Does any developer really need to work 80+ hour workweeks?
If you buy into the clichés about the tech industry—that it’s all about tech pros working long into the night, fueled by Red Bull and snack food, until they finally build that world-changing app—then the idea of working extraordinary hours might seem commonplace, even desirable.
But a new study from Stack Overflow suggests that the bulk of developers (i.e., 51.7 percent) work 40 to 44 hours per week. Another 13.4 percent work 35-39 hours, and 11.6 percent work between 45 and 49 hours. Although specific ranges might vary depending on whom you ask, people would generally agree that between 35-50 hours constitutes a “normal work week,” and these developers are working it.
Only 2.5 percent worked between 60 and 69 hours per week, meanwhile, and 2.0 percent worked 70 hours or more. “Senior executives, product managers, and engineering managers are more likely to work longer hours, as well as developers in Eastern Europe, India, and the United States,” Stack Overflow added.
Even if the majority of developers (this question on the Stack Overflow survey had 64,503 respondents) work reasonable hours, there’s a debate raging about overwork in the tech industry, reignited (because it’s never really gone away) by Alibaba founder Jack Ma’s recent comments endorsing “996,” a Chinese-centric practice of working from 9 AM to 9 PM, six days per week.
“Rewards of hard work,” Ma said, come to those developers who put in that punishing level of hours.
The recent disaster of BioWare’s “Anthem” video game also highlights the issue of developer burnout. Thanks to reported “indecision and mismanagement” (in the words of anonymous sources speaking to Kotaku) among leadership, the game’s developers ended up working months of hellacious “crunch time,” hoping that everything would come together in the end—but the final product was still a disaster. In other words, 70+ hour weeks aren’t a surefire solution to tech challenges, no matter what Ma and his supporters might say.
Some critics see overwork as a cultural issue: Companies need products to launch in order to make money, and sometimes that means pushing developers to churn out code on extremely tight deadlines. “I think it starts with those guys—the investors, what they want and what they push for. I think they’ve all decided that the optimal return is young kids: Burn them out, get rid of them, replace them,” author Dan Lyons told Dice back in 2016.
Despite those controversies—and the very real cases of workers frying in order to push out games of questionable quality—it seems most developers are actually working perfectly reasonable hours. And that, in a lot of ways, is a relief.