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IT workers and caffeine: A high-octane affair

By , Network World
March 14, 2004 09:58 PM ET

Network World - Sometimes coffee, soda and ginseng candy just don't give Ben Robinson the boost he needs. That's when he turns to the heavy stuff: caffeinated soap.

"It wakes you up right away, before coffee could be kicking in," says Robinson, a business and technology student at the University of Guelph in Ontario.

"I already knew that a lot of chlorine gets absorbed into your skin when you take a shower, so it seemed reasonable to me that you'd absorb a significant amount of caffeine if you took a long shower and lathered up well," he says.

Robinson resorted to ThinkGeek's Shower Shock (200 milligrams of caffeine per shower - twice that of the average cup of coffee) during a near-sleepless period of working long shifts at a tech support center and helping a friend get a Web site online. He's still not quite sure whether to credit the candy or the caffeine in the soap for perking him up, but his attraction to caffeine would seem to make him fit right in to the high-tech industry once his school days are over.

While few still drink Jolt Cola, the beverage that emerged in 1986 with the slogan "twice the caffeine" and played a big part in the romanticized image of developers pulling all-night codefests, caffeine remains a staple of many an IT worker's life. A quick scan of the recycling bin in any office where developers work will likely turn up more than your average collection of empty bottles and cups of Dr. Pepper, Diet Coke, the "energy drink" Red Bull, Arizona's iced Ginseng Tea or Starbucks Frappaccinos. Not only has the range of highly caffeinated beverages expanded, but also a new market of caffeine "accessories" has emerged - from the aforementioned soap to Timmy's Torrid Tonic hot sauce, which blends caffeine with habanero peppers.

An informal poll posted on Network World's Fusion Web site showed of 50 respondents, 55% drink one to four coffees or sodas per day, 32% drink four to eight cups of the beverages daily, 8% drink a whopping nine servings or more each day, and only 4% don't drink coffee or soda at all.

"We get coffee for free, so all of our developers are hard-core coffee drinkers," says Jason Sosinski, IS security administrator with ARS Service Express, a heating and cooling services company in Houston. "It closely resembles mud most of the time, but it doesn't cost anything so we're happy."

Amazon.com CTO Allan Vermeulen says the company keeps coffee pots brewing around the clock and has "pop" machines scattered about. Plus, being in Seattle, his team can access half-a-dozen coffee shops within 200 feet of the office. But Vermeulen says his philosophy is not to rely too much on caffeine to keep developers going.

"We find giving our developers really cool interesting work, then letting them push themselves to do their best is a much more effective way of keeping them awake than caffeinating them," he says. "I use caffeine as a way to take a break from my computer, so I can come back refreshed."

In part, it's the deadline-driven nature of writing code that has fostered a dependency on caffeine for many, developers say. "When you're sitting in front of a computer screen you want something to drink. And after long hours, a bit of caffeine can get you going again," says Rob "CmdrTaco" Malda, creator and editor of Slashdot.org, a news and resource Web site for developers and engineers.

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