Gone are the days of the outcast computer nerd. With billions of dollars in the hands of the greatest and most innovative programmers of the world, the current characterization of this profession is altogether different from only a decade or two ago.
Given that programmers are helping change the landscape of Earth and creating the technology we all use and love, it is no wonder their role is coveted by society with a salary to match.
However, with programming as a skill that anyone can learn and develop, it has become a global and competitive industry where getting ahead can mean the difference between millions of dollars and fulfilling work or utter failure as the alternative.
Many programmers are turning to nootropics. You should too, but…
We aren’t only going to give you the run-of-the-mill nootropics and smart drugs for programming.
We’re going to provide a comprehensive understanding of programming and the nootropics for each sub-culture in addition to some novel and unique cognitive enhancing options. Read until the end and you’ll get the ingredients of a formula you can try for yourself.
Nootropics for Beginner Programmers
If you’re just learning the basics of coding (either in college or self-education), you are going to have a different approach than some of the experts.
Learning a programming language requires enhanced memory formation, learning ability, and some elements of focus and concentration. For new programmers, some basic nootropic options are great to start.
If this seems too basic, continue reading below and you’ll find some of the novel concepts for advanced programmers.
Piracetam and Choline – this is a staple nootropic for improving memory formation and learning, which is perfect for a beginner programmer. If you are new to cognitive enhancers as well then the piracetam and choline combination is a great start.
Oxiracetam – another drug within the “racetam” family, this can aid in memory formation and learning, but also has a slight stimulating aspect. Anecdotally, many coders seem to like oxiracetam specifically. Get it here.
Phenylpiracetam – again, this is part of the racetam family, which helps with memory formation and learning, but is a potent stimulant. Phenylpiracetam can be used as-needed, but it is possible to gain tolerance to the drug so take it 2 – 3 times per week maximum. Find it here.
Noopept – in theory, noopept is a great memory enhancer currently used as a prescription drug in Russia and other countries. In practice, coders and programmers have mixed results using noopept. Find some here.
For example, one Redditor claimed with noopept he “feel almost nothing” while Kornel Lugosi (another programmer using nootropics) stated that “I’ve only found noopept surely worthy for me to continue taking it.” Evidence yet again that each person is unique even within the subset of programmers and coders.
Pros Getting Into Flows
For programmers with more experience and skills, the nootropic supplementation can become a little more nuanced.
When one has a high level of proficiency in any skill, it is much easier to get into a “flow state”, which is characterized by feelings of timelessness, intense focus, and mental clarity.
Although we will discuss different programming languages and styles later, here are some of the best methods you can use in order to enter flow more quickly as an experienced programmer.
Caffeine and L-Theanine – the combination of caffeine and L-theanine is nothing new, but for entering a flow state it is particularly useful. Caffeine stimulates adrenaline and dopamine activity, which is necessary for flow. Theanine helps increase brain alpha waves, the activity of which associate with flow states (which occur between theta and alpha waves).
CBD Oil – one of the most educated writers on the subject of flow (Steven Kotler), has said that a quick sequence to get into flow ends with smoking a joint.
You may have friends or heard of people who smoke cannabis before programming, but CBD oil could be a good alternative to have similar cognitive effects. Skip to ~ 38 minutes in to learn more here:
Microdosing – only a single study exists from 1966, by Dr. James Fadiman’s research showed that over 40% of professionals (including computer programmers) who had substantial multi-month long problems found their solution through psychedelic microdosing.
While mescaline was used in the study, it's possible that psilocybin or LSD could have comparable effects. In fact, Steve Jobs cites using LSD for creative purposes.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
Despite what most people think, computer programming is more like learning a new language than logic and math. One study from the University of Magdeburg in Germany used fMRI scans to determine what parts of the brain light up while in the act of programming.
In fact, even though the snippets of code involved mathematical equations, the brain used centers for verbal and language processing more than anything else.
This is evidence our brain is operating in a nuanced and highly specific way. Subjectively, here are some of the nuances within the programming world:
- Backend developers – more logic oriented
- Frontend developers – less logic oriented
- Functional languages – large working memory
- Imperative languages – (C, C++, Java) – processing speed
- High-level language – anxiolytic might be best
- Low-level language – intense focus / concentration
For someone who is highly experienced and programming with a high-level language, anxiolytics often are the biggest wins. Some of the best options include:
Bacopa Monnieri – While bacopa is most well known for improving memory formation, this is a longer term play (4 – 6 weeks). In the short term, bacopa is fantastic as a way to reduce anxiety and perform at a higher level. Here is a patented and safe extract.
Tianeptine – If the simple Ayurvedic herbs aren’t good enough for you, one powerful alternative could be tianeptine. It’s a powerful anxiolytic (though it works for depression even better) and it is non-habit forming in 99% of users. You can get it here.
Lower level languages could benefit from increased focus and concentration, but keep in mind that programming is an inherently rewarding task. Programming provides a feedback loop where the programmer can test what is written and immediately see the results.
Often this results in mini-squirts of dopamine in anticipation. Therefore, programming has focus and concentration built-in already to some degree. While many can benefit from stimulants, usually burnout and anxiety are the problems for programmers.
A Stroke of Genius
Many programmers will be familiar with the rare “lightbulb moment”, such as an invention of an algorithm. As one Reddit coder described the pieces could be conceived as follows:
- Recall – ability to see connections between seemingly unrelated things
- Mental clarity / sense of calm – if you’re rushed or overstimulated, it’s often easy to miss easy connections, become frustrated or “spin your wheels”
- Focus / concentration – in verifying / proving that your algorithm is correct, people commonly run into math/algebra that they just don’t want to do. Being able to push through this, and go ahead and do it, is a lot more beneficial than you’d think.
The caffeine and L-theanine combo is great for focus while maintaining a sense of calm. The bacopa and ashwagandha herbal options can help with clarity and a sense of calm as well, but recall and working memory is a whole different ball game.
When you’re thinking of a sequence of events and creating an abstract idea for solving your programming problem, working memory and recall is one of the most important features and here are a few nootropic options to help you get there.
L-Tyrosine – this simple amino acid impacts both focus and concentration while at the same time improving working memory . Although most studies include cold therapy, this is a relatively simple solution that’s worth a try.
Modafinil – there is a reason modafinil is so popular in Silicon Valley of all places. In addition to all the money to be made in such a cut-throat industry, modafinil is a combination of focus, concentration and improved working memory. While some (including Adam Sinicki) consider this too hardcore or intense, it might be a good option for others. Find it here.
Nootropics and Programming: Do They Work?
Now that you have many options to test and include into your nootropic stack for programming, we will provide a parting suggestion and a few ways you can see whether any of this helps you.
Formula of Nootropics for Programmers
Step #1 – Supplementation
Caffeine (80 mg) + L-Theanine (160 mg)
Bacopa monnieri (300 mg)
Fish oil (1500 mg – 1000 mg DHA / 500 mg EPA)
L-Tyrosine (500 mg)
CBD oil (10 mg) (Hybrid nanoengineered if possible)
Step #2 – Slight physical activity
20 minute walk (no phone, no distractions)
Step #3 – Uninterrupted “Deep Work”
Starting programming with as few distractions as possible. Whatever rituals you need to do to make best use of the supplementation and walk.
At a fixed interval, you can do a few things to test whether or not your nootropic stack for programming actually works.
- Journal – your subjective experience isn’t the be-all-end-all, but it is worthwhile. Just journal how you feel and what experiences you have had that might vary from programming without nootropics.
- International Mathematical Olympiad – how many of these problems can you solve in a given time period?
- Speed Algebra – how quickly can you solve problems like this?
- Digit Span – Find this on Cambridge Brain Sciences to hold information in your head and work with it.
Programmers have a unique requirement of skills and each person is different. As always, what may work for one person may not for another. Do you have any additions or suggestions? Add them to the comments below.