Developers, Holidays are a Time to Rest… and Kill Technical Debt

There’s a seemingly unkillable stereotype of developers as workaholics who never stop coding, but new data crunched by Github shows that’s simply not true. In addition to taking time to sleep and eat something other than Soylent shakes at their desks, developers also slack off at certain times of year.

In North America, for example, the rate of contributions to Github’s repositories dips through December, takes a catastrophic plunge in January, and then begins a slow creep toward a peak in October. It’s almost as if developers build up a head of steam throughout the year, reaching peak “productivity” (at least defined by code contributions) in early fall, before winding down again.

On a daily basis, developers buck their workaholic reputation and generally take a long break. “We’ve found that work increases hour by hour in the morning, with activity hitting an initial peak at around 11:00 local time,” read GitHub’s blog post accompanying its data. “This is followed by a noticeable dip of several hours before the day’s second activity spike at 15:00.” Although the timing and duration of the break varies from country to country, this stepping-away is worldwide.

What does this mean for tech pros? Although Github’s rhythms don’t necessarily match those of organizations, it’s logical to conclude that coding activity at many firms tends to dip in December and January, thanks in large part to the holidays. If you don’t plan on taking a couple weeks off during this stretch, it seems like that drop in activity is a great opportunity to get some housecleaning done.

For example, if your organization has been racking up technical debt all year, the relative slowness of December and January might present an opportunity to resolve at least some of it. You’re not shipping a new product (maybe), and a third of your team is out-of-office (and probably drunk on extra-spiked eggnog); why not face down some of the entropy and clutter in your codebase?

No matter what the time of year, it’s also important to take breaks throughout your day. Your productivity will improve, and so will your mood. Although the “workaholic developer” remains a defining stereotype within the tech industry, it’s not a true one, outside the minds of some startup founders who feel the need to work 120-hour weeks in order to earn that sweet VC cash.