These 2 Things Drive Coders Crazy

It’s become something of an article of faith that the best developers love programming so much that it’s all they want to do. But Business Insider’s Julie Bort is wondering if that’s the real case.

Frustrated BusinessmanIt’s a good time to be a coder — employers can’t find as many as they need and pay is healthy — but Bort says their life is made difficult by two things: a nagging sense that they’re not as good as they should be, and the idea that the real stars do little else but code night and day.

The first idea she tags “the imposter syndrome,” the nagging sense that all of your colleagues are harder workers, more talented, more skilled and generally smarter than you are. The second, let’s call the “joy of coding syndrome.” That’s the idea that the best programmers are so enamored of their craft that they want to do little else but create software both in and out of work.

It could be that one thing leads to another here: If you’re feeling like you’re an imposter, you’re going to try to emulate the people who’ve got the real talent. They, you come to believe, see code as life. They’ll work 80 hours a week because they’re getting to do what they love. If they weren’t working 80 hours a week, they’d just go home and code anyway. “That programmers are expected to work insanely long hours isn’t new,” Bort notes. “But this idea that they are doing it of their own accord, for the sheer joy of it, is new.”

Are the best programmers codeaholics? Maybe not. A Stanford University study found that working extra-long hours leads to less-than-ideal productivity. Coders who worked 60 hours a week often produced code of lesser quality than those who worked 40 hours a week.

Is this heresy? Let us know in the comments below.

9 Responses to “These 2 Things Drive Coders Crazy”

  1. The mistake programmers make is giving any employer more than 40 hours per week. You should spend 40 hours on your day job, then 20 on your own projects learning new skills to help you get your next job. If any employer pressures you to work more than 40, you’re probably too valuable to fire. Just say no(unless they pay big bucks), your career is more important than any one company.

  2. Kyle Lee

    I’d like to know how the Stanford study qualified “quality code.” I know developers working in banks who write code to exact specs, and work 60 or more hours a week, but I’m sure software engineers from product focused start-ups would consider that code “lesser quality.”

  3. Ben Tett

    Giving any company more than 40 hours per week of uncompensated labor only creates angry programmers incensed that they have to take paycuts due to a lack of proper project management. Management over promises and take it for granted that the developers will just give up their lives to see it through. This only works when developers feel trapped by their perceived lack of opportunity. Once the veil is lifted they find someplace more sensible to work. So I agree with Barney. 40 to the company and no more. 20 on your own projects and skill learning. It’s that extra 20 devoted to your own passion that will push you forward and make you a super coder. I will add that if you don’t do some level of coding on your own, you probably will not grow your skill set.

  4. I’ve been trying to find a position outside of coding (I don’t like it and have been doing it for 15+ years) yet on a recent interview I was told, “Hmmm. Are you sure you don’t want to code anymore? Our experience is that once a coder always a coder. Why don’t you want to code anymore?” They completely ignored the fact that my current degree pursuit is outside of I/T, yet the thought was, “Coders only ever want to code and do nothing else.”

  5. William

    I’ve been writing code since 1990 and prefer it over management roles. So I know what quality code is. Bottom line is that it depends on your audience. Cultural factors DO matter as they affect the code quality significantly. So if you plan on having your support staff working in another country, then by all means have developers from that country write it. But if you are an American company, based HERE, then you should be using Americans to code it.

    Code – the last time I checked that is – normally is written in English. If that is not your first language then quality is already lower than someone who is a professional in English. The idea is the more languages you speak, generally the quality of your communication in each language is lower than if you focused only on one.

    Sorry but all the code I’ve ever seen from India is very poor quality.

    • William, you hit the nail on the head. I “lead” a development team based in India, and 9 out of 10 programmers I oversee write terrible code. Yes, US programmers can write bad code, but it’s not even close… I’ve had to lower my standards significantly compared to what I used to expect from my US peers.

  6. I became a coder because of some special circumstances. I already had PTSD when I entered the USMC in 1957, and it was aggravated by an incident in 1957, and got a medical discharge because of it in 1961. I tried to enter the work force and found that this led to another hospitalization about 13 months later, and when i left I entered a university and was able to avoid going to classes because of the anxiety of being around so many other people – this is what the current vets find. I found programming as a function of my academic work in statistics, and no available ‘statistical packages’ at the time. I eventually made it to the Ph.Dl level in Stat as a support field for my academic major. Then went into contract/consulting work. Sometimes I would have to use my academic training in Math and Stat, but each new client presented new programming challenges, and offered me the opportunity to work without having someone looking over my shoulder. I found that my programs, and later my systems were better if I just stuck to a 40 hour week and then went to some ‘hobby’ – wood working, construction, leaded glass, etc. just to clean my mind so that I could go back to work in the morning, but I eventually found that I was dreaming and programming, so that I could go to work refreshed but with the outlines of the days work all ready to put on cards or later on terminals. But in this kind of position I was frequently confronted with problems which required more than 40 hours/week ti complete on time. Because of the therapeutic effect that coding had for me, I am now, at 74, after maintaining my skills, attempting to go back to work just because of the boredom that comes with retirement. Here, I think that part of the problem is that employeers see that with my education and experience I am ‘over qualified’, because now, the basic requirement is a BS, not an MS, and that now, I would have to work from home. The VA gives me enough money to live on, so that is not important, and I think that this is what other, younger, coders will encounter as they age, so their expectations for being able to continue to work in the area without going into management with over 10 years of experience will be limited. But, if they are in the right place were there are other positions available, and they really want to code 80 hours a week for so long as they can, the 2nd identity is possible. I think that to keep working one should have to expect to down-play experience, and this means going back to making the entry-level errors.

  7. I have been coding for 20 years. The “imposter” and “joy” syndromes have really hit home for me. While I can get more done in a day than many others can in a week, I still find it difficult to “brag” on my accomplishments. I take pride in getting my projects completed correctly and on time. There are many who only code for the money and don’t care about the project, or really the future on the company they work for. And as far as quality goes: This Web Page states “Required fields are marked” when posting a comment, but no fields are marked. “Get it done, good enough” syndrome may be the next topic to be discussed.

  8. A lot of us who code really do enjoy it, but there’s a difference between what you do on your own projects and what you do for an employer. I keep to 40 hours for a employer by working as a contractor. I’ve seen the results of putting in too many unpaid hours – it makes you cranky and resentful and can lead to burnout and developing a dislike for coding in general. It’s the main reason I avoid startups, who tend to want lots of unpaid overtime and also jump on whatever the latest development process fads are (like “open collaborative environments”, which is just an excuse avoid spending on offices and cubicle, IMHO, and does not improve coding quality).

    Writing code can be a very creative pursuit, despite those who don’t class it as a creative function. That doesn’t mean we coders and just Johnny One-Notes who can’t do anything else. When I was in engineering school, I noticed that most of my fellow engineers had very creative hobbies in art, music, or other areas that require making, building, and creating things. I myself have hobbies that include creative writing, fashion design, sewing, and product design and development. But I still enjoy tinkering with code and experimenting with new technologies. Just because we enjoy coding, doesn’t mean we lack talent in other areas.