Reclaiming the '501 developer'
I’ve recently found myself in a bit of conflict over how I feel about this post outlining a 501 developer manifesto, aimed at those who choose to avoid making work run their life by stopping their professional life at 501 sharp. The term isn’t new, it’s been used by Scott Hanselman to describe developers who’s enthusiasm turns off at 5:01pm. In this case the author of the manifesto is saying we should all be ok with people who want to turn off and do other things after 5:01.
I can only assume the manifesto was written as a kind of response to this recent article about Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg who goes home every day at 5:30. Sandbergs admissions have become a bit of a rallying cry for the overworked masses in tech and we certainly have our reasons to rally around this.
The 501 manifest is actually a sentiment I can largly sympathize with. I’m a big opponent of overtime, and I vehemently oppose laws that allow for overtime exempt IT work, which exist in various states and provinces, specifically both California and B.C. have these ridiculous laws.
However there are a number of things about the 501 developer manifesto I specifically take issue with, which boil down to what Scott was talking about, that we shouldn’t have to turn off our enthusiasm for what we do just because it’s time to go home.
From the manifesto:
- Write a technical blog
- Contribute to open source projects
- Attend user groups in your spare time
- Mostly only read books about coding and productivity
- Push to GitHub while sitting on the toilet
- Are committed to maximum awesomeness at all times, or would have us believe it,
…we respect you for it. There’s probably some pity in there too, but honestly, it’s mostly respect.
For starters I find this to be both condescending and divisive. I don’t see what any of this has to do with being a 501 developer. In fact, I find this tone of this reeks of envy for those who can’t help but enjoy the work, whatever the feeling is it’s certainly not pity.
I think this quote from a HN comment sums up the problem with the manifesto’s argument pretty succinctly.
I decided I’m not spending over 25% of my life (37.5%) doing something I don’t LOVE
All I can say, is that I strongly suggest that if you really haven’t found that passion of yours then use at least some of the time after 501 to go out and find it, whatever you do please don’t waste it deriding those who have found it.
It’s fair to say that not everyone will discover a passion that is, well, financially sustaining. So work is probably not going to be everyone’s passion. And everyone should be able to mutually respect that reality. Some peole work to live and some live to work, and that’s that. What I think we all should agree on is that everyone should be able to hold reasonable “office hours”.
This seems to be the overshadowed premise of what being a 501 developer should be about. None of us should need be spending more than 40 hours a week doing any one thing, love or not. In fact not only should it not be necessary but I’m completely convinced it is a counterproductive exercise and a symptom of poor time management, either personally or organizationally.
So, the time outside those 40 hours is yours, and we should feel free to use them wisely. Personally, for me that time includes open source, user groups, learning more about my craft and blogging (when I’m not busy procrastinating). It also includes playing with my daughter, dinner with my wife, cooking, brewing beer, gardening and even the occasional video game.
Here’s the kicker, one for all those “what about the family people”. Surprisingly, even with all that to do I still somehow find an inordinate amount time to watch some absolutely terrible TV shows. So I’m certain I will always be able to find hours worth of wasted time to cut before I need cut into extra-curricular time I spend focused on developing my passion for software development.
So as a result of all this thinking, I’ve decided to take a stand and have written my own 5:01 manifesto (or 5:30 or whatever time works for you). I made it more inclusive, because it’s not just about software developers, and tried to focus on what I feel should be universally important no matter what..
The 501 manifesto
We are individuals who take pride in our work, but value a process that encourages our continuous self improvement for both the betterment of ourselves and our craft. As such we value:
Pace over deadlines
Quality over quantity
Sustainability over death marching
Learning over constantly plowing ahead with what we already know (or think we know)
To say that we value the things on the left more than those on the right is a gross understatement. Rather, we’ve come to see that the things on the right are the enemies of those on the left. Overtime and burnout are the sworn enemies of productivity, improvement and efficiency and most importantly the enjoyment of our passion.
40 odd hours a week, 8 hours a day, is arguably the more time than anyone can be effective working towards one goal, one task or purpose. We leverage the of the rest of our time in order to better ourselves, to broaden our thinking and maintain personal balance. In doing so we maximize our effectiveness during the other 40 hours.
We do not accept that there is any significant value gained by plodding needlessly into overtime. Overtime is a crutch and an excuse that leads to death marches, poor time management and planning. It is also the enemy of our passion, burning us out on the very things we love to do. We recognize that Attempting to produce for 60 or 80 hours in a week results in a quality over quantity trade off which is unacceptable.
We see the higher value in maintaining a sustainable pace in whatever we do. We recognize that a more diversified time management portfolio yields greater long term dividends through both personal and professional growth. That this results in a better overall result for both us and the quality of our work.