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Managing Software Engineers, by Philip Greenspun (philg@mit.edu)


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Sounds like a well appointed sweatshop to me.

If this is the way you run your company, I'd guess you should be expecting your first employee suicide within the year, if it has not happened already.

Of all the companies I've worked for over the last 17 years, mostly in the Bay Area, those that have come closest to the environment you've described are the only one I know that had employees commit suicide due to burn out. In all three cases they were kids fresh out of college and who had no other work experience to give them a perspective on how well managed companies do not burn out their employees with 70+ hour weeks, week in week out. They did not have a life outside the company so they had nothing to fall back on when the company made unreasonable demands on their time and thereby,literally,worked them to death.

What you describe is not a employer but a very sophisticated form of cult.

When I see companies working long hours for long periods of time I see burn outs producing substandard and ill designed code. Boasting about long work hours is nothing more than a very juvenile form of geek machismo. And like all forms of machismo it can kill or maim those who are seduced it.

If you want a long and productive programming career you have to have a full and active life outside your work, and only work for people who make reasonable demands on your time.

joseph mc connell

-- joseph mc connell, November 6, 2000

I have to second the comments on long hours. While it can easily be argued that it is more profitable and faster to have your programmers put in 80 hour weeks, it is not necessarily to everyones benefit. If you pay a programmer a salary of $100,000 then you are paying him or her at the rate of $50/hour which you can bill to the project. If you convince that same programmer to work 80 hour weeks, then you are paying the programmer at the lower rate of $25/hour and putting $25 an hour into extra profits because you are still charging $50/hour. From an investment perspective, a salaried programmer, putting in long hours offers very poor returns. The principle of "fair exchange" says you should compensate that programmer for investing their spare time in the company. More importantly, as has been pointed out, the cost in personal terms of 80 hour weeks on famlies and relationships is brutal. There is no point in pursuing "worthwhile" projects while harming peoples lives.. kind of a contradiction. One can bring a bit of reality in and schedule a project based on 40 hour weeks.. after all getting to market a month earlier hasn't proved much in the dot.com work other than you can run out of money faster. If one wishes to invest their spare time in work because they are young and single, thats fine, but if they invest their time in their children or spouses or communities, then that should be fine as well. Projects should not be scheduled based on absurd requirements on people.

-- James Ross, November 6, 2000
I'd like to point out a very bad global effect of the current 70+ hour/week workplace, which goes hand in hand with software engineers becoming largely unemployable by age 40 plus or minus:

Where will companies find workers when this brutal reality seeps down to the high school/early college level? Won't most good people, the ones who don't have a real calling to software they can't ignore, avoid getting into the field?

-- Harold Ancell, November 6, 2000


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