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How to spot a 9-5 company in 10 seconds or less

Bella:  My friend is quitting his job...His firm got bought out and now, the new mgmt' is all gung ho.  Everyone's been working till 9pm and weekends....so after a year of that, he finally quit.  So....he has 2 or 3 offers, and didn't know how to broach the topic of working hours during an interview...
Bella: I told him to take the job with most middle aged co-workers.. Find as many coworkers with kids as you can.  The more working mothers the better..  That firm will have the easiest hours....5'o clock.....everyone's out the door !

Lazlo:    If you see 21 year olds playing hackeysack in the hallway, run away

Bella:    Yes, exactly.  NEVER EVER work at a place with a foosball table, (unless you plan to eat dinner at work every night.)  People in their 20's and 30's want young, fun, hip co-workers, but the key to a balanced worklife is avoiding young co-workers like the plague...Young co-workers can put in gobs of overtime, generally have no commute since they live in the city, etc...They never HAVE to leave the office ...

Bella
Monday, March 15, 2004

I agree

What is it with coworkers that have to be chummy with each other? I mean, I talk to my coworkers, and really enjoy having conversations with them, go out for the occasional coffee or lunch with them and could quite happily talk for a few hours.

But to play netball with them, go out for drinks on a friday night with them? Go to parties etc etc. I just have better things to do and better friends to hang with....I guess each to their own.

I am the girl who, when the bosses organise their traditional full-day christmas party (fully paid of course), wishes we could just all go out to a nice quite dinner like any other normal firm....not dress up as Indians and run around the town hunting down obscure items from cryptic clues.

Aussie Chick
Monday, March 15, 2004

Good point, thanks for sharing Bella :_)

VP
Monday, March 15, 2004

Poor Aussie, it seems your boss has read far too many mangement books :_)  Actually it probably works well with lonely young people working at company miles away from anything interesting to do.

You should dress up as the Chicken Pox virus and whack the Indians on the head as they look for said obscure items.  Wait, are you talking about Native Americans, or people from India?  How does that tie into Christmas?

VP
Monday, March 15, 2004

Native Americans, we even won the prize for best dressed (well the prize was a bonus 5 points).

Don't feel sorry for me, lately I have fell ill of one of the almost-head honchos, and since then the 'it support' doesn't get to come along to these team buildings things...

Dare I say more? This year the christmas part was actually a super dooper big secret that nobody could know about. Hence nobody knew what to wear and we ended up playing a game of softball in 30C heat, followed up by a swim in the local pool with only two showers (hey we all stunk), and then an outdoor lunch on the bosses property (except we had all bought clothes for indoor airconditioning). Darn I lucked out again and had to leave the rip-roaring party just as the karaoke was starting....somehow I had gotten myself nominated to be back at the office by 5pm tp ensure all the doors were locked and the alarm was turned on.....oh well...

Aussie Chick
Monday, March 15, 2004

Oops, just reiterating Bella's very good point. It is much better to work with middle age married peoples. much muich better.

Aussie Chick
Monday, March 15, 2004

> Oops, just reiterating Bella's very good point. It is much better to work with middle age married peoples. much muich better.

Unless you are competing against all those outsourcers we here so much about.


Monday, March 15, 2004

"People in their 20's and 30's want young, fun, hip co-workers"

Stuff that. I don't care how hip my co-workers are, so long as they're competent and get work done on time.

I've worked with nice guys who couldn't code for beans, and I've worked with grumpy bastards who can do the job. I'll take the later anyday.

I guess I'm too un-hip to be my age? ;)

Sum Dum Gai
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Good point Sum.  Circus gimmicks like this are copouts for building a well run, effective working environment.

VP
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

http://www.fogcreek.com/About.html

And pinball machines?

www.MarkTAW.com
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

>The office should be a hang out: a pleasant place to spend time. If you're meeting your friends for dinner after work you should want to meet at the office. As Philip Greenspun bluntly puts it: "Your business success will depend on the extent to which programmers essentially live at your office. For this to be a common choice, your office had better be nicer than the average programmer's home. There are two ways to achieve this result. One is to hire programmers who live in extremely shabby apartments. The other is to create a nice office."

Taken from http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/BionicOffice.html

I think this is exactly what Bella is trying to avoid (although the office is cute...except for all the green???)

Aussie Chick
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

OMG, I totally posted a comment without carefully reading what Sum wrote.  Time to go to bed...or get a less mind-numbing job.

Sorry Sum!

VP
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

That green sooooo needs to go...but then again, it would be useful for some video effects.

VP
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Just schedule the interview for after 5pm, then you can see how many programmers are still working.

I went for an interview once in Tokyo and 8pm, and the entire company was still working away. Needless to say I ran from that interview.

Matthew Lock
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

> Poor Aussie, it seems your boss has read far too many mangement books

He probably read: "Why Accounting Isn't Boring - Ten Fun Things To Prove It."

JM
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

The pinball machine and stuff from fog creek doesn't do anything for me. Like I said, my idea of a fun workplace is one where everyone is competent (at minimum) in the job they're supposed to be doing, the work is interesting and fulfilling, I work reasonable hours, and I get paid enough to live on.

Anything beyond that is gravy. As far as I see it, you can only woo morons with shiny objects like pinball machines. If you want to do me a favour, make sure I get off work early enough and I'm paid enough to find entertainment in my own time, don't try to provide it at work. Provide entertaining work would be even better!

As a sidenote: I laugh at how on that page Joel says it must be working because they get 200 applications for every position. I'd be surprised if that wasn't around the industry average, or even below it.

Sum Dum Gai
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

how to broach the topic of working hours... ask.  say something like "so what's a typical day around here like".  or if too chicken, just drive by the office on the weekend or at night to see how many cars are in the parking lot.

c
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Is this the real Bella or an imposter?

I am having a hard time believing Bella would post such a topic. All I can say is good luck finding a company that contains mostly middle aged co-workers and that also happens to be hiring.

Young people dominate the programming ranks because they are willing to put in gobs of unpaid overtime! Outside of the mainframe arena there aren't that many graybeards to be found working for decent sized companies nowadays.


Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Pinball et al?

Maybe Joel wants people to live in the office and work to 9pm eh?

i like i
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Why would you find that hard to believe it's me?  If you recall, the initial agenda Bella had posting on this site was to discuss quality of life issues in programming. 

I also thoght of the "ask for an interview at 6pm" idea in the shower this morning...Good one!

Bella
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Am I the only person here who prefers to work with happy people. Competencies are easy to come by, or indeed teach, but if that team is not happy together, then you are f*cked.

Tapiwa
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Oh yeah, can't stand 9 to 5 companies. I think working for my parents and working for a big Mgmt Consultancy warped my views of how long a typical work day is.

Tapiwa
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

This email-address-using Bella is a lot less caustic than the old Bella.

Still good advice though.

 
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

On the scale of teams, a team of competent developers beats a team of mediocre developers easily, but a fully-jelled team of competent developers beats a team of competent but insular developers hands-down.

How that jelling is achieved will vary from individual team to individual team.  It might be enough to have a shared or partially-shared workspace, or an interesting mission/project.  It generally requires the team to eat together fairly regularly, in some combination.  And for some teams, "extracurricular activities" are part of the jelling process.  It happens organically, it's not something that can be imposed from above.

You might be able to have a jelled team that doesn't spend any time together socially and works 9-5 hours.  I doubt it, though.  More likely you'll have a jelled team that wants to spend lots of time together socially and works 9-5 hours.  And for lots of 20somethings, work-time and fun-time are pretty much the same thing.

Lots of us don't see software development as a job where we put in the time and then go home to other things.  We see software development as an integrated part of our lives.  That's why I chafe under the blanket IP assignment policies of most companies: I don't just code for work!  (Fortunately, I'm a very understanding employer.)

However, when work does present me an interesting problem I might put in extra time not because I have to or because I have nothing else to do, but because it's *fun* and I enjoy spending time with my friends who are doing the same thing.

Chris Hanson
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Does anyone else have experience working 9-5 at a non-9-5 company?  I, personally, only have so many productive hours in me, and by 5 (4 on Fridays, or as I call it 5 F.S.T. (Friday Standard Time)) I am usually out of energy for work.  At my last job (where we had a foos-ball table), I was one of the first to leave in the evening, even though I wasn't the first to arrive in the morning.  However, my management seemed to actually do my performance appraisals based on what I did, and not the hours I worked, so I still got good reviews.

Is this an anomaly? Am I being naive in thinking that in general if you get your work done, that will matter more than the number of hours you put in?

madking
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Madking, I don't think you're that unusual. When I worked at InfoSpace, I routinely kept to an 8 hr day (usually 10-6). This meant I was well rested, had plenty of time for a social life, and was able to put up with the pain of using .Net just after it was "released".

Some of my team-mates worked MUCH more than I did; but I was just as productive. Lots of studies will show that productivity decreases once you go beyond 8 hours a day for an extended period of time. My own experience bears this out.

My father ran a manufacturing facility for Grumman Aerospace (prior to their purchase by Northrup) and his goal was to get 5 to 6 hours of productive work each day from his employees. Although this figure was largely applicable to the shop-floor workers, it was (proportionally) true of management as well (closer to 6-7 hours). Grumman consistently won quality awards from its clients (Boeing and the Navy) because their products had fewer defects than the contract allowed.

On the other hand, the software development world isn't really analogous to aeroplane manufacturing: sometimes you just aren't inspired. That's why you have such diversions as foos-ball, billiards, and pinball machines. If your office isn't comfortable, developers who have hit a low point in their inspiration curve will go somewhere else and will probably not come back to the office until the next day. However, if they can play a game of 8 ball to allow their mental batteries time to recharge, you'll find them back at the keyboard cranking out quality code.

That doesn't mean they will be any more productive beyond 40 hours than other people; but it does increase your chances of actually getting 40 hours from them.

Jeff Watkins
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

There should not be such a thing as a 9-5 company in the software biz. 9-5 harkens back to factory workers who had to punch a time clock and work a set shift. It's 19th century industrial thinking. (I did that back in the day. It's no fun at all.)

For the most part you want flexible hours. For some that means 7 to 4 and for others noon to 9. Sometimes it means you'll work a 12 hour day and other times no one should care if you bag it early just because the sun is shining.

A strictly 9-5 operation would be a sign of pure drudgery simply because everyone is conforming to a single mode of operation which may not be their most productive time segment. It means management is inflexible and unforgiving.

On the other hand, having foosball tables and the such just to keep people chained to their work environment is equally insideous. It also means the management there is inflexible in that they do not want you to possess a life outside of their control. It is merely a cheap trick to lower your per-hour payrate. Salaries are stated on an annual basis, so the more hours per annum they get, the cheaper your labor becomes.

A place with lots of middle aged workers is not always a good sign. Instead, look for a place that has lots of people with children. They simply cannot put in long hours without destroying their home lives and negatively impacting the wellbeing of their children.

old_timer
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

old_timer said:

>> There should not be such a thing as a 9-5 company in the software biz. 9-5 harkens back to factory workers who had to punch a time clock and work a set shift. It's 19th century industrial thinking. (I did that back in the day. It's no fun at all.)

>> For the most part you want flexible hours. For some that means 7 to 4 and for others noon to 9. Sometimes it means you'll work a 12 hour day and other times no one should care if you bag it early just because the sun is shining.

I think some of the comments are confusing Bella's original assertion with a statement of "optimal operation". He was just stating the highest probability type of situation for an ongoing comfortable job situation.

I suspect that an around-the-clock "fun and games sweatshop" will burst to occasional higher productivity than the 9-5 type company.  I also suspect that a company that has flexible hours will be conducive to higher creativity.

The only problem is, the kind of company that allows for unscheduled creativity will expect you to contribute it on a very demanding schedule. There used to be an old joke about Microsoft: we have flextime, you can work any 80-hour week you like here.

The problem with the software industry is that competitive pressures and the culture induce almost all software companies to operate the same way. If a SW company recognizes unscheduled creativity, they will sit on you to put in unGodly hours. Their rationale is almost always: "you have one of the good software jobs, so don't complain."

Bella's post was about finding a job that doesn'r burn you out and one which allows you to live your life. Not about finding a job where the profitability of the company is optimized, nor one where your creativity is optimized.

Life is a series of tradeoffs.

Bored Bystander
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Just ask in the interview and pray they don't lie.  Stick to your schedule and fight for it if need be.  Non-mandatory, informal overtime is a scam.

Sassy
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Nice, even handed opinions everyone.

Bored:  LOL about the Microsoft thing.  I remember seeing a motivational poster that said "A journey of a 1,000 miles starts with the 80-hour work week."

VP
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Why does this have to be us vs managment?

Even with a well run company, you sometimes need to put in extra hours. If you have a major customer who can't work because of a bug, are you going to go home at 5pm? I am married with a child and I would go home at the usual hour, pick up my daughter from school but then work at home.

I do agree with Bella's premise that I wouldn't want to work for a company who's competive advantage is that they work longer hours than the competition. Even when I was twenty, it didn't strike me as being particularly smart.

In regards to socializing with co-workers. I like to. I've made several good friends through work. Usually socializing to me means having our families get together and we avoid work topics for the most part.

pdq
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Big huge concept missing here.

Joel's philosophy (adopted from Microsoft) is to encourage employees to stay in the office VOLUNTARILY. Working at a job where you like working so you don't mind staying a few hours more now and then (or a lot of hours, YMMV) improves your quality of life immeasurably. For one thing, the hours you spend with your family are much more pleasant because you're less stressed.

OTOH, there are places where 80 hours weeks, while not required, are implicitly "expected." Those are hell. Not only do you not see your family, you're grumpy and difficult when you do see them, so what's the point.

A place where everyone works exactly 40 hours a week is suspect, because either they have a time clock system or else everyone hates being there so much they take off as soon as the ubiquitous clocks tick over to 5:00. Again - massive psychological drain.

You want a company that's pleasant to work at, where you enjoy being at the office, but where the management understands you have a life outside work.

Case in point - In my third week here at MS, I was needed in a spur-of-the-moment conference call in the evening. I was unsure, saying I had dinner plans with my wife. The manager said "you go out to dinner. We'll cover it" with all sincerity.

THAT is where I want to work. ;-)

Philo

Philo
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

You should see our parking lot between 3:30 and 4, it just empties.  And when I've stayed late (of my own accord), it was a ghost town.  Not too shabby (so it does exist).

AC
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Very well put Philo, but I still think MS is eeeeeevil ;_)  But seriously, that's a cool manager you have there.  And it makes you want to go the extra mile for him, yeah?  To try and find a way to help out your coworkers, while still keeping your promise with your wife.

PDQ, good point about needing to put in extra hours for emergencies.  No project goes as smoothly as planned, and overtime is vital for success.  The whole point of a "40 hour week" is to have buffer time (and energy) to get things back on track.

Another important reason for "40 hours" is it allows people to take risks.  Whenever you try to improve the way something is done, you take a risk that you will fail.  If people have a buffer, they can safely take risks, and know that they can always catch up, if things don't pan out.  A system that runs at max capacity has no buffer. 

If I'm going 100 MPH in my car, the only thing I can do is keep going straight.  I can't change my course, even if I want to.

VP
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

> A place where everyone works exactly 40 hours a week is suspect, because either they have a time clock system or else everyone hates being there so much they take off as soon as the ubiquitous clocks tick over to 5:00.

Like SAS for example. What a hellhole that place is.

Troublemaker
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Hey, one clarification.  I am a HUGE proponent of hanging out with co-workers out of the office.  Like a once a month happy hour.  Eating & Drinking beers and talking about non IT stuff is a great way to bond and get to know them as people. 

I have made some great personal friends thru work.  Some of these friendships have long transcended the time we worked together.,  (eg: Worked together 1 year,  still hanging out, emailing, and IM'ing 6 years later) 

This is not mutually exclusive.  Co-workers with families CAN go out for a few drinks from time to time.  My point was you don't want to work with all young people who can devote their entire lives to work.  B/c you willl be expected to do the same.  Which is fine, unless you don't want to!

Bella
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Alternatively, just be good at your job and go home when you want (within reasonable business hours).

After all, you can make your own decisions you know.

I work about 8am to 6pm most days, sometimes a bit less.

Are we really all such victims of the drumbeats of others?

Realist
Wednesday, March 17, 2004

I remember that guy.

He was the first one they laid off...

Philo

Philo
Wednesday, March 17, 2004

"Competencies are easy to come by, or indeed teach, but if that team is not happy together, then you are f*cked."

My experience is exactly the opposite. Easy to find happy people, hard to find competent ones. Stupid people tend to be happier be default anyway - the less you know, the less you have to worry about. ;)

Sum Dum Gai
Wednesday, March 17, 2004

SumDumGai

I think there is a big difference between stupid people (those that refuse to engage the thought process), and people who don't have a skill (knowledge gap).

I am talking about the latter.

Tapiwa
Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Just a couple of thoughts:

9-5 is just a job.  Passion is usually more than 9-5. Then again,  not all of us are passionate about making software.

Willingness to make software outside 9-5 is usually very well rewarded in good software companies.

Then again, spending time with family and friends is cool, but rarely brings any money in.

Vlad Gudim
Wednesday, March 17, 2004

How to spot 9-5 company in 10 seconds or less:

1. Dilbert Cartoons everywhere
2. No or little living plants in the office
3. No canteen or any other proper dinning facilities
4. No free soft drinks, only cheap coffee
5. They never socialise outside the company
6. No flex hours
7. No private offices (in my experience people get extremely sick by being observed by others for long 8 hours in a row)
8. Two words: "low pay"

Vlad Gudim
Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Hi all..

I'm a fresh graduate and I fall immediately under the category of young people who put in unpaid hours which are not mandatory. I told my boss not to expect me to work over the weekends (yeah, am a s/w engr) but I enjoy my work and it drags me to work over the weekends. Its just like playing a videogame; If you love the game, you dont want to give up till you conquer it. So you keep going back to the game and try some ideas that sprung when you were taking your shower. I do that even when I feel like "dude, there's no way ur goin to the next level..".

So, moral of the story :- if you enjoy your work, u dont realize that ur putting in unpaid hours, it becomes a part of life. if you dont, u should have the courage to tell your boss not to expect unpaid hours from you.

Aside: When I go home today, I will play Quake III arena with twelve bots and I will try to win, though I get shot in the face everytime.

Merovingian.

Merovingian
Wednesday, March 17, 2004

This attitude that "Those of us who really love programming will do it 24 hours a day" is what contributes to the sickness that this industry is mired in.

If you want to define yourself by your job and work 16 hours a day, go nuts, it's all yours.  If you want to work 40 with occasional requested overtime, that should be your option too.  It's a choice, and we should all have the ability to make it.

I don't know why workaholicism is a desireable trait.  he guy in the office to me works from 9AM till midnight every day, and most weekends.  Why?  It can't be the money.  Perhaps it's the fact that the only way he can feel good about himself is through work?  He has no friends, no family, nothing but a job.  All his social relations are co-workers, vendors, and colleagues.

It saddens me to hear my fellow IT workers enter into pissing contests about who stayed later and who worked more weekends.  I thought we all left that garbage with the dot com bust! 

Mandatory, informal OT is a scam.  It's a notch away from slave labor.  Free soda may be an enticement to a kid with nothing to do, but you can keep your free crap and just pay me, thank you.  I have a beautiful wife who wants nothing more than to be with me - what job is worth more than that?

And Philo, the "first one out is the first one to be canned" analogy is exactly the type of psychological extortion we are all a party to in this business.  IT people guilty as management for accepting this nonsense.

Sassy
Wednesday, March 17, 2004

I see a lot of "I work more then 8hours because I am passionate about my work" posts.

That may be fair enough, but working 8hours does not mean lack of passion, just that people can be even more passionate about other things...ie husband or wife or children or ten-pin bowling team.....

Aussie Chick
Wednesday, March 17, 2004

I can agree with both Merovingian and Sassy here.

When I jump into something new, that I naturally like, say a computer game, I can spend countless hours playing it.  I'm having so much fun, I don't even realize it's 6 am until the sun is up.

So I don't think people should feel guilty when they naturally want to work long hours.  Sooner or later, boredom will set in, so enjoy that enthusiasm while it lasts.

I agree with Sassy in that if all I ever did was play video games, my llife would be pretty empty and lame.  I also think people with a wide variety of experiences are better problem solvers and managers.  Then again in some situations, working crazy hours might be the only way to make a break through. 

I think both types of people have something useful to contribute to the success of a company.  It's just bad when management forces people into one style or another.

Also, the two styles don't always mix very well.  SW is no longer a solo thing, so if you're going to work long hours, it's really helpful if everyone else does so also.  I suppose there's a way to mix both, but it's probably not easy.

VP
Wednesday, March 17, 2004

VP,

I cant agree with you better. I have been working for almost 2 months now and I've been partying every friday and saturday night since. My long hours are only during the week....7am - 7pm odd which also occurs only when I dont feel like breaking my rhythm or when i feel really enthusiastic to get to the next step..

I dont have a family, but I have a truck load of friends who'd be ready to party with me on any given day. There's nothing cooler than having a company which doesnt force you to work long hours. Also a person without social life would sooner or later get bored with work and go nuts, like sassy said.

I would be much happier to be addressed as a 'fun-loving person' than a 'creepy geek'.

Adios.

Merovingian
Wednesday, March 17, 2004

I would be great if the workaholics went nuts, because it would show everyone else that being a workaholic is an illness.  But the workaholics around here are already nuts, and they just stay nuts.

Sassy
Wednesday, March 17, 2004

> Mandatory, informal OT is a scam.  It's a notch away from slave labor. 

Exactly.  Much of white collar work is glorified cheap labor, when you look at the net hourly rate..

> Free soda may be an enticement to a kid with nothing to do, but you can keep your free crap and just pay me, thank you. 

That's why you want to be a consultant.  Twice the pay, half the bullshit.

Or better yet, leave the field, and code as a hobby. (Like me)

Bella
Wednesday, March 17, 2004

"My experience is exactly the opposite. Easy to find happy people, hard to find competent ones."

I agree, and I'd add: what's really hard to find is _talented_ developers.  People for whom it comes naturally, who have a passion for it.  And I'm not talking about skills or knowledge; that's different and can be taught (especially to those with talent).

Kevin
Tuesday, April 06, 2004

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