John Carmack’s Deep Nights

Late Night Depth

I recently reread Masters of Doom — David Kushner’s entertaining (though cheesily dialogued) history of id Software.

Something new caught my attention this time through the book.

Kushner revealed that id’s ace coder, John Carmack, adopted an aggressive tactic to increase his effectiveness while working on his breakthrough Quake engine: Carmack, seeking a break from distraction, began to shift the start of his workday one hour at a time, until eventually he was starting his programming in the evening and finishing before dawn.

The uninterrupted depth provided by this odd habit allowed Carmack (with help from graphics guru Michael Abrash) to reinvent electronic entertainment with the first lightening fast, fully 3D PC game engine.

I mention this example because I think it supports my prediction that high impact computer programming will be one of the first places we start to see a major revolt from the standard knowledge work approach of spending most of your day tending inboxes and chat channels. For the Carmacks of the world, the value of what they can produce if left to operate at full cognitive capacity (Quake sold 1.8 million copies), far outweighs the inconveniences of them becoming hard to reach.

These initial revolts will be important — not because we will want to mimic the exact habits they produce, but because they’ll help spread the idea that how we work in the knowledge sector is much more flexible than we might currently imagine.