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Did Your Boss Thank You For Coding Yourself to Death?

Programmers love to work long hours! There I said it, c'mon admit it, your job/boss doesn't make you do it, we do it to ourselves. Alright, I'll concede, maybe not all programmers love long hours, but surely with the amount of overtime that is prevalent in this industry at least half of us must love it. Right?

I can hear the excuses already. "No, no that's not it, we just love working with cool tech and don't want to leave a problem unsolved. It is actually a good thing it's what makes us awesome!"

I say – you're not seeing the forest for the trees. Here is some perspective, you're not doing this for yourself, you're doing it for "the man". Admittedly he might be a nice man, but you don't owe him slavish commitment. Here is even more perspective, how often are you actually playing with interesting problems and cool tech and how many times are you churning out code desperately trying to get something delivered and meet some arbitrary deadline that someone has assigned to you? But hey, you're a business savvy developer, you're helping the company succeed, your manager has explained the financial situation to you – it has to be done, we're relying on you. Well, unless that same manager is right there with you, entertaining you with amusing anecdotes at 2 am, his words are worthless.

Let me tell you a story that a friend once told me. It is about a brilliant developer – lets call him John.

John was a superstar, a one in a million programmer. He had an uncanny ability to understand and write code and was 20 times more productive than anyone else. One day the company got a big contract that needed a fast turn-around. The client sent a massive spec document – to everyone's dismay. John came to the rescue, he took the spec home and noone heard from him for 3 days. When he came back to work, he looked like hell, but he had gone through the whole spec and had an outline of the solution already finished. Except for one bit which was impossible to implement, though the spec said otherwise – even the client didn't realise this, but John picked it up. Amazing!

When I first heard that story, I was pretty impressed, my first question was, "So, where is this guy now?". To which my friend replied – "He is dead, too much hard living!". Too much hard coding would be more like it. Kinda takes the wind out of that story a little bit – John was in his early 30s.

Programmers take a perverse pleasure from sharing death-march war stories. Even when we do it with disgust, it is a disgust tinged with pride – daring our peers to do "better". But it is a bit like those guys who wear their pants so low you can see ALL of their underwear or the people who take up smoking for the "trendy image". They and their friends think it's cool – everybody else thinks it's stupid.

Making A Bad Situation Worse

I can see the necessity of occasionally putting in some extra effort and burning the midnight oil at work for a day or two. But when "occasionally" turns to "often", when your boss stops thanking you profusely for your efforts and just treats it as norm, this is when we're all in trouble. It sets bad expectations, not just for you, for the whole industry. Humans are like dogs, we're eminently susceptible to positive and negative reinforcement. And this whole industry has been conditioned by years of death-marches to the point where it even rewards this behaviour. Every time we give-in to the long hours argument, we continue to negatively reinforce this trend.

It doesn't help that we're herd animals, you only need to get one person and everyone else wants to conform. Guilt comes into the equation – "we can't leave our mates by themselves to do the hard-yards, we gotta help them". The more people conform, the more pressure on the rest of the herd to do so until the whole team is chugging coke and eating pizza at midnight. But how do they suck even one person in, where is that famed programmer independence. We're happy to "stick it to the man" and do whatever we want in school, but as soon as we're in the workforce all bets are off. It is puzzling.

Interestingly, sometimes these gargantuan efforts aren't even tracked properly, as it would make the project look bad. So they "cook the books", as far as the client is concerned everybody is doing 40 hours a week (i.e. they get billed for 40 hours) and the project is coming in on schedule (maybe), never mind the other 40 hours that everyone on the team puts in. OK, maybe they'll track the real effort in a "second set of books". Accountants go to jail for these kinds of shenanigans, but our industry expects it – nay almost demands it.

The Sustainable Pace Effort

Most Agile processes talk about sustainable development pace. But, I've seen even self-confessed agile teams knuckle under and put in the hours, you know, for the greater good and all. They were still agile though, and don't you dare say otherwise.

When I think about this stuff I am always reminded of lawyers. You come in as a new lawyer and you put in massive amounts of effort and time, it is the accepted way to get ahead in that industry. No developer wants to be compared to lawyers, but often the situation is similar except you're not going to get ahead by doing a lot of overtime as a developer (unless you're working for a big 4 consulting company and then you might as well be a lawyer :)). So, lawyer vs programmer, which one is the chump?

Studies about productivity declines when working more than 40 hours a week surface with disturbing regularity. As a developer your creativity declines, you make more mistakes, you miss existing issue etc., to the point where you're doing more harm than good. Should I even mention the health concerns when you spend that much time engaged in the same activity (they even had rules about spending too much time at work in the Soviet Union, and those guys were all about putting in the time for the good of the people). What about diet, you can only survive on coke for so long – poor John couldn't even make it to 40.

Can you tell that I am against long hours and death marches yet :)? Maybe one of these days I'll tell you how I got my wake-up call, it is an interesting story. Herding cats is easy compared to getting developers to make a concerted effort in the same direction, it is something I both love and hate about our people (programmers) :). But I do wish that once in a while all the smart developers just took a stand to eliminate at least one of the truly crappy and counter-productive trends in our industry. As far as I am concerned, smart programmers don't like to work long hours and won't be pressured into it – there is more to life.

Image by Tattooed JJ

  • James Pollock

    Great article Alan!

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      Thanks mate, long time no hear :). Hope you’re well.

    • Mike

      Ditto :)

      It’s particularly annoying when workplaces expect us to workover time with no compensation.

      For example, at a particular workplace I worked at we were contracted for 40hrs p/w but we were only compensated if we worked over 45hrs p/w (almost an extra day!). This would be fine if they then let us work 35hr weeks during periods of inactivity – but of course it’s one of those one-way ‘only the company benefits’ things.

      • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

        Yeah, don’t you love that, I am yet to hear a justification for this kind of thing that makes sense

        • Daron

          How about – Getting paid for every hour you work?

          I’m a contractor, I work an extra 10 hours a week, and I get paid for those extra hours. Everyone is happy.

          • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

            Hi Daron,

            This can be ok, but once again diminishing returns will kick in at some point, both for you and for the company. And extra 10 hours may be ok for you, but what if it was an extra 30 hours, how about 50? At what point will the money become not worth it. And lets not forget the crappy code you (or anyone) would produce when they work 90 hour weeks.

            However compensating people for any extra time they work is certainly a step in the right direction.

          • Steve Jones

            One of my best gigs was contracting at a large pharma. The company I worked for paid time-and-a-half over 40, so I had to get permission from the client to work overtime. It’s amazing how flexible schedules can be when the OT costs actual money.

    • DavidK

      My favorite experience was working eight 70-hour weeks straight on a project that was horribly over-promised and under-allocated (and raising red flags all along), canceling social events, doctors appointments, placing my relationship in jeopardy, with promises all along that all this hard work will be worth it when the stock options become available, only to be laid off a week after the deadline, and four weeks before anything actually vested for me.

      Small solace: the product sucks just as much as I predicted it would, and all the other engineers left soon after, too. The asshole who pushed the mess still works there, but his stocks aren’t worth jizz.

      Work an honest 40-hour week. Your other time is much more valuable, especially if you’re building up someone else’s wealth.

      • Triptyx

        Did the 400 hours of overtime in a single summer thing once – swore that was the last time.

        I don’t take jobs any more unless they at least attempt to claim “work-life balance” is a priority. I don’t mind a small push here and there, or a production problem that needs attention, but my days of long hours is absolutely over. I left a job recently over that mess.

        It’s like training a puppy. If you give in to the whining and screaming over an unreasonable deadline, they’ll just do it again next time, and the next, and the next. Put your foot down, and look for a new job if you have to, but let’s cut out the 90 hours a week crap.

        Great article!

    • Desiree

      You know what…I’ve been up for 72 hours straight, I look like crap, and feel like it too. IM GOING TO BED and calling in sick tomorrow!!
      break;

  • http://www.dcs-media.com/ Jonathan Danylko

    Wow! Excellent post, Alan!

    All of the developers were probably reading this post with their mouths open. I imagine that this post hit home with a lot of them.

    I know it did to me.

    Keep up the great work!

    JD

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      Cheers, hopefully it has made some people at least think about their priorities

  • http://blogspot.fluidnewmedia.com Addy

    I’ve been coming over to your blog periodically for a couple of months. Appreciate all the insight you share with us here. I think managers should be there to give a boost to all the programmers out their who work hard at what they do. Usually they have no clue…

    BTW loved the John story, great article!

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      That’s probably the thing that annoys me the most when developers are working stupid hours, but no manager is anywhere in sight. If you want me to “go the distance” for the company the least you can do is be there with me.

      • Jim Danby

        Hell no. Keep out of my way manager. You’ll only want extra progress reports too.

        • kate

          I was once a manager (true confession.) I was told that I needed to have a role on our disaster recovery plan. At that point in my career, I had risen to the point of management where I didn’t particularly know how our systems worked anymore (this is when I realized I didn’t want to be a manager, by the way.)

          So I asked a group of highly qualified programmers and network engineers, in the event that we’re out at our disaster recovery site, what is the most useful thing I could be doing?

          After a silence, someone finally said fairly timidly, “keep out of our way, keep the other managers out of our way, and maybe make sure there’s coffee?”

          At least I had the grace to not be offended. And to buy a big tub of coffee at CostCo that weekend, just in case.

          • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

            It is either a testament to luck or your good management skills, that you actually got an honest answer :).

        • Mark Hylton

          Disagree. The manager (if he mandated the OT), should be there, too…buying the pizza, serving the cola, fetching the printouts, or whatever else YOU need to stay focused and productive. And he shouldn’t complain anymore than you do.

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  • Tim

    I agree with all of your points. If I reflect for a long time on past releases almost all that required a significant amount of overtime/nail-biting launches were due to mismanagement or last second feature requests (not changes, entirely new requests). There is definitely a better way but management isn’t going to change overnight.

    That said, work is hard and so is life. I’m not afraid of a 40,50,or 60 hour week to give me what I want. I’m also not afraid to lend a hand to my boss or the project manager when they’re in a bind (whether they are at fault or not). They’re usually working their tail off too.

    Good article, Tim

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      Personally I’d rather spend that extra 20 hours (60-40) working on my own pet projects or learning some new and interesting stuff. Sometimes the project manager is just a cog in the machine so they can’t really be blamed for anything, other times, well I am not going to go there. Suffice to say that loyalty is an interesting concept (probably deserves a separate post), I wouldn’t give mine lightly to any random person.

  • Jim

    Agreed. In my younger days it seemed cool to have to pull the occasional all-nighter, but now it just bothers me that the project managers who are getting paid at least as much as me can’t do a better job planning the work.

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      It is especially annoying when the features get packed in, but then it takes weeks and weeks for the final product to get anywhere near production :).

  • didxga

    Nice article ! Saddened, i cannot understand this article without using Dictionary .

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  • http://nithinbekal.com/ Nithin Bekal

    I absolutely hate putting in long hours, but I’ve had to do it quite often. And it doesn’t help matters that I work at a place with 6 working days a week. In a recent project where I had an insane deadline, I had to put in almost 80+ hours a week for 3 straight weeks and that was the worst experience I ever had. I was writing code that even I couldn’t understand the next morning and I made plenty of very, very dumb mistakes.

    Since then, I’ve made it a point to not overwork myself like that and I’m back to writing half decent code now. Great article!

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      Hi Nithin,

      This is what a lot of people don’t understand, when developers are so heavily overworked, you make so many stupid errors that you then have to fix the next morning that your sum-total productivity is arguably lower than if you were just working 40 hour weeks. Of course if you are overworked consistently, then you’re in no good state the next morning either, and what’s your sum-total productivity then.

      I read a study once where, they talked about people who were overworked for months on end to the point, where they were arguing that they were actually detrimental to the project, i.e. their productivity was negative.

  • http://thelimberlambda.com/ Eric Smith

    I had a similar discussion today with a candidate in an interview for a programming position. It really boils down to having the gumption to “push back”. Your boss works long hours too? He needs to push back to his boss. His boss works long hours too? … and so forth and so on until the buck stops at the desk of “the man”. That’s when “the man” (ultimately the shareholders) get to know the real cost of running their business.

    Ironically, an extreme work ethic hurts everybody … yourself, your colleagues (because business get to expect this craziness) as well as the business itself (the numbers are all cooked!). Of course, you can also argue that that all gets offset by a large-corporation-full of lazy-asses :)

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      Hi Eric,

      I also had a similar discussion with a colleague, after they read this post, and we also came to the conclusion that the pushing back has to filter up the chain. I completely agree that an extreme work ethic (I wouldn’t really even call it a work ethic) hurts everyone.

  • raveman

    I think the real problem with working really hard is that no1 cares. Programmers don’t even have the “employee of the month” honor. I think its better to work hard on your own home projects – at least the effort matters to one person.

    if you’re really lucky it can get you promoted, but it can take many years and if you are not lucky it wont work( i once knew a guy that should have been promoted, but another team leader had a good buddy who was promoted instead).

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      Promotion may or may not be important to you, some of the best developers I know, didn’t really want to be promoted. But you’re still right in that you’ll get a lot more out of working on your own personal projects (in the ling run) or even doing other activities unrelated to programming. It is better for your health and to relieve stress etc.

  • http://blog.mostof.it/ ochronus

    Luckily my boss hates overtime and trusts us in time planning, so overtime is entirely voluntary at our company… I just posted an article with tips for developers, it has a point about getting enough rest, read it if you’re interested http://blog.mostof.it/being-a-better-developer

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      If you have to have any kind of overtime policy then voluntary overtime is the best you can do. You still have to be careful even here, as I mentioned, when several people decide to work overtime it puts some social pressure on others to do the same and you end up in a situation where people who don’t want to work extra are doing it.

      Also I would like to hope that the rewards systems at your workplace don’t take the voluntary overtime into account at all, otherwise it jeopardizes the voluntary aspect if it significantly.

      • http://blog.mostof.it/ ochronus

        Fair points, and as a boss I’ve also run into issues with people deciding to constantly work overtime. I did what you just suggested: I talked to them and clarified that while I really appreciate their dedication and effort, there will be no compensation in salary or whatsoever. If they are late with projects, it could mean 3 things (or any combination of them)
        1. I didn’t plan well enough
        2. They’re not good enough
        3. Too much non-planned work comes in.

        I’ve run into #1 sometimes (luckily less and less as I improve in estimating other people’s capabilities) and #3 many times (in which case I do WANT the project to be late so that my boss can see the effect of pushing in unplanned, seemingly easy stuff while project are going on, and be forced to make these decisions).

  • http://pacoiscooking.blogspot.com/ PacoTheCook

    I agree with you Alan. I remember when I started in the industry as a graduate. I joined a big consultancy company where the whole work environment was setup in a way you could easily stay there day and night. I left the company after 18 months because I couldn’t build my own life beside work. I was working in a team that were still using waterfall!!!
    I now work for a much smaller company implementing Agile Scrum. I finish every day at 5:30pm, have a lot of time to enjoy life and I am happy to go to work when I wake up in the morning. Ok I earn a bit less than in my previous job. But is life all about money? Not for me anyway.
    I still have contacts with people from my first job and they are still working crazy hours for a piece of code.
    Life is too short!

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      Even the earning thing balances out eventually, you may earn a little less for a while, but your salary will catch up is you get more years under your belt (sad but that’s the way it works). And I complete agree that life is not about money, once you’re earning enough to comfortably live in, you’re pretty much set, take the extra time you have to live a little :).

  • Crystal

    Good write Alan. I’m not proud to say that till recently I was one of “em”. My wake up call .. well.. not surprisingly I was “happily” working on a Saturday when I received this message from one of my office mates that a certain John (name changed) has passed away. John was the captain of our office baseball team and collapsed on the pitch. We had a game that Saturday. I knew him as an acquaintance, he was not a very social being, never saw him too happy.. but I could clearly see that he was always stressed. And pissed. People said office politics n other stuff got him. Oh and he was 30.
    Anyway, that news stunned me to the core. I had heard other deathly stories earlier too but hearing this one, on a working weekend, standing in my almost empty office hall… I could not see myself throwing my life like that… for nothing. I shut my laptop and left for home shortly.
    The following Monday, incidentally, the first mail I got had the subject “Take your work sincerely, not seriously”. I don’t disagree.

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      It’s funny how things like that can shock you isn’t it? My dad told me a story once of a guy who worked like a dog all his live to provide everything he could for his family. He was pretty successful at it, when he turned 60 he decided to retire and enjoy everything he’s built for himself. So, he had a retirement party, the next day he had a heart attack and died. How sad is that? Makes you want to try and make sure you don’t become one of those stories.

  • John Mills

    Totally agree with this! I saw this trend early on in my career and refuse to take work home or work excessively long hours, although I will occasionally put in the extra hour or two here or there when desperately needed.

    Every developer needs to have a life outside of programming to stay healthy and sane.

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      That’s the right attitude. And talking about health, trust me, when I tell you that no job is worth compromising your health even for a second (and you can certainly do it if you overwork yourself). Money and code is no comfort when you’re suffering or in hospital.

  • pkqpwd

    Dont get it wrong, for lot of people it is great to work 16 hours a day. But you must be in environment which REALLY revards it, not just stupid midnight pizza and 40% salary bonus.

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      I disagree, noone can work 16 without paying a price for it no matter what the rewards are. Not to mention the effect it will have on the quality of the work you produce. Past 10 hours you’re hardly making a difference, past 12 you’re doing more harm than good.

      • pkqpwd

        Well I can, loss of productivity is more related to lack of sleep, lack of exercise and office environment. I have strictly limited hours to read emails and to face customers. I don’t work at cubicle, but at home in my own office. And most importantly I am my own boss.
        Every year I take around 4 months holiday (that is reward).

  • Doruk Fisek

    Great article!

  • http://kevinrodrigues.com/blog Kevin

    Maybe developers in countries like the UK or US may set 40 hours per week as a norm. But if you check out many Asian countries like India, China, Japan, South Korea, I suppose a 60-80 hours per week is the norm. For many people in such countries, being an IT professional is a matter of earning their daily bread rather than as a matter of interest. In countries where labor is cheap, you cannot expect any rights not just to the developers but to workers in any industry. Because if you do not do it, there are ten or more who actually will.

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      Hi Kevin,

      That’s a thin argument. Most people work for a living rather than just for fun, no matter what country you’re from. It all depends on the kind of professional you really are, if you’re just a code monkey filling in the boxes during your day then sure someone else can come and do what you do, then I guess you don’t really have a choice.

      But in most situations this is not possible, companies work long and hard to find and hire good people, it’s is not that easy to replace them.

      • triptyx

        To add to this, now that I’ve tacked 10+ years on my resume, and have some excellently developed talents and abilities, I’ve noticed a large scale change in the way I interview. Companies seem to want me more than I want them now, and I have tons more options if a job isn’t working out for me and I decide that I need to move on.

        While early career folks kinda have to take whatever they can find (I was only a couple of years into the biz when the .com crash happened – was out of work 8 months and finally took a phone support job when unemployment ran out) I’ve found as I get later career and tune my skillset for value that there aren’t a bunch of people waiting in line for my job. In fact, some companies I have hired on with recently have been looking for months for a person to fill the role.

        If you find a company that hires correctly, that is, really tries to find talented candidates instead of just another code-monkey to sit in a seat and eat bananas all day, you’ll find that the pool of candidates is far, far smaller than you might think. Try to hire someone that knows their butt from polymorphism all while being socially skilled and able to comprehend the business requirements behind what they’re doing (can actually understand the business problem they’re trying to solve and can think-through and make changes to the project mid-stream to better serve the end-users) and you’ll find good candidates are fairly hard to find.

  • http://davidbcalhoun.com David Calhoun

    It also seems that competition plays a huge role, in various ways.

    People work at different paces, so what might take 8 hours for one engineer to complete might take 12 hours for another to complete. The slower worker almost feels guilted into working later to be on the same level.

    There’s also a little bit of psychology about job security here. When it’s time for layoffs to roll around, who’s more likely to get let go: the person who puts in ridiculous hours and comes in to work on the weekend, or the person who works normal (sane) hours and only works overtime when absolutely necessary?

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      Hi David,

      Yeah this kind of stuff may definitely play a role, a smart boss will make sure that his people know that this kind of stuff has no effect.

      • http://www.WhiteCranePhotography.com Rakesh Malik

        That’s a huge part of the problem. In more than 16 years in this industry, nearly every manager I’ve encountered has rewarded the people who work the longest hours more than the ones who get their jobs done efficiently and work sane hours.

        Now I’m working as a contractor, and building a business of my own on the side. I feel a lot better now than I have in years, even though I’m making less money at the moment.

        I’ll feel even better when my side gig starts becoming profitable (I haven’t been at it very long yet).

        • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

          Hi Rakesh,

          There is a lot to be said for earning much less, but being happy with what you’re doing, free to pursue side interests and not ruining any interpersonal relationships because of work. It’s what corporates call work/life balance these days, I just call it common sense. Good like with your business.

  • Thomas Boshell

    Nice article, I can relate and it even was a topic at my work.
    For me, it is an inner-hurdle: If I do not do such then it will fail. I know this….but then again I have never tried to call a stop.
    My estimates are good and on-time but then Feature-Creep hits and it hits the fan.
    Had a situation where I was loaded on liters of coffee to compensate for the lack of sleep and then they said I need to be a bit calmer at work, that’s when I exploded at them and that if they wanted these under-evaluated, non-planned features/changes, etc then they need to accept that an exhausted, over-caffeinated developer will be a bit touchy.

  • Darren Kopp

    At my work, we work usually 45 hour works average. Our boss asks us to do this so that we can jet off for doctor appointments, kids soccer games, etc without any real oversight or need to ask permission. Since we usually do more than an average week, we should have ample time when occasions like that come up that we won’t have to hit vacation or sick time. Average weekly hours I do is 42.

    We are a small shop so usually we are pretty pressed and have lots to do, so we usually put in a fair share of overtime, but we get paid for all of it. It’s not quite 1.5x normal pay as we are a start up, but it’s about 1.2. We can put in as much overtime as we want, as long as come monday we can show that we made progress on what we were working on over the weekend.

    From my experience, I have cycles in which sometimes I have a very hard time focussing and getting things done, so i’m not putting in much time over the normal at work time. then there are times when i’m the viking god of programming and I throw down 55-70 hour work weeks without noticing it too much, but i’ll burn out after a few weeks of this. At least I have a few big fat paychecks afterwards :)

    All in all I would say that companies have deadlines, and employees should fall in line and make sure those get accomplished. It shouldn’t be like this day to day, but quarterly bonus periods i think are quite reasonable. However, companies shouldn’t think “we employ you, this is just what you need to do.” Employees should be compensated. When they are, then the system works.

  • Diyobotha Yofocoyotode

    At one company, I pulled an all-nighter every week for 4.5 months, in addition to sleeping under my desk 1-2 nights a week and eating all my meals while I was working. I may have exceeded 100 hours per week. I was fired from that job for missing deadlines and making too many mistakes. Friends at the company told me they were never going to speak with me again, because I was a bad person, because I had failed to meet expectations. This was the most depressing experience of my life.

    • Bob

      That’s horrible! The company you worked for then should be taken to the labour courts.

  • RN

    Nice article,

    I have worked in 4 industries to date. All of them require you to put more than 40 hrs. I think in general if u are in any industry where being the top performer ensures u an income excess of 250k an year within the next 7-10 years will have the same issues.

    The way I look at it – Making money is never easy.

    • gshock

      who the f\/ck makes more than 250k unless they come from harvard and (automatically) work for a hedge fund?? dude if i made 250k a year i would come to work buck-nakked every day and would happily only step away from my desk to take a dump only. actually, probably not and still get the 250k.

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  • http://www.screenage.de/blog/ ccm

    Have you read/heard about the software crisis in the 60s? It was about a bad situation forcing companies to employ and depend on brilliant programmers. In the 60s and 70s they discussed the model of a “software engineer” rather than a cowboy coder, meaning less brilliant ideas but a stable flow of productivity. That sounds strange as we all admire great programmers but it also shows that there is a demand for a more smooth and reliable and in this way even healthier way of developing software.

  • http://hjaya.wordpress.com Hendra Jaya

    Nice article.

    I’ve been there. I’ve been in John’s live. I’ve killed (or at least dying) myself doing all the dirty work to nothing. My fucking boss thinks it’s just another good thing comes from me as usual.
    OK. I can understand it. But, not so long later, he said a word i will never forget : “This company doesn’t need a good programmer”. Well, i wasn’t a good programmer. But i was trying to be one. But, where’s the point in that? When i finally become a good programmer, that doomed company will not need me any longer. So why bother? I left this fucking company without second thought.

    And here i am reading your cool article. Thanks for summarizing what i thought

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      Good on you for leaving to find something better, no amount of money is worth it and many people don’t even get the money and still stick around, it’s very sad.

  • http://www.mikepope.com/blog mike

    Here’s a thought from Garrison Keillor (http://www.salon.com/books/col/keil/2001/03/27/testing/index4.html):

    “Work should not take nearly all your time. Maybe for brief periods but not over the long haul, and perhaps work is the first thing you should look at: As we become more competent and confident and productive, we must return some of the benefit to ourselves in the form of time, life’s most precious resource, and not let ourselves be eaten alive by voracious corporations or by incompetent colleagues. The overachiever who delights in knowing more and doing more than anybody else may be cannibalizing her or his own life and breath and sinews, and in exchange for what? We’re awash in motivational propaganda that promotes achievement and sacrifice and killer hours, all of which is fine for Amalgamated Grommet, but what about you? There is much to be said for mediocrity as a way of life. (Look at me.) I think that a 35-hour workweek should be the goal for any person who wants a decent life and that by the time you’re 50 you should be carving that down to around 30. Shoot me but it’s true.”

  • TxRx

    Replace the profession ‘coding’ with CG and animation and you also have that in a nutshell right there.

  • CommanderKeen

    Who the hell wants to work long hours??? Only people with no life and nothing better to do want to sit in front of a computer 8+ hours a day solving problems. Honestly, it’s unhealthy and if you THINK that you like it, it is because you’ve not experienced better!

    I love my job as a programmer but honestly when that clock hits the mark that tells me I’ve put in my 7 hours I’m F’n OUT OF HERE! The rest of you patting yourself on the back cause you slaved away for 10+ hours. Stop it! Get out there and find some other sh*t to do! You’re wasting your life away mang!

  • http://www.casinowallofame.com André Pedro Peixoto

    Well all I can say about this article is….

    Clap Clap Clap…..

    This pretty much says it all……

  • KSD

    Have worked at companies where 60+ hours was expected and my kids came home to empty house everyday. Not worth it.

  • Charlotte

    Many companies I’ve worked for engage in “Rewarding Heroic Behavior”. Sounds good, until you ask yourself “what constitutes herois behavior?”. Putting in those long hours (often to fix problems you created because you were rushing to meet unrealistic deadlines in the first place) — that’s what gets noticed. Pretty soon, the ones who want to get a pat on the back figure out that the best strategy is to drag your feet and do crap work until the project is hopelessly out of whack and then come in at the last minute with mondo overnighters and “save the day” — with a product full of bugs and unmaintainable. Those who plan their projects realistically and then consistently deliver quality results on time are deemed to be slackers. I’ve seen it over and over. What DO they teach in management school?

  • http:[email protected] BrainiacV

    I always felt programming was like juggling, you just can’t put it down and come back it to it. There are all these ideas in your head of what you are going to do, if you take the time to write them down, you’re writing the code. So breaking off is hard to do.

    On the other hand I have may horror story of working long hours and not being appreciated and it goes like this, late Wednesday afternoon I’m told a program has to be written for a programmable terminal I’ve never worked with before must be done by Friday morning. I work until midnight, take the last train home (which at that time takes an hour and half instead of the usual one hour), get eight hours of sleep, catch the next train to work, get in at noon, work until midnight again, got the program written and placed on the manager’s chair for him to find the nxt morning, go home (hour and a half again), get eight hours of sleep, catch the next train into the office, get in at noon. Was I greeted with “Good job”? No, I was greeted with, “Don’t make it a habit of coming in at noon.”

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      Makes you want to quit on the spot does it not?

  • wrw

    In looking at my last 25 years I’m see two things that has caused this. Between outsourcing and the fed law declaring a developer as “exempt” has placed the profession in an awkward postion. If a developer was hourly traditonal workforce management could be used. Once your staff was averaging 20-30 hours of overtime (depending on benefits) on a regular bases you warrant an additional developer. The downside is that the bigger paycheck that was keeping you from growing your hair long and working in a flower shop wouldn’t be there falling more in line with prefessions such as teachers etc. With the overtime, I don’t have a social life or hobbies so with a mortgage and kids in college, for now I guess I’ll take the paycheck.

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      They call it the “golden handcuffs” :), you hate it, but you stay for the money.

      • http://www.weknowtoomuch.com rolfen

        It eventually gets to the point where you do that…

  • Jeffry

    I remember back in 1990 my boss then came to me on the first Friday following New Years…. It was about 3:45 which is the infamous boss bringing bad news hour…. Seems the IRS had a rule about 250 employees requiring filing the W2’s on magnetic media, and we had 252 employees that year…. They were going to close the books for year end, but I had to get the spec, write the code to spec, and test the spec with the IRS. Being the friendly helpful boss that he was, he even had an appointment on Monday to start testing the magnetic filing with the IRS….

    I finished, we got the W2’s out, and my resume was on the market the following weekend after I had finished. A word to the wise manager…. The employee may do it, but he may not be there long after when you pull those kind of overtime deadlines on him….

  • Angus

    Thanks for your take on things, NZ companies are pretty decent at fair play, sometimes if you offer the inch, the mile is taken. Sad to hear about John, that pearl of wisdom could apply, ” Lights that burn twice as bright”.

    Its refreshing sometimes to just close the door on tasks and switch tact for some down time…. the first shirt my big 4 company social club gave this lowly hardware engineer was ‘while !drunk, drink++’ you get the idea eh?

    I must remember to find away of thanking the hard working code monkeys who devote hours of there lives to make ours easier…. So without knowing what it is that you specifically do….

    Howdy and thanks from NZ!

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      I am not sure anything I do makes anyones life easier :), I hope i does, but I am sure that any developer would appreciate a bit of thanks once in a while, just like any other human being would.

  • http://www.seitmc.com John

    The one issue that will keep us working these extraordinary hours is that if we don’t do it our companies will send the work offshore and we can have all of our time back, but no money.

    No one is saying this is right or even fair but it is reality. So I bust my but or let me job go to India again. I bust my but and turn out code better faster and cleaner than they do just to compete because I won’t take $15/hr for my time.

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      Hey John,

      I think the dangers of all the work going to India or anywhere else are quite overblown. It has been sensationalised by the media way too much. Outsourcing certainly does happen, but too many companies have been burnt by it, for it to truly become a force, especially as outsourcing gets more expensive due to rising standard of living in those countries.

      • Richard Godivala

        If only that were so.

        Despite consistently managing to turn a profit, and meet unrealistic deadlines (we managed to re-write a contractually required piece of work in 3 weeks, after another team had failed to produce it in 8 months), we were informed at the beginning of the year that all development and QA was being outsourced to India.

        Over the past few weeks we have been in the pleasant position of having to train the people who will be replacing us, prior to our being made redundant.

        The extra hours worked, the effort and all the knowledge built up over more than a decade is being thrown away. Ostensibly it’s not about cost (great – so it’s not because we’re too expensive, but because we’re not good enough?)

        The maangement have come to expect regular miracles. I wonder if the outsourcing company will provide them, as we have done.

        Outsourcing to India is a reality. Perhaps it will be a good thing for the company. I know it sucks for us.

        Btw, good blog.

        • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

          Hey Richard,

          I do appreciate what you’re saying and it really sucks to be in your situation – I sympathize. You mark my words though, give that company a few years and you’ll be able to come in and say “I told you so”, when all their outsourcing efforts, fail miserably. Building software remotely is a lot more difficult than most people believe, a LOT more difficult. Those financial savings will evaporate like water.

  • http://my.wetcoastlife.com WetCoastLife

    Excellent article and as i finished reading it, i did a face palm. This is so true but we still do it and i am one of “those” you described.

    This is another article that kicks me in the junk for being the work-a-holic (with no extra benefit such as OT Pay) and ensuring the impossible deadline is met. And yes, “coding myself to death” praise has been reduced dramatically recently.

    Well, I am changing that this year as i just passed 31 and still alive and plan to stay that way. My employer has noticed i now come in and leave at my normal time instead of 1 hour early and way too many hours later…

  • Jeff

    Long hours have become the standard. I agree, no one, programmer or any one else for that matter, should put up with it. However, and this is the real rub, you will be branded as uncooperative or not a team player should your employer even think you are against the hours. HI visa employees also reinforces their opinion because in my experiences these employees will do anything they are asked to, believing it is ok which I believe is due to cultural differences in they way they perceive employer/employee relationships which is more like master/slave.

    If you are willing to give up a little salary in favor or longevity and a more balanced life then there is only one real answer and that is unions. Yes, the age old principle of the many having more power to negotiate and get result than the individual can to accomplish a common goal; and a very American idea at that.

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      Actually unions is a very socialist concept that has penetrated the western cultural zeitgeist at the time when socialism was a big thing (late 19th early 20th century), it has since become “adopted” by the western world.

  • Cuong Nguyen

    A lot of untold story about software developer. I used to work 60 hours/week and and I did not get pay for my overtime……. I stop doing that and try to change my carreer… I think software developer now did not get the pay and respect that they deserve it.

  • http://nikhilkardale.wordpress.com Nikhil Kardale

    Very nicely written. Been there.. done that.. and eventually decided otherwise!

    I like computers and programming, but its one attitude of the IT industry which really annoys me. Slowly and steadily coders become robots – always asking ‘what to code’ and never asking ‘why to code’ or thinking ‘when to code’. The funny thing is that people start enjoying it and identifying themselves with it, which is very unfortunate. I’ve observed the dramatic change that some of my close friends have had in their personalities and priorities over a few years of work in the industry, and that really pains me.

    You make a good point how all the ideals and ambitions are thrown out of the window once a person gets into the programming industry and starts earning. I also liked the part where you mention the false honor of sticking with your colleague in dire circumstances and not finding a way so that the conditions never occur in the first place.

    Its always a matter of choice, and there is a always a smarter way of doing things. Its finally up to the individuals themselves to make the seniors respect them humans and not treat them as machines.

    I’m sharing this article on my Twitter account.

  • Kevin

    Article hit very close to home to me. I was working 70 hrs a week for close to year at my last gig. I was 31 when I left running out of there. The line that got me was “John was in his early 30s.” Any news on where John is? Tell us he’s living on a beach somewhere drinking beers. The developers of the world need hope. It’s amazing after 4 years where I am now working very close to 40 hours a week (very rare to find), but I found it. I somehow bought a condo (anyone want to buy a condo), got engaged, and got a dog.

    How come no one ever started a labor union for developers/IT support/jack-or-jills-of-all-trades-that-just get the projects done, and get no “Thank you”s in return?

    Great article!

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      Unfortunately as I said in the article – John is no longer with us, no hope to be found there – only a lesson about how not to work/live :).

      • Kevin

        Sorry. Very sad.

  • Bob

    I agree wholeheartedly with this… I’ve been involved in trying to manage/salvage an abysmal project, worked 80+ hour weeks for about 2 months trying to clean up the team’s messes while they made bigger messes, got fed up and went back to working my normal hours and my own projects. 6 months later, the team leader on that project is still working in excess of their normal working hours, is having health issues (whether that’s related or not, I don’t know) and looks about ready to be committed.
    On the flip side, I’m happy, healthy, relatively stress free, my boss loves me to bits & reckons I could do his job.
    So what’s my point? Push back, work isn’t worth ruining your life over and if you do it properly, you’ll gain respect.

  • Mike

    Love the article, very nice read. Oooh Raa! Coders!

  • Muzi

    Great post!

    I was in a similar situation where I too also worked long crazy hours and it was because I was the only one on my team who knew the client’s system. At first it was fine i did it hoping to expect better compensation but my fucking partner was a tight ass, therefore instead of giving me credit when it was due, he just fucked me over.
    i don’t understand why someone would do that? i just don’t get it, here I am working my ass off, and this guy even went on holiday while i was stuck working. The worst part is when he brought in another guy to help with load, but because this guy was more experienced than me therefore he was paying this guys more than me. Like WTF??? what did i do to get such a cunt for a partner? anyway eventually i just got pissed off and packed my shit and left. or though i had shares i didn’t get a cent.

    Now i work a new company which is way better than my previous one, we only have to work 45hrs, which is fine because its less hours than my previous company and way more cash or though when they are under pressure they do expect us to burn the midnight oil.
    Also most of these problems occur because of BAs don’t get proper specs from clients, also clients don’t understand their requirements therefore what happens is all unseen stuff comes up during QA testing or late in Dev process, and then it falls on the developers to get it to work. I’m not sure if we will ever win here?

    I use to love coding, i loved coding so much i taught myself everything i know, its my hobby, its my everything. i love playing with new tools, trying different frameworks and other stuff. and now that i have to make a living from it, i don’t feel the love anymore. I do it because I have too and its not cool. i think money is the problem here!

    i think i would be very happy if i could just code and not have to worry about money, I’m sure i would be very happy doing that!

    anyway this has been my experience so far.

  • mtcoder

    I have a great death march that puts this into extra perspective. I was lead man on a key system the call center needed. 3 days before launch of a major product (aka millions of calls) the key system, failed. It was a server issue that wasn’t even my fault, but I was main go to guy for the software, so I had to help the hardware guys fix the issue. Long story somewhat shorter. I ended up working for 48 hours straight, with only an hour or two break here and there for food. No nap, no real rest. Oh they did give me an hour to drive home, so I would be with my family. LOL right with the family, aka telling my daughter to hush up daddy is on the phone for 2 days straight. The hardware team being well over funded, had rotations of on call people that did the work, so I had new hardware guys every oh 4-8 hours on the phone. Meanwhile it was just me for the 48 hours straight. We got the server fixed with a few hours to spare, and the system was good. I was the hero, boss and even the CEO sent me a memo. Big deal CEO of a billion dollar top 10 company sends hand written memo by carrier to me. Best part they gave me a WHOLE DAY OFF WITH PAY. A whole day we will over look the fact that in 2 days time I had already worked 8 hours over my 40 hours a week, and that I still have to work another 2 days that week. Now my local small level boss did let me slide on lunches and come in late for about 3 months, but only cause he was nice and just turned his back on my “agreed” laziness. But the company thought it was the greatest thing to give me that day off with pay. Some golden prize.
    Needless to say the next time it happened I had cell phone issues for hours on end. Funny thing about cell phones they don’t answer themselves, and do this magical thing called voicemail. Learn to let the phone just be and you can live a happy life.

  • Dave

    When I first started out some of my fellow graduates got sucked into the mandatory unpaid overtime thing. Since it was an entry level position it didn’t pay particularly well and they were just happy to have found a job in their field. However the extra 20+ hours they worked each week was really reducing their hourly pay rate. $40,000 a year is roughly $19.25/hour in a 40 hour work week. Work an extra 20 hours a week and that $19.25/hour becomes $12.80/hour.

    Did they sign up knowing they they would be in effect taking a 33% pay cut? Of course as a first job it was just to get the experience. After obtaining that they soon left their former slave drivers for greener pastures.

    Where I’m at they pay for any time in excess of 40 hours or you can bank the time and have it off later. Anything over 40 is straight hourly rate and 44 hours is 1.5X. Any time taken off for doctor appointments and what not can be made up or banked time can be used.

  • http://droope.wordpress.com droope

    Great, great amazing article. I will read it again, and possible write an agreeing response in my blog. I’ll send a linkback, then.

    Thank you!
    Droope

  • Roopesh

    I guess you need to see both sides of the coin –

    I personally believe in working time-to-time and working on top most priorities at all times. However it is easy to forget that a lot of people do not work continuously or productively during regular office hours. Emails, Chit chat with coworkers, phone calls and any other distractions seriously hampers productivity at times. This leads to them staying late to finish up the days work and then once they get used to staying late, it induces more relaxed approach towards time control – a negative cycle.

    I have worked in a couple of companies before and have never faced problems as long as I kept a tight control over time – and ensured proper reporting to my manager. Now I have my own software business and even as a startup my development team has never ever worked beyond midnight for last 1 year that I have been responsible for them. We leave on time most of the days and we even compensate for hard work days by leaving early whenever we achieve important milestones. But the time that we do put in during the day, is taken very seriously, and since we have only limited time in which to achieve our goals, tasks automatically get prioritized.

    Yes, it does help productivity when everyone comes fresh in the morning, every day.

  • Peter

    Stink about the ‘John’s’ in this world eh. As a programmer I always stuck up for myself and left at 5:30pm every night. My latest job expects 37.5 hours per week – nice.

    I also have recently become a beekeeper on the side in the weekends. It reminds me of my childhood on a farm, and it makes me notice nature more. Bees are important for our survival.

    Being couped up in an office doesn’t result in that sort of thing, just results in annoyance, stress, mistakes, etc.

  • Aboo

    If you work on a team larger than 2 people, the social pressure is there to work over-time in this industry. Not only to work over-time, but to ALWAYS be available. Night and day, weekends, holidays, whenever. In most places it is not an option. Not if you want to do anything interesting, or be trusted with a worth while project. It’s a self-defeating society. Management uses the time they know they get out of us to estimate projects and make promises to their clients, thus keeping the cycle going. We see it every single day.

    Sure, “refusing” to work over-time is possible. If you enjoy being hated by your team-mates for leaving them to do everything. Or you enjoy running database queries and doing impact analysis for daily client requests for inept managers and supervisors who refuse to fight for you. Hell, I was working 50+ hours a week on a regular basis and was recently called into our dept. heads office because an unknown person thought I was taking to many smoke breaks…

    Both my team leads were there, looking at me, like I did something wrong. Prior to that point I was considered a top performer. Excellent producer, earned the “good work” award more than once. Never had a single complaint from a team member, manager or team lead and many compliments.

    Now, I never work more than 45 hours a week. Ever. And I’m doing nothing but researching production bugs with minimal impact and being “checked on” every half an hour. And looking for another job where my work is appreciated and the team leads and managers believe in their team and their product.

  • Ken Ciszewski

    After about 50 h0urs a week, productivity drops in most cases–why do we fool ourselves thinking otherwise?

  • Rune B

    Great read and so true! But I worry a lot of a programmer and manager are reading this and wrongly tell themselves that this does not apply to their own company.

  • Ken Ciszewski

    As pointed out above, 50 (hrs/week) is the new 40 (hrs/week), then 60 (hrs/week) becomes the new 40 (hrs/week), etc. I used to ask the question, “what is the value of something you give to someone else for free?” The answer all too often is “zero!!!!”.

  • http://www.pestdefense.com/ Wallace Wood

    I was very lucky early in my career. My third job in IT was at a medium size service bureau. We were getting rid of all the old Burroughs mini computers and going to PC/Client Server in the days when the first i386 computers were just out. The boss realized we (IT) would be working long hours (3 programmers, 1.5 network eng., 63 branch offices, 400 ft emp., 2500 pt emp.) The boss insisted that we would be salaried while punching a clock. We got paid the OT. We had flex-time. We did not burn out and we got things done quickly, correctly and under-budget. The boss used the time cards partially to show his peers how much man time it took to get their pet projects done. It worked!

  • mediumrare

    Excellent article.
    I recently applied for a job through an agency and while I got past the agent to the hiring company – they decided not to interview me because they wanted people who go home from work and then tuck into their PCs for the night and do some more coding. I had mentioned I had a family and was a mother. Obviously the hiring company made the correct decision because I would not have been able to put in much more than the contracted 40-45 hours per week.
    The ironic thing is this company’s “Career” page had “Work/life” balance as its top recruitment draw card…

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      You’re lucky you found out that they don’t put their money where their mouth is before you acidentally found yourself employed there.

  • http://www.alex-lawrence.com Alexander Lawrence

    This is indeed one great article! Thank you.

  • Mouse

    Alan,

    Thanks for discussing about “Developers Death March”….. I was in that situation once; not any more. 9 AM – 5 PM ….. that’s it!!! No One can stop me after 5PM…..
    As 5 PM hits…. I say “See you guys!!!” and I am off…

    There is certainly more to life.!!!!!

    Appreciate it mate!

  • http://el.web.id EL

    “..smart programmers don’t like to work long hours and won’t be pressured into it..”

    hahaha.. absolutely agree with that one.. :D

  • Marcio Muniz

    Alan Skorkin,
    Thanks for the brilliant article. We have to put an end in the “slavery” situation. If the people who define the projects time-frames spend some time with the development team about how long will take to achieve the Client’s needs instead just guess the time we won’t be facing those long hours coding. After more than 20 years in this industry I decided to follow a simple rule: “If wasn’t me who provided a time frame (for a project) don’t count on me working after hours”.
    I don’t mind work long hours if the big bucks come right into my pocket. :)
    Thanks again for the article.

    Marcio

  • http://rizahm.blogspot.com QRAR

    Great Artical & Universal Truth :)

    Live long Developer

    “Smart programmers don’t like to work long hours but ………………………”

  • Anon

    This article is pretty much my lifes autobiography :|

  • Vasja

    So…” I’ll tell you how I got my wake-up call” did this article come out yet? :)

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      Hehe, no not yet, I have to be in the right frame of mind to write that one as it is quite a personal subject.

  • Indian Programmer

    In India its very common ,in almost 90% of the software companies a software developer has to work for an average of 60hrs/week even when the service contract states that he is hired to work for 40 hrs/week. Absolutely no extra compensation is paid to the programmer for the extra hours. When the developer/tester talks about this to his manager, he says that the developer has to work for extra hours because his performance is not up to mark and if he dosent work late nights, then he can resign from the job.

    I remember in the last recession, a friend of mine in a CMMI 3 company in Pune used to work from 10 AM to 3 PM in the night , regularly , including saturdays compulsary and ocassionaly sundays accounting to a work of 90 hrs/week .Can you imagine?. When the team refused to work for late nights , they were threatened to be fired.

    So they continued to work for almost more than a year till the recession is over, without any increments or incentives and 80% of them quit the job as soon as the recession is over. Now this particular company has a lot of projects but no trained resources to work in this very unique domain.

    Not only the programmers but even the companies suffer because of the policy to make the programmer work for long hours.

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      I think that is horrendous when such attitudes pervade in a country as a whole rather than just a company. Some people above have spoken about unions, when it’s the whole country in trouble like that, unions may not be such a bad idea.

      • http://www.WhiteCranePhotography.com Rakesh Malik

        Wasn’t that originally what drove union formation in the US?

        • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

          I do believe it was.

  • http://www.myonlinepresence.co.za Andrei

    This article really opens some eyes. Jeez, well written mate!

  • http://www.deesigns.co.za Daleen de la Harpe

    Love the article.. but how would you put that in motion and get “the man” to really ‘get’ it and see it this way?

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      Hi Daleen,

      Now that, is a story for another blog post or maybe 12 :), I might write some of them at some point. The short answer is – difficult, very difficult as any major change at a large level will always be.

  • ABitOWhit

    Good article. I agree and disagree some.
    Another thing to note though is that after the actual hours are worked you are still contemplating the job, jobs, jobs x 20. ;)
    It never really ends at 40 hours when you work 40 hours. You go home and eat dinner and “think about it”, watch some TV and “think about it”, lay in bed and “think about it” and then you get up and “think about it one more time” before you actually go back in and start back up again. :)

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  • rahlquist

    Alan,

    Great article!
    Goes with an email sig I authored and used for years….

    When you consistently achieve the impossible, those around you will eventually begin to find your achievements commonplace.

  • http://gavinwye.com GavinWye

    Great article. I think ti’s worth mentioning (and I must admit that I’m not a programmer) that the longer you look at a problem the more evasive the solution becomes. It’s always worth changing focus going out and doing something else for a while. Letting your brain absorb outside influences and consolidate your thoughts.

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      Definitely good advice, I found that going for a walk is one of the best ways to problem solve :).

  • sascha

    Here you got enough reasons why as a programmer you should be a freelancer in the first place!

  • sreejith

    i did’nt ever read an article like this. i think no body dare to write like this
    really amazing……..

  • Erken

    Oh how I hear you man! Everything you say is so true! Fellow developers, work what is needed, but do not forget to go out and enjoy life as well! ;)

  • Jim

    I have worked for places like that. One place (I will not mentioned their name) paid you very well, but expected 14 hrs per day from you plus weekends. It was more than a death march. They owned your soul. That was our price for their competition. I still have bad feelings about that company. I only survived 6 months before being cut.

  • Ger

    I’ve busted my back over the years (I’m 55 now). I think we do it because we believe that the company will succeed because of our efforts. And if the company succeeds, we succeed. Well, guess what? The company is not run by engineers. It is run by accountants. And when the time comes, they get rid of you regardless of how “loyal” you are to the company.

    Now I see that “company loyality” exists only in the lower ranks. Upper management has no such loyalty – they treat the company as a game. If it ends badly they move on. In the meantime they find ways of giving themselves bonuses. Even as the company fails, they give themselves “retention bonuses”.

    Wake up – any company will try to extract as much as they can for free. Resist. Go home. But please, don’t watch TV for the rest of the night! (Many programmers have no life outside of work).

  • JC

    If I’m reading this from my workplace, can I complain about the overtime I’d to put in? :-P

    I think an additional problem is the effort to reward ratio. If that can be defined, as someone pointed out 1.5 times per hour, it’s for you to choose how many hours you are putting in. After that the question of “how many extra hours you can put” depends on the person. I sympathize with the “John”-like situation, but who knows John would never have wanted to live without putting in what he wanted to put in; reward or no reward – doesn’t matter.

    I’m a bum who put in 5-6 years of his early career “living upto expectations” and burning myself in the process with no real gains (monetary for me); and now just pad my project schedule with so much extra time that I can browse through a few blogs and still deliver on time. :)

    Cheers to good life!

  • James Smith

    I can actually remember a time some years ago when we worked 40 days straight. I kept track (like marking the days on a prison wall). What I discovered was, I could actually only put in about 6 really productive hours a day. The other 3 or 4 or whatever did not accomplish much, they were really a waist of time.

  • San Kan

    Japanese office stress at record levels
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/2006132.stm
    Brussels warns UK over working hours
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/1956958.stm

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  • RA

    Great article! I think it’s yet another facet of the woes of capitalism (aka greed aka rat race) that we have been witnessing in these years.

    Point to ponder: what if your boss says “we pay above market” and “you can’t become google by working 35 hours” and “they work 14 hrs at google, and … ”

    How to handle such comments?

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      It is very easy to check what the market rates are, so how far above market do they really pay? Everyone says they pay above market, it is usually bullshit. If they say they want to become google, you can say any or all of the following:

      you’re gonna need to hire a lot more people who are much smarter than me
      at google they also provide free meals, snacks and massage on campus
      at google they also get decent hardware
      at google they get stock options
      do you actually have a business model that will allow you to scale to the size of google? (hint, most companies don’t)

      Don’t really say any of those things :), it can be very career limiting, but do consider if you’re prepared to put up with the kind of commitment that is being asked of you. You can be civil, but firm about your priorities.

      • RA

        Thanks Alan! Would love to see your views (in an article) on developer productivity.

  • VA

    Nice post Alan.

    I often refer to it as GOOE (Read GUI) i.e. Get Out of Emergency when talking to devs. or for that matter testers to which most draw a blank face. I think the root cause is that effort estimate is compressed to fit that arbid deadline you mentioned in the post instead of *actual* effort required…..and then all hell breaks loose. :-)

    • http://www.WhiteCranePhotography.com Rakesh Malik

      I’ve frequently seen this happen when the management decides on a deadline, waffles about for months before letting the developers find out what the software is supposed to do, and then expects the developers to make up for the lost time by putting in a host of extra hours.

      There are actually a surprising number of people who think that this is just how it’s supposed to work.

      • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

        Ah yes, the old immovable deadline, I’ve been meaning to write about that :).

      • http://www.jeremyhutchings.com Jeremy Hutchings

        Indeed, and there is a hot place in a lonely hell for them ;)

  • Samuel Brooks

    Hey Alan, love the blog, huge fan, even though i only dicovered it tonight/this morning thanks to the code project. I’m not sure if i’ll be phased by 60+ hour weeks after uni to be honest. At the moment I’m working two jobs to get enough money to goto uni next year and learning C++ and java in my spare time, I still maintain a social life (friday night parties and the such) and am trying to get fit so I can get sponsored by the armed forces (air force hopefully) and I actually manage to get 8+ hours of sleep, most of the time. Its a bit of a trick to juggle it all but it is possible, great blog nonetheless helps me get a picture of the industry i’m entering into, great tips aswell

    • http://www.skorks.com Alan Skorkin

      Hi Samuel,

      I am glad you’ve gotten some value out of my musings :). Look, I hear what you’re saying regarding working hard, but think of this, how long can you sustain the pace you’re going now? Uni is only a few years and you’re young, work is potentially at least several decades, and you will not get any younger, and you might want to have a family and spend some time with them and still spend some time with your friends. The point, is not whether or not you can withstand the 60 hour weeks (sometimes they can be 80-100 hour weeks), the point is, you shouldn’t have to.

  • KS

    I get to office at 8:00 yesterday and left it about 21:00. Today I’m in the office at 8:00 again sitting here reading this article. And you know what?
    I’m 28 and I’m stupid.
    It’s time to rearrange my schedule.
    Thanks.

  • juntao

    u r right , THX very much , it made me decided to choice an other road and say byebye to programmer, since i had have this thinking for long

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  • http://www.friedmanfineart.net John Melson

    Right on target! I’ve been programming for 30 years and finally woke up and was BYOB!
    Check out my great progamming and computer services @ http://www.johns-handyman-service.com

    I really like the 1-1 mil part. Coding forever since mainframes. This global networking is great and aweseome. Please visit our sites and blog about me.

  • Patricia

    I’m so glad to know I’m not the odd one out!
    Thanks for the great article.

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  • kurt

    I agree with this article. I think one reason behind ridiculous deadlines and death march projects are usually bad and sometimes malicious management.

    Someone along the line messed up, promised something that couldn’t be delivered without forcing the programmers to work all night and all weekend and they don’t care enough to about these guys lives to just admit it.

  • Leopold

    There’s no way out, is there?

    If you work too much, you’re stupid for putting your health in danger, and bloggers will warn you. If you don’t, you’re a lazy bum with no work ethic, and bloggers will warn you (see e.g. http://penguinpetes.com/b2evo/index.php?title=can_work_ethic_work_for_you ).

    If you work too much, you die. If you don’t, you can’t get a job, you’re too poor to support yourself, and you die.

    If you work too much, your coworkers abuse it and give you all the work they don’t want to do. If you don’t, you get fired.

    If you try to work harder than you can, you burn out and need years of rest to recover. If you don’t work as hard as you can, you’re a failure.

    I’ve met people who worked themselves to death, and people who guilt-tripped themselves to death over not working hard enough. I’ve met people who neglected their families by working too hard, and people who couldn’t support their families because they couldn’t work hard enough. I’ve met workaholics who couldn’t stop working and procrastinators who couldn’t start, and I’ve been both.

    Fuck wake-up calls, and fuck work ethic, and the horses they rode in on, and all the stablehands. I’m going to write some code.

    • FrankyBoy1234

      Nope. I am prepared to work overtime and also do, but if I work overtime one day my boss knows that latest next week I will take that time back.

      So, there is a huge difference between being flexible and being stupid by always saying yes.

  • http://www.jeremyhutchings.com Jeremy Hutchings

    Oh tell me about it ………

    http://www.jeremyhutchings.com/2009/12/burnout.html

    Take care of #1 people.

  • dashock

    yes, we owe it to ourselves 1st, to take care and not step into shit teams.
    really nice posts, jeremy. thank you, and… you need a copywriter :P
    how you end up in shit teams is kind of related. also, teams that go shitty.

    to leopold, nice job, too. http://penguinpetes.com/b2evo/index.php?title=can_work_ethic_work_for_you

    i kind of believe that you can tune your environment to best fit the coding time situation.

    Indian Programmer, that happens … at a lot of workplaces. What does that leave you time to do? not even time to become or be a better programmer (as in to learn the craft). Those jobs should pay 3x. the problem with that is that the companies billing 3x are throwing in warm bodies.

    “it’s a funny old game” is … deep, no?

    i would add, not sure if skorks or anybody would back me up, don’t u guys also know when to adjjust because we just know when we “big push” versus “maintenance modes.” we have all this in our heads. it’s wired in us. some co-workers (as in some cases) just don’t five a fuck, too. i personally cannot code 8 to 5 like a lightswitch (if somebody asks what about 9 to 6, i will personally hunt you down with a 10mm hollow point (ouch) in Fallout when it goes online multiplayer … new vegas is kicking ass, btw). more power to those who can… it must be nice. exercise… blah blah, i’d rather get a workout in or a run on the treadmill (depending on what day it is) after my morning code if that’s my current schedule.

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  • ruidong

    Programmers can see the sweat, perhaps only his wife or girlfriend. Owners only care about money.

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