Surfing the Balmer Peak

There’s a joke common among software engineers, based on an xkcd comic, titled The Balmer Peak. Stories surrounding the Balmer Peak have evolved in the wake of the comic, stories I could do no justice here. Like legends of olde (so long ago that English-speaking people and French-speaking people got along and shared a silent ‘e’ in their written language, but still commonly hated the Dutch), stories spread from one epic moment in time out through hamlets and villages across the land. In this case, the hamlets are big companies and the villages are startups. Some repeated the tales in taverns and markets. Others heard the tales and took it upon themselves to seek to achieve such greatness.

Often, when working in an oppressive corporate sweatshop or your buddy’s sweaty garage, groups of geeks band together and form strong bonds during times of great struggle. When there’s a sudden defect in a major system that results in thousands of dollars of revenue loss per minute, the operations team that manages the resolution is battle-hardened in the process. Like any hardy band of warrior poets, their souls annealed by the tragedy of their plight, they write epic tales of their heroic triumph. As employees migrate from one job to another, they carry with them a vocal account of the history of their prior employers, including such heroic tales of “wicked all-nighters spent doing shots and jamming out code.” I salute these champions, for they have caught a glimpse of something others only hear about in pub legends.

These brave warriors have ridden the Peak, if even for a short time. Moreover, they have given us the wisdom of their example, so that we might be inspired to learn this herculean skill. To surf the Balmer Peak is to invite equal parts prosperity and catastrophe. It should not be undertaken without a guide (and a good lawyer). Just remember who wins whether you do or not, and incidentally, tip your bartender.

Note: the Balmer Peak applies only to programming skill. All other skills will effectively drop to zero during the experience. Participants may require a nanny (and, once again, a good lawyer).