About the Death of the Working Hours

I fundamentally disagree with the idea that a software development team should be constrained to working 9 to 5. Most software developers don’t even have that luxury, working overtime to compensate for all the mistakes people like Fred Brooks told us about some decades ago. In this post, I’d like to pretend more of us are treated and behave as being further to the left of the scale that starts with “Factory Worker” and ends in “Knowledge Worker”, while fully understanding it’s a whole different world “out there”, for whatever definition of “out there” is that invalidates this particular rant.

It seems funny to me that we enthusiastically build highly informative and interactive environments for teams to play in (and I use the word play in the context of a project as a game), and then treat the human beings whose minds are supposed to be completely focused on delivering business value to a customer as machines that clock in, are amazing for 8 hours… and then punch out, go home and resume their personal lives.

And this is where I want to have my cake and eat it, too. The fundamental disagreement I have with the concept of working 9 to 5 (or any other 8-hour period of the day) is that creativity, enthusiasm and logical reasoning can’t be switched on and off by the magic powers of a commute—and mine these days include walking past the Camden Lock and Market, so it’s pretty close to that. And I mean it in a good way: it’s great that developers don’t just switch off when they go back home. It’s why we have so many great open source projects coming out of what seems like pure cognitive surplus.

In fact, the very existence of a cognitive surplus tells me that I actually go through all these good ideas throughout the day. It just so happens they are sprinkled all over it, as my brain happily responds to outside stimuli, which could be an information radiator telling me something’s just happened, or the taste of my favourite local ice cream from the shop down the road. More and more, I want my work to be a part of my life, not a slice of it. As Erin Brockovich, who once allegedly yelled,

Not personal!? That is my work, my sweat, and my time away from my kids! If that’s not personal, I don’t know what is!

If you ask your parents, or maybe grandparents, perhaps you’ll get the same answers as I did. They told me my job is my job, and I have to do it so I can put food on the table. It’s left to my imagination that very few people in my group a generation or two ago had the pleasure of working because they truly like what they do and believe what they do is both positive and meaningful to society.

I think I’ve moved up the pyramid a little bit, that I shouldn’t feel or be embarassed by thinking about “work stuff” for extended periods of time when I’m about to go to bed on a Saturday morning. In fact, that’d get me labelled as someone who’s “focused” and, nowadays, even praised as a workaholic. But if I’m caught talking and thinking about something else entirely for similarly extended periods of time while in the middle of my 8-hour journey, I’m slacking off.