Since I published my piece on leaving software development, people have written me to ask what we can do to make software development a better profession for workers. I’m not sure, as there are people who are perfectly happy with the way things are now, though I wonder about the long term effects it will have on them both physically and mentally. I believe that there is literally no reason software developers should ever work 80, or even 40 hours a week.
Let’s look at other professions with long hours. Like surgeons. Some operations take long continuous hours that cannot be broken up. For example, the surgery to separate conjoined twins takes around 20 hours. I’m sorry, as important as software devs (and the recruiters who call us “rock stars”) want to think they are, they are not surgeons. With a few rare exceptions, you as a software developer are not saving anyone’s life. Think about the work you’re doing. It is really probably not very crucial at all to anyone. It might even what David Graeber calls a “bullshit job”:
In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshalled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it
I’ll look back to the last time I worked late nights. It was to make a website for a stupid product that is critical to no one. That frankly the world would be better off without. I’ve spent thousands of nights like this over the past ten years. I don’t care about working for bullshit, but I do care if it takes up a significant portion of my life. My work didn’t make the world a better place for anyone, it just made some guy that wasn’t me rich.