February 22, 2005 4:00 AM PST

Shorter hours in software

Microsoft software developer Adam Barr usually eats dinner with his family these days.

It wasn't always so. In the 1990s, Barr often missed dinner with his wife and young children while regularly logging 50 to 60 hours per week--occasionally having to put in 70 hours for several weeks on end to hit project deadlines.

Now he regularly works from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. "Microsoft tolerates this pretty well," Barr said. "There were definitely cases in the past when, for certain stretches, it wasn't tolerated."

News.context

What's new:
Famously long workweeks in the software industry are shrinking as management improves and employees focus on life outside the cubicle.

Bottom line:
Although workers are now spending more time working remotely or on open-source projects, "crunch time" persists at many companies.

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Barr's ability to sup with his family more frequently underscores a shift in the software world: Many employees are working less punishing hours. Production workers in software publishing--most are computer specialists--worked an average of 36.4 hours a week last year, down from 41.4 hours in 2001, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Possible reasons include the reduced allure of dot-com riches and programmers putting greater emphasis on life outside of work. Also, observers say some software houses have learned to manage projects better. In effect, software makers are concluding that productivity suffers when employees work extended days month after month.

"In companies that have a lot of overtime, they waste a lot of hours during the workday," said Tom DeMarco, a consultant at The Atlantic Systems Guild who has written about human resource issues in the technology field. "A normal workday has come to be selected over time because it is productive."

Complex projects and macho coders
Long hours long have been part of software development. Explanations given for programmers frequently toiling into the night include the complex nature of many software projects as well as the need to meet shipping deadlines, especially in the video game world that relies on large holiday season sales.

During the Internet bubble, the prospect of a lucrative initial public stock offering helped fuel the legions of geeks who became famous for sleeping under their desks.


A tough-guy culture among coders also seems to have been a factor. Last year, the International Game Developers Association cited this as a reason for horrible working conditions in the computer game world.

"Developers are sometimes just as much to blame for submitting themselves to extreme working conditions, adopting a macho bravado in hopes of 'proving' themselves worthy for the industry," the professional group's board said in a statement.

In the fast-growing computer game industry especially, long hours continue to be commonplace. A survey last year by the game developers' association found that almost three developers out of five reported working 46 or more hours in a typical week.

More than 95 percent of respondents said their company experiences "crunch time"--a period of intense work prior to a product release. More than 18 percent of respondents to the survey reported having experienced crunches of two

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8 comments

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Pardon me if I don't feel sorry for programmers
working 50 - 70 hrs. a week. As a technician, there are many such weeks with those hours. Why? Because the programmers products keep getting lousier and lousier. And just keeping their trash up and running is a monumental chore.

I think that there is software available today to do anything you could want. It may only work half the time, though. I think these programmers need to fix their junk and then all find other lines of work. We could get along with the software already out there. Any new stuff will just be a bigger piece of trash and more headache.

If their stuff doesn't work, why are they working on new stuff instead of fixing what is out there?
Posted by bjbrock (98 comments )
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40 hours max for everyone
Nobody should be working more than 40 hours per week in any profession, period (especially health care). If you are required to work more, then it is a staffing problem that needs to be addressed by management. This problem isn't limited to just the software industry.
Posted by C.Schroeder (126 comments )
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Macho programmers
Maybe the macho programming environment of the dot.com boom is partly responsible for the decline in women studying Computer Science in recent years?
Posted by C.Schroeder (126 comments )
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Science in recent years
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.analogstereo.com/rover_45_owners_manual.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.analogstereo.com/rover_45_owners_manual.htm</a>
Posted by Ubber geek (325 comments )
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Management still doesnt get it
Coding is not a traditional job; it is as much an art form as a discipline. Good programmers dont work well 9 to 5, the creative process happens in spurts.
From my experience a session can involve staring at a screen for days trying to get around a problem, getting an idea and pouring out the talent all in one long push. That might mean a 30 hour stint without food or sleep, followed by crashing for a few days. And then some grunt work to clean things up.

To put this in perspective: The 9 to 5 programmers Ive know in the past are still working 9 to 5. The others are running their own companies.
Posted by Marcus Westrup (630 comments )
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Wasting Time at Work - Results of a Study Conducted by the Government
In companies that have a lot of overtime, they waste a lot of hours during the workday,"

Agreed. According to <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www/ch4nce.com," target="_newWindow">http://www/ch4nce.com,</a> lots of people are wasting time by gambling online while at work. The study is here: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.ch4nce.com/story/2005/2/22/203725/371" target="_newWindow">http://www.ch4nce.com/story/2005/2/22/203725/371</a>
Posted by (31 comments )
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Another reason for Changing Hours
Twenty five years ago the programming methods were vastly different. When you wrote a program you were given a list of what needed to be accomplished and pretty much carte blanche there after. The system had each programmer writing in their favorite style and method. the key phrase "document your work" was just emerging and commenting in programs varied widely. We quickly learned that comments weren't supplimental but rather KEY to good programming so a revisited program could be quickly understood. But we still did most everything even when it had to interact with another program the only consistency was what went in and what was supposed to come out. A new program for each machine, optomized to use the precious resourses of memory and storage,(remember reel to reel tapes?)(this created the memory saving practices that later gave us the Y2K fraud) this meant the program on your machine was entirely recoded if it was to run on mine. Each program was effectivly started from scratch.

The change to drivers that run hardware,(small programs that give identical output from identical input) allow for common ground to programmers for the various flavors of a machine

Likewise the programming languages have evolved too. Few if any comercial programs are written in machine code which changes with each CPU. Higher level programming languages allow a program to be ported from system to system, sometimes with little more than a recompile, and the Object orination allows a more complex style to be expressed in a few words that use to take code that looked like spaghitti, (if it worked you couldn't figure out why).

Microsoft displays the convience of the new programming style. The infamous Longhorn has reciently been announced to be void of at least three sections of its original intended system. This likely was accomplished by just commenting out a handful of lines that said #INCLUDE and recompiling thus excluding them from the final product.

Likewise current programing, when done modularly, can also be included or excluded with ease.

No more hairpulling sessions(for those of us who still have hair:))you just check the input and output of each module. Since the module is common for its function, other programs can also use the function. resulting in a savings in programming and debuging time.

DON'T REINVENT THE WHEEL
This is why Open Source is the future of the industry. Use the widgets you need and only write what isn't available elsewhere.

When you eliminate the redundent redundency of repeated repetion you have more time for other, more important, activities
Posted by qazwiz (208 comments )
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