What is normal in the software industry?
Maybe a couple of years ago, I had an interesting encounter with a soon-to-be graduate software engineer who asked me a few questions about what the industry was actually like.
“Is being held back until 3am normal?” “How much code are you expected to produce every day?” “What things should I learn in order to keep myself in a job?”
I had an extended time with this young man, just chatting. It struck me how much he seemed worried that he’d chosen the wrong career path. I did a little further probing, and it turned out he’d done an internship with a certain big 4 consultancy (which shall remain nameless) who had clearly mistreated their interns.
Never have I been compelled to stay back past maybe 7 o’clock, and only then because I needed to be online to provide support for some colleagues in WA. The manager of his team of interns was so poorly organised, they’d changed priorities at 4 in the afternoon and kept them all back.
Secondly, what the hell is a group of interns going to be able to do that can’t be done tomorrow?
Thirdly, if the manager was doing their job properly, overtime would not have been necessary.
After hearing about the one story he was curious about, the new engineer then said it was quite normal to spend midnight in the office.
This post has been kicking around in my head in the 2 or 3 months since I met this man, and it still haunts me that someone has potentially forced a new engineer to burn the candle at both ends and killed whatever passion they had for our field.
Apparently this is common
I was trying to process all this in the immediate wake of the chat, and I talked to my wife about how much it was bothering me. She just replied “oh yeah, big 4 are notorious for burning out graduates. I don’t know a single person I graduated with that stayed with them for very long”.
She also left a job with a large financial planner who had a similar kind of churn on new accounting graduates, demanding unpaid overtime and denying any sort of personality in the office. If you’ve met my wife, you’d know why that was a dealbreaker for her.
I’ve since learned about Amazon’s hire-to-fire practice, along with their AI developed to terminate employees.
It all seems so futile, and perpendicular to the ideas of modern software team.
How do we fix it?
We need to tell juniors that it’s ok to say no. Usually the clause of “reasonable overtime” will be in your contracts here in Australia, but no B2B developer is going to be able to justify regular overtime to the department of workplace unless something is on fire. Even then, the market is usually hungry for a passionate engineer and sometimes the sensible decision is to walk.
We as more senior members of the field should also lead by example, and help those being unfairly burned out find another job that won’t mistreat them.
I feel like this is something we’ve all seen play out. I also remember being young enough where I felt it necessary to impress bosses with extra work that often goes unnoticed. Stand up for the juniors in your team, don’t let them slip through the gaps and lose whatever fire they’ve brought with them.