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Exhausted software engineer

Peter Hsu
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Joined: Aug 25, 2006
Posts: 72
If you are a person who is built for stress and could work 10+ hours a day and be merry about it, please do not read this post. This will be a waste of your time to you. (and I am sure you are going to have something to say that I will not appreciate)



Just started a job at a major company. It's been 3 weeks but it feels like for ever.

I thought I have finally "Made It". I guess, not quite yet.

First of all, I wanted to say, because of some personal reason, even though they wanted me to be in there HQ, I can't. So I wasn't paid as much as I could in the US. (And taxed a hell lot more, too) This makes everything less worth while...

Have been working overtime everyday, trying to catch up. When everybody you work with is workaholic and don't mind working 10 hours a day plus weekend, you really feel the need to work as hard as them. I am really not built for stress, as I am making more mistake than I should. Haven't really screwed anything up yet. (knock on wood) Just sometimes forget to include some reference number when committing work. Hopefully I can improve... and not get fired. (In fact I just did something unforgivably careless, but lucky "not damaging" today at my 12th hour of work.) Been working over 10 hour a day for like 11 days straight trying to deliver something. I am not trained enough but you are supposed to pick things up on your own anyway. I understand that.

The job is challenging. I get to do things I have never done before, like diagnostics.

I am thankful for the opportunity though. I am sure if I get fired, there's most likely going to be 100 people, maybe smarter than me, lining up for my job. I am committing to 1 year to my team. I will do my best. I will learn the most I could. If I don't get fired, I will not quit. This job would no doubt turn my career around, that's if I don't get fired. I don't know where I'll go next, but I really want to just have a life, outside of work.

Sigh, that's at least 49 more weeks and thousands of hours...
David Payne
Ranch Hand

Joined: May 27, 2012
Posts: 35
Peter Hsu wrote:If you are a person who is built for stress and could work 10+ hours a day and be merry about it, please do not read this post. This will be a waste of your time to you. (and I am sure you are going to have something to say that I will not appreciate)


OMG ! 10+ ??? Now we know that hitler did not commit suicide :P. I am still looking for my first job, so I don't know if my advice will be of any use to you. But, I suggest that you ask if your co-workers also want to reduce the hours a little bit. Or be frank with your boss - tell him that its killing your productivity. He might understand your situation.

Try getting help from experienced folks in and outside your company to speed up your learning process so that you can have enough time for relaxing.

HTH.
Henry Wong
author
Sheriff

Joined: Sep 28, 2004
Posts: 18717
    
  40

Peter Hsu wrote:
Sigh, that's at least 49 more weeks and thousands of hours...


The first week, or arguably the first month, should not be completely indicative of what it will be like for the first year or later. The ramp up of any job includes training; it includes getting up to speed on technology, processes, people, etc. You are basically "drinking from a firehose" during this period. Of course, there will be lots of angst and insecurity.

How about this? In a few months, tell us how you feel again. There is a good chance that it will be different.

Henry


Books: Java Threads, 3rd Edition, Jini in a Nutshell, and Java Gems (contributor)
chris webster
Bartender

Joined: Mar 01, 2009
Posts: 1651
    
  14

Sounds tough, Peter.

Is this the way everybody works at your company, or do you think it's harder for you right now because you are still catching up with the knowledge you need for the job? If it's because you're still learning, then hopefully things will become easier after a while. Are there things you can learn at home instead of at the office, so that you don't have to spend so much time at the office? If you're studying at home, you'll still be "working", but at least it will be more comfortable.

But if this is how everybody at your company works, then you'll need to think about how you want to manage your own working hours and productivity in the longer term, or maybe think about moving on after a decent interval.

It's worth remembering that just because people are at work for 10-12 hours a day, it doesn't mean they are actually more productive. A lot of companies have a culture of "presenteeism", where people are keen to show their bosses how many hours they are working, rather than being better at getting their work done in the standard hours. Unfortunately, the kind of people who get promoted in this kind of environment are usually the kind of people who are more impressed by long hours than by faster working.

For example, according to the OECD, Germans work an average of around 1400 hours per year, while Greeks work around 2100 i.e. Greeks work 50% more hours than Germans. But the OECD also reports that labour productivity per hour worked in Greece is only 61% of that in Germany. Of course, this is hardly news to anybody who's been following the Euro crisis! When I worked in Germany, you might sometimes have to work weekends etc to meet a deadline, but the general view was that if you were working conscientiously but still couldn't get your work done in normal working hours, then it was your manager who wasn't doing his job properly, not you.

So it may be a cliche, but there really is a massive benefit for all concerned in "working smarter, not harder"!

So see if you can find ways to improve your own productivity per hour, and also to demonstrate to your boss that you are doing this, so that you can deliver as much work as your colleagues, but hopefully in less time. You may need to look at what measurable targets you have each week, how to prove you've met these targets, how to change your working methods to meet those targets faster and more easily, and so on. There's a book by Neal Ford called "The Productive Programmer" which is full of tips on this kind of thing - how to automate common tasks, making better use of the tools available, and so on. If you find some really useful ideas, maybe try sharing them with your colleagues (diplomatically - don't just say "Hey, you guys are really slow - try this!") - if this is a success, make sure your bosses know you're responsible.

If you do all this and improve your own productivity, but your boss still expects you work crazy hours, then you might want to find a place to work where they are more interested in people working "smart", instead of just working hard but "dumb". In the meantime, you'll pick up some useful skills for whichever workplace you end up in.


No more Blub for me, thank you, Vicar.
Peter Hsu
Ranch Hand

Joined: Aug 25, 2006
Posts: 72
Well

So my team is split between HQ and here. All the more experienced ones are in HQ and in this office we have the newbs and neewwbs. I can see how long people work in my office but I can only try and guess how long HQ people work from their emails.

Everyone definitely work more than 8 hour a day in my team. From what I can see, I am not necessarily the person who work the longest. I know that ramping up is part of it but I don't see those more experienced ones taking it easy.

It seems to me it's not that the whole company working like this. I heard from my teammate that there are "some" other team who don't work this hard. However, I did some research, my company is definitely one of the more stressful one to work with.

I am definitely thinking of going somewhere else after the one year time period I set for my self (and again, if I dont screw up anything and get fired) But, at this point, I am a little curious: is it what it's like working in all major company maintaining a live web service? I have only know another person in another company who is in similar position as me. She is always complaining that she is stressed as well.
arulk pillai
Author
Ranch Hand

Joined: May 31, 2007
Posts: 3219
Initially it will be like that until you understand the system, domain, and the environment. In other words, you go through a steep learning curve. Having said that, some companies are renowned for getting the similar tasks done with fewer staff.


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Jeanne Boyarsky
internet detective
Marshal

Joined: May 26, 2003
Posts: 30309
    
150

Peter Hsu wrote:but I can only try and guess how long HQ people work from their emails.

I don't think that is a good measure. People have mobile e-mail at many places and reply to e-mails on off hours. Especially managers. I try to limit it, but I do reply to e-mails sometimes when I don't want to hold someone up.

I agree with the statement about hours there vs hours worked.


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Junilu Lacar
Bartender

Joined: Feb 26, 2001
Posts: 4456
    
    6

Before my current job, I worked at a major financial institution. Much like you now, I was working way more than a 40-hr week on a regular basis. My health and motivation suffered. Life sucked. But that was pretty much my experience ever since I started getting paid to write software. Then I was rescued by my current manager. In over two decades of working as a professional software developer, I've never stayed with any one company for more than three years. That changed with my current company. I've been with this one since 2006 and I have no plans of leaving soon either. I get calls from recruiters at least once a month or so, asking if I'm still satisfied with my current situation. The answer is always a resounding "Yes, I'm good where I am right now."

I still work a crazy number of hours per week but now it's by my choice. In fact, I don't even consciously choose. I just kind of do. My boss, on many occasions, has even IM'ed me at 2 or 3am and told me to stop working. We usually have an IM exchange that goes something like this: "Hey, why are you still up?" "Well, what the heck are *you* doing still working?" "I'm just finishing up something. OMG, you need to take a vacation." "Oh yeah, look who's talking." "And no laptops." "Yeah, you wish." "No, seriously, I mean it. Leave your laptop." "I wish it were that easy." "k, I'm out." "k" ... (pause for a while) "You're still there, aren't you?" "Go to bed already, you're not my mom!" ... and so on. And yet, I don't feel stressed or that I neglect my family and outside-work life (my wife and kids might disagree somewhat but that's a different story).

I get to work whenever and wherever I want. I set my hours and for the most part my commute is about as long it takes for me to walk upstairs to the room above my garage because my company lets me telecommute every day. I go in to our local office maybe twice in a quarter, if that. Today, I worked from the local library for a few hours while my kids were volunteering there. If my local pool had WiFi, I could probably get by working from the poolside, except when I'm doing TDD and code reviews with my teammates over the internet--which I do about 2-3 hours per day--the noise at the pool can be a problem.

How the heck did I get my dream job? My manager might say it's because I'm good at what I do. I will say that it was by the Grace of God, Perseverance, Luck, and Agile. Yes, Agile.

If you can find a company or even just a team that is not only managed but led by someone who truly understands and supports the principles and values of Agile software development, do whatever it takes to get on that team. True Agile teams have the kind of attitudes toward work discussed in this video: and they are led by people who understand this, knowingly or otherwise.

In 2000, when I first read Kent Beck's manifesto on XP, his book "Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change," and Martin Fowler's "Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code," I predicted to as many colleagues who would listen to my manic ravings that XP was the way of the future. I even wrote this on the inside cover of my copy of the XP book: "+5 years from now, this is the way most successful S/D projects will be done." Signed and dated February 2000.

When the Agile Manifesto was made public in 2001, I set off on a quest for a team or company that would actually force me to limit my work hours to 40 hours per week, that respected my rights as a developer and trusted me enough to let me do my job without telling me exactly how to do it. I also set out to learn as much about Agile and agile development techniques as I could so that when I did find the right place, I would be just the right person for them. That's where Perseverance came in because it took me over five years and about as many different jobs to find the right place for myself. During those "days of wandering in the desert" as I like to call them now, I almost got fired, got hospitalized for depression, lost a lot of hair, sleep, and goodwill towards managers. But that's all in the past and now I'm happy, sleep better, more tolerant of managers, and love what I do. Unfortunately, there's not much I can do about the hair so I just sport a #0 buzz cut.

By the estimations of many industry watchdogs and practitioners alike, Agile has crossed the Rubicon and is rapidly becoming the more successful way to do software development in large companies like Intel, IBM, Nationwide Insurance, Huntington Bank, and many, many more. It took a little longer than I predicted back in 2000 but even at the large financial institution from which I was rescued by my current manager, they are actually becoming a lot more serious now about Agile than they were when my former teammates and I started doing it there back in 2004.

Caveat: All "Agile" teams and companies are not created equal. In fact, in my company there is a wide range of teams with different levels of maturity in Agile and many more who still cling to "Ye Olde But Familiar Waterfail[sic] Ways." The nice thing is that the overall corporate culture allows these two types of teams to peacefully coexist. Well, maybe it's more of a mutual, circumspect tolerance for the other. Anyway, I'm just really lucky to be with my current team and manager because for the most part, they get Agile. (See my Bartender bio if you want more hints about some of the entities I mentioned)

Well, that's my story of hope and inspiration. Good luck in your own quest.

BTW: If you haven't already, I highly recommend that you read Robert Martin's "Clean Code" and "Clean Coder", "The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master" by Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas, and Pete McBreen's "Software Craftsmanship: The New Imperative" for starters. And thanks for your perseverance if you got through this post without falling asleep or going numb.


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Junilu Lacar
Bartender

Joined: Feb 26, 2001
Posts: 4456
    
    6

You might think I'm a workaholic from what I posted before but I don't think so. If anything, I'm a "learn"-aholic. Most of the extra hours I put in is not about the project we have at hand. We actually only plan for 5 hours of focused, project-related work per day per person on our team. I plan for even fewer than that because I also coach other teams on Agile development. The other 3 hours are "slack time" we reserve for answering emails and phone calls, attending non-project related meetings, and other things like training or reading blogs and articles. This is becoming a common practice for Agile teams. I just happen to spend a lot more than 3 hours reading and practicing.

In all honesty though, my behavior might very well put pressure on the rest of my team to put in as many hours as I do. But just this evening, we met briefly to resolve a production issue at 6:30pm ET and once we had it resolved 30 minutes later, I told them we all had to sign off and get on with the rest of our evening. If they worked even after that, I'm hopeful that it was by choice, not from a feeling of obligation or pressure to "keep up." Check out Christopher Avery's "Responsibility Process and the Leadership Gift"
Jeanne Boyarsky
internet detective
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Joined: May 26, 2003
Posts: 30309
    
150

That's an interesting classification of work vs learning. I consider work to be things my employer wants me to do. CodeRanch is not work. Blogging is not work. Coding on non-work projects is not work. Reading tech literature is not work. If I included all those non-work things as work, I work significantly more than 10 hours a day. But I don't because I consider it different. It is things I choose to do. It's also not stressful because one is accountable to someone. And it isn't done at work.
Junilu Lacar
Bartender

Joined: Feb 26, 2001
Posts: 4456
    
    6

Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:That's an interesting classification of work vs learning.

You're right, I should have said "I still mess around on the computer a crazy number of hours a day but it's because I choose to." Any knowledge and insights that I gain from self-study and practice eventually benefits my employer as much as it does me so it's kind of a gray area because it's actually part of my job description as a Technical Leader to research technologies and techniques that can help our teams become more productive. I could probably still do my job pretty well without reading or practicing as much but I guess it all goes back to the drive and motivating factors that Dan Pink talked about. I'm actually getting a lot out of JavaRanch in that it helps me figure out better ways to mentor and coach others at work. The practice I get here in patience and clearly expressing ideas and explaining concepts is invaluable. And it's fun to help out.
Junilu Lacar
Bartender

Joined: Feb 26, 2001
Posts: 4456
    
    6

Jeanne Boyarsky wrote: I consider work to be things my employer wants me to do ... Blogging is not work ... Coding on non-work projects is not work. Reading tech literature is not work. ... because I consider it different. It is things I choose to do. ... And it isn't done at work.

That's why I consider myself very lucky: a lot of what I do on my own is kind of what my boss expects me to do anyway. She hired me because she knew I was crazy enough to actually like doing a lot of reading and exploring. As part of my responsibility to share my knowledge, I also blog on our company's internal "social network" site. So it really is hard for me to separate what I just like doing for kicks and what my boss expects me to do. Another thing that's so great about this company too: one big question that comes up at our annual performance review is "What is/are your development goal(s) this year?" and the answer I give is taken very seriously. It has practically nothing to do with the company's goals per se and everything to do with my personal goals. So if I said "I want to be a Certified Agile Coach," my manager would say, "Ok, get a plan together for training, certification, and application. Let me know when, where, how much, and what teams you'd like to work with and I'll get you hooked up." Booyah! She had me at "Ok." So I think that our corporate culture is one that understands that allowing people to learn and grow as they desire makes for more productive employees who are eager to "own" their jobs and responsibilities and apply themselves to their fullest. That's a rare thing to find and that's why I'm probably going to stay here for a long time, as long as it stays this way.
 
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subject: Exhausted software engineer