I've quoted part of this elsewhere, but Joseph Weizenbaum documented the "compulsion to code" over 40 years ago.
Here's a section of that part
from Computer Power and Human Reason
The computer programmer, however, is a creator of universes for which he alone is the lawgiver. So, of course, is the designer of any game. But universes of virtually unlimited complexity can be created in the form of computer programs. Moreover, and this is a crucial point, systems so formulated and elaborated act out their programmed scripts. They compliantly obey their laws and vividly exhibit their obedient behavior. No playwright, no stage director, no emperor, however powerful, has ever exercised such absolute authority to arrange a stage or a field of battle and to command such unswervingly dutiful actors or troops.
One would have to be astonished if Lord Acton’s observation that power corrupts were not to apply in an environment in which omnipotence is so easily achievable. It does apply. And the corruption evoked by the computer programmer’s omnipotence manifests itself in a form that is instructive in a domain far larger than the immediate environment of the computer. To understand it, we will have to take a look at a mental disorder that, while actually very old, appears to have been transformed by the computer into a new genus: the compulsion to program.
Wherever computer centers have become established, that is to say, in countless places in the United States, as well as in virtually all other industrial regions of the world, bright, young men of disheveled appearance, often with sunken glowing eyes, can be seen sitting at computer consoles, their arms tensed and waiting to fire their fingers, already poised to strike, at the buttons and keys on which their attention seems to be as riveted as a gambler’s on the rolling dice. When not so transfixed, they often sit at tables strewn with computer printouts over which they pore like possessed students of a cabalistic text. They work until they nearly drop, twenty, thirty hours at a time. Their food, if they arrange it, is brought to them: coffee, Cokes, sandwiches. If possible, they sleep on cots near the computer. But only for a few hours—then back to the console or the printouts. Their rumpled clothes, their unwashed and unshaven faces, and their uncombed hair all testify that they are oblivious to their bodies and to the world in which they move. They exist, at least when so engaged, only through and for the computers. These are computer bums, compulsive programmers.
The psychological situation the compulsive programmer finds himself in while so engaged is strongly determined by two apparently opposing facts: first, he knows that he can make the computer do anything he wants it to do; and second, the computer constantly displays undeniable evidence of his failures to him. It reproaches him. There is no escaping this bind. The engineer can resign himself to the truth that there are some things he doesn’t know. But the programmer moves in a world entirely of his own making. The computer challenges his power, not his knowledge.
Indeed, the compulsive programmer’s excitement rises to its highest, most feverish pitch when he is on the trail of a most recalcitrant error, when everything ought to work but the computer nevertheless reproaches him by misbehaving in a number of mysterious, apparently unrelated ways. It is then that the system the programmer has himself created gives every evidence of having taken on a life of its own and, certainly, of having slipped from his control. This too is the point at which the idea that the computer can be “made to do anything” becomes most relevant and most soundly based in reality. For, under such circumstances, the misbehaving artifact is, in fact, the programmer’s own creation. Its very misbehavior can, as we have already said, be the consequence only of what the programmer himself has done. And what he has done he can presumably come to understand, to undo, and to redo to better serve his purpose.
It is a thrill to see a hitherto moribund program suddenly come back to life; there is no other way to say it. When some deep error has been found and repaired, any different portions of the program, which until then had given nothing but incomprehensible outputs, suddenly behave smoothly and deliver precisely the intended results. There is reason for the diagnostician to be pleased and, if the error was really deep inside the system, even proud.
But the compulsive programmer’s pride and elation are very brief. His success consists of his having shown the computer who its master is. And having demonstrated that he can make it to do this much, he immediately sets out to make it do even more. Thus the entire cycle begins again. He begins to “improve” his system, say, by making it run faster, or by adding “new features” to it, or by improving the ease with which data can be entered into it and gotten out of it.
Any of that sound familiar?
The power that the computer gives to create whatever world can be imagined, and to make it work right
, has always been terribly seductive. This is why the Best Thing for these folks is a network of family and friends empowered to plant a figurative boot in the compulsive programmer's backside now and then -- go spend some time in the world outside the computer!
The code will still be there when you get back.