Thursday, August 27, 2009

40 Hours is Unprofessional

A recent tweet captured a sound bite from my friend and mentor Robert Martin. I don't believe it is misquoted:
"A 40 hr week is not the choice of a professional" @unclebobmartin
As a friend of UncleBob, I know what he means, but I fear that this quote is too easily hijacked. I tweet the same:
Be careful with your sound bites. It is their misinterpretation that will be implemented.
As a counter-soundbite, I offered this to the ether, in hopes of seeing some refinement of the idea in twitterspace, and especially hoping to counter a wave of 70-hour-week taskmasters.
A good point, yet how much should we take from faith, family, friends, and such life-giving pursuits? ... discussed?
Of course, Dave answers back, channeling UncleBob. This answer is still prone to abuse, but is generally better and safer It is:
... that self improvement & learning is your responsibility, not your client/employer's.
This is clearly true. Taken correctly, it tells us that we should self-educate all of the time, and whether or not our employer provides training to us we should take matters into our own hands. After all, when a great job requiring cool skills comes up, the guy doing the hiring looks for people who have the skills already. My old statement is:
When the bus comes, it's the people waiting for the bus who get on the bus. Then the bus leaves.
There could be a lot of space devoted here to life/work balance, which is a crock. You only have a single life, and the hard part is not balance but integration. I would consult on that, but I don't have it worked out myself. What is true is that working too much is bad, and working too seldom is bad, and stagnation is bad, and neglecting your true loves is bad.

Dave explains:
RT: @dastels: @tottinge that self improvement & learning is your responsibility, not your client/employer's
Finally UncleBob makes a good quote that clarifies his intent:
Let's be clear. Your career is YOUR responsibility, not your employer's. Your employer is not your mother.
Nobody said "sustainable pace is poppycock" or anything like that. All that was said is that a person should improve. If that person's employer wants to help, that's great. If the employer does not, that's tough. The truth remains that you probably need a better you more than you need a better engineered career path, vocational guidance, or training programs or corporate carrots.

Besides, if your company trains you they are intending to make you better at working there. Your goals may align, or may be different. I think it's time to go get ready for that next bus.

Late additions:

Please read through the comments.

  • If your company wants to take some responsibility for the development of its people, then by all means take advantage of it. If they offer seminars off-hours, or brownbag seminars, or whatever ... don't pass up anything that might grow you.

  • The point of this is not that it is wrong to have company training programs, or harmful. The point is particularly that you should continue learning all of the time, and you should take this into your own hands *especially* if the company you work for does not do it.

  • In other words "my company doesn't train me" is not a valid excuse to stop and stagnate. Quoting uncle bob one more time "Don't be blocked" in your career or your work.

  • Don't let your life become a never-ending stream of overtime hours. If you think that's professional development, you're wrong. Very few have risen to great authority from sweatshops. Work hard, but don't let a job ruin your life and don't let a single job ruin your career.

Does that cover it?


  1. With all due respect to my elders, that's bunk. Self training is a compensation mechanism.

    If you are a consultant (the real kind, not the employee with no benefits kind) you ARE your employer and as your employer you recognize the value.

    Uncle Bob lives the talk and I respect that.

    Telling employees that they need to self educate is a sign of a sick employer. Most employers I've seen are sick, and bad economies tend to knock them out.

    But saying self training a philosophical high hill is bunk. If you can only find low performing economy riding employers, fine. You'd be stupid not to compensate.

    But even in 2009, there are still precious few high performing employers out there and we need to look at them as our models, not the compensation mechanism.

  2. Tim,

    Can you explain what "Uncle Bob" means by "A 40 hr week is not the choice of a professional"

    I am not arguing with any of the possible interpretations that I can imagine, I just need to be clear on what YOU believe it means.

  3. Wally:

    Just that professionals will add self-education to the normal work week, not that a good programmer works ungodly hours.

    I don't like that formulation either, hence my remark about Faith, Family, etc. I agree that we need to be learning new things and trying new things to educate ourselves, practice to improve our skills, etc.

    We run the risk of workaholism in general as well as overwork by taskmasters. I worry that software managers will use the soundbite to push developers to work longer days... which would pretty much prevent them from self-educating, practicing, etc.

    We need to have a little more left over at the end of the day after seeing the family and dealing with home and hearth if we expect to put a few minutes into reading instead of collapsing into a heap. The "sustainable pace" of agile never became a bad idea. We didn't give up on it. On-the-job hours need to be capped.

    I worry that this leaves little room for those who are on church boards, chamber of commerce, optimist club, sertoma, and the like. A person's only contribution should not be a long line of 14-hour work days.

    But again, I think he's pushing for us not counting on our employers for our career path and education.

  4. Employees should undergo effective self improvement courses so as to efficiently work for a company.

  5. Darrin, self-training is a self-preservation mechanism. Your employer(s) will be happy to drop you when you're 40-something and they can hire 2 20-something developers who know newer technology for the same money.

    You are self-employed, after a fashion, whether you realize it or not. You have a vested interest in remaining valuable in your profession. In the software development profession, this means learning new things. And I highly recommend learning things with a long shelf-life. I spoke on Sustainable Career at XP Day Manhattan. You can find the slides on my publications list.