I am gonna tell you how us coders are stealing the money of the tax payers for our own unhygienic benefits.
Every morning when I wake up, since I am born, I am bored.
Probably the curse of a gifted. I am gifted at being a loser. I am also smart. I cheated often for my academics. Not learning, but guessing what my teachers wanted us to say in opposition to what they claimed to teach us.
I learned to give purposefully the right answer, because studying was even more boring than boredom itself and I could skip classes. Playing baby-foot and drinking beers trying to hook up with girls worthed more excitement than rigged exams when you see what to answer without learning.
So, I would tend to prepare exams last minutes to be able to aggregate the corpus of pattern faster.
However time flowing, my workhours at schools went to more than 35h/week + at least 5 hours homeworks and sport activities (between 2 and 8 hours per week)
This has been my standard for 10 years. I would skip classes to not get hammered down by the workload, had to do presenteism at university to not be negatively noted by some teachers whereas my work in calm libraries was far more productive, and would have to burn-in before exams. With the usual "post-exam" depression as we called it. My first experience with burn-out.
But still, I got my exams, and would wake up bored.
So I chose to be a developer. It was an heaven for the bored persons. Especially free software. A place where you were free to organize yourselves as long as you produced.
So I developed my skills at producing efficiently by myself. How to write code, think of small details like config files, handling SIGHUP for reload, using syslogs, documentating, having bug trackers, code versioning, packaging .... Dealing with creativity being unpredictable and learning to not work to much. I learned very soon that fatigue/burn-out really harm substantially the quality of my own code. I also noticed the curse of the burn-in. Truth is when you are motivated you can piss awesome software that works amazingly well in small amount of time. But this enthusiasm has a cost: your code is harder to understand afterwards. Hyper focus gives you a cursed power: the ability to store in your immediate memory way more data than usually. I would say, the burn in results in doing amazing things in awful ways. And you feel overfilled with power. It is awesome. It is the kind of code that I call important Kleenex code. I favour it for prototyping. Like a small model of what the software could be. And then, I prefer to reread it later, and wonder how to make it maintainable, if possible. And since, these are my projects, I accepted from time to time to fail. I decided that unmaintainable code was useless, and used prototype issued from burn in to evaluate if any readable/maintainable software could be written when I was in "normal state". Sometimes I noticed the complexity was inherent to the design and the complexity was unmanageable. Like a FSM with arbitrary States that can be modified on the fly without limitations. Resulting in more than linear growth not scaling up... diminishing returns.
I learned how to use burn-in with moderation.
While I was working in companies.... that were like schools, I noticed a disturbing pattern.
While we were well paid on the paper, (a lot for 35h/week) our boss were expecting us to work more per week than the contractual length. And where pushing us very often to do death march/crunches.
Basically crunches are burn-in inductor: you put stress on people, you make them work longer hours by constraint, you give them interesting problems, you excite them by inspirational BS technics, free cofee, free bier, promiscuity in a crowded noisy place, and BOOOM. Burn-in automagically kick. If and only if, you have recovered from previous burnout. Rule of thumb:
- length of burnout = length of burnin
- amplitude of burnout = amplitude of burnin,
- amplitude of burnout are cumulative.
With aggravating factors. Such as commuting time in crowded place that does not help resting. Having to adapt your schedule to regular shops closing hours... having to sacrifice physical activities that becomes a burden. Being blamed for the effect resulting from the work conditions...
It is true that in these conditions we produced more software. But crappy one, at the cost of the mental health of coders. Triple penalty for caring developers, releasing shits and feeling like one afterwards and being logically blamed for it. Thus being thrown away systematically at burnout time.
And when in severe burnout, you are unable to be any use to society. Production time of a worker that cannot be taxed and result in healthcare costs. It is systematic loss on the economy or a nation.
Every one lose at this game except the IT industry.
Basically tax payers are paying for the systematic use of burnin. The drug coders love, the drug companies deal, and the collectivity & the users pays for the damages it generates.
And that is when I wondered if this problem was new.
And by studying papers on the effect of work hours on productivity I noticed this effect had been noticed in 1853 in UK, and explained in 1917 by the UK army during WWI.
It is the reasoning behind the maximum 43 hours per week and resting plus the max of 48 hours weekly workhours.
It is even a rule emitted by the OIT that most leading countries in software development have signed.
What should inspire people is that heavy workload are a losing situation globally.
In 1917 UK was searching for sabotagers. Ammunition produced in the rear where randomly exploding killing tommies destroying expensive canon and lacking of killing ennemies.
In fact it took them 3 years to link these QA problem with good willing workers that wanted to over-work to help the nation produce more. The problem is human get fatigued if they never rest.
They noticed the true optimal was below 43, but considered that with a tad of diminishing return we could accept this a standard optimum. They also noticed repeated stress was cumulative over time and that a definitively broken worker was producing far less than a "good enough" worker.
Even before the end of the war USA adopted this measure.
Burnout is not a new problem. It has been identified centuries ago and we already have scientific papers, laws to protect the tax payers, the workers and the companies from it.
We just do not enforce these laws. What would be needed to solve this issue of burnout is first to rename it fatigue. And then to wonder why and how we came to forgot about something that trivial in a world of increasingly accessible information.
Burnin feels great. That is the real truth behind the beauty of coding.
IT industry working culture is toxic by design and coders are junkies loving this shit.
I used to be a junkie, but wish me luck for I have chosen to take the matter in my own hand by never again accepting to let a company harm myself again.