A Tutorial Break - Software Careers

Reading time ~5 minutes

I’m taking a break from the Alexa tutorial this week. I wanted to talk a little bit about software development careers. As I mature, I find that I am less drawn to the idea of being a technical expert. There can be a lot more to a fulfilling software career than being the expert in Java or C or the technical aspects of the job. Just solving a problem or fixing a bug was a good day. But now, working with others to create a productive team and having a satisfying experience at work are much more important than they used to be for me. I still enjoy the technical things immensely, but I also like helping a teammate figure something out or helping another finish a task. One thing I really started enjoying is helping a younger developer see things in a new light.

Most young developers I talk to enjoy the technical stuff and problem solving, ut they forget that there is more to life than the job. I don’t mean that they don’t have outside lives, I mean they don’t have any real balance or boundaries. It’s like they are the job. Everything takes a back seat to the job. They willing drop what they are doing to handle a work issue. Please young developers, don’t do this. This may sound like an old developer who no longer wants to sacrifice having a life, and yes, I don’t want to sacrifice my life, but I want young developers it’s wrong for the employer to be that demanding of your time.

You are not the owner of the company, to expect that you should throw away portions of your life for the sake of a company that you don’t own (.00001% of stock ownership doesn’t make you a company owner). Yes, you won’t climb the ladder as quickly, but don’t succumb to the pressure of doing everything the boss wants you to at any hour of the day. Do your best to resist the 10 minute weekend task. I know I still do it, but I’m sure there are tasks that take 10 minutes during your personal time that you will do as a “favor” to your boss. Try to do them as little as possible and make sure that your boss appreciates that you are doing a favor. That this is not normally something you would do. Couch it with something like you are out and that when you are able you will do your best if you have time. You don’t have to go too deep, but just let the boss know that you have a life and that you are living it and that this favor is intruding on it.

You then have to do work at work. You know all this personal time stuff the job allows you to do at work. It’s a trap! They want you to blur the boundaries. They want you to not know when to shut it off. If you can’t shut it off then you can’t refuse when they come knocking during your personal time. Hey, you used company time to do personal stuff of course we can intrude on your personal time to do company work. See that trap. Just do work at work. If you have to break up your work day to do a personal task, go ahead I don’t see a problem with that. Just make sure you have a defined split. If it mixes, there’s no defense against them taking your time. You know all those “perks” at work? Where are they? At work. Wait now, when am I doing work stuff? When am I doing personal stuff? Oh I better do work stuff at home since I did home stuff at work. What?!?!? Hours don’t matter it’s what you accomplish they say. Well that sounds good until you ask how many hours it takes to produce what is expected of you. Have the conversation with your boss. Know what’s expected. If you don’t have the conversation you could work and work for hours and not know if you are under or over delivering. Just find out.

Finally, don’t regularly check email during non-work hours. You know all the things about email killing productivity. Well, it will kill your personal life as well. What are you doing with work email on your personal device? What is that? I get mad when I see that. Unless that’s in the job description, stop! If your job is to be on call or on “pager duty” than sure. But if you have a regular feature development software development job I see no reason to regularly check your work email outside of work. If your bosses want something done they should be asking for it during business hours. Their whim or fancy at 10:30PM on Saturday should have no bearing on you until monday morning when you start your day. What can you do if this is expected behavior? Well, first don’t do it just because everyone else is. That’s bad culture. Just like the time boundaries, have the conversation with your boss about communication boundaries.

Why am I writing this. My impression of Silicon Valley is that this has somehow become the norm. It seems like every big company doesn’t know what boundaries are. I think their customers have come to expect blurred boundaries. I mean every SaaS customer expects 24/7 service. So every company seems to expect 24/7 employees. I don’t think the culture has had an actual conversation about this. Bosses just saw that they needed employees to support the product at any hour so the expect employees to do their job. Well I’m guessing in most cases it was never negotiated that this was part of the job. Really what I’m asking for is a conversation. Employees, please have these conversations with your managers. Ask about expectations for off hours work. And clarify how you will be compensated for work outside the norm. If you are up late working on a presentation, is the presentation your job and it was your fault that your up so late? Or is it something that got thrown at you last minute and now you have to go above and beyond because of mismanagement?

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