We care a lot - why do developers work so much?

May 28, 2014

I spend a lot of time working. Too much time. I go home and I’m exhausted, and still I’m thinking about work. I don’t get round to making plans to have a social life, because I work so much. And I’m not the only one.

As Jeremy Girard and Yiannis Knostantakopoulos have both written recently, too many people in the web industry push themselves too hard at work.

Management can get away with piling work onto under-resourced development teams, and working absurd hours can become a badge of honour.

Deadlines become set in stone after back-of-a napkin guesstimates on how much work is involved.

Since those deadlines couldn’t possibly be moved, it’s the developers who need to pick up the slack, because they are generally the ones who care about getting the thing done. Often more than the clients do.

So why do we do it to ourselves? For me, I think it’s a combination of factors:

  • professional pride
  • I wouldn’t want to put my name to a substandard thing
  • stubbornness
  • I’ve taken on a challenge, and I don’t want to be beaten by a machine
  • enjoyment
  • I get into the zone and like solving the puzzles I face

It’s not a million miles away from the situation in my previous career in event crew, where epic shifts are like war stories. I’ve told a few of those war stories myself, but it isn’t healthy. While it’s easy to think of the US as a country which regards socialism as a dirty word, organised labour seems to command higher respect there, and the theatre is one industry where unionised crews fight hard to protect workers.

So do we need a web developers union? Maybe. It’s easy to think that unions are there for industrial workers who are easily replaced, and that skilled knowledge workers don’t need that kind of protection, but everyone needs someone to look after their interests.