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Life and Career

This has been bothering me for a long time, so I decided to post about it here and see what people think.

I'm all for retraining yourself in IT, and I love to pick up new technology. I mean... it's fun, that's why I'm in this field. I started to program about the age of 12 and we're 20 years on...

Every job I have worked for seems to require ridiculous hours. Whether development or support I end up having to be in the office for long hours. 10 hours a day is kind of normal. Let's not discuss the weekends or the emergency overnighters.

Now if I could just work 10 hours and enjoy the rest of my week, that wouldn't be so bad. But if I have to squeeze in self-training into that, well, it just leaves you plain exhausted. And what if you have other interests like studying for a diploma or something?

It seems to have a good career in IT, you have to kill yourself with IT 24/7. I know I'm not the only who feels this and I'm tempted to leave the field because I've had enough. I don't think this is going to improve. I've enjoyed very little of the development I've done (for work) in recent years and, besides, 80% of the time I'm doing support which is a necessary evil but it doesn't satisfy the creative urge.

Summary: Long hours, boring work and an ever-present fear that you'll become yesterday's news if you don't study in your sleep.

This is my experience. What's yours?

Shodan
Tuesday, October 28, 2003

I could not find an answer, so I quit.

the artist formerly known as prince
Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Actually, I did find one solution, find a big bueracratic company, get in charge of some crucial antiquated system, meditech for instance, and then you are a free man, the tradeoff is utter burden

the artist formerly known as prince
Tuesday, October 28, 2003

That's just how life is.  In most jobs where you can regularly make over $60K/yr, you're gonna have to put in a significant amount of overtime and/or study time.

At a law firm, anything less than 60 hours/week is considered part time.  And even then you often have to take home case work to read up.  In medicine, you know the ridiculous hours doctors put in already.  Investment banking is also like that.  Actuaries are usually in the 40-45 hour range, but they have 6-10 years of brutal studies (which most do not survive) on top of that to get their qualifications, after which they'll generally be pushed into management and do 60 hours anyway.  Open your own business, and you'll probably doing 70 or 80 hours (although you'll probably get more satisfaction of out it).  Once you know how to operate heavy machinery, you can make over $60K in construction but to earn that you'll still need large chunks of overtime.

You could become a plumber or electrician for $200/hr and work two or three hours a day.  But it's still a long road before you can reach that level.

One solution is to move to Europe where they have limited work weeks.  But you'll have to be prepared for the higher taxes.

My personal solution is no kids and investing for early retirement -- less time eaten up taking care of kids, and early retirement to catch up on the time spent working and self-training.  Sure, I may die before retiring, but if that happens I won't know the difference.

T. Norman
Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Ya ,i too face the same problem ..However you fix some goals in career everything becomes blank once a project comes in and you are required to finish it even before you are through understanding the requirements .SO my suggestion will be to try to work in different environments ,take periodic leaves ,swtich companies every 2 years ,spend more time with your family rather than spending it alone !!!!!

Ramakrishnan
Wednesday, October 29, 2003

> At a law firm ...

There is a massive difference. At a law firm, those extra hours are investments in being offered a partnership, which delivers an income over $400,000 from the age of anywhere between 28 and 38.

This does not occur in the types of programming jobs we're talking about.

The answer is to fight for independence with some sort of product where you can derive the benefit from those long hours. Even this avenue is being attacked by open source.

Maybe it's law school after all ....


Wednesday, October 29, 2003

management.

runtime
Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Its the same story everywhere and mostly with everyone in the IT field.

I personally had been working around 14 hrs/day  for about 2/3 months at a streach (weekends used to be around 6-7 hrs/day). But yes, there was interesting work and a major goal to achieve for this and it was great feeling after achieving the same. But, after I look back over the past couple of years I have spent here, I do feel that its a bit too overboard and am doing a major injustice to myself, my family, friends by not spending time with them.

Well sometimes you feel that time is just passing you by.........

In my country switching careers is not easy and I personally cannot think of moving to some other career. Manily coz of the efforts put-in in getting the education/qualifications and then having worked for these many years in the industry.... its not worth going back or going somewhere else........... 

What i would suggest is to get frequent breaks/vacations between projects and have some time for yourself, your family and friends........ spend that time in activities which you like most like fishing, scuba diving, mountaineering or just hang out at bars with your friends........................

Also, switching companies/jobs in 2/3 years is another option... but with a caution....... as that may reflect poorly on your resume....... (as a job-hopper). But, as soon as you get this feeling of "life is just passing me by......" its time to do some serious thinking about what you really wanna do and where you really wanna be.......

Remember :

"Time flies.......... spend it with people who mean the most to you !"

Shai
Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Take a pay cut and get a life. I work 38 hrs/week, 7:36 hrs per day from Monday to Friday. Do not have a huge salary, but I *really* value more the time with my family. As in the credit card add: priceless.

uncronopio
Wednesday, October 29, 2003

I've just worked 3 20 hr days straight. And this is only my placement year for Uni!

I plan to work a few years after Uni and find something else to do.

James 'Smiler' Farrer
Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Nice perspective uncronopio:

7-8 hrs/day : <rarely heard of>
10-15 hrs/day : $ 60,000/ annum
12-20 hrs/day : may be more $$ ( + frustration )
Quality time spent with family : priceless

"There are somethings in life that money can't buy, for everything else there's *being employed in IT*"

But do you really think that taking a paycut could eliminate such practice/situation ?

I personally feel that most of the times * WE *  ourselves take on such additional responsibilities (and hence the longer work hours) upon us just for reasons like :

* Interesting work (generally our defination of *interesting work* changes over time)
* Better/faster growth
* Trying to reach places/positions faster than one normally would do
* To get/stay ahead in the 'rat race' coz of the uneasy feeling of getting left behind

May be the answer lies in finding the * right * company to work for.... one which values your personal time and gives you the freedom to utilize that time. Or may be get into QA : The least painful stuff !

Any HR gurus in the forum ? Your comments could be valuable in this context.

Shai
Wednesday, October 29, 2003

I think very little companies out where are designed to make you happy. Those companies, which are owned by you.

They always try to motivate you: "C'mon, you're professional and it's The Challenge!". Or: "We'll give you a bonus of 10%  if you do it in time!". And no one cares about you, your family or your health.

Being the head of own company you're dealing with everything, you're making decisions and taking risks, you're meeting people finally. And you have no one to blame.

P.S. and you can take you children with you :-)

The WebSpeed Man
Wednesday, October 29, 2003

I don't doubt that some people really are in situations where the consequences of saying "no" to extra hours would be intolerable.

But frankly and honestly, most of the time I don't see what it is about software that would force us to work more than a 40-hour week. I mean, really. If you're looking after mission- or safety-critical systems, you might need to be on call - but all the MORE reason to have a system in place so that the same person is not on call all the time and the same person is not always working overtime.

Nor do I see why we should have a guilt complex about killing ourselves to justify our alleged fabulous salaries (which I bet are far from fabulous in many cases) to pointy-haired bosses who left at four-thirty anyway.

And sure, staying late is OK if it doesn't happen too often. And, sometimes you just can't tear yourself away from a task and you don't want to go home.

But the rest of the time, I think we should all ask ourselves if we're just allowing ourselves to be dumped on.

Fernanda Stickpot
Wednesday, October 29, 2003

I am also bothered by this idea a lot.
The sad story is: there is no solution.
Hypes, languages, tools and development environments, just change too fast to keep up with.

When you for example develop web applications, the number of topics you need to be familiar with is just enormous. When you switch to an other language, database, framework, IDE, operating system, the cycle starts all over. When you are a doctor at least you find the feet on the same place. Probably your patient will have something like a nose a bit above the mouth.

Because knowledge is so quickly outdated, everybody is looking for the super intelligent man/woman and try to keep them happy with a nice desk and free sodas, as Joel does. (No offence)

An other problem is the day to day frustration of products you are working wich are of a poor quality.

Programming RPG on a rocksteady IBM as/400 was so much more fun then the Microsoft reboot hell with tens of MSCE experts fumbling with 10 MB of settings getting all lost in the dark.

Maybe it is a good idea to learn Cobol, dig yourself in an irreplaceable bank-application and shut the door at 5.

Wish you all the luck

John Fisher
Wednesday, October 29, 2003

As regards that move to Europe comment, I just spent 4 months working straight, with two days off, so it's not all that nice.

fw
Wednesday, October 29, 2003

May be you wanna try this out :

http://quiz.ivillage.com/health/tests/burnoutinv.htm

Shai
Wednesday, October 29, 2003

In the U.S., big defense contractors are usually 7.5-8 hours a day, tops... might be the same at any big company with rigid processes, because there's no big sense of code ownership so no real incentive or desire to stay late and fix "your" stuff.

Rick
Wednesday, October 29, 2003

I have had the same experience of working long hours at all of my jobs prior to the one I am at now.  Once I started this current job, I decided that I would make a big effort to just work normal 8hr days.  There is some outside pressure to work longer, but it is usually not a mandatory thing.  And you know, when raises come around, the people who are working the 60+ hour weeks only get a slightly better raise if at all. 

So my advice is, at your next job try to establish the precedent of the hours you will work early on.  You will find that people will just get used to you being available during those hours.  As long as you get your work done, no one should complain.  I personally feel that a lot of people just let themselves get bullied into working more.  Once they know they can get you to work more, they will continue to have "emergencies" that require it.

Seeker
Wednesday, October 29, 2003

If everyone else works long hours too, then the culture already exists. It's difficult to stand apart without standing *outside the building* in that kind of situation.

Yeah, I've argued about some managers about it ("late hours is a symptom of project failure") and also heard the opinion that if employees with a 9-to-5 attitude can go work somewhere else. We're supposed to be "professional" and this kind of effort is "what we're all being paid for."

It's shit like this that convinces me that my future lies elsewhere. I don't want to be that kind of professional.

I scored quite badly on the burnout quiz by the way =)

Shodan
Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Interesting seeing some of the posts in here. I work approximately 7 hours a day, and work at home one to three days a week (where my work really is unstructured - many would call it slacking). Pay wise I am compensated very generously.

How do I do it?

a) I work "smart" rather than "hard". This sounds like a bad bit of tired rhetoric, but it is completely true. I have far more of an impact on my organization than many of my peers who work 60+ hours a week. Indeed, I am suspicious of people who work 60 hours a week (and who usually make a big show of it) as experience has shown that it's often the people who are least effective at achieving the goals that work overtime to "make up" for it.

b) I know how to delegate appropriately - I'm not hanging on a cross whining about how no one can do it but me (which usually means "I'm not really sure what I'm doing, and hence can't communicate it, so I've got to do it all myself and hope that a product pops out").

I've found that when situation requires more time slugging away, my overall effectiveness actually declines as my creativity and mental agility takes a dive.

Anonymizer
Wednesday, October 29, 2003

"One solution is to move to Europe where they have limited work weeks.  But you'll have to be prepared for the higher taxes."

And no jobs.

Jim Rankin
Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Anonymizer...you took the words right out of my mouth (or the tips of my fingers) 

re: "Work Smarter not Harder" bit...

I don't watch the clock, but find myself working about 8hrs day...

While I admit that I do stuff at home,  (self study), I don't concider it part of my job.  I would do it anyway because I enjoy it.

There are times that I will work longer hours because I'm "on a roll" or "in the zone".

Most often I see other that work longer due to poor time management skills rather than the enjoyment of it.

One thing to add, I was one of only a few that actually got any sort of significant raise this year, and I attribute that to my performance rather than hours logged.

apw
Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Do people really work 60 hour weeks?  How many of those hours are spent in personal email, personal phone calls, personal web browsing, and other non-essential tasks?

I have been keeping a log and have found that it is rare that I can work more than 45 hours per week, coding, designing, going to meetings, etc.  And add to this fact that my productivity rapidly drops after about 35 hours of work/week...

Think of it in terms of money... if I don't spend money, not only do I get to keep it, but it also earns me interest...

Scot
Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Jim,

>> And no jobs.  <<

As of April 2003, comparative unemployment rates for US and UK were respectively:

US: 6.7%
UK: 3.8%

Not sure on the unemployment rates for Europe as a whole, but my gut feeling is about the same as the US. UK at the good end (3.8%), Germany at the bad end (10%).

Mark

Mark Pearce
Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Mark Pearce -

The unemployment stats for the UK is 'signed on and actively receiving unemployment benefit'. A lot of unempleyed IT people (especially from the contracting segment) aren't signing on. In IT contracting the true unemployment figure is much higher - the front page of http://www.shout99.com/contractors/ suggests it is over 40%.

Slightly OT, but a sobering statisitcv for anyone thinking of getting a job in IT, or job hopping.

theWeasel
Thursday, October 30, 2003

There were times when work was a means of earning a living and it was a part of life. Today, its much more than a living (though thats the bare minimum) and life seems to be becoming a part of it.
So as long as we cannot change the reality, lets try to change our perception: we need to be happy!!!
And I believe, most of the frustrations in life do not come as much from hard-work and slogging as from being in the field where we don't enjoy slogging.

Ritesh
Thursday, October 30, 2003

Doesn't happiness usually come from meaningful human contact, which is usually limited at places seeking much overtime from employees?

I do agree with the part of the equation that says sadness can come from not doing what we want to be doing.

Scot
Thursday, October 30, 2003

Well, anonymizer is very close. He must be working in an intelligent environment with people who have a clue.  When you get hired to work 40, you should not work 40+ or you should be hired to work 40+.  It has been my experience that if you care about your work, and you have know-how, and  you work with people who care more about their paycheck and their "life" and they don't know much anyhow about the tasks at hand, well then, you my friend will be working 40+.  I've worked at places where people felt that the programmer was responsible for everything that had yet been done.  Never mind about realistic schedules or requirements.  People will spend hundreds of man hours at meetings producing nothing of value. Even if you are inundated with paper it usually has little value.  Everyone else will have done their part, maybe not even realizing their utter wastefulness at best or uselessness at worse, and then you my friend, the heroic programmer will have to save the day with your UNPAID overtime.  Anonymizer must work at a place where they have a clue, where schedules are realistic, where requirements exist and make sense.  That is the way it should be. Far, far too often programmers/developers have to work overtime all the time because they are not alone in the process but no one else seems to really understand what they are doing.

Me
Thursday, October 30, 2003

>  In medicine, you know the ridiculous hours doctors put in already. 

total bullsh*t.  Many doctors work part time, and many work 3 days a week.  Big false generalization.


Here are 2 old threads I started that are related to this topic:

POLL:Programming taking toll on personal lives?
http://discuss.fogcreek.com/joelonsoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=4475&ixReplies=39

http://discuss.fogcreek.com/joelonsoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=5308&ixReplies=44

Bella
Thursday, October 30, 2003

Anecdotally, a friend who's a contractor in the UK has found her current client wants "another one like her". She's spectacularly failed to find anyone amongst her associates to just walk into the role because they're all employed. She says three months ago it would have been no trouble to find someone, now everyone's busy.

Katie Lucas
Monday, November 03, 2003

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