said, the risks are worth it for me. Even if it took 10 years off my life, I'd rather have the remainder of my life be productive, happy, and have healthy relationships than continue to be the shit show I was at times in the past.

Some people see negative stigmata with medication and will try to find alternate methods first, which there is nothing wrong with too. IANAD (I Am Not A Doctor)

Avoiding medication purely because of the stigma and not because of any of your own concerns from your own research is short sighted, imho.

That being said, as I mention in another comment, there are valid reasons to be cautious with ADHD medication. And as for the stigma, I am very careful about who I talk to about my ADHD in real life. A few of my coworkers know, my boss knows, and a couple of my friends and family members. I discovered very quickly that ADHD itself has a pretty bad stigma, let alone the medication. Everyone thinks you just want to get high. So, I just don't talk about it anymore, even though I so often want to explain to someone that the reason I did something rude (like interrupt them 5 times in 10 minutes) is because I'm ADHD and my medication has worn off, ha.

Medication is not the only choice. Although it's the one where you might see small results at the earliest. CBT and biofeedback are promising new treatments, but not mainstream yet.

May I ask, where this bias against medication comes from?

Y0y's other comment answers this pretty well

Diagnosed with ADD already. Writing here after 1.5 year of treatment attempts.

Don't give up. Find ways to use your superpowers, because you have: ADHD superpowers that I'm aware of includes hyperfocus, immunity to exam stress, being one of those: "when the going gets though, the tough gets going" etc.

While it is a real enough problem it has some remarkable upsides as well. You have to live with the downsides even though you can make them less visble and annoying, but also be aware of your superskills and put them to use for yourself so that you can have more to give back to your family, your friend and the world.

This is interesting.

I feel I am verging towards that end of the sectrum (I assume its a spectrum). I never though if it as a disability, just stuff I am good at / bad at.

If that is the case why does it have such a negative stigma attached and is treated as a problem (like I say I am verging that way, but I don't see myself as ADHD, so maybe my perspective on it is off). Many people proudly proclaim they are "not good at maths" but they are good at other things, why is this seen as such a negative that we put people on medication for it?

It's not really a spectrum but a collection of symptoms whereby if one exhibits many or the majority of them in enough frequency, intensity, and duration as to negatively impact their life, one can say to be ADHD.

There are different subtypes (not sure if they are in the DSM but they are often referred to in other literature), e.g. hyperactive vs non-hyperactive. Sometimes, though, the hyperactivity exhibits itself in ways that are non-obvious.

I think the negative stigma comes from what many (myself, included) believe to be an over-diagnosis in young children. It seems to be used as a catch-all for children who are difficult to handle, who aren't good at sitting still in class, etc. This over-diagnosis causes a lot of people to think the disorder isn't real.

Secondly, a lot of people will try to fake their way into an ADHD diagnosis (especially at the college-level) to gain access to the amphetamines. This makes it difficult for those with the actual disorder, as we are scrutinized heavily and often made to feel somewhat criminal when we pick up our prescriptions at pharmacies that have had issues with this in the past. I won't say it's overly common, but it does happen. I've been told they were out of stock before because I tried dropping off a prescription at 3am once. I had it in my wallet and had meant to drop it off on my way out with friends. On my way home, the subway stop I get off at (I live in NYC) is where my 24/7 pharmacy is. I didn't think anything of it, I'm just dropping it off to save myself a trip in the morning.. well, the pharmacist looked at me.. 3am, clearly had a few drinks.. and he gave me the "we're out of stock" line. Magically it was re-stocked at 7am.

And lastly, there is a stigma in the US, in general, when it comes to mental illness. These aren't things people can see, for one. And, perhaps more importantly, our mental selves are what we view as our actual selves, so people can have a hard time admitting to themselves that they have something about their mind that is considered abnormal. Other people have a hard time accepting it because they simply can't relate - how do you explain to someone what it's like to be ADHD?

You might tell them that you forget things a lot, feel impulsive, etc. and they simply say "Yeah, everyone is like that though, you just need some discipline and will power dude." What they fail to recognize is that, yes, everyone does feel that way sometimes. Just like everyone feels anxious sometimes. What makes it a disorder is the frequency, intensity, and duration of the feeling(s). Many people just can't accept this, especially in the US it appears. Our attitude is "pick yourself up by the bootstraps" or "be a man" or "put yourself together - no one's gonna do it for you. I certainly didn't need medication!" and there's a lack of empathy because they simply can't understand.

Thank you. Indeed, these superskills are there. I always enjoyed exams. :)

Thats no small thing right there just thinking of all those who will freeze in exam settings.

No widen your horizon and find reasons both for why to improve (for yourself, your family, community, everyone) as well as how (applying skills at current job or plan to get a new where you can use them.) Me for example I'm good at talking to people and when I get into a new setting/position and see no one wants "that" customer I tell them I can do it. Bam, instantly +1 in an honest way that benefits everyone.

I'm now 30, diagnosed with ADHD since pretty early on. I've on and off medication for most of my life, with some Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for a bit.

Now, I take Methylphenidate (long release Ritalin), and think it's wonderful -- it allows me to focus on tasks that need to get done, and has allowed to become more professional.

My biggest advice, as others mentioned, is play to your strengths. I've been incredibly lucky to find positions where I can design and prototype but don't have the trudgery that gives me trouble.

Find a team that will let you work on new problems regularly is very important. I grew very tired of working on the same tiny feature for a year, but it took me some time to realize.

A startup will have you facing different problems every week, but with fewer engineers, you'll need to do more maintenance, and it's even more important to temper the thirst for new tech stacks, because new features are more important.

tl;dr - meds until find ones that work and/or find a team that lets you work on new projects, something like R&D or custom integrations.

Best of luck, but I see ADHD as tradeoffs -- less focus on boring tasks for hyperfocus on interesting tasks.

Serious question: How is the following quoted paragraph linked to ADHD?

   Do you have a hard time transitioning? Are you late for 
   things because you a) can't accurately estimate time and 
   b) can't pull yourself away from the thing you're doing 
   at that moment even though you know you're going to be 
   late if you don't?
Sounds more like extreme focus. Isn't this the exact opposite of ADHD?

ADHD is not an inability to focus, it's an inability to direct and control one's focus at-will.

The ADHD brain is always seeking dopamine and constantly seeks out the most "exciting" thoughts. When you are actually into something and engaged, the brain is producing dopamine (the reward chemical) and so an ADHD person will hyper-focus on that thought/activity intensely for long periods of time, barely noticing the time as it passes.

This is one of the reasons, in my opinion, a lot of people in the software field are ADHD. Being able to sit at a computer and code for 12 hours while having it feel like 2 is not normal, per se. Hyper-focus allows us to be amazingly productive at this job. It's a gift as well as a curse, however, because it's that same hyper-focus that can keep us playing a video game far longer than we should even when we cognitively know we need to stop.

In people with ADHD, the executive brain function has a very hard time overriding the impulsive side of the brain. So, if the brain is getting its dopamine fix due to playing the video game and you're running late for an important meeting, it's going to be super hard to override it even if you cognitively know that being late to this meeting is a very bad thing.

What I find even more interesting than that, though, is that being late is stressful, and stressful thoughts are, as far as the brain is concerned, exciting! It's a double edged sword; as soon as the stress of being late is more exciting than what you're doing, you'll get up and leave. Until then, you'll sit in denial and read Reddit or HN or play your video game.

This is also one of the reasons ADHD and Anxiety tend to be co-morbid, I believe. Anxious thoughts are "exciting" for the brain so we tend to fixate on them.

So yeah, transition, in general, is very hard for those with ADHD.

thanks for the insight, this gives a whole new perspective to the way I understood ADHD.

When I was first diagnosed I did not really believe the psychiatrist. My impressions of ADHD were all wrong. Once I understood what ADHD actually was, everything clicked. 30 years of my life suddenly made sense. ADHD isn't "the crazy hyper kid in the corner who does bad in school and can't concentrate long enough to form a coherent thought because SQUIRREL!" the way I thought.

Extreme but contingent focus can actually be a symptom of ADHD.


One of the symptoms of ADHD is extreme focus in certain situations.

I have a close relative who's being treated for ADHD - can confirm that she has certain activities into which she can be extremely focused.

As in my comment below, I've suspected I've had ADHD for some time but didn't think there was much that could be done for it since I don't want to use medication.

If you don't mind sharing, could you please explain how you've managed to work with it and some of the steps you took. What were some of the difficulties you experienced along the way?

I know you can't share your entire life context in a short question, but upon reading this I really wondered if the employers that fired you would have described novelty-addiction as your problem. In many cases, "novelty" is just another word for "avoidance".

Is it possible you are just abandoning ship on any project as soon as it gets hard? The first few stages of any tech - googling, researching, following tutorials - is pretty easy. Shorter projects are easier than longer projects.

When you read textbooks, do you actually do the exercises, or do you just skim? There's an entire second part of learning that involves thrashing and struggling against your own limitations as soon as the tutorials run out, and that's where the real learning is. The trick to that is to accept that it's supposed to be hard and you're supposed to feel helpless and dumb when it happens. The successful ones are the ones that keep trying anyway in spite of their own feelings of stupidity.

Anyway, ignore this comment if it doesn't apply, but your question can be read in a variety of different ways, and this one interpretation is just if you haven't toughened up and learned some tenacity.

I enjoy feeling dumb. This means I can learn something new again! :)

You might be a good candidate to teach at a coding bootcamp.

PROS: 1. Your energy level would match the students 2. You could make sure the curriculum stays up to date, and every few years transition some large parts of the curriculum to a new language/framework. 3. You have tons of experience to draw for the many left-field questions you would get 4. The consistent new influx of students might feed that need you have for novelty

CONS: 1. Not sure if you could teach each session knowing 80-90% is the same content as the last, but you're just changing 10-20% for this batch. 2. Could you handle answering some of the same newbie questions every 3 months? 3. They would, like most jobs, want you to stick around, but this isn't a total CON, they are likely more amenable to you leaving than almost any corporate gig.

So maybe it's something to consider!

I do think you might need some more help in managing this, but in the meantime, you can always find work that fits what some part of you needs right now.

Another interesting opportunity is data journalism and news application development: every project is on a 1-4 week deadline and because every news app / data visualization / ... is a standalone thing with no maintenance burden, you can mess around with new tech all you want, as long as you hit those deadlines.

There's also academia -- though even there, you will need to follow through and translate your learning into something you can communicate to the scientific community.

There are not any bootcamps like that in Switzerland. Probably a good idea to organize one and hope I don't fail in organization minutiae again. :)

While reading this I wondered in what country you life. If it has more to do with the expectations from the people around you. I quite given up a so called regular life. I'm very interested in new stuff too (although I'm able to get through some boredom) and even start to appreciate this side of myself. I probably never will be the best in anything, but I never was anyway, so in the end it's for me just what I enjoy. I also like to teach stuff to others and in this case I'm rarely bored to repeat myself. I lived/live in Switzerland too. One another different thought: The companies I worked for (in Switzerland, big and small, but not Google or MS) never had something like a career for Engineering related fields where you gain some relevant benefits (most of my friends best benefit was that they now not even have paid overtime, are called Senior Engineer and get a irrelevant amount of few bucks more). After a few years the only possibility seems to get into project management which is for me too boring (yet). Maybe we should start a bootcamp in CH?

Will be happy to partner with (or just talk to) locals. My email is sorhed at gmail.

Fixing that may take a long time, but it will probably fix your whole life, so it's worth it to just focus on this instead on software or work. Dedicate to work only the minimum necessary time for survival.

There are probably a number of causes, but coffee may be one of them. Don't be radical, but if you're having too much coffee, I'd suggest cutting down to just one coffee in the morning. It will take a bit of effort but may help you concentrate.

Then I suggest you try to focus on finishing things as the main goal. You have to get rid of the addiction to the rush of novelty, but you can get addicted to the rush of publishing, with obviously positive results. In order to do this, lower the bar enormously. Take only TINY projects: writing a short article or even a tweet. Writing a tiny piece of software that does something. Cleaning up one corner of your disk. It is key that you accept average or even poor quality, that shouldn't be a consideration. And it is very, very helpful that you publish the result: post the essay on Twitter, Facebook, or a blog. Upload the code to github and share it. Obviously, cleaning up your disk drive isn't so amenable to be published, so maybe you want to write a line in an "achieved.txt" file.

Make sure we are talking really small projects here, and that we are not expecting anything from them but completing them. They will be small and mediocre. No problem at all! You can't solve everything at the same time. Make things small enough that their scope fall under your current reach, which you said is tiny - so make tiny thing! Err on the side of caution. You want to make sure you complete them. Half-an-hour projects are perfectly fine here!!

Do this for a week and recap.

There are probably a number of causes, but coffee may be one of them. Don't be radical, but if you're having too much coffee, I'd suggest cutting down to just one coffee in the morning. It will take a bit of effort but may help you concentrate.

I'd suggest gradually cutting down to none. Apparently the alertness and general cognitive enhancing properties of caffeine don't really exist and all that people are noticing is the effect of the caffeine on their caffeine withdrawal symptoms.

Given the way that first cup of coffee in months can affect a person, you seem to be suggesting that caffeine withdrawal is a permanent condition. ;)

OPs point is that your brain adapts to the level of caffeine you're ingesting. So if you're used to drinking coffee then you're basically at the same level of alertness/functioning that you were before you first started drinking coffee (i.e. before it became habitual). The effect you notice from the first cup of coffee in the morning is really just the coffee counteracting the withdrawal you feel after ~6-8hrs of no caffeine.

This is clearly unsubstantiated - the benefits of coffee are very clearly outlined. Maybe some people who drinks too much are experiencing the withdrawal, but if you do not over-do it, there is a 90% chance of feeling more alert when you drink coffee.

This is clearly unsubstantiated - the benefits of coffee are very clearly outlined.

No they aren't.



These are just two of the first studies I found. There are plenty of others.

if you do not over-do it, there is a 90% chance of feeling more alert when you drink coffee.

90% of statistics are made up on the spot. If you're going to acuse me of making shit up on the spot maybe you shouldn't do it yourself? Feeling is the operative word in your statement.

> the benefits of coffee are very clearly outlined

No, what we know about benefits of caffeine is quite weak.



Looks like a great advice, thank you.

(This is intended as just another idea to think about)

The long-term passion and commitment come after some level of success, not before.

Steve Jobs didn't dream of dedicating his life to Personal Computing. It was his early successes that fed into his self-image and a feeling that it was what he was meant to do.

Maybe you need to find the right project.

Turn your weakness into a strength by publicly launching a new project every week. A new mobile app, web site, screencast, open source project, whatever. They don't have to be good, just a bit useful. Make things that you want and try to give them away and/or sell them to other people.

There are a lot of ways to make a living as a skilled programmer. Most people have trouble finding the right kind of project, and that's mostly because they don't iterate quickly enough.

Yes, I think passion and self-image are often tightly coupled. Passionate people tend to project their ego/self-image onto their work.

> Is there a cure from novelty-seeking behavior?

Start a project, commit to the technologies beforehand, and deviate under no circumstances.

Facebook was built with PHP. AdWords was built with MySQL. Instagram was built with Django. GitHub was built with Rails. Stack Overflow was built with Microsoft technologies.

It seems there are few instances where a "boring" tech stack prevents the product from being built. If the idea is good enough, you'll make it work with what's on hand.

If you can commit to a stack, yet still can't finish a project, you may have to face some uncomfortable possibilities: that your ideas are no good, or that you're simply not a very good programmer.

Attention span is a requirement for being a decent programmer.

I have a huge working memory and ability to hyperfocus (occasionally), which helped me to deliver some quite successful short-term projects. It is persistency I have problems with.

Commitment to stack is some problem for me, but it's OK for 6 months, maybe even a year. Anything longer-term, and I inevitably think something in the lines of: "this Java code now looks like shit, I learned so much new things, why not rewrite anything in Scala/Akka/Go/another interesting stack du jour?"

Sometimes this is not a bad thing. I started something in PHP an year ago, about 3 months ago I played with node, evaluated it and it felt like it would give a productivity boost in the long term. And it did! I am a lot happier with the new codebase. I guess it really depends on what you're working.

Try private investigator.

Most addictions are flights from rather than flights to.

I realized embarrassingly recently that I am a mental coward---if I don't like the implications of something, I just don't think about it. This is surprisingly non-disabling in a classroom setting, especially if you enjoy learning. It is a no-good for homework, though. I was everyone's favorite student---and failing.

My fear of unpleasant mental work ( http://paulgraham.com/schlep.html) led to an inexperience with mental work, making the fear worse.

When I untangled all this, the solution manifested itself in a few different pieces:

1. I gave up on the entitlement of always being in a flow state. This was scary, and my faith helped.

2. I started my days by planning them. I am actually not very good at this, and often I just write "coding" for a significant portion of the day, but the biggest benefit here is that I force myself to think about whatever it is I don't want to think about.

3. At the end of the day, I write down what I did that day. This forces me to confront myself about whether I'm planning badly or not.


I would second a therapist/counselor/etc. Did that during college (thanks to the couseling services my Uni provided), and it helped me just not feel too crazy.

I spent a long while, and still do, thinking about what am I heading towards. I know a lot of people don't know this and there is no way I will ever know all the details to make a decision, but I prefer the 'fail to plan, plan to fail' montra. Thus I plan, but am willing to scrap my planes in the wink of an eye, contingent on new infromation.

This is what I did and maybe you'll find something helpful in this method. Find what makes you tick. Make a list of things you enjoy doing. Try to be specific as you can. (You like novelty. Okay then maybe something like 'I like to learn a new trade skill (wood carving, stained glass, etc.) every 6 months.') Try to begin to boil it down to a long list. Keep adding things to the list, and take a break from the list every now and again (just to bring a fresh pair of eyes to it). If an idea seems broad, try to break it down (when I did/do this, I try to be able to tell someone the idea and they would be able to go out and do it exactly how it is in my head).

Then next to the list make columns like 'Financially sound ideas' (buying 32 Raspberry PIs to make a large cluster computer is not as financailly sound as Learning how apache2 works), 'Speed of doing' (you can learn how to write C at a basic level in an afternoon, but learning how to weld may take you longer), 'Practical for you to do' (if you weigh 400lbs and wanting to go backpacking through the Rockies is not as practical as learning how to write better on a whiteboard), 'It would bring me immediate gratitude', 'it would bring me long term gratitude', etc.

After you make a large list rank each column with 1-5 or some other ranking system (I liked the 1-5 because I could say I really hate, sort of hate, neutral, like, love an idea). Then you can hopefully start to see things that rank high in each category you made. (e.x. I really want to take a trip around South America (drive for two weeks or so through the Andes). It isn't practicle, it isn't quick to do, it isn't finacially sound, but it would be one hell of a memory. It is something I want to strive towards and go one day.)

I can write good code in Java, Scala, Python, Perl, MATLAB, Javascript, and now learning Go. I can configure Apache, nginx, Ansible, Docker... I worked with nearly every favor of Linux, OpenSolaris/OmniOS, CoreOS, etc. I learned how to do things in big data, business intelligence, algorithmic trading. Learning new things is not a problem, this is what I enjoy. Most of them are marketable.

What's killing me is inability to stop learning and start focusing on doing, intensely and persistently. When I have a job, I can't focus on the job. When I try to run my business, I can't focus on administrative side and routine (and successful routine is the essence of every business). I only want to learn, even if it is self-destructive, even if there are many more urgent and important things to do.

I can't say that I'm affected by this sort of thing to the same extent that you are, but the feeling of 'suddenly losing interest after gaining understanding' is easy to relate to. I have no problem keeping focus for hours trying to understand how a particular bug could possibly be happening, continuing to work after hours until I figure it out. When I'm still in that 'learning / understanding' phase, there's no effort required. I want to know what's going on here and it will bug me until I get it. And hopefully, the end solution is a couple line fix.

And very often, it is. But sometimes it ends up being the type of problem that requires a much more involved architecture change to solve correctly. It's not just a one line change, but something the whole team will have to sign off on. Which will require at _least_ 100 times the work of the usual two line fix. By this point, I already 'know' how to solve the problem, and it could be very easy to lose interest. But the error emails keep on coming. And they're easy to ignore because "they're just those weird errors we get from that 3rd party API we use so there's nothing we can do about it."

But these emails are really annoying. So I find I have to reframe the problems from understanding how to fix the issue to how to get buy in and get the fix actually deployed, and I haven't run out of these types of problems at any company I've worked at, and that works for me to keep my attention.

I can relate to your situation. While I have not completely figured it out, one thing I realized is that, even though I shelve many of my side projects, occasionally I come back to some of them, with fresh enthusiasm and move it forward another step or two (before loosing enthusiasm again). I realized that given enough "cycles" at least some of them are bound to be completed.

So a new approach I am trying is the "GPU Pipeline of side projects". First, I choose to trim my list of side projects to a few important ones (4 is a number I like, so four). I work on them in a parallel pipelined fashion. So I have one that's more advanced, one that is being setup, one that is being fleshed out, one still in ideation phase (you get the idea).

Secondly, I realize that when building things, the novelty can come from "recursing down to the details". For example, setup a AWS pipeline for code deployment would mean, learning how to setup an Ec2 deployment, then a Chef or Puppet instance, then easy config management of them, best way to document our setup (gitbook etc) and so on.... So if we use our boundless curiosity, which is both a strength and a weakness, to look a little deeper, we will find enough novelty to keep going even in a "single" project.

What I realized is that one single project is like a LISP S-Expression. (project). You (eval project), and it returns (list sub-project1 sub-project2 interesting-research3 wonderful-idea4) All you have to do is keep eval'uating the sub-expressions till you hit an "atom" of truth to share with the world.

Your conclusions regarding "GPU pipeline of side projects" and "recursing down to the details" resonate with my personal experience a lot. Great s-expression analogy!

How deep do you feel your learning is? Are you comfortable with SOLID concepts for example? I find a lot of intermediate developers who aren't, or the implications of it despite a lot of different toolsets being conquered.

I would suggest you set up with a consulting firm - Thoughtworks for example tend to try out a lot of new things across the entire company. This means that getting from 0 to somewhere, quickly, is something they can really sell. The downside is the poor bastards like me who have to deal with no one wanting to throw out the 'prototype' version of the solution.

You sound like me, (also adhd). Jack of all trades.

So, novelty seeking, I do this: - work part-time on something i'm passionate about as it's products that help others. Research based, which brings more novelty naturally. Also, passion for me was the most important thing to keep my focus, not "interesting" as "interesting" gets boring. - spend rest of the time mostly building random side-projects that won't be finished, but I don't care, that's not the point.

Seems to be working well.

I agree with some of the other comments that advise you to look into jobs which involve novelty, instead of swimming against the current.

With your generalist skills, you may make a great developer evangelist who can give overviews and demos of new technologies at developer talks, internal corporate trainings, or online trainings. They get paid well and I have come across some right here on HN.

You say you write good code in a number of languages but honestly I highly doubt it. If you really haven't stuck it out on any project for the long haul how could you possibly know that your code is any good? In my opinion one of the most important features of good code is long term maintainability.

My Scala code: https://github.com/atemerev/FXCore/blob/master/src/main/scal...

My Java code: https://github.com/atemerev/pms/blob/master/src/main/java/co... (saved me probably man-years in my consulting projects).

Code samples for Javascript, Matlab, Haskell and Go available on demand. :)

I think you missed my point entirely. Code looking pretty, being nicely formatted, and having comments is certainly part of but not nearly the whole picture in what makes good quality code that is easily maintainable through the ages. If you've never really stuck it out long term on a project, you have never felt the pleasure or pain of your previous work.

This particular code serves me well (in my consulting efforts) since 2008 and 2011. As for maintainability, I still clearly understand it and it can be immediately used everywhere.

If, by maintainability, you mean "looking at the mess I did some years ago in some large project and see how it turned out", then yes, I avoided such projects and large teams. Most of my code was written either by me alone or as a part of 2-3 persons team.

Honestly, with the skills you list, you can definitely find something that is rewarding, both intellectually and financially. You view your attraction to novel technologies as a downside, but it's kept you remarkably up to date and you probably have a much wider (though may be a little more shallow) knowledge base. Have you considered pursuing things like project management, marketing, developer support, QA, etc? Or maybe freelance? There are jobs where you can still apply your knowledge, but on smaller project.

Finding jobs is not really difficult (even in Switzerland without knowing any local languages, I can usually land something in 1-3 months). Staying there is another story.

I know I'm a monster but my answer would be something along the lines of "suck it up". We're on this planet for 80 years or so. There's going to be some repetition. Not everything is going to be "novel". Best to train yourself to lose this odd hang up.

In my experience, advice to "suck it up" usually indicates a lack of understanding on the part of the advisor, and an assumption that your mental state is similar to that of the person asking for help.

The OP is asking for strategies, alternate ways of viewing things, ideas he hasn't though of or dismissed. "Suck it up", is something we all try, or attempt to convince ourselves we "just" have to do. It usually doesn't work. The brain is changed by tricks and nudges, not some doomed-to-fail attempt at overriding yourself through (easily depleted) willpower.

If sucking it up worked for you, then you are probably in a very different situation.

Kind of bugs me that is going to be so far down the page :(

You're such a monster for invoking the Occam's Razor of solutions. /s

I like building novelty stuff too, but I've found that stability and security in life is far more fun.

I sucked it up and busted my ass for what I have now, and life is fucking great! Sure there may have been some missed opportunities, but I look at what I have now and regret nothing.

Some weeks suck, some other weeks I get this niggling and build some crazy projects in my free time. It all ebbs and flows.

Quite agree. My question is "how"?

I see it the other way... 80 years is nothing! There's way too much out there to learn.

Hunter or farmer?

The hunter seeks new challenges, is less risk adverse, needs to be good at responding to the unknown and seeks the thrill of the pursuit and catch.

The farmer is more risk adverse and has the patience and diligence to gain satisfaction from seeing plans develop, mature and deliver results.

For me, while a definition of ADHD delivered by someone trained in identifying personality traits might be useful in developing a perspective on the strengths and weakness of one's personality, one might choose a more 'active' approach and look at the techniques that can help mitigate the most destructive aspects of the 'condition'.

Everyone is unique, we are somewhere on a bell curve and I don't believe that classification is particularly helpful, knowing one's self is not always any help in changing the status quo.

In terms of advice, I've never met anyone who has come to any harm from seeking talking therapy, I loved CBT and met a very nice councillor with a 'holistic' approach, trained in many diverse disciplines and with a very rounded and realistic angle, baby steps towards things you want to change.

Good Luck :)

Good advice. Thank you :)

>I realised that the only thing that motivates me in software engineering is learning new things

One could question if you really "learn" those new things, instead of merely skimming over them, since you don't seem to stay with them long enough to really get into the details.

Maybe what you're afraid is really learning? Which involves comitting to a stack, and also getting to the parts where a project approaches being finished, which is where the real and important issues emerge.

I will try another approach that has not been mentioned so far.

I know this is HN, but you haven't really mentioned anything about novelty outside software. Now, I will try to not make assumptions, but is it perhaps that you are only seeking novelty in a very constrained way, which makes you feel uneasy about your choices?

What type of food do you eat? What hobbies do you pursue? Maybe you have a very monotonous life (or at least you think you have it) and try to compensate in your career with novelty.

If I were in your position, I would first write down when and where I experience these 'novelty rushes'. The key here is not looking at these notes after you write them for at least a couple of weeks. After a couple of weeks doing this, look at what you wrote and see if it maybe has to do with other factors in your life (maybe you rush to try something new after an argument with your wife, when you don't drink your coffee in the morning or when you don't go running for 1 or 2 days)

Perhaps it has nothing to do with your life outside this area, but maybe you just like reading documentation. At any rate, writing down what you are doing when you get these 'novelty rushes' would help you identify the problem. Hopefully.

Oh no, my life is anything but monotonous.

I lived in 6 different countries (going through bureaucracy hell while getting paperwork done each time), visited another 20 or so, tried getting a PhD, founded two startups (failed both), etc etc.

Part of the problem. :)

This sounds very similar to me! I've also been thinking about going for a PhD one day, or at least a degree. What was your field of study?

I don't know if I can think of any practical advice. But I'm in the same boat, and I think this can be a good quality if it means you are constantly thinking of new ideas. I also love starting new projects, and have even been able to finish a few. Recently I even posted an unfinished project on Reddit, which got a few laughs, and that's all I was going for.

If you're up for it, I would enjoy chatting about some of the projects we worked on, and countries we've lived in. I'm still looking for the perfect place on earth to settle down for a while, although I think I might have actually found it this week (New Plymouth, New Zealand).

Feel free to send me an email, my address should be in my profile. And we can also maybe work on some ways to mitigate the addiction to new things.

Computer science / network science (I am fascinated by complex networks / scale-free network properties).

Can't find your e-mail, contacted you through your blog form. :)

My own experience is that I look for novelty outside of the main job I'm doing.

Our product (https://grabaperch.com) is a PHP and MySQL CMS. A self-hosted PHP and MySQL CMS. That means that we are not only PHP, but we have to support really old PHP, we support right back to PHP5.3 as that is the reality of the terrible shared hosting people use. Then in the UI we have to support the browsers that our customer's clients use. So we can't use all the latest front-end techniques.

So it's very easy to get bored and not learn anything new.

To counteract that my personal projects tend to be about really new stuff, for example I've spent a lot of time writing and talking about an emerging CSS spec that interests me. I tend to implement new and interesting things in our own stack too where we don't have the constraints that the product does.

So my best advice would be to see if you can channel your novelty seeking into places outside of work, and accept that work sometimes involves having to stick at something that is boring. Sad but true!

Have you considered a career in information/computer security?

I have some of the same tendencies, and infosec has given me all the entertainment I can handle and then some.

(There are other fields adjacent to software engineering which you might prefer as well---consulting, operations.)

I have a career in infosec, and unfortunately I'm suffering the exact same problems as OP.

I can relate I think. Whether you need a cure or not is probably a question for you and a therapist. Ask about sliding fee scales and other options.

My story and maybe something for you to explore. I never held a job longer than 24 months when I was younger. Not being able to figure out a career direction and trying to get some direction in 2000 I sought testing at a great organization called Johnson O'Connor Research Foundation. They do aptitude testing and have been for 70+ years. Lots of data and studies on job satisfaction, aptitudes (which are different from both interests and skills), and success. Check out their web site they have some great info.

I tested high aptitude (80 - 99th percentile I think) on about 1/2 of the 19 or 20 aptitudes they've identified in their research. About 10% of the population tests this way. Most people have 3 or 4 max. The problem is if the aptitudes don't get used they agitate. Deeply. Like having a team of 20 sled dogs all fighting to run and no sled to pull or direction to go.

So I have learned I must use them or suffer the consequences. For example, Argentine Tango exercises my musical and social aspects. Engineering aptitudes, inductive reasoning, rapid idea generation, etc... all need expression. Some more so than others. Ideaphoria is rapid idea generation, handy in marketing or teaching, and a real pain if it is suppressed.

Commonly people with many aptitudes have a lot of difficulty with careers. Some use seasonal work or multiple part-time jobs or many different activities in one job to deal with what can often be conflicting drives.

Whether or not you are in this situation I don't know. What I did learn that may be of help was that I needed to respect the cards I was dealt in life. Gifts or burdens depended on how I looked at things. It's okay to have multiple projects and very diverse abilities and interests. Some may get abandoned quickly while others stick around.

Sharing seems to help. Get a blog up and start writing about all your projects. The ones that work and the ones that don't! For some reason sharing project results seems to help regardless of how they turn out. For example, I just had a surprising and inspiring response from HN readers on a blog post I wrote in November. I didn't realize other people would find what I was doing interesting enough to discuss!

I'm going to be 50 this summer and finally feel like I'm getting a handle on things. Keep at it. I hope some of this was useful. Get the help you need as you find the resources. Take care of your health, physical and emotional,and honor your gifts.

I agree with hanniabu that this should be higher up, this is definitely the kind of thing I come to HN for.

I'm definitely going to have to follow up on aptitude testing! I reckon I fit the description of sled dogs to a tee; I actually have absolutely tragic committal issues and I wonder if that might be the cause.

Link to website for Johnson O'Connor: http://www.jocrf.org/

Testing is apparently $675, $750 in NY.

FYI, this particular group doesn't franchise outside of Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D. C. - and sadly I'm in Australia.

Thanks for your kind words. Glad my experience was helpful. Best of luck to you!

Wish I could do it but who has $750 to spend on an aptitude test?

> The problem is if the aptitudes don't get used they agitate. Deeply.

I really wish your response was higher up just for this line. It really hit home for me in helping me understand more about myself. Thanks for the response.

You're welcome, hanniabu. Glad you found it useful. Lately, I've been learning how helpful it is for all of us when we can share our experiences. I sense there's a lot of underutilized or unrecognized talent in the world. The potential for positive change is enormous if we could unleash it all!

Yeah this thread as a whole was great and seems there were more than a few out there that were having the same problem, and that's not including people that didn't comment. It's threads like this that makes HN a great community, where somebody can come in desperation and ask a serious question like this and be met with sympathetic and helpful responses.

I have some similarities with you. 8 full-time jobs in 15 years all after a 9 year stint in graduate school where I quit a PHD program. I also crave trying new things even when they're risky, much to the horror of the people I work with (I'm in manufacturing, so I deal with operations and supply-chain people everyday).

You cannot "cure" what you find motivating. Just learn to live with it and perhaps force yourself to take longer "tours of duty" in jobs. Consecutive jobs held less than 1 year is universally considered a red flag by employers, as is getting fired. Engagements lasting 2 years in fast-paced industries are generally OK. If you're good at what you do you can probably control your urge to quit for a bit longer and do enough to not get fired. 2 years is not a long time and if you're able to do other things besides work, it can be a great advantage to have a job while exploring new things.

Another thing to consider is your life outside of work and your relationships with family or a significant other. If you're defining yourself strictly through work and ignoring the role you play in the lives of others, you're going experience some profound disappointments. In other words, perhaps your career decisions aren't really the root cause of your turmoil-- perhaps it is something far more personal? In that case nothing you do related to work will resolve your issues. YMMV-- just a thought to consider.

> I realised that the only thing that motivates me in software engineering is learning new things and trying new fancy toys, not building something working and useful

I used to feel this way as well, but at some point things changed for me and I began to care deeply about the impact of a technology far more than what components it was assembled with. The obsessive, myopic phase is good for awhile because it gives you the motivation to build useful skills when doing so is hard work, though it does become a burden eventually for the reasons you list.

Others have recommended speaking with a therapist or counsellor, and I agree with that advice; you may be surprised at how deeply-held attitudes or patterns of thought can hold you back.

Finally, I can tell you what changed my goals, though this is obviously anecdotal and not treatment advice. I joined a big tech company, which gave me the ability to work on projects with a ton of reach. I didn't realize how tired I was of working on little-used web apps and experimental stuff that never saw the light of day until experiencing the contrast.

Looks interesting. Impact matters, of course. The problem is that there are not many impactful tech companies headquartered in Switzerland, where I live (except maybe in finance, but they are just big, not doing new things), and not many big companies accept remote developers, but it's worth looking for opportunities.

Not sure where in Switzerland you are, but Google has a pretty big engineering office in Zurich. :-)

But yes, good point. This may not apply in your case. I wish you luck...the search for motivation and purpose is fundamental to identity.

I can relate. I get bored really quickly as well, and I am one of those people who usually kicks ass at a new job for about the first year, and then starts to tail off after that because I'm bored out of my mind.

I've found two things that seem to help:

1. Start a startup. I started Fogbeam at least in part because it gives me an outlet to pursue things that are interesting to me, and a place to work on really cool new cutting edge stuff, even if my day-job doesn't. Back at my last "boring enterprise software development" job, I found that coming home and working on Fogbeam stuff helped keep me sane. (Note: in my scenario the startup is just a side project, but if you have savings or feel like raising money, I suppose you could just jump into it full time. YMMV)

2. Become a consultant. I started consulting for Mammoth Data back in 2012, and I've found that this consulting lifestyle is quite a bit more interesting than the typical "sit at the same desk, working on the same product, with the same people" routine. I'm constantly working on new and different things... every project is different, and since we focus on "Big Data", analytics, BI, etc., there's a non-stop stream of new technologies being invented / released that we have to try and keep up with. In the past year or two I've worked with Neo4J, Hadoop, Spark, Storm, Kafka, Knox, HBase, Phoenix, Couchbase, EMR, Google's Cloud stuff, Impala, Kinesis, Pentaho, and probably some other stuff I'm forgetting. The downside, of course, is the need to travel a lot at times (which is another of those "good and bad" things) and the feeling you get sometimes that you're drowning in all this new stuff. Example: In the past month or two, 3 different major companies have released distributed Machine Learning platforms (Google, IBM and Microsoft). And every day or two there's some new Hadoop / Big Data related sub-project hitting the Apache Incubator. And as a consultant, I feel a need to be on top of all of that stuff.. which, unfortunately, it's pretty much impossible to be.

Another side-note: You may find that signing up for and taking lots of MOOC's on Coursera, Udacity, EdX, etc. may serve as an outlet for your neophilia, and might let you stay more focused at work. Just treat coming home and working on a cool new class on Machine Learning or Synthetic Biology or $WHATEVER as a reward for putting in a good day of hard, focused work at the day-job.

I'm a lot like OP, and consulting has worked out well for me. I get to play during downtime. Also, some play areas have become work areas, and vice versa.

Any tips on how to get clients as consultant?

Start with consulting agencies. That's companies that acts like brokers between independent consultants / contractors and companies.

Later on, you can get business from LinkedIn, mouth to mouth, previous clients who now contact you directly etc.

OP: LinkedIn worked the best for me.

Here's how to turn your "problem" into an advantage:


You love learning new stuff, but get bored quickly. Seize the enthusiasm you have for a new technology while you've got it, and make the most of it. Create books, online courses (e.g. Udemy), and blog about what you're learning. Build up experience and a reputation as someone who can turn lots of new and confusing technologies into stuff that helps other people learn.

If you already have, or can develop, the skills necessary to write and present well, after 2-3 years you could have a pretty impressive portfolio of material. If you can successfully monetise that, you've got yourself a career that fits your working style.

I recommend checking out the book "Authority" by Nathan Barry: http://nathanbarry.com/authority/

A good idea. English is not my native language, but everything can be improved, and I have some editorial skills (worked as a journalist some 10 years ago). I like writing.

It's much more difficult to make it lucrative, though.

From the posts on this topic, I'd have never guessed your native language wasn't English, so this is in no way a handicap for you. (Other than it may be more effort for you than a native speaker, but your end product is quite good.)

I don't know if it will help but the way I tried to stop job hopping was to realize that I work to make a living, and if I want to learn stuff and play with new toys, I can do that on my own time. After all, they don't pay me to learn, they pay me to get stuff they need finished.

It sounds like you need to see a therapist. However I imagine that's difficult if you're in debt, so you probably need to first try to get a job and pay that off.

Honestly there's going to be parts of any job that you don't like. Unless you are filthy rich or have someone paying for you, you're going to have to do things even if they bore you sometimes. The best you can do is try to do them efficiently so you can spend more time learning.

It sounds like you may be best off seeing a psychotherapist that may be able to help you better understand and control your novelty-seeking. Your pattern sounds self-destructive and it is obviously causing you distress.

Also: have you considered contract or consulting work? If you have the freedom to travel around for work, it can be more dynamic and rewarding than your current pattern.

I own a one-man consulting company, through which I am doing some contract work (mostly in algo trading / finance, and yes, I do realize that poor financial software engineer sounds like a joke, which I am). But finding new customers and _especially_ managing the administrative side of this business is getting increasingly harder for me.

I do see therapist occasionally, but it is quite expensive (especially given my loads of debt) and doesn't help much. I was diagnosed with ADD, and therapy helps with some focus related issues, but not with novelty seeking behavior. :(

In similar situation like you.

What helped me is outsourcing the administrative stuff (book-keeping, taxes) to an accountant and forcing myself to meet with him once per month physically, best is to make an appointment a month ahead. Insisting on the physical meeting is a trick to force myself at least once in a month to prepare for the meeting (getting all the documents together, travel receipts, invoices, letters). It costs a lot of money but it is worth it for me.

The next trick has a similar pattern: find somebody to spend talking time on a regular basis, at least once per week. Not necessarily a therapist, but a friend, partner, colleague with whom share some common interests. Then force to keep those talking meetings. This helps, because you can talk about your anxiety, talk about what new things you have found, etc. I do it with a friend on a weekly basis and with a psycho-analyst at least once per week - if I don't travel.

The third trick I discovered only lately when being under huge pressure, in a situation in which I didn't know a way out: I started writing as a form of talking to myself. It worked best by "switching off the screen", i.e. typing without seeing what you type (either by literally switching off the screen, or by putting the font to same color as background - I made color scheme mode Vim), it gives you an additional motivation to re-read it later. When I first discovered this, it felt later like magic. I use this trick only when under big pressure - didn't make it to a habit, yet.

Maybe this advice helps.

I wish you to find a way to cope with your life and get to a situation where you can have a decent and more stable life, but still learn new stuff. Good luck.

>It worked best by "switching off the screen", i.e. typing without seeing what you type (either by literally switching off the screen, or by putting the font to same color as background

That's really interesting. Have written to get stuff out before but there is always the reading, writing, rereading, editing flow that kind of makes it a pain. Going to try 'switching off the screen' next time.

Exactly this. Re-reading and editing breaks the flow of writing - too many hesitations. When writing with "screen switched off" I can't correct mistakes beyond the last typed word. This forces me to write as I would speak.

I'd be interested to know how it worked for you.

I've been diagnosed with AD/HD. Eventually I moved into sales engineering. It's been great. You leverage technical skills but get to talk to new people all the time and see what kind of problems they're trying to solve. Stick to pre-sales and you don't have to get involved with any one account for too long.

Behavior is just how you choose to respond to feelings you have. I have adult ADD/ADHD and novelty seek frequently, but it helps to remind myself why I do what I do, what my motivations are, what I desire in the long term. I still struggle with it though ...

It might be best, then, to speak to a psychiatrist versus a therapist, if therapy is not working well for you, especially with an ADD diagnosis.

Tried many things after the diagnosis: medication (Concerta/Vyvanse), meditation, counseling, self-help. Some things worked, some things failed. It is hard to find ADD specialists in Switzerland; I am lucky to have even this amount of help.

Have you continued the things that have worked? I have never been to Switzerland and know little about its medical care, but I can't imagine there is not someone there that can help you with this given how advanced the society is.

Hey, you're in Switzerland? Near ZH? I'm doing something similar to you, multiple irons in the fire. Maybe we could meet up?

In Geneva, but I visit Zurich occasionally. My email is sorhed at gmail, I'd be happy to hear from you.

You like technology and learning, but you don't have an engineer mindset.

You can look for research jobs or freelance, where you can try lots of things quickly.

Alternatively, find a business partner or team that complements your skills/interests.

Seek professional help,good therapist who you trust. People get treated for all kinds of addictions, your case likely will not be that special nor hard. I am not an expert but I would guess addiction may not be the only psychological problem to address. It might be expensive but should be worth it. Good luck.

Seconding this. There are many other great suggestions in here to try but I would augment them with therapy. Find one you relate to, one that is accepting of the other things you're trying, and work with them.

Colleges often offer low cost services if you're concerned about cost right now (with the ACA this should be less of an issue). There's often a waiting list, get on it now.

I live outside the US (In Switzerland. Before that, I used to lived in Spain, Denmark, Italy, Switzerland again, and Russia, where I was born). Part of the problem, it seems.

Oh and: want to market yourself as a tutor? I'd pay a reasonable rate for 1:1 tutoring on the math side of things for an hour or two a week. Get a few recurring people at the right rate, you get the novelty of a stream of problems others are trying to solve and an in depth way to see how others think.

Start a daily meditation practice. Just 15 minutes a day can work wonders - I speak from personal experience, having experienced some of those symptoms myself, and pretty much all of them gone. Here is a very effective one:


Tried Headspace meditation app, worked quite well indeed. Then stopped it after 4 months of effort, can't get back on track. Same problem here. :)

Well, GO BACK TO IT then. Seriously, you're going to need to make a real material effort to fix your problems whatever you do, and if you're unwilling to bite the bullet and muster some self-control to work on things like exercising your self-control then there is nothing anyone can do for you.

I'd guess you don't have a novelty-addiction problem, you have a problem where you're unwilling to apply yourself to hard things with long-term payoffs, and the novelty-addiction is what fills in the gap. Maybe there's some reasons for that (procrastination of emotionally difficult things in favor of mood-repair is a big deal for a lot of people) but you'll just need to deal with them.

I would suggest create a profile on Upwork.com (or some other active freelancing website) and list down your areas of knowledge. Price yourself competitively - slightly below average rates so as not be considered cheap and low quality but not overpriced as well.

This will help in 2 ways: 1) Slowly bring in cash which will tackle your $50k debt in definite time period. Remember "compounding" is the biggest weapon! 2) The client's project will be short self contained tasks which will bind you in a timeframe to complete stuff. This is very important if you want to grow the focus and tenacity that you lack right now.

After a couple of months or a year, you will notice substantial benefits. The big debt will have come down a lot + you would have learnt to execute on ideas.

Now you will finally be ready to execute on your own stuff and make it big hopefully.

(Advice rendered from personal experiences!)

Second that, also from personal experience.

Well, I sometimes worked longer, but never longer than 3 years at one place. In addition, I don’t remember being fired, my employers were generally happy with my performance, instead I got bored and quit myself.

For me, freelancing is working OK. Today I’m working on some Windows Store SDK, yesterday I’ve worked on an industrial-grade WinCE embedded software, tomorrow I gonna work on a cross-platform OSX+Windows 3D authoring software, and in my spare time, when I’m bored, I learn CUDA.

There's nothing wrong with you. Your passion for novelty and learning can be a huge asset in the right environment. There are companies who hire software engineers to quickly build proof of concept prototypes to then throw the prototypes away. You might be a good fit for that. I know Nuance in Montreal has teams that do it.

Also, you might want to consider switching to front end software development if you haven't already. There's always a new framework or library to learn in front end development and the development cycles are shorter.

I can somewhat relate. Although I was able to trace the cause of my novelty addiction to a particular job. I then built that into a career path for a bit (doing short term, very targeting consulting jobs. Most were subcontracts to larger projects) and oddly got tired of it and forced myself back to focusing on one thing. I do still find myself reverting back to always wanting to do new things. Usually I will devote a few hours a week just to doing something new or learning something new. Downtime between projects is used for learning as well. I make this a habit to feed my addiction to new things.

My first job in a R&D/Testing type role was working for an application service provider. I was responsible for evaluating new hardware from vendors before it would be released to our data centers. I had to not only test the hardware, but ensure the applications worked correctly, performance test, and document configurations. Each week was something new and I had great relationships with vendors such as Compaq, HP, Dell, and Microsoft that would constantly send demo hardware/software just so I could play. I left the job to take a position at Microsoft, and looking back regret it. I stayed at Microsoft for a little over a year for the same reason as you, I got bored. That is when I switched to just doing consulting.

But, if that doesn't work, I would look for positions in R&D for a company (that is the type of position where I traced my problem back to). Depending on the company/position you actually get paid to find and work with new "toys". Also, look at testing type positions.

What kind of job requires novelty? How about reviewer/writer of new technology? How about testing of new products? May not pay as much as software engineering, but you seem to not actually be successful at doing that anyway.

Also, if you haven't yet talked about this with a mental health professional, you probably should. It may take trying a few before you find someone who understands your particular problem.

A few things that have helped me:

1. Realize that tendency CAN be a powerful tool if you channel it correctly and get yourself into the right environment. I'm in media, because the tools change quickly, each project has different problems to solve, and there's a broad, somewhat disconnected set of skills that are useful.

2. Every job, no matter how passionate you are about it, will have some crap you just have to get through that you don't want to do. Don't confuse temporary boredom with lack of passion.

3. Willpower is a muscle, and you CAN get better at powering through the portion of your work that you don't enjoy.

4. If you master things quickly enough you can move up in your career so that you are doing new things with each new move.

5. It's worth talking to your healthcare provider about these concerns, there are a variety of tools and strategies that can help.

6. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Use your free time to explore widely disparate disciplines.

7. Limit your time aimlessly browsing the internet. It's a great tool, but using it without purpose seems to make it much harder to focus on tasks.

I would look at the problem differently. I think this approach when you try to accept that you are "broken" or "ill" does not really help or motivate. I would consider myself, my brain, my subconsciousness as a one whole and try to interpret the signs it gives me. Like if you are bored by a project, that does not mean that you are a bad person who has problems with concentration or something. It might mean that it is not complex enough for you.

There is this theory that says that for every IQ level you have to find an appropriate occupation. If the occupation does not require the whole your potential, you feel bored. If it requires higher abstract capacities than you have, you feel overwhelmed. So the thing is to find your level.

On my previous job I switched projects every 6 months. At the beginning they all sounded so exciting, I didn't know anything about things that I would have to do on them, so I was so eager to start them and learn all the stuff. But after 3-4 months they were so boring, I was struggling so much and then I always inevitably landed in my boss office telling him that I cannot stand it anymore and I have to switch the project otherwise I have to leave the company. But the thing is this subconscious urge to do something different is much stronger than rational thoughts. I can fight for some time with myself and then I give up.

But then I decided to switch the whole industry where I was working. And now I am incredibly happy with that switch. Now I am on the same project for 8 months and it is nowhere any sings that I wanna jump to the next thing. It is very different here and the tasks I have, they require really whole my mental capacities leaving no place for boredom.

So what I wanted to say is that IT project != IT project. You can use the same programming language to build something that is not that complex in its nature and it will make you bored, or you can use it to solve a very complex problem and then you don't need to satisfy your thirst with new technology because the project itself is already demanding whole your mental abstract capacities.

So what I would do in your place, is that I would try to find an industry which is not only using new shiny tools but also builds something extremely complex. You have to find a complexity level appropriate for your. So take something that you think you are not capable of (something with complex math or physics or whatever) and see whether you can deal with that.

Define for yourself a different set of objectives: find the novelty in staying 2, 3 years at a company, in having a life without debt, in having money set aside. Work for a company that has a big and complex project. There are projects where it's virtually impossible to get to know all the parts of the code. Lower a little bit your definition of novelty when you're at work: consider as new having to work on bugs/features that you don't have any idea where are situated in the codebase when you first hear about them. Remember, there are jobs where you have to work only 8 hours.

Take one of those jobs and spend your afternoons working on your own projects which can be implemented using whatever technology you want and can be as concrete as you want.

Look at your job as a necessary hell, but try to find the fun in it while at work and always remember that you have your fun projects back at home

You reminded me of an article by Nassim Taleb called "The Future Will Not be Cool":


That is a lot of debt. I was once in debt like that and I eventually found Debtors Anonymous to be very, very helpful. I ended up deciding my debating behavior was causing a lot of the other problems in my life and dealing with that really gave me the space to figure out my other problems.

DA website: http://www.debtorsanonymous.org/help/questions.htm There is a meeting every day somewhere in the bay area. If you come to the friday night Laurel Height meeting you'll see me: http://www.ncdaweb.org/SF.html

Not living in the Bay Area, or even the US. Is there something that can be done e.g. over Skype?

You finished the level. Time to move on to the next.

You probably have a good idea how great software development should be done. But can you get 10 programmers to actually work like that and stay profitable, while they still don't resent you too much?

I think you should sidestep into a related but more appropriate job.

Above all else, engineers should be obsessed with the proper functioning of a system, throughout all aspects - speed, security, robustness, etc. What tools are chosen are chosen only for the purposes of enhancing those goals. An true engineer senses these needs and works towards them uncompromisingly. To choose otherwise - for any reason - is to be a bad engineer, which it sounds like you are (sorry! Just being honest!)

The good news is that having an insatiable appetite for novelty has its place in this world. Could you work as an angel scout? Or a tech crunch (-style) writer?

I am on similar lines, but i have a stable job .. (changed 3 jobs in the last 6 years). I quit my own startup because its boring. I cant stick to a project for more than a month.

Try working with a really growing startup you might like it. I was into infra for a while, the QA team, then development, then scaling dbs etc... Keep changing the role.

It is not just about the job. Try doing a course on coursera/edX. I do multiple courses across very different domains. I did Mathematics, biology, Electronics, then philosophy, Quantum computing etc. It gives you the element of "novelty" if the job doesnt interest you.

I am a novelty-seeker and I've turned to freelancing (in my case: data science). A lot of short, fast paced projects, everyone being different and requiring me to learn new things.

Also, check out the book "Changing For Good" by James Prochaska. There is quote, (not from the book) "Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth." So bounce ideas off people you know and trust. Seek council and constructive criticism. Read evidence based "self help" books. Get a life coach. Because, "I want to change this or that about me" is never as simple as it seems. Especially if you want to make it a beneficial change.

Such behaviour can be hardcoded for certain types of personalities and is not bad per se. You're just trying to achieve something that isn't compatible with your personality.

I'd perhaps recommend doing an MBTI personality test (there's a bunch of them on the internet). This might help you to understand the mechanisms behind your behaviour and most importantly give you some hints how to make yourself useful.

I recommend to consider psychologist only as last resort.

All right, let's assume I decided that software engineering career is not for me. What careers are compatible with constant novelty-seeking?

Open a novelty blog and write about what you love? You can make money from advertising and Amazon affiliate links. You could make a living out of it rather quickly.

Other thing - become a remote freelancer. Get in to projects that last 1-3 months. You can make good money while doing what you like.

Also the short interest period on projects is not part of your personality, but it might be a stage. I had same thing, but turned out to be good for me. I used it to my advantage - I learned everything I could. I would jump from niche to niche making money along the way. My base would be marketing, from there I could freely move to tech, programming and consulting while making money. It took a while but I grew up from it. Now I am full stack startup owner - I do everything from programming, through customer service to marketing - and it is awesome.

I doubt the affiliate path is a way to actually making a living... it's been fiercely competitive since 2010.

I mentioned affiliate as a way of monetizing blogging, there is many ways, affiliate through Amazon is just easy.

Consulting might be a good bet.

I do consulting. 99% of consulting is persuading prospective clients that they need your consulting. Not that there's something wrong with it, but I am not that good at it...

Sounds like you're freelancing on your own? Maybe consider going to work as a consultant for a firm where somebody else manages the sales and admin stuff, and you can just do the technical side? That's the way I work, FWIW. The downside is that I don't have total control over what I'm working on, and I probably make less money than what I could make doing it on my own. But I don't have to worry about sales, book-keeping, etc. (Of course, I have to do that stuff for my side-project company, but that's a separate story).

Applied for some positions like that, waiting for response. :)

This was my first thought too. MBTI is not considered "scientific", by psychologists. But r/ENTP in reddit is filled with people who seem to suffer from extreme novelty addiction.

Other possibility would be ADHD or some weird version of autism. ADHD would often have difficulties to stay focused even in new things. Autistic are often very picky about their interests and get easily bored about everything else. Which isn't exactly neophilia, but might appear like it.


Yes, it's not "scientific", but generally categorizes people with similar behaviour quite well. If you know your classification then there's a fair chance that there are more people that have same problems as you and gives you chance to read about their experiences and solutions.

I know it may not sound like it, but you could be depressed, or in any case treatment for it may help. Talk to your doctor, or get a recommendation for a therapist.

I feel a bit like this sometimes. It is one of the reasons I embrace small JavaScript modules on npm. You can write a 100-line module with a narrow scope. It can quickly (even on first release) reach a stable and frozen API, and it will prove useful for years to come.

It allows you to experiment with a wide range of topics while still providing useful contributions to the community.

I have seen plenty of jobs where requirements are to go for novel solutions, get preliminary results and then pass on the job of following up to another dept. I wouldn't say your case is bad, but just not a good fit. Nevertheless there should be balance in everything, getting fired twice in short time may not be a good sign.

Find a company that embraces neophilia, these guys for example https://blog.enki.com/coding-is-boring-unless-4e496720d664#....

"Component has bugs? Rewrite it in a new language!"

You ought to consider a career change. If what you've been doing for the past 12 years hasn't worked out, it's time to reflect and make some hard decisions. "If your only tool is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail." The problem with the replies in this thread is most folks are from a tech background and are suggesting you double down on the software development path because that's all they know. From what you said about your job history and debt situation, this isn't working out so well for you. Why not pick up a skilled trade like plumbing, electrical, or HVAC? They all pay reasonably well, there's always something new to learn, and you're always going to new places and working on new jobs. And you'd be surprised how successful people with 'dirty jobs' are. [1]

[1] http://www.npr.org/2013/11/01/240780579/are-people-with-dirt...

Looks like you have to adjust your mindset (definitely not easy but probably achievable) or, if you are confident enough, to adjust your career. For example you can write articles and do workshops/lectures. Third option (more EU one than Swiss :) would be to postpone the decision.

If we add CR to "neophilia" we get ...

The CR moves the cursor to the start of the line without a LF, so the "ne" prefix gets overwritten with the rest of the word.

Sheesh ... what did you all think I was talking about?

Consulting firms will offer new projects every ~6mo.

There are research engineering jobs that also might be a good fit - you deal with a lot of different problems and get to satisfy your need to learn additionally from the researchers.

I have a similar issue of self destructive behaviour with impulses I cannot control. An extreme solution that I was recommended by my therapist was DBT, it is less therapy and more learning to.control the urges.

I would recommend a 10 day vipassana meditation retreat (they're free). They're extremely difficult, but participating in one will jolt you out of your cycle of cravings.

I am this same way, I'm constantly looking for ways to learn to work with it.

You should man the fuck up, and focus on doing your job, first and foremost.

> I am a fairly decent software engineer,

You need to stop saying that. You're not a software engineer.

I am exactly the same way

contract work?

I am much like you, yet am older and I too havent been able to hold a dev job for longer then a year. My addiction is the high obtained from starting up and the opportunities that always seem to knock and i pursue, yet never work out.

I recently had an awesome remote front end gig, yet this crazy outlandish opportunity knocked and I tried to ignore it, but they kept knocking (reality TV show for startups), so I gave up my job for it. I didnt make it that far in the competition, so now I am jobless .. late 30s .. similar debt .. dont own my own home .... no family and g/f is tired of my lifestyle/gave up on me.

Overall you are not alone .. this stuff for those who struggle with business guys/girls (im an inventor), don't have rich relatives or friends (investors to help you have a long runway to figure your road to success) isn't easy. Yet, we continue to do it ... it is an addiction, yet again Im too old now to drop everything(as I just did).

Also, there are so many of us in the industry who jump from one dev job to another for various reasons. Again, you are not alone ... we all have the desire to leave our mark on this earth and or just do what we love to do.. create awesome stuff on the web! Ironically my stuff helps me get jobs and then as you can see above distracts me from keeping many great steady jobs(but I AM DONE unless those who knock offer me loads of money & or a solid job doing what I love to do; invent).

Craftsmanship. Quality.

There's always a new technique to master which can be brought upon in your work.

It is novel once you get there, but may take a while.

Quality construction, impeccable tailoring, expert craftsmanship – these are the marks of quality.

There's novelty in the next feature around the corner, but there is beauty in something crafted.

Ecstatic pleasure can be obtained from crafting. Perhaps give it a go.

My problem is precisely that I don't get any pleasure from crafting (unless it is a really novel way of doing something). This is something I just can't feel, like color-blind people can't see some colors.

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