I work as a programmer and in my jurisdiction people in the IT industry are exempt from overtime laws. Even if there are no pressing deadlines (and there usually are since unrealistic time frames are seen as a motivator) working a standard 40 hour week is like wearing the minimum amount of flair at Chotski’s. If you don’t stay a little later or work the occasional evening or weekend from home then you must not be a Real Programmer.
What is a Real Programmer, you might ask? A Real Programmer is someone who loves programming! They love it so much that it’s what they spend all their time doing. In fact, a Real Programmer loves programming so much that they’re happy just to have the chance to do it. Paying them is just a formality because the Real Programmer doesn’t really consider it “work”. You know a programmer isn’t a Real Programmer when they don’t volunteer to work 60 to 80 hour weeks (for no extra monetary compensation, remember) because it’s “fun”. All they really need in thanks is a company t-shirt and the occasional slice of pizza on those late nights.
And you know what? Those Real Programmers exist. They work ridiculous hours, don’t expect to get paid for doing the work of two or three people, and they absolutely love it. They’ll have conversations with managers about how lazy people who leave the office at 5pm are and how they just can’t understand that mindset.
Then there are the people who try to be Real Programmers because that’s what’s expected. It permeates the industry’s culture. You hear it from fellow programmers, managers, and investors. If you want to succeed as a programmer you have to at least look like a Real Programmer even if you’re not one at heart. So you get people working evenings and weekends just for appearances and they start to burnout. Their code quality suffers and the code base becomes buggy and difficult to maintain. Longer hours are needed just to get the same amount of work done and it becomes a feedback loop of bad code, longer hours to fix the bad code, and burnout which makes things even worse.
Personally I’d love to work a 40 hour week without it hurting my career and professional reputation. Programming is fun, sure, but I want to have a life outside of it. I want to get out of the office at a reasonable hour and stop thinking about work until the next day. I want some time to cook healthy meals, exercise, see my friends, go on dates, write a book, learn a new (human) language, etc. In short, I want the freedom to live my life. I don’t want to work merely for the chance to survive to keep working until 40 years from now when I can maybe stop and think about doing something I really love in the few years I have left.
On the one hand I must sound pretty lazy. There are people happy to work 80 hour weeks for 40 hours of pay. Why should they not be allowed to do that just because that’s not what I want to do? What about freedom of choice? On the other hand, why should there be a culture of exploitation in this industry just because of the few individuals who, frankly, don’t seem to realize or care that they’re dedicating their lives to making someone else rich while seeing relatively little of that money themselves?