Software Engineering Is a Lifestyle, Not a Job
A realization came to my mind when hearing people complaining about their jobs. None of them were software developers
by Percy Bolmér, September 13, 2021
One thing I’ve learned in recent years is that software engineering is not a job you get, it is something you become.
Late evenings, after working hours, I often find myself coding or researching new topics and areas in technology or software development.
I don’t get paid for it, and my job doesn’t tell me to do it, I do it out of curiosity and genuine interest. The best part about it, I get in contact with so many other developers online. We discuss the topics or sometimes even collaborate on research areas.
Are we alone in doing this? No, look at all the open source projects out there that are being maintained by developers in their spare time. Neeraj Kashyap wrote in 2020 that they had analyzed GitHub and found 23,298,697 users with public repositories, and a total of 128,411,417 repositories. Sure some of these repositories are corporate, but many are also by private people, coding in their spare time.
There is also an active community out there always available on Reddit, Slack, or Discord.
My spouse works as a nurse. Do you know how many times I’ve found my spouse researching nursing-related topics after working hours, unpaid? Well, to be fair I think it’s two times in 11 years.
I’ve been working as a software engineer for about seven years now. One thing I have noticed is that, for me, and many of my co-workers it has turned out to be more than a job. I often compare my job situation with my lovely spouse. As mentioned before, she’s a nurse, and I can’t even count the times she’s come home angry because there have been discussions on her job about who has to take that extra one-hour shift.
It is hard to not laugh — an hour extra, that’s nothing when looking at my current workplace. If we had to force somebody to stay late, I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up with everyone staying, since we all enjoy it so much.
We have instead enforced a hard limit of 40 extra hours per month since we want people to have a life that’s more than work. I don’t know what that rule changed, only that people stopped clocking their hours I guess.
I remember my first software development gig, there was a big whiteboard hanging in the hallway as you entered the office. One particular sentence was capitalized and highlighted:
“Coffee breaks are mandatory, in the dining hall.”
It was impossible to miss it, and I remember laughing, thinking
“Yeah, like anyone would miss it” — Young Naive Developer
I came from a background with a few years in a factory doing hard work, and I’ll tell you, the break times were holy. You did not miss a second of it, and if possible, you prolonged it.
I remember even asking the manager, why the obligatory break time notice? He chuckled and replied something cryptic like,
“Let’s hope you’re better than your colleagues at attending.”
The same manager had a routine every day, a routine many of my friends do not believe when I tell them. Need I say none of them are software engineers?
He walked by everyone’s office, knocking on the door, saying:
“It’s time for coffee. Come now!”
It wasn’t that he was lonely in the coffee room, or well, he kinda was. It was just that hard to convince the engineers to take a break. Everyone was so engaged in their work and solving the problems that lay in front of us.
By Loyalty and Engagement, Not Force or Stress
What struck me the most in my years as a software engineer is that people weren’t working so hard because they are forced to. Rather, they all seemed to share a genuine interest in the craft. Most developers I meet enjoy the trade. And I don’t blame them — the creativity, the problem-solving, the puzzles to solve.
It doesn’t matter what time of the day it is, morning, day, evening, or night. I get messaged on Slack with questions, ideas, etc. None of us are bothered being contacted at strange hours, instead, we all seem to share an engagement that makes us enjoy it.
I’m not saying there aren’t stressful moments and deadlines to make, but that’s not what kept the engineers going. They kept going because they had a burning interest in the technology, challenges, and genuine interest to see progress.
Employers Expect Engagement Outside Office Hours
The job market silently expects us to live as software engineers instead of working as one as well. I’ve seen my fair share of job interviews, and even employers seem to expect that we live as engineers. It’s not uncommon to see the following question in job interviews:
Any projects you made in your spare time you’d like to show?
This is funny because when I first saw this question I didn’t react. It felt natural. And the people being interviewed often have a portfolio or GitHub account to show off, which confirms my thoughts that it’s natural to expect engagement in their spare time. Though if this was a job interview for any other kind of job, it probably wouldn’t make any sense at all.
It makes me wonder, how many nurses are asked about home projects?
Are We Winners or Losers?
Even though many of us have great ambition for the work we do, most of us are still losers. My spouse is the one with the right idea, she works her hours and gets paid. Then she goes about her own life, whilst I and my colleagues spend days and nights working, some even for somebody else’s company, and for what?
It’s not about the money. I’ve turned down job offers that would double my salary. Money is fun, as we all can agree upon, but it’s not everything. We got to remember the importance of having daily work that is enjoyable and exciting.
For me, waking up on Monday morning and feeling a thrill about the week, is worth much more than money. We got sprint goals to finish, and other milestones to chase.
As a software engineer, I will be able to look back and have enjoyed my life.
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