299. Seven Senses and Software Development

Created by occupational therapists, a “sensory diet” is a treatment strategy designed to help children feel calm, ready to learn, and in control of their bodies. Do you ever fidget with a pen during a meeting? Or take a walk to combat the after-lunch lull? Activities like these are part of your own sensory diet and provide the sensory input your body needs to remain focused and attentive throughout the day. Today’s episode of The Rabbit Hole challenges you to look at your habits to see what activities might form part of the sensory diet you didn’t realize you had and offers suggestions for helpful strategies you can implement to satisfy your sensory needs!

Key Points From This Episode:

  • What inspired the topic of this episode.
  • Preventing digital eye strain using strategies like the “20-20-20” rule.
  • Different tactile methods for focus and stress relief, including fidget devices.
  • How listening to music or podcasts helps some people concentrate.
  • The enduring importance of different kinds of snacks!
  • Reflecting on how software developers use their noses.
  • Defining the vestibular sense and how to satisfy it.
  • Exercises and equipment for our “hidden sixth sense,” proprioception.
  • What interoception is and why it’s important.
  • And much more!

Transcript for Episode 299. Seven Senses and Software Development


[0:00:00] MN: Hello. Welcome to The Rabbit Hole: The Definitive Developers Podcast. Live in large in New York. I'm your host, Michael Nunez. Today, we'll be talking about Seven Senses and Software Development. I want to start out by saying that I have a long drive ahead of me and I had this idea and I said, you know what? I'm going to do the responsible thing. I used a text stop, I promise. I really, really did. I even did it when I started the recording and then just drove off. So, be safe out there. Use text stops. They're there for your convenience.

You may hear the audio is a little different. I'm not sitting in front of my professional microphone. I am actually in a car, so this episode is a little bit different. We're going to talk here with our buddy driver, that's what people at Stride refer to me as whenever I had to take a meeting in a car.

I was curious to talk about the senses, the human senses that we know. I do want to start out as I was driving, I have a long trip ahead of me. I can explain that a little later. I realized that not everyone would relate to this particular episode because there are people who are not able to see or hear and I have not had the opportunity to work with someone who does not have all their senses.

If you are a person who listens to The Rabbit Hole and is unable to see or unable to hear, I would love to interview you just to get more context and get that opportunity to learn what it's like to work with a fellow human being. I'm sure you still contribute amazingly to your teams and to your community and the development space that you're in, so this is like a shout-out of me trying to get an interview with someone who can help me understand how work is done.

There are two things that inspired this particular topic. One, I have a really long drive. Some of you may know, I actually sleep with a CPAP machine and the only place/facility where I can go and pick one up is very far away from me. With that in mind I just missed my exit, that's one thing. The second thing has to do with the fact that my son is someone who is in special education right now. He takes both speech and occupational therapy. They have devised a sensory diet for him, which I think is pretty cool.

It's really, really interesting for kids at least. His sensory diet has to do with brushing his arms, brushing his legs, brushing his back a little. Then they move on toward doing a kid burrito, where he lies down on a yoga mat and they roll him up. It got inspired me to think about what are some of the things that I do that I may not realize is part of my sensory diet. One thing I challenge you all to do is also look at your habits and see if you also have a sensory diet in place that you may not have realized you had.

Let's start with the five senses that we might know. Let’s start with the eyes. I know there's that famous quote where it's like, “For 20 seconds look 20 feet away.” Yeah, I think it's something like that. It's like 20-20-20. Let me see if I can think of it again. Give me one second. I got it, “For every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.” I imagine this gives people a break for their eyes, especially if they're looking at their screen so much and I'm sure the terminal isn't friendly to the eyes and this is one of the breaks that I find myself taking.

I have a window that just looks out to trees, so I can't really see anything, so sometimes I'm trying to like, really analyze like, oh, do I see a bird or do I see a squirrel or something like that, which I think is really, really interesting. I'm not sure if there are other sensory-related things that one can do. Maybe if you look at one of those images that look like they're moving when they're not. I'm sure those are always pretty fun to look at.

In terms of feeling, I'm sure a lot of developers that you got to click on that mechanic keyboard, you have to hear that sound to know that like, you press a semicolon and it's loud enough, it's going to work this time. I know a lot of different tactile techniques, such as I use a Rubik’s cube sometimes. I see people use the Fidget Cube. I imagine that there are other folks who have other kinds of fidget toys that will allow them to satisfy the urge to touch something.

My son currently plays with a putty. There are different textures that are really soft, they're really hard. One of the things they have him do is they put little diamonds in it and then they actually pick it up. He has to dig through the putty and separate it, find a diamond, clean it up and then put it in a pile which I think is pretty dope, because you have to like, use your fingertips to sift through things. I've heard other people use a medicine ball or this therapy putty or moon sand or stuff like that which is really cool. I imagine, I wouldn't expect people to get a bowl of rice or like a bowl of dried beans to play, because I imagine the rice would get into the keyboard, so you don't want to do that.

In terms of hearing. Again, I mentioned earlier clicking the keyboard. Man, sometimes there's something satisfying about clicking that keyboard to know that you are getting the work done. I imagine that is one of the many ways that people satisfy that need and don't realize it. Another pretty popular is listening to music. Having your ears covered and just focusing in on the music that you want to hear. We have podcast episodes or particular playlists that we use for that. Even for me, oftentimes when I'm not working, I feel like I have to listen to something. There's always an opportunity to learn, so if there's a podcast that I listen to or just some music that I want to finish getting through that definitely helps me out and satisfies the urge to hear those things.

Taste. How do we do taste the programming? I mean there are a lot of snacks. That's a thing that we like to do, right? Snacks is a good thing to be eating all the time. People love snacks and if you were working in an office at one point you may remember that there was a time that it was filled with snacks. Now you have to supply them. Some companies will give you a budget, so you can have snacks in your house. It could be – even I realized this, but a crunchy snack might be what you're currently craving at that time, so then you want to eat something crunchy or something soft.

I've learned that when we want to calm my son down, we could give him something chewy like a bagel and the effort of having to chew a bagel is something that can actually help your senses calm down just a little, which I think is really, really interesting.

Is there a nose? I don't know if we smell anything as software developers. Bugs? Who knows? I don't. But I do think that I'm sure that the smell of coffee comes into play like you want to smell coffee, you want to drink coffee that stuff. That is definitely something that I remember and that I still do. I picked up the habit of drinking coffee and that is something that I continuously smell when I make it.

The other two senses, well, I just learned there was [inaudible 0:08:21], but the other two senses – I'll try to pronounce this. I'm no doctor or scientist. There is the vestibular sense. What is the vestibular sense? The vestibular sense is your body knowing where it is at a point in time. I know there are quite a few software developers that enjoy running. I don't understand how someone can put their body through say, the New York marathon 23 plus miles. What are you running from? That's what I want to know. But seriously the idea of you moving at a particular pace will trigger your vestibular sense.

I think the idea my son likes to run and sometimes he'll just spray out of nowhere. I think I've seen it. It happened. True story. Dominican Republic. We were at a wedding. There was a big haul. They were only using half of it. He would not get tired or anything. It was past his bedtime and he just got up and started running back and forth for like 10 minutes and in the middle of the party he passed out. I take that as him trying to get through to that sense and try to satisfy the feeling of moving fast. That feeling of like, skydiving or roller coasters. That kind of sense gets its scratch when you go running. I know a lot of software developers do that.

The next one is proprioception, I think it's called. The only way I can describe this one, I've seen my son do in real-time is to know how to use your body and what strength matches with what. The example I like to give to folks is, have you ever picked up a carton of milk that you thought was full that was actually empty and you just toss it up by accident? Then after that, you realize like, “Oh, I don't need to put as much strength. Let me just pick it up like normally and pour it in.”

My son the other day has apple sauce from a pouch, but when I gave him a Capri Sun, he saw this pouch that was there and thought it would require the same strength. Lo and behold he spills a Capri Sun on himself. He learned that, “Hey, I don't need to squeeze this too much.” Those senses again, I think it may have to do we could go back to that mechanical keyboard of like, how much effort should I be pushing down to make sure that the action is triggered. I don't have a mechanical keyboard, I'm sorry I'm not a real developer, but the idea that you – I know that there's a soft touch versus a deeper touch, a loud flick, soft, that kind of thing.

I imagine that you scratch that surface with the equipment that you have, maybe the sensitivity of your mouse is probably something that you may not have considered. How soft or how difficult it is you have to click the mouse is probably something, as well. When you hold a key in the terminal does it print out a lot of characters at once, so that you have to wait a while? These are some of the things, I imagine in the proprioception realm.

I think the last one, the one I just learned when I went to a text stop was the interoception. I think that has to do with your internal organs, whether your organs are operating properly, communicating properly. I think the best way to do this as a software developer is to be healthy, to check in on yourself, go to your doctor if you have the insurance, that kind of thing.

I’d love to know whether you like the content of buddy driver and whether this was fun because I definitely had this thought and figured, “Hey, this could be a podcast episode on how we do our jobs and our senses.” It's something that I learned, thought it was crazy. It was mind-boggling to know that there are more than five senses.


[0:12:21] MN: Follow us now on twitter @radiofreerabbit, so we can keep the conversation going. Like what you hear, give us a five-star review and help developers just like you find their way into the Rabbit Hole, and never miss an episode. Subscribe now however you listen to your favorite podcast. On behalf of our producer extraordinaire William Jeffries and my amazing co-host Dave Anderson and me your host Michael Nunez. Thanks for listening to The Rabbit Hole.


Links and Resources:

Fidget Cube

Stride Consulting

Stride Consulting - Contact

The Rabbit Hole on Twitter

The Rabbit Hole