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The Jobs That Offer Great Work-Life Balance (and Some That Don't) (bloomberg.com)
52 points by m-i-l on Oct 20, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 39 comments

It is important to distinguish between job flexibility and what I call career flexibility. As a software developer, I can often work from home, and I can go get a cup of coffee more or less whenever I please. However, what happens if you want to scale back or leave the field for a few years? How does that affect your ability to get back into it?

Among my family and friends are a radiologist, emergency room physician, nurse anesthetist, and a (multiple) registered nurses. This is just my own observation, but they appear to have much greater options to scale back on work for a half decade while they have kids than the software developers I know, without severely compromising their career path when they re-enter full time at a later date. And all these career paths pay, at the median in San Francisco, more than the median for a software developer in San Francisco.

With the exception of radiology, telecommuting, which may people consider to be a critical element of a "flexible" job, is not a big part of most health care jobs. However, jobs like registered nurse, pharmacist, nurse anesthetist, and emergency room physician, may offer more flexibility where it counts most, especially to people who want to pursue meaningful careers but recognize that a period of life, probably when they have small children at home, will require scaling back for an extended period.

> As a software developer, I can often work from home, and I can go get a cup of coffee more or less whenever I please. However, what happens if you want to scale back or leave the field for a few years? How does that affect your ability to get back into it?

I'm a Software Engineer and I've taken major breaks.

After a year working at the DoD, I spent three years dong whatever I wanted / snowboard instructor / kayak guide, etc.

Then I got a job as a Software Dev for 2 years, no problem at all, got the first job I interviewed for.

Then I took two years off to drive Alaska->Argentina, and generally do whatever I wanted.

After that I again got the first Software Dev job I applied for, and did that for 4 years. Now I'm off again to drive around Africa for at least 2 years.

Granted, I have not "climbed the ladder" like my university friends who have been working all of those years, but I've had absolutely no problem dropping in and out when I please.

I second this. I took a year off doing absolutely no dev work and made wine in southern France and I'm still at 6 figures. Highly recommend the drive from Pretoria, SA to Lusaka, Zambia, it was one of my favorites. The added benefit of time off is that you can reexamine your career aspirations and set a new course if necessary.

I would imagine this gets harder as you age, get more set in your ways, the higher on the career ladder you've climbed, and/or as your required salary increases.

I think its less about age and more about financial independence; the more monthly obligations you have, and total debt, the harder it is to be flexible in your career choices.

Have a low personal burn rate, save at least 20-50% of your income, and don't live in places with exorbitant living costs (SF, London, NY), and you too can be the master of your destiny.

This is what I had in mind when I described career flexibility. The experience for a middle aged person (say, late 30s or older) returning to the workforce full time after scaling back or leaving the workforce for 5+ years to take care of small children (and who still has those obligations for older children) will be very different form relatively young person who has gone back and forth between work and travel. I think the nature of the disruption to career progress is very different.

Graduated in '04. Didn't have a job upon graduation, haven't found one willing to hire an unemployed person since. Everyone in software development is blind to the problems.

Don't call yourself unemployed - you're a freelancer working on various projects (and make sure you put them in github, etc.)

I recently took over a year off with minimal issue.

Taking a longer break and Scaling back to zero is an issue, but you can keep your skin in the game as a developer fairly easily. Fill the paperwork and start a company doing iOS apps for 5 hours a week and it's not obvious you where taking an extended break.

Another option is to have some other project fill the break and then do some transition work to get back into the game. The important thing is to have recent experience not to have zero long term gaps.

You can do contract work for a while and take as few jobs as you want. After you do a few big projects, you can pretty much work 10-20 hours a week on just maintenance pretty much indefinitely.

From my experience it seems like in many technical roles the work-life balance can be as good as you can afford to make it. There is an obvious trade-off between career development and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Being willing to say no, is also a huge part of this. The sad thing is always saying "yes" often results in both a worse product and spending your life in the office.

I've also found that it can also damage your career. Being a yes-man does not gain you respect or the time to do well on what you take on. Not to be construed as "being difficult to work with is a good career move", it's just worth noting that saying no at the right time can be just as good a move as saying yes at the right time.

Saying yes/no also sets expectations for the rest of your office/company.

For me it helped to switch from on-site to remote.

People tell me "what" they want and "when" they need it and I can decide "how" I get it done.

I had to switch from "8h office/online a day" to "being availble for questions at reasonable hours", because no one sees or cares when I'm online.

What's the difference between "Data Scientist" and "Data Analyst" on their list?

A data scientist is a statistician who lives in San Francisco.


"A data scientist is a person who is worse at statistics than a statistician and worse at software engineering than a software engineer."

- Me (Data Scientist)

I think that's a pretty good definition. To define it for myself I took the Data Science Specialization from Coursera https://www.coursera.org/specializations/jhudatascience. There's a fair amount of stats and programming involved.

I love it :)

A data analyst is much more likely to be assigned to a business department andnbe the local Excel guru who cobbles together SQL against the enterprise data warehouse, or whatever passes for one. They essentially fill the gap between IT resources in terms of the business's data needs.

The analysis is typically the application of basic arithmetic under the constraint of gnarly "business logic," which is almost never logical.

This is not meant to be pejorative, but represents an amalgamation of the traits I've seen in those who have the title of data analyst at our client companies.

A data scientist tends to have an advanced degree or significant experience in applying statistical techniques to the corpus of business data.

To give an oversimplified example, the data analyst likely answers the question "who are our best customers and what are their traits?" whereas the data scientist answers the question "what traits of customers can predict their becoming a great customer?"

Since we all live in a bubble, I will share mine for context. I work for a BI and analytics consultancy that also has a data science practice and our clients are primarily mid-sized corporations.

My guess (and this is a reasonably educated guess): a data scientist creates models and usually has an advanced math or stats degree (or similar). A data analyst uses models created by data scientists, and often has a business/econ or other undergraduate degree.

Of course this is a generalization, but in my perusal of job openings over the past year, this seems to be roughly what companies mean.

They seem to be mostly self-applied labels you use depending on the audience, in my experience.

Not that a degree in a very specifically named program should be the one and only gatekeeper to an occupation, it's just that these seem to be fairly ill-defined titles that tend to be thrown around these days.

I'm kind of tempted to put "software engineer" on that list as well, though I think people tend to understand that it is more than just programming at least.

Data Analyst is a general run-of-the-mill person who has some understanding of Excel, SQL, massaging the data etc. Data Scientist is a buzzword these days but should in reality entail having an advanced degree in statistics or math, ability to reason about underlying data and associated models.

R v Excel

It's interesting that front-end developers rate so high. Having been in FED for a while, I can say it totally varies from company to company.

I've worked at dev shops that were virtual sweat shops and had insane goals for each month. This caused you to work 11-13 hour days to hit your goals, less you get put on a PIP (performance improvement plan).

Others shops went to great lengths to give developers what I thought to be far too much reign to do what they pleased. Come in at noon and work till 10pm? Sure. Take two hour lunches? No problem. Sure the work got done eventually but the atmosphere was super lax with little or no oversight.

> Sure the work got done eventually but the atmosphere was super lax with little or no oversight.

What's the problem with this? If the work is getting done, and meets quality standards, do all employees need oversight? Does a lax work environment immediately imply that the work done there is poor?

Not necessarily, but if your developers and QA and PM's are all on different schedules, it can lead to some major headaches.

I worked at a place where devs would regularly come in around noon or later. Code wouldn't get checked in and then the QA people were complaining they couldn't test code and the PM's couldn't tell the "business" stuff was ready to look at.

Likewise, if the QA people are coming in late and the dev is waiting for stuff to be checked off so he can tell the PM to send the app for review, it can screw delivery up.

Is the work done poorly? No, but there were headaches when everybody was on their own schedules.

Noon to 8 covers most of the core working hours, I've never seen this cause problems.

> To find positions where work-life balance consistently comes up as a plus, Glassdoor looked at its company reviews. Users who review a company can also rate several workplace attributes of their job, including work-life balance, on a scale of 1-5. To make Glassdoor's list, a job title had to have been rated by at least 75 people with that position at two or more companies, and 15 percent of reviews for the job title had to cite work-life balance as a pro.

This seems like an awfully tenuous way of assessing work-life balance.

It seems that a correlation exists between work-life balance and the "hypeness"/"buzzwordiness" of a job/position held. Which is, indeed, very sad.

You also have to understand the data was culled from Glassdoor and the people leaving reviews there. I would think to some degree you have to take the data they got with a grain of salt.

Especially because access to their site requires entering information about a recent job or interview. There's very little incentive to do this thoroughly or accurately.

How would you translate work-life balance to an equation?

WLB = being suitable for the role + sallary + freetime + company friendliness

I wouldn't.

For me, work-life balance is not a numbers game - it is a question of whether or not I can step away from work to do activities with my family, pursue hobbies or personal projects,etc. If I get sick, does my boss say, "Get better fast and get back here.", or does he say, "Get better, and let us know when you are ready to come back." If I take an afternoon off to go to my daughter's track meet, is that frowned upon, or does my team say, "Great, let us know how she did!"

If the company truly cares only about getting the work done, and truly lets you live your life as long as the work is getting done, then you have balance.


Fundamentally it's about trust and respect.

If my boss, or my team, feels they need to track my time, my output on a day to day basis, whether I was actually ill when I took sick pay, something is wrong.

That same team has to trust, to some extent, that I respect my work, that I produce good output, that I don't cut corners, that I'll be in the next day and not wander off into the horizon.

The two seem inconsistent to me. I'd far rather employ someone who isn't a perfect clean shaven 9-5, than someone who's in first, out last, but pumps out half baked solutions (or worse still, actively includes backdoors or similar).

I firmly believe that flexibility in work is almost always the way to go. Even for shift patterns, a large enough company should be able to find cover if someone can't (or simply doesn't want to) turn up on Wednesday.

Suitability and Salary shouldn't matter for the most part. I'd go with some form of: WLB=Total work hours per day + Amount of Vacation+Ability to work from home + Office Environment + Is work spread out over the year or focused on one time of year + Can you take a few hours to see a doctor during work + Predictability of schedule.

Edit: Not necessarily a formula, but what I consider important.

This is an ad-conspiracy to fill the market with data experts, and reduce their salaries. I swear. We're subservient to this oligarchic cartel. (Praised be Marx.)

Vade retro Bloombergas. Happiness is doomed to decrease. It's the consequence of private property... I know what you think: "please no".

I sometimes think (although less conspiratorially) that the high number of Dev bootcamps teaching Rails must definitely drive down salaries. Best to focus on 'the hard stuff' to stay relevant.

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