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Amazon is piloting teams with a 30-hour workweek (washingtonpost.com)
362 points by djacobs on Aug 26, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 284 comments



Something about this bothers me. Time-keeping is already not straightforward for an engineer. Because the work is done in our heads and doesn't necessarily stop just because the workday is over. You don't have to be sitting at a keyboard for your head to be grinding on a problem. More often some problem takes hold of you, occupying some mental bandwidth even while you're away, at home trying to enjoy time with your family or whatever - technically you're still working, your mind is preoccupied, you might not be able to sleep or when you do you dream about the problem.

From the outside it might appear like you came back to the office after a nice weekend break and quickly knocked out whatever task it was that was on your mind. But it's not that simple and after unloading that task, even though it's Monday you could be feeling like you need a break because you actually just worked through the weekend on it.

Because of this, I feel like engineers are already massively overworked and/or underpaid when you consider their salary based on a 40hour workweek when the real mental effort can be pushing 60-80 hours a week. Things like unlimited/discretionary PTO, flex hours, and management that understands the balance of overtime and undertime keeps things fair. Establishing a 30-hour workweek just seems like going hard in the other direction.


I'm skeptical of claims that developers are underpaid. Maybe I feel differently about this because I'm not in a major tech hub and am not faced with the prospect of buying a multimillion dollar cottage, but when I compare my life as a software developer to that of more or less anyone else I know, including doctors and lawyers, I struggle to find a single person who seems to have a more comfortable life than me.

I'm not the highest paid person I know, of course. My low six-figure income can't compete with $300k+ salaries that many surgeons get. I couldn't afford the $1.2M Mediterranean mansion that my dentist lives in. And I'll never get the sort of pay package that big law firm partners can command.

But I'm not performing life-altering surgery. I didn't even have to go to medical school, let alone complete a residency.

I didn't have to start up my own dental practice. And I'm not in my hypothetical dental practice every Saturday morning at 8AM taking care of patients who couldn't make it during the week or couldn't afford to take off work.

I never had to go to law school. I didn't have to pass a single licensing exam. I took out no loans to get to where I am. And I was never worked 80+ hours a week as a young associate.

I worked less than these people to get to where I am, and I continue to work less than them. My work is easier than theirs too. It's less stressful. Even if a problem does consume me for days, including outside of work, it's just not that big of a deal. I started making this income when these other folks were doing nothing but accruing debt. My lifetime earnings won't be all that different from theirs because I got such a tremendous head start.

If I look at friends who are not in any of the above three professions, not a single person comes to mind who makes as much money as I do. Many make half as much as I do but have much more stressful jobs, fewer perks, etc.

And yet apparently I'm underpaid. I don't buy it.


As an opposing anecdote, I've spent a significant percentage of my software development years in the medical arena. The overwhelming majority of doctors that I have worked with do not work as hard, anywhere near as many hours, or under as much stress and the overwhelming majority of software developers I have worked with.

The stressful period for most doctors is getting into medical school, getting through medical school, and getting into and through internships and residencies. That is roughly 10 years or so, and during that time it is absolutely at the pace and pressure I see in software development..but once they finish, for most of them, it is pretty smooth sailing. Those at the top of the game are a different story, but that's true anywhere.

The real difference is that doctors have a powerful lobby that artificially limits their numbers, essentially providing a benefit similar to unionization. You can't massively up the numbers of doctors being trained in the U.S., and you can't import massive numbers of foreign workers to increase supply. No matter how many capable people there are, the numbers will remain artificially constrained.

Software development doesn't have this protection. The only lobby in software development is regularly pushing for massive increases in supply through various channels. Doctors' salaries have continued to rise year after year..not so sure software development salaries will fare as well in the coming years..especially after we convince software devs they are already overpaid ;)


Software will continue its bifurcation into two income distributions, similar to lawyers. No lawyer earns average salary. That industry is split into low wage work and high wage work. I expect software will be the same.


This seems to be a trend among many highly paid fields:

- Many doctors earn 100k or 3-400k depending on their field.

- Many small business owners earn <100k or make a killing, depending on their field, goals, and success/luck.

- 9 out of 10 startups outright fail or aren't successful enough to compensate founders & employees for the opportunity cost.


It's hard to tell what the distribution of income is without good data. I'm skeptical that normal, non-startup businesses fall into this pattern. I'd expect more of a log-normal for most industries.

The log-normal also applies somewhat for lawyers. The partners of big firms make millions annually.

As long as we're getting into nuance, I should add that the two-peak distribution is most clear for lawyer starting salary, not long-time professional. You either go top firm or not.


Great points all around! The reason I think small businesses are relevant is that the founders/owners own the entire business. They either lose money, break even, or make money. In the sucessful small business cases where they make money, since they own 100% their profit requirements for a good return are far lower than those of a startup. I'd guess it's still a power law scenario (just with less amplitude than startups).


Very on point about the AMA functioning as a union. I'm not a software developer (and don't even live in the US) so apologies if this question is ridiculous: could software developers form a union, er I mean the 'American Software Developers Association'?

There are strong network effects in many digital markets. In these cases, given enough time, it leads to a monopolist employer in that market. Even in cases where there are a few firms competing (e.g. Google and Apple), they have incentive to form a cartel through 'agreements' on hiring practices (and there have been documented instances of this). The natural way for software developers to avoid being exploited, in either scenario, is to form a labour monopsony...


I'm not a software developer (and don't even live in the US) so apologies if this question is ridiculous: could software developers form a union, er I mean the 'American Software Developers Association'?

Well, the real nuance is that the AMA is not so much a union as a guild. It's not _legal_ to perform medical services without an AMA-blessed licence to practice.

If one could concoct a scheme by which it would be illegal to perform "unlicenced" software engineering work, I suppose there would be the same effect.


Please don't even suggest such a thing!


It's hard to see this happening since dissatisfied software developers can often fix the problem by finding another job. (Maybe not everyone can do it but that's the perception.)

You'd need a common sense of injustice. It's a lot easier to do this for, say, graduate students who really are underpaid.


The tricky part would be having some kind of license without which it would be illegal to perform certain engineering tasks.


There is. It's called the PE (Professional Engineer) license. Today, however, it mostly only applies to civil engineers. Back in the day, if someone wanted a bridge or building (especially for the government) designed, you had to be a PE to get the job. It required a certain amount of hours of work after college and an exam. Doesn't really apply to software though.

--When I got my first job as a software engineer, my dad, who's a civil engineer PE said, "I thought you were going to be an engineer, but it sounds like you're just a computer programmer." :-)


Auto union workers don't have a license needed. But yes not nearly as successful as the lawyer or doctor unions.


Doctors working well into their 60s or 70s? Yes

Coders? Never.

Interview for medical job: Normal

Coders?: Often humiliating


There are plenty of coders in their 60s, I'm one of them. You don't think computer programming was invented in the dot com boom do you? I have colleagues still coding who are in their 70s.

And no we aren't all coding in Cobol or Fortran 4.

I do agree though that it would be difficult for most of us to get new jobs in another company as developers because of the age-ist behaviour of many of our younger colleagues.


What? I work with 60+ year old coders.

I guess your 22 year old founder of a trendy Bay Area startup would have a problem hiring a 60 year old but that's both silly and illegal. I'm not sure trendy Bay Area startups attract the 60+ crowd anyway.


I don't think we'll know the answer to the age question for a little while. The number of coders has been growing over time, so the potential pool of seriously older coders (60+ for sake of argument) is already small to start with.

Anecdotally, three very different examples:

my mother (71) stopped coding in 1969

Guido van Rossum (60) is still coding

Darryl Havens (61) is Distinguished Engineer at Amazon - not per se a coding role, but definitely an engineering role


Plenty of people work much harder than dentists, lawyers etc and get paid an order of magnitude less. Supply and demand sets prices, not worthiness or fairness.

Personally, I feel like I sold my teenage years as a price for my edge in tech. I'm not always sure it was worth it.


> Personally, I feel like I sold my teenage years as a price for my edge in tech.

Yes, this. That's how I got here, too. And have the same ruminations from time to time.


Sold them? What do you regret? As far as I can tell, spending my teen years learning stuff was the right move.

Short of becoming a professional sportsman, which was never on the table for me, I don't see anything that I could have now if I had acted differently.


I agree. I learned a bunch of tech and then used it to socialize, make friends, meet women, etc. I don't feel I missed out on either the teenage part or the learning part.


Underpaid is an interesting term, I guess. When you think about it, software (in its many forms) isn't like retail or hard goods; it can be sold - usually - an infinite amount of times. The upside is massive since all hard overhead is eliminated. Where then should that overhead go? To management?

It's all about ratios, of course. If the owners/management of a company are grossly overpaid in comparison to the workers who produce - especially if physical overhead is nearly eliminated - then yes, developers are indeed underpaid. And I would posit this is true in many areas of software development. Perhaps not your situation, but overall? I buy it.


I will admit that my situation may be more unique than I realize. After all, there are vastly more software companies out there than I could ever work at, so my own experiences can never be more than mere anecdata, no matter how much I'd like to extrapolate from them. And I've only ever worked at small companies, so a relatively tiny number of developers have also worked at the same places as me. This is in stark contrast to huge corporations like Google and Amazon, where I could at least extrapolate my experience to thousands of other employees at the same company.

I have not had the sense at my own jobs that the upper management was overcompensated. I can't prove this of course as I didn't and don't have access to the company's financial statements and bank accounts, but the norm has seemed to be to reinvest profits in the company in order to remain competitive. It's worth pointing out that I've only (so far) worked at companies that have been self-sustained, not requiring any VC funding. My impression is that many bootstrapped software companies are not actually making that much money; revenue figures in the $10M-$20M range are not uncommon. This money is easily spent on a staff of 50+, office space, etc.


You can usually just do the math. Let's assume last year I decreases the loading time of our website by 50%, taking it from 2 seconds to 1 second. This reduces the drop off rate of customers (people who switch websites before it loads) by about 15%. That means a 15% increase in overall sales.

Now let's assume it was a $10 million a year business. That means it's now making $11.5 million dollars a year because a software engineer optimized the loading time. That engineer probably makes $100k or so, and he might get a 10% raise since he did such a good job. The remaining $1.49 million gets distributed amongst execs and investors.

Hardly seems fair, when most executives have no idea what's going on, and provide zero value add for that case.


$10M in sales with what profit margin? 20%? In that case the $1.5M in extra sales is $300k in profit. Also a developer with $100k in salary costs about $125k when you consider payroll taxes, insurance, 401k matching, etc. If you factor in the cost of office space, equipment and support staff the total cost per employee could easily be $200k. Most developers also don't increase revenue by $1M per year on a regular basis. So when you look at the whole picture you realize that most developers aren't as underpaid as you think. And the ones that can consistently generate $1M+ in profit by themselves definitely do get paid much more than your typical developer.

If you think most executives have no idea what is going on and add zero value then I am guessing you haven't spent much time around executives. The whole reason your typical developer got their job and is able to keep it in the first place is because executives figured out how to run the business well enough to grow and continue to hire developers and then allocate them to projects where they can increase revenue. If you think it's easy I recommend you give it a try sometimes.


You make some excellent points and I completely agree with the thrust of your argument that people should not be so quick to judge.

However, from my empirical observation of many executives, there are two broad groups.

The ones you described, those that are worth their salt and have carved out their position through helping the business.

Then there is a large group of executives who exist mainly because similar companies have similar structures and they have expectations of roles for say CFO , COO. Then there are roles required by the industry or market: Head of Compliance, Head of Risk, Head of Auditing.

Those executives have not earned their place, they are appointments by pattern matching corporate structures


According to this logic, our developer has actually earned his wages in perpetuity from this single year of work (or at least so long as that 15% value added lasts). But that's clearly not how it works either.

The issue in this example is ownership. Executives add value and they are granted large ownership stakes in the business. Workers are not. You use the example of the executive who figures out how to grow the business to prove that he is entitled to appropriate some of the other employees' added value -- since otherwise that value wouldn't exist in the first place. But our developer can't take his yearly salary out of the 15% increased revenue he enabled back in 2012, on top of compensation for whatever value he creates this year.

In any event, the example is very contrived. $10M in sales is as arbitrary as 20% profit margins. Margins could be any amount less or a great deal more. Revenues could be sky high or non-existent. You might expect to find a developer making $100k regardless.


The vast majority of executives I have worked closely with don't add significant value. They are paid well in large part because there are not enough of them to matter. The CEO of micdonalds getting a 200% raise is cheaper than a 1% raise to their minimum wage workers.


Why does everyone talk like the leverage of the business is the leverage of the developer when discussing compensation? That's not how it works.

Compensation is set by the market: what is the next person who can do this same job willing to be paid?

If we go out into the market to find all the people that can decrease page loading time by 50% and have them bid against each other, we will probably end up paying the lowest bidder who is capable of the job about the median salary of the profession.

And another point on >the remaining $1.49 million gets distributed amongst execs and investors. People who own equity in the company have legal claim on the cash flows of the business. They balance free cash flows with reinvested capital (assets,, SGA) to sustain free cash flows into the future.


Well, you are both right. Compensation is set by the market, but the ceiling for compensation to perform a task is (roughly) the amount of value that a employee can generate, in a rational market.

Of course, our market is far from rational, etc, etc.

FWIW, I don't think that software developers are overpaid, at all. It's a difficult career, requiring years of intense study to do well. Sure, maybe not as much as Doctors, at least not formally, but a lot of that has to do with the structure of medical education in the United States (in particular, the requirement to complete an undergrad degree prior to admission to medical school). The job of a surgeon is certainly more difficult than the average software developer, but compared to a SRE at Google, say, who is working with real, "living" distributed systems that interact in complex ways, I would say they are comparable. If anything, I'd expect, in a rational market, for the SRE to be paid more, because their services are providing for millions or billions of customers, while the surgeon is only providing for one at a time (and maybe a few thousand over their carrer).


What I usually reach when thinking along similar paths, using me (programmer) vs my doctor friends, is the failure scenario:

If I introduce a bug it will hurt revenue in some way, possibly affecting the company's operations. If most doctors mishandle a patient it could have significant, immediate effect on that person's life.

I deal with the responsibility weighing on me, but they've had to get used to dealing with a much heavier responsibility.


At least in microeconomics 101, companies hire as long as the marginal revenue equals the marginal cost of the employee. If the marginal revenue per engineer is high, companies will try to keep hiring them. The demand for engineers goes up, and so does compensation.


In microeconomics, the firm would use marginal gross profit not marginal revenue [sales].

Think of Amazon, Walmart, or any firm with significant COGS [cost of goods sold]. It's clear that they can't hire employees inline with marginal revenue.


> If we go out into the market to find all the people that can decrease page loading time by 50% and have them bid against each other, we will probably end up paying the lowest bidder who is capable of the job about the median salary of the profession.

And what if the companies were to bid on the employee? That would likely drive wages higher and compensate for the natural information asymmetry in the tech labor market.


I see this conversation every fucking week on HN.


I have rarely ever heard someone argue that. lettergram did not argue that, only that employee wages are exploitative. In a labor market with unemployment and no real safety net it's clear that workers cannot individually leverage a fair wage.


Well, my own experience is that the $1.49 million would more likely be reinvested in the company as a whole: hire more developers, more salespeople, expand the office, etc. That money would also take an entire year to materialize and would require your back of the envelope math to pan out perfectly. Requesting a $1.5 million dollar bonus for making the website faster seems a little ludicrous and potentially hostile to the company's continued long-term existence. Depending on the exact nature of the product, it might require additional salespeople and various support staff just to close and maintain the extra sales to create the $1.49 million in the first place -- and yet you'd be claiming it all for yourself, giving none of it to these other folks.

Additionally, I don't really agree with this underlying notion that you're entitled to 100% of the extra revenue generated by the speed increase. Imagine how bizarre it would be if you actually applied this thinking consistently over the lifetime of the company to every employee. This approach spectacularly and disproportionately over-rewards people who join the company later, as it becomes increasingly easy to create large increases in revenue because on absolute terms a 1% increase keeps getting bigger and bigger. This would lead to a complete inversion of risk, where it would be more profitable to never take risk and only take stable jobs at long-running companies that have already developed a large market share. I'm not convinced this is a sensible distribution of income to employees.


> Well, my own experience is that the $1.49 million would more likely be reinvested in the company as a whole: hire more developers, more salespeople, expand the office, etc

A lot of it also goes to essential business expenses: HR, legal, the AWS bill, the new feature that's currently losing money but will pay off in the long term.

And the person who made the $1.5mm code fix didn't do it on their own. They wouldn't have been able to improve the code if somebody else hadn't already written the first version. And neither of them would have been able to get their code into production if somebody hadn't set up the build and release process for the company. And they never would have been in the position to make the $1.5mm fix if their manager hadn't identified the need for an additional engineer on the team and recruited them. And the company wouldn't exist if the founder hadn't had the idea in the first place. And the company would have blown up last year if the lawyers hadn't made sure the company was protected from a frivolous lawsuit. Et cetera, et cetera.


Yep, a great division of labor created that wealth for the company, and the developer is not entitled to 15% of it's revenue (or even profit) just for that work. This isn't a practical issue though. The everyday situation is not that a undeserving worker is granted a large ownership stake, it's that an undeserving financier/executive/founder is.


I read this line of argument fairly regularly and am continually amazed that more people making this argument aren't off starting their own companies to scoop themselves up a heaping helping of this easy and undeserved money.

(As text is a poor medium to communicate tone, I'm positing that it's not nearly as easy as it seems, therefore nor are the profits for the successful as undeserved as they seem.)


I didn't say it's easy, or that there shouldn't be compensation! All those people add value and some of their work is very difficult. But difficulty of work is not the basis upon which they have large ownership stakes. Many jobs are not nearly as easy as they seem, but most merely pay a wage or fixed salary.

The founder controls the legal business entity and contributes capital assets and real or intellectual property. The financier purchases ownership directly. This is why they "deserve" to appropriate the value created by the company in perpetuity.

The founder may have done a lot of hard work in creating that intellectual property (including brand) in the first place, but it is the legal ownership of it that he trades for ownership in the company, not his hard work. In other instances it's possible to simply purchase IP or brand outright in the formation of a business. The commonality in these cases is legal ownership and the trade of capital assets, not hard work, whether their job is one I could not do personally, etc.


You threw me off then with the use of the word undeserving. What did you mean by that word?


> I'm not especially interested in whether or not it's cosmically fair when deciding whether or not it's deserved.

The argument about the "risk-tasking investors" rightfully owning the work of the "risk-free employees" is an appeal to fairness (the investors could lose their investment while the employees still gain their salaries), so by the way it does seem that you are interested in that.

Early efforts in organizing the company and navigating difficult waters are work and those employees should be compensated with ownership. I don't think that subsequent work by subsequent employees should not be compensated in this same way. Mark Zuckerberg and half a dozen friends created a company valued at $98M by Accel in 2005 and enjoyed ownership of that. Today he and 15,000 others create a company valued at $360 billion, of which he enjoys 25% ownership while the combined ownership of the rest is miniscule.


If you own a large amount of value or wealth that you did not create, I would say that is undeserved.

Founders and early employees contribute work and are hopefully rewarded for that work with ownership stakes in the company. Rightly so. But as the company grows, and to the degree that it necessarily hires additional employees, the proportion of ownership held by these early employees becomes undeserved (in the simple above sense of the word). Their large ownership positions remain, even as it becomes clearer and clearer that the value of the company is created by its hundreds/tens of thousands of employees.

So if you start a business and make a profit (a hard thing to do!), that is not undeserved. But if business grows and eventually the value is created by 15,000 people all together, you don't deserve 25% of it.


IMO, you do since you created the company and navigated it through the difficult early waters. If you were able to do so and maintain a 25% ownership share (astoundingly unlikely/uncommon IME), then you "deserve" it partly as a founder and partly as an ongoing investor (by virtue of not selling your shares).

There's a genuine argument that the investors and risk-takers "created" a portion of the wealth by virtue of bankrolling and hiring those 15K employees and paying them a risk-free salary.

I'm not especially interested in whether or not it's cosmically fair when deciding whether or not it's deserved. Warren Buffett "deserves" every bit of Berkshire Hathaway that he owns; Bill Gates every bit of Microsoft, Mark Z every bit of Facebook, etc. (Again, all in my opinion. I'm sure there are others who disagree, but even among them probably differ on how [or whether] to correct the "undeserved" ownership.)


And yet, it seems pretty routine for the sales team members to take residuals on leads they bring in - it's just that it's a lot harder to quantify the effects that code changes have to the bottom line.


Yes, residuals -- they don't book the entire sale for themselves. And they often have much lower salaries as well compared to development staff. Of course I cannot speak for all companies, but this is how it's been in my personal experience.


By your math, the janitors are worthless. Fire them all, and give that money to the devs! Then, as the garbage piles higher and the weird smells ground into the carpet linger, you can keep yourself warm with your extra money.

Also, why shouldn't the investors get their cut? They were forking over their money to pay you before a line of your code ever hit production; going by your math, developers should be paid on contigency of the code they write getting into production, and penalised if there's a regression.


Honestly, that engineer enabled that growth, but it wouldn't have been possible without the work of a full team providing content, security, reliability and so on. If the same work was done on an old Geocities site, there would be no value to add.

You're overvaluing the engineer in your argument; they were only one piece that enabled that extra value.


Ha ha, I have experienced this first hand, a small project I worked on netted my then-employer roughly $2m/year in additional revenue.

That money covered the bonuses of just 2 executives, I think I might have got a 2 or 3% raise myself that year...


The (17.6%) increase is unlikely to be something that only one programmer can do, so the market takes over and most devs are already making top 3% income in their countries.


That is just life as an employee though. If you want to get the lions share of that increase you need to start your own business and then you can split the profit how you want.


No, usually you can't do this math.


I sort of agree with what you're saying but just wanna point out that you may not have gone to school and have have a loan etc.

But many many software engineers do. Many of us go to uni and study a traditional degree and therefore, have a lot of loans etc as well as spend 3 to 4 years in University.

Also, learning for a software engineer is pretty much forever since the moment you stop learning is your downfall in software development.


Becoming a doctor, for example, is a lot longer than 3-4 years and is going to involve a lot more debt. Also if you want to be a doctor you have no choice but to do all of that formal education and pay the huge sums. If you want to learn software development you can do so for free (excluding time but that is true of all learning). All you need is a computer and an internet connection. All of the software you need can be free, there are loads of excellent free resources and even the non-free things like books are not very expensive.

I know people many people who learnt to code in their own time for ~6 months and landed a decent first job. Over the next couple of years they learnt a lot more and now have great jobs earning within 20% of what a doctor usually earns however they don't have the debt and saved a few years of their lives as well.

Not saying everyone can do this and become a software developer but it is very possible. I don't have a degree, I had to leave school at 16 (I am now 32) and worked in a shop to get by. I self-taught and now I earn a few £ under £100k making software. I have a super comfy life. I have zero debt (well a mortgage but no other debt), a nice house, family, a fair amount in savings, etc. Honestly I couldn't ask for more especially considering the rather small investment I put into getting this lifestyle.


I went to school and graduated with large loans because my parents didn't pay for my schooling. And I agree with the parent poster 100%. Saying software developers are underpaid is on of the silliest and out of touch things I've ever heard.


Honestly, medical school is intellectually easier than a compsci degree, even if it takes more time and more rote learning. My friends who are doctors tend to have terrible work schedules which they can hardly escape, on the other hand. Not that this actually matters a lot in compensation, given that in the circumstances it probably doesn't have a lot of effect on the supply of doctors.


As someone who completed medical school but has a bachelor's degree in CS, I have to disagree with your first statement.


I actually did the reverse (decided that I wouldn't have been good at actually being a doctor, dealing with patients, etc.); I happen to still help friends with exams and, well, there is basically nothing in there that is harder to understand than the first year calculus exam that you have to take in a computer science or engineering course. You need to acquire a working multi-level understanding of very complex systems, but I have found the chemistry->biochemistry->cell signaling and regulation->tissue etc. chain more intuitive for most people than the electronics->system architecture->machine code->programming language-> etc. chain. I'm interested in reading what made you feel that the opposite was true; maybe the issues with incomplete understanding of many processes that pop up in medicine?


I'm always surprised when we have this double standard of valuation of people vs companies. Companies rarely sit back and independently say - hey my products are making too much of a profit margin, maybe I should lower the price? On the flip side, there is this push to beat down the valuation of people - or at least to apply a completely different set of measures on the income of people. Why does it matter if the income is generated by something "too easy"?

If anything there is an argument that labor in the overall economy is undervalued, and it is destabilizing the long term strength of the economy.


I agree with the main message: we are not underpaid. Considering the risks we are taking (both in life and in career) we live comfortable lives indeed.

A side note: when you said "I didn't have to pass a single licensing exam" I immediately thought of the way our profession tends to have that kind of exam every time we interview each other. A big part of interview for a software developer is based on the exam-type material; this is very different from the way other professionals, even engineers, have their interviews. (Does not contradict your message, just a note.)


I'd rather take the bar exam (a uniform, objective, standardized test), than do as-hoc interview puzzles.


Looking at people who seem "more impressive" in their work is not a way to gauge your worth. It's really as simple as that. Surgeons appear (and have the social capita) of being the utmost important, but salaries have little to do with that. In the digital age, where dotcom millionaires and billionaires can easily be minted...everyone should strive to take what is rightfully theirs. Because capitalism.


A doctor impacts one person at a time, a software developer can impact millions. Now, people are bad when dealing with large numbers, but regularly adding removing stress from millions of people will shorten / lengthen people's lives.

For less used software this might not seem like a big deal, but targeted software can have a larger indicidual impact even if it's only making 50+ people redundant.


Completely agree. I know several overworked and really smart individuals that struggle to make a decent living. Not surprisingly all of them happen to work in different fields.. By the other hand, all developers I know have an easy life. Is it a coincidence?

Hardly ever you'll find anybody saying that earns too much or works too little. Be humble and enjoy.


What I don't buy is why it's okay to generalize your imposter syndrome to an industry as a whole.

"Maybe I feel differently about this because I'm not in a major tech hub"

Read: "I can afford to live in a comfortable place and not a closet, so let me generalize such that no dev can afford to live in historically relevant software hubs either."

Next, lest this selfish hot take get too tonedeaf, time to write off our 6 figure privilege! Since this is a recent accomplishment, let's ditch any sort of humility toward the the talented software minds who came before who made the efficiencies of our day jobs possible. Instead, we'll roll with some terrible analogies to completely non-sequitur professional industries!

• I'm not performing life-altering surgery, because emotional hyperbolic appeals will distract from the fact I base my insight into the most valuable industry in the world on 7 paragraphs of anecdotes. Forget that the fundamentals of medicine and the practice thereof bear almost no relation to that of computer science and software development.

• Wheee! I love talking about dentists with mansions. I got my teeth cleaned last Saturday, and I've never had to be on call for any sort of systems admin role. Speaking of things I've never had to do, thank god I come from an ever increasing minority of people who can afford to live a comfortable lifestyle without taking on student loan debt early in life.

• I don't need a graduate degree to get precious time in a lab with equipment I absolutely must have to do my job. Unclear if I've ever met anyone who's tried to further themselves with a IT licensure, but since those aren't in vogue any more, I'll just make dreamy comparisons to one of the most antiquated, regulated industries out there. I've worked less, but people I know are stuck in debt forever working 80+ hour weeks in BigLaw!

Despite the option of a meaningful career alternative to the above, developers shouldn't try to build on their gains. Let's just foreclose even the notion that there are people working out there who are underpaid because they don't have coworker peers, or they are just the "IT guy", or are a woman or minority, or because some doctor, dentist, or lawyer has an idea.

"My lifetime earnings won't be that different because I got such a tremendous head start" ...so why should I try to build others up?

In these kind of discussions, I often point out how software is pretty unique in that due to supply/demand, there's no labor unions or collective bargaining. But maybe it's a good thing, because I'd never want you speaking for me when it comes to how much any of us are being paid.


While all previous evidence goes towards pointing this to be another way for AMZN to squeeze more out of their employees, I think we could give them the benefit of doubt. I think they may have seen a segment of talented developers saying I don't want to be in this ratrace. I'd rather work 30hrs/week and make $100K to maintain work-life balance. 6hrs/week or 4 days/week. I wish more companies were open to this. It would reduce internal competition. Some of the 60 hr/week employees are gunning for promotions and probably don't care about work life balance. Why should everyone have to compete with that?


If Amazon had a good track record for people working only 40 hours a week, I might be less skeptical about this 30 hour week situation.

There are very few technical teams inside that seem to come even close to that, so I'm extremely doubtful that managers are going to be sufficiently disciplined to keep their staff down to 30 hours, nor employees sufficiently empowered either. It's so hard to see this as anything other than a way to pay people less for comparable work.


> I think we could give them the benefit of doubt

I've found that this is a much less stressful and more productive way to approach most things in life.

> Some of the 60 hr/week employees are gunning for promotions and probably don't care about work life balance. Why should everyone have to compete with that?

That seems totally reasonable. It's similar to the way tech companies have a concept of a "terminal level" where it's considered fine to spend your whole career with no pressure or expectations to earn further promotions.


> It's similar to the way tech companies have a concept of a "terminal level" where it's considered fine to spend your whole career with no pressure or expectations to earn further promotions.

And who else besides Jeff Dean, enjoys such a distinguished role?


Terminal level is usually "senior software engineer" or the equivalent. Something that every competent engineer can reasonably be expected to achieve.


Senior dev is usually fine to stay at as long as you keep producing.

Amazon states that SDE-II is fine actually. I think that's just their way of keeping the bar for senior higher.


> While all previous evidence goes towards pointing this to be another way for AMZN to squeeze more out of their employees...

Why would you go against a theory that all evidence pointed toward? I think what you meant is that despite what it looks like at first glance, there could be reasons why this is a good idea. You should present evidence for those arguments, maybe based on personal experience


I'd love to make $100k USD working a 40h week.


I'd love to make $200k USD working a 20h week.


I'm not being facetious, but this might be a personal problem (not being able to get your mind off of work). For people who experience this, something like meditation might help, seriously. I certainly wouldn't fault an employer.

I'd love a 30 work week (if I wasn't trying to fast track towards retirement): those 10 hours (or more if working 4 days and not having to commute one weekday) would be entirely mine.


>I'm not being facetious, but this might be a personal problem (not being able to get your mind off of work). For people who experience this, something like meditation might help, seriously. I certainly wouldn't fault an employer.

It's not that most people can't take their mind off of work, it's that they often have to meet various unrealistic deadlines, or else. It's not their own choice, insofar as they want to keep their job.


That would be their manager's problem. Go home at end-of-business. If they fire people for, um, working during working hours, they'll be going under from the churn in short order anyway. It's not like there's an oversupply of developer capacity - obviously, seeing as how they keep scheduling 60+ hours of work every week!


gfody's description reads to me like a description of genius-level work. it's not "not being able to get your mind off of work". it's, wow, you're a genius for being able to do this at all - it's not some fungible thing anyone could do instead of you. yours sounds like the description of more fungible work, that could be done by someone else and for which hours may even be a good measure. it just doesn't sound like you two are talking about the same thing.


On the other hand, I'm a software engineer who is able to keep a clear separation between work and personal life, and I would very much appreciate the ability to spend fewer hours on work.

Though as others have suggested, a 3 month vacation every year might be an even better approach to a 75% work schedule.


And you wouldn't worry about people plotting on either how to get you fired, or I suppose in the "best" situation loosing out on working on the good/funner projects? From what I've seen from other people taking extended time off from work, it is super dangerous. Hell, I took three extra days for Thanksgiving and found myself removed from an interesting project and placed on some maintenance tasks afterwards.


I'm sorry your workplace is so hostile :(

Luckily I've never experienced an atmosphere like that.


Or your place is that much sneakier about it :)


If you work in a country with mandatory leave, like anwhere in the EU, this couldn't be a problem.

Everyone has 4/5/6 weeks of leave, and is expected to take them. Planning around people on leave is a normal part of management.


That sucks, man. It really hurts my heart that we're still doing shit like this in 2016...


This is interesting to me, because I have never experienced anything of what you describe when working for somebody else. Maybe it's because I work in an office, and so there's a very clear change in environment that affects my ability to focus on different things: office=paid work, anywhere else=not paid work.

In any case, what you describe seems like a pretty big limitation to me. If your employer isn't asking you, or pressuring you, to do more work, then they really shouldn't be held responsible when you do. I wouldn't paint my neighbor's house without having been asked to and then be upset with them for not asking me to (and therefore not paying me to) paint their house. That's nonsensical, but it's also an analogy with limited applicability.


That's cute but not how the world works. Employers will rarely explicitly ask you to do free overtime because that's illegal in many jurisdictions. What happens instead is this: an unrealistic deadline will be imposed and you will be expected to meet it. How you will go about doing that is up to you, but it usually assumes working overtime if you want to keep your job.


Maybe push back? You aren't a slave and by allowing yourself to be forced to work for free you devalue your work and ours as well.


I fully agree with you. The issue is not people like you and me, it's 22 year old kids who are willing to work 16 hours a day and undercut everyone else.


This is true of many more jobs, jobs that require you to think and use judgement. This isn't just engineering jobs.


Yes, especially for those jobs that already require 60-80 hour weeks (doctor, IB etc). We get paid well for our hours.


Depends on where you live. Doctors aren't paid that well in most Eastern European countries.


I think this applies to many roles, not just engineering. I could imagine a copy-writer getting stuck on some exact word choice, a salesperson mulling over every reaction and word from a previous meeting. A designer taking in everything the see.


Programmers can suffer from this problem as well as engineers.

The project never fully leaves your mind and often I'll go home and mull over the reasons why things might not be working or how to start another task. No "actual" work gets done, but I'm still working; just as you described.


In this context, "programmer" and "engineer" are probably meant to be synonymous.


I don't doubt it. Some people see the two as similar trades, others are adamant they are completely separate.

I figured I would make the post for the second group.


Nope, you're not working. You or the parent. That's a nonsensical definition of work. Nobody is making you mull things over, you're doing it because you want to, because you find your job interesting. Some may try to claim the contrary, but I'm sure if you're doing something other than a mundane task like driving or cleaning, your mind instantly gets sidetracked from "working". You can't possibly actually be thinking about work in any real sense while you converse with friends and family, read a book, watch a movie, etc.

Do you think carpenters never think about work after hours?


To your point everyone who has ever worked a reasonable length of time in restaurants has had the experience of their work environment permeating their nightmares and dealt with stress about work outside of it. It's perfectly normal in every industry to have a constant stream of thought going about work.

However, in many engineering and scientific fields, that constant stream of thought is frequently productive due to the nature of the work being based in problem solving - and solving problems while physically checked out happens a lot.

That's not to say other positions don't do productive work outside the office, I'm only emphasizing that with engineering and science the phenomena of productive offline time is more frequent.

--- There are a lot of ways to look at wages and job titles in order to justify both higher and lower wages, but at the end of the day pay scale is determined by the market.

Software developers/engineers generally make more money than a lot of other careers. It's hard work. It's stressful. It takes a good deal of training/education. And it takes a particular kind of mind in order to both manage doing it long term and do it will long term.

They don't get paid well for any of those reasons. They get paid well because the industry is relatively young, tasks related to software are deemed important, and there is a constant shortage of people who do it well.

Not all people get paid exceedingly well. There are sub-industries that pay very poorly for essentially the same level of work. If you look at a senior software engineer at Netflix and compare salary to a senior software engineer at Infosys working a project in small town Tenessee, you'll find one person who is in the top 1% of earners globally, and one who doesn't hope to save a down payment on a house anytime soon. Same job title, very similar work, enormous discrepancy in pay.

If you look at the Bay Area specifically, salaries are high, but cost of living is also high. While there are many jobs available, at the higher salary levels companies are not just looking for good software people, they are looking for good software people with experience in very specific areas - shrinking the available pool of potential workers significantly and increasing the amount of training and education that's required to attain one of those positions.

Apologies. I've gone off on a long tangent here mostly directed at the general discussion in this thread and not to your points.


To be fair, that small-town SE in Tennessee probably won't have much trouble saving for a house. On the contrary, making $100K, or just under, in Tennessee is going to make you comparably very well-off.

The median home price in Nashville (one of the more desirable areas in the South) is $205K, while in San Fran, it's over a million. Using the old-standard of 3-4X gross income for a property, the developer in TN can afford a really nice house.


The small town Senior SE in Tenesee for Infosys is making ~$58K, and has to worry about paying back the loan he took out to come to the States.


Actually, many times i do not want to think about it but my brain often gets stuck on that hinge. That may not be how everyone works but i am just presenting what happens to me.

Also, Carpenters are physical workers. Their work is fundamentally physical, it'll be like saying that the Carpenter was always making the table or whatever product he is working even while he is not at that location. That doesn't even make sense, its actually impossible.


> Do you think carpenters never think about work after hours?

This is a false analogy, because on the whole, carpenters aren't paid to think. A better analogy would be if the carpenter kept on building the house (or whatever) even after leaving work - an impossible feat, which just shows the unique challenges of knowledge work.


Agreed, we really need time off after a project ships or major milestones. Usually after a long sprint on a project to ship you just have to start another one and are less effective immediately. Output would be the same or better with breaks after ebbs and flow of pressure shipments and into design/new projects.


Well these workers get 75% salary, but still get full benefits. So they get more than 75% overall value.


And they likely do more than 75% work in those 75% hours as your marginal utility goes down after perhaps 20 hours a week.


This is hardly unique to engineers though. Almost everyone whose job involves coming up with ideas and thinking through problems does some of it in the shower.


In addition to that, I'm frankly not sure that a 10 hour/week (2 hour/day) savings is going to be worth a 25% pay cut to most people.

I'm not saying two hours per day (or an extra weekday or whatever) is entirely trivial, just that one has to be very fastidious and organised to take advantage of it. Even so, the economics of human task-switching and overhead, particularly in high cognitive load professions like software, are such that the marginal utility of two extra hours is going to be low. Life is not a spreadsheet, where one gets home at 3 PM and $ENJOYMENT or $NECESSARY_ERRANDS immediately commence. I'd probably just catch a breather for a few hours, if lucky, or catch up on the traffic from other life stressors gnawing at me.

Is that worth making 25% less? I don't know about that. I suspect most people would just negotiate a "75%" salary that still makes them reasonably happy.


If they are fair and honest about this (not handing out 40 or 50 hours work and calling it 30), I think that 4 days * 8 hours per week would be pretty nice.

I did a 4 * 10 job one summer when I was a teen. It was REALLY nice to have Friday as "recovery" day before the real weekend started.

I'm not sure how my family would tolerate me being gone 4 * 10, though.


Maybe I've just been self-employed for too long. In this mode of existence, one has immense schedule flexibility and yet is always working, all at the same time, in some weirdly paradoxical way. It's a lot like the life of professors; they don't have to be in the office except when teaching or having office hours, yet they're always busy.

From the vantage point of that mode of existence, an extra day doesn't do anything for me. Nothing I'd take a pay cut for, for sure. I can take a random Wednesday off anyway if I feel like it. On the other hand, I am working at least some time every day, and some days a lot.

I guess if I think back to when I was W-2 employed my butt had to be in some cube farm at 9 AM every day, a Friday off might seem more valuable.


Does this mean you'd consider a 60 hour work week an improvement? Is 40 hours the perfect number for some reason? At what point are we just resisting any change to the status quo?


The unit of measure for work is not time. It's work. The measurement in units of time is related to a constant output of energy, ie. work. If you find that too rough an estimate to be applicable, that's fine, but how does that warrant more pay? Anyone could claim eating, staying healthy and taking the required time to relax after work are also work related, just e.g.


Good point. This is one reason why I advocate a fee-per-service model over an hourly one. Potential client wants XYZ done, and seeks someone who can fulfill that need. Engineers quote prices, client chooses someone based on price and their reputation and portfolio. Etc.

Or in a simpler sense: You need someone to perform weekly maid service? $X please. You want a foundation dug and poured for your new satellite office? $Y please. Hourly wages in many cases are just inviting abuse and drain employee productivity and motivation.

Of course a flat fee would be rather difficult to implement in direct customer service sectors. Hiring a cashier to process a certain number of customer check-outs or a certain amount of purchases for a flat fee would be problematic, because there's no way of knowing how long that would take (so the employee can't schedule the rest of their life) and the employer wouldn't want the employee to have much control over what time of day they work.


I don't believe this applies to just engineers alone. I suspect teachers, marketers, almost every other, if not every other job has problems that require a mental effort in off-work hours in order to solve.


I agree with your general premise but disagree with the conclusion. I think this gives you an ability to commit to delivering less which results in less deliberation outside of your primary work hours.

Frankly though, if you love what you do you always take your work home with you (mentally anyway). So at the end of the day, there is no on/off switch for engineers (along with other types of careers) so although engineers are some of the highest paid you want them to be paid higher?

I am not saying I would disagree but also not saying I think I am under paid by any stretch of the imagination.


Sorry but why do you think the mental load of work after work applies only to developers? I can tell you it applies to a bunch of jobs that have nothing to do with development.


what bothers me about it is the 75% pay, because I could never imagine not putting in additional hours.

Were I only getting 75% of the pay of a full time worker, you can be sure I'd never put in a single additional hour.

I could say that a drop in my hours to 40 / week would be nice, but I'm the one who chooses to work longer hours. There's no expectation of longer hours where I am. I'm also usually not productive 8 hours in a row every day, sometimes significantly less than that. It ends up being very much a give / take scenario.


Don't bring your work home with you on a regular basis. It requires effort because it's easy to bring your work home with you no matter your job. Keep work at work.


More often some problem takes hold of you, occupying some mental bandwidth even while you're away, at home trying to enjoy time with your family or whatever - technically you're still working, your mind is preoccupied, you might not be able to sleep or when you do you dream about the problem.

Oh my gosh, exactly this! When I am working on a theoretical maths problem, there is just no end to the work! On the train home, when I'm eating, when I'm taking a shower, it goes on and on (it's especially bad for maths because it's pure mental gymnastics - not even pen & paper needed unless you have specific calculations). I have to make a conscious effort to stop that - but then I have to clear many 'temporary variables' in my mind (losing time and effort) and the problem remains unsolved for the time being. Plus I cannot work on any other intellectual pursuits in the meantime because my mind is exhausted. It drives me nuts.


You sound like you resent this which makes me question whether you genuinely like what you do?


You are asking a good question. I love programming/solving maths problems more than any other work activity but I wonder if I have made a mistake with turning this hobby into my job or if the environment is the problem. I'm going through some big changes in my life now, so time will tell.


Sometimes its environmental. One way to figure this out might be to try changing some parameters and see if you still enjoy things. Its hard for me to say without any context but I hope you find your purpose!


Right, we are getting paid to solve puzzles essentially! Lots of people would love to do that kind of work, and many do it for free solving Sudoku or what not (not that it's mathematically comparable to what OP does, but in a similar vein).


I love Sudoku! The best way to pick up the essentials of a programming language is to write a Sudoku solver in it. So I've done that plenty :)


As an amazon SDE myself, one who doesn't think working at Amazon is that bad, but do admit that it is challenging, and often do work much longer then 40h a week, I would need to have a guarantee that my pay cut comes with a no more then 30h a week clause.

I'd like to see proper hour counting, like a check in and check out. Where any hour above 30h comes at an extra cost to Amazon, like double pay. So that they would be incentivised to actually tell me to stop working and send me home.

I know some people might say, that's up to you, just don't let yourself work extra, but at a company like Amazon, you can actually lose your job or at least not be promoted from delivering less then the other employees. You're ranked against your peers, so deciding to work only 30h would hurt you in the long run if the others started putting in 35h, 40h, 45h, etc.


I never thought I'd want a clock-in, clock-out system until this moment. Early in my working life (teen retail electronics job), I felt the pressure of the clock, even as a super reliable worker. I just knew it was there.

Now, the idea of a clock that tells me to go home seems super appealing.


On the other hand, if you get paid 'for' 40, but work 50, and someone else gets paid for 30, but works 35, is that a problem?


'Amazon is piloting 25% pay cuts'.

I wonder if the group that does this will be viewed as lesser, e.g. work on less interesting projects, be less likely to be promoted, than the "40" hour employees.


They are piloting it on internal HR software which I think says a lot.

To me this seems like a purely PR driven move after the lambasting their culture has taken lately.


> They are piloting it on internal HR software which I think says a lot.

There's a tendency for people to think that HR software and other internal tools are less important than public products, but if the company is allocating employees properly, that doesn't really make sense.

The engineers working on this HR software all passed the same technical interviews that everybody else did. Amazon could have easily allocated them to some flashy consumer product, but management decided that it's important to have a team working on HR software. So either somebody made a horrible miscalculation when they decided to build the HR software, or this work is equally valuable to all the other work happening.


Amazon's bar is hugely variable based on the org you interview with.


If you're working on an internal product, your work is not standing up to, or shaped by, market pressures. At least not to the level of that of your peers who are working on public-facing projects. I've seen a tendency for internal projects to develop in a way that is more academic and less practical, for exactly this reason.


> The engineers working on this HR software all passed the same technical interviews that everybody else did.

No, they didn't. They likely were interviewed by the hiring manager. Which, a hiring manager of an internal tools team, does not face the public scrutiny of engineering detail required by a front facing mass consumer product. Therefore internal tools teams do not require as rigid software engineering rules as mass consumer products.

> Amazon could have easily allocated them to some flashy consumer product, but management decided that it's important to have a team working on HR software.

No, they couldn't. Internal HR tools usually means CRUD applications. Why would you put a SQL developer on a deep learning optimization team?

Don't try to defend Amazon here. They have messed up with the way they treat employees. 30 hour weeks doesn't change that.


I see that as a good thing. If you're going to experiment on your employees and try to change your workplace culture, low-profile projects that--while important--often aren't 100% mission critical are a good place to do so.

A major problem in HR or payroll software or something similar might cause some massive headaches for your employees, but it won't be as noticeable outside the company as a major outage or problem affecting customer data.


I agree it's absolutely the smart way to go about testing this out. I only doubt that there's a real motive to change.


I'm biased as I'm an Amazon SDE. That aside...

Amazon experiments. It's not about bold PR moves to make waves and attract attention. It's about trying everything, even ideas that might sound bad, and seeing if they actually work. This? This is the same idea. Try it out on something less important (HR software, sure, why not) and see what happens.

In the worst case, a bit of internal software is late. That's a low-cost risk to see if you can find a way to reduce developer costs efficiently.


It may be part of the same philosophy of "trying everything," but it would be naive to say that there are no motivations of improving the negative reputation Amazon has built upon itself through its intensive work ethic.


How DARE they try to improve their reputation by offering something people want. The scum!


I've never understood why people paint companies making changes after negative publicity as such a scummy thing. Not all good changes can be thought of in advance. Making a change should not be viewed as scummy after negative feedback. In fact, not listening and adjusting is the worse move.


Idea may be independent from spin. All companies have people responsible for turning everything they possibly can into good PR.


That's a fair point.


The pilot is a team-wide thing. You won't have a 30-hour employee on a 40-hour team. 30-hour employees will work with 30-hour employees under a 30-hour manager. I think that will help offset some of this, but it does put a limit on what projects you could work on. For the pilot, anyway. I'm interested to see how this pans out.


I recognize that 'You won't have a 30-hour employee on a 40-hour team'... my point is that, unless they segregate them in another building, probably another company, the pilot teams will interact with the non-pilot teams... and, at some point in the hierarchy, will be managed by 40-hour people.

As jaded as I sound, I do think there's a place for workplace flexibility. What would really tell me the executives are committed to it: Calculate their actual FTE's - average work week hours divided by 40 - and make sure there are at least that many physical FTE's.


There's no reason why you cannot do that. Our contractors get fixed hour allocations, and often will strictly work to the hours they are paid for (we won't pay overtime without approval).

A few of my folks were angry about this and claimed to be working 50-60 hour weeks. My response was "there's a easy solution to this problem". They cut out the excessive OT, which was mostly unneeded, and not too much changed.


This might be a team wide thing at Amazon but I have seen mixing the two in a single team. Its called reduced hours and can be very helpful for people coming back from maternity leave (as well as others).


We have our 30hour employees and 40 hour employees on the same team. No reason they can't mix. We even have a couple part timers too.


> 'Amazon is piloting 25% pay cuts'.

Great!

Let's be honest - most working professionals (especially in Software) earn more money than they need. I think it's much better to have more time - time with you family, time to be outdoors, time to be healthy - than it is to have more money


Say that in 20 years when you are looking at how to retire for the next 20-30 years with no pension, and from companies who don't want old people.


Indeed. And even if money is your motivator, here is an extra 10-20 hours a week to work on one's side project. Do not see the downside, here.


I think what they really mean is "30-hour workweek while being physically present in the office". I would find it difficult to believe that employees wouldn't continue working from home under pressure from management or simply because of tight timelines.


Precisely.

Amazon is a sweatshop. The expectation is salaried employees put in ungodly hours.

All this is doing is giving people more freedom to burn themselves out at home, while further blurring the lines between work and life and throwing in a 25% pay cut as the cherry on top.

It's like the opposite of Google campus life, but with the same goal.


"Amazon is a sweatshop"

I wouldn't agree with this broad generalization. I work in Alexa and the work environment on my team is pretty awesome. Lots of freedom to try new things, good work life balance, and generally a high level of respect for engineers. I turned down Google to come here and I have no regrets (though not to imply that Google isn't equally awesome).


I'd have to disagree. I've been at Amazon for 2 years, and while it's not a sweatshop, it's definitly a challenging environment where I know of no one who works an exact 40h week at all times.

There's zero buffer to slack off, a less productive day is followed by a longer one.

I like working at Amazon. I like the challenge, the projects, the people I work with are fun and smart, but it is not a place where you can easily balance your life for a long period of time. I've never met someone past the 5 year mark that does not define his life as an Amazon employee first, everything second.

You can try to keep yourself at 40h, but eventually it will hurt you, it'll show in your review, it'll hold back your promotion, and if you're unlucky enough to have a management switch at a time where the team is expected to perform, you might even lose your job. I've seen it happen.

Now, maybe in some teams things are different, but in my 2 years, it's been my impression that this is the culture here. You either like it, as I do, I enjoy the rush and the busyness, makes my days fly by. Or you don't and you leave.

I'd be curious to know though, and be honest, you've really ever only worked 40h weeks? You havnt logged in on a weekend or an evening, stayed longer on an Thursday, checked your mails when off work? Not ever? Ignoring on call time offcourse.


> I'd be curious to know though, and be honest, you've really ever only worked 40h weeks? You havnt logged in on a weekend or an evening, stayed longer on an Thursday, checked your mails when off work? Not ever? Ignoring on call time offcourse.

I work 40 hours per week on average. For the 20 years I have been in the industry.

I solved some problems in the shower, but I also slack away on my desk sometimes.


Hi there! Sorry I didn't get a chance to reply to this earlier.

So my basic response to that is "it depends". I have previously been in a different team at Amazon and that team definitely had much less room for slack. If you didn't push yourself hard, you probably couldn't get promoted there. But then again, they also had issues with attrition.

The culture in teams can vary quite a bit at Amazon. I think it mostly comes down to the leadership. More than any other "big company" I've seen, Amazon emphasizes ownership. As a VP (and even as a manager, though to a much lesser extent), you get nearly full freedom to define your team's culture and set the direction of your product. So yeah, I don't think every team has a great culture within Amazon; a lot of it depends on the culture defined by your leadership team.

In regards to your last point: > "I'd be curious to know though, and be honest, you've really ever only worked 40h weeks? You havnt logged in on a weekend or an evening, stayed longer on an Thursday, checked your mails when off work? Not ever? Ignoring on call time offcourse."

Most weeks I probably put in a bit more than 40 hours. Maybe closer to 45 or 50 hours. That's the average. Have I put in more occasionally? Of course. Do I sometimes check emails on a weekends or evenings? Yep, of course. But there have also been times when I've come to work at noon or left by 2pm if I needed to do something else. And, 90% of the time, I don't respond to emails outside of work hours. That doesn't feel very much like a "sweatshop" to me.

I've worked at other companies besides Amazon and I have plenty of friends who work at Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple. My friends at Microsoft will often put in 50 to 60 hours during a live site outage or near a product release. I have friends at Google who check their email on evenings and weekends. One of my best friends is at Facebook and does the same. I know less about Apple, but I've heard their culture is pretty intense. So, in that sense, I don't feel my team's work culture is any worse.

Overall, I like my team and I think that credit goes upwards through my management chain. Good managers make a huge difference. Perhaps Amazon needs to do a better job in ensuring teams are more consistent in creating a good culture across the company.


How many tech companies do you know where the current and former employees have come together to create websites like this? https://sites.google.com/site/thefaceofamazon/home


It all started with the warehouse worker complaints, which were general complaints that any warehouse worker will have and not really egregious comparatively. This fed into a media narrative and causes sites like that to pop up.

When startups ask a lot of their employees its showered in praise. When Elon Musk demands 100 work weeks, people are in awe of how great he is. When Nest does the same people squint because Google bought them.

I know a lot of Googlers, most put in ~50-60 hour weeks but get free lunch so its ok I guess? Same with Apple.


A lot of the stories on that site are from corporate, not the warehouses.

Also I know a lot of Googlers as well (hard not to living in Mountain View), and they work roughly 40 hour weeks in general. It is night and day between Amazon and Google based on the stories that are coming out from current & former employees. I've heard issues about Apple as well, but nothing on the level of the stories coming out of Amazon.


Even in Alexa there are some teams that are being pushed too hard. I work for Alexa as well and there is plenty of burn out and "sweatshop" teams in our org. It really varies a lot from team to team and what that team's role is.


let me guess, abbasaamer is your boss?


Haha, no. I get the impression from his post history that he works for an ASR/NLU team. They tend to have a more reasonable workload than some of the other teams.


> I wouldn't agree with this broad generalization.

https://www.google.com/#q=amazon+sweatshop


Many of those are not about programmers, they are about the employees physically moving products around in warehouses.


That's not better, it's just a different class of employee.


Then let's talk about the factory workers that manufacture Apple devices. Let's talk about the employees scanning books for Google http://www.e-flux.com/journal/the-artist-leaving-the-googlep... .

I don't think it's very relevant to what this thread was about, programmer working conditions.


Exactly. Most of the people who say "Oh its not that bad at Amazon" are white collared workers who are living in their bubble and don't know the hardships of different class of employees.


The perils of non-white-collared workers are of little relevance when discussing whether or not a company is a good workplace for white-collar workers. When you go for an interview about a programming position, you probably don't ask your potential employer about working conditions of security contractors or people working at company's factory floor in another town.


Most of the white collar people here have never been to a town that Amazon opened a warehouse in and actually talked to people there. I have, and reception is generally quite good. Anti-Amazonism is something I associate with upper middle class people.


Good for you! I am glad to see others supporting this because I also feel Amazon isn't a sweatshop. Every big company has a bad apple or few in the bunch and those are the loudest criers. The great teams (majority) don't complain because they have no complaints! Keep up the good work on Alexa!


I work 40 hour weeks at Amazon as an SDE and never feel pressured to put in more. I don't take my work with me. It varies by team ofc I'm sure there are bad ones.


How long have you worked there though?


2 years and I've gotten a promotion and gotten no comments about the hours I work in any performance review so I guess those hours aren't considered bad in my org at least.


I've worked at places exactly like this. You go to the office, get work done, get home after an 8+ hour day...and then work until midnight. It's exhausting and honestly not healthy. I gained a majority of my current weight doing that and went to the hospital twice for what ended up being severe anxiety (physically thought I was having a heart attack; worst pain ever).

I now work at a much better place where I feel more valued and my work life balance is simply amazing in comparison.


>The expectation is salaried employees put in ungodly hours.

I am not US based and I've always wondered about this. In virtually every other western country, it doesn't matter if you're "salaried" or not - your employer is legally prohibited from not paying overtime. If your employment contract says you work 9-5, then anything outside those hours must be compensated, often at a higher rate (1.2x-1.5x is not uncommon in many European countries).

In the context of the US labor law, does being "salaried" functionally equal "being required to work unlimited overtime"?


There's two classes of employees in US labor law, exempt and non-exempt. It's called exempt/non-exempt because a class of employees is exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act which defines rules for overtime.

To be exempt you have to be paid on a salary basis, you have to make over a certain wage (which, until a few months ago, was a comically low $23,600/yr), and have certain job duties.

These job duties that are required are defined in the FLSA. There's executive employees, administrative employees, professional employees, computer employees, and outside sales employees. The text is here: http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?tpl=/ecfrbrowse/Title29...

In general, most salaried employees do not regularly work unpaid overtime in the US. For example, the one time I ever worked overtime in my software engineering career it was paid overtime (paid at my normal salary). I had a friend who was an (I think?) accountant and she had to work on her vacation otherwise she'd fall behind. Some workplaces are abusive and the law allows it for some classes of employees but it's not the norm outside of the bay area software industry.


The US has overtime laws as well, but certain types of job are exempt from them. I don't know all the details of the law but in practice, basically all white-collar jobs are exempt.

Here's a list of exemptions: https://webapps.dol.gov/elaws/whd/flsa/screen75.asp


And Jeff Bezos is proud of this culture. He turned sweatshop definition (watch Recode interview) around into a good sign of a culture they want to promote (cost cutting).

While I would not like such workplace, it sort of makes sense. It's similar to what Elon Musk said once - if you work more then everyone else, over time it becomes noticeable. Perhaps Musk shops reward you better?


I like choices. I don't mind choosing where I will work. I don't think this is a bad thing.


I hope most places arent


This plus stack-ranking means 60 hour workweeks. I worked at Amazon for several years, their culture may pretend to support this, but, like almost everything you read about Amazon, it's PR fluff. Never going to happen.

Simply only showing up in the office 30 hours a week would be enough to put your team on the bottom end of the stack.

Amazon is organized such that the politics are vicious and anything that can be used to put another team down (And thus elevate your team in the stack) will be used.

Managers like Bezos are proud of creating this toxic cult like culture because they rationalize it and are not interested in hearing about how they are screwing up.

A real example of this is Bezos claiming after the NYT article that if anyone saw abuse they should email him directly... and now the ex-amazon alumni group has grown by several people who did exactly that and were fired.

My boss was committing felonies on the PacMed grounds on a regular basis, drove %80 of his team to leave, and he still got promoted.

Because he was good at politics and BS (and terrible at actually getting product done, easily wasting %25 of our time with nonsense because he didn't understand how the system worked but wanted to "manage" (which really meant micro-manage.))

Felonies, I'm not kidding.


I hate to be cynical (really, I do) but this seems like a clear attempt to soften Amazon's current public image as being a horrible place to work. It seems like all surface/headlines and no real substance. The headline makes you assume "Oh employees are going down to 30 hours a week but still being fully paid." because in order for this to be really noteworthy at all, it would have to be, right? But that's not what this is. They are basically just knocking people down to part time but keeping benefits, apparently?

That doesn't seem like a good deal to me. I don't want a 25% pay cut for 25% fewer mandatory hours of work. As other commenters have pointed out, unless this comes along with a reduction in responsibilities and/or increase in staff, the same amount of work still needs to be done. And most exempt employees already work more than 40 hours a week.

Add to this the fact that the Washington Post is owned by Bezos, and this just seems like a clear PR stunt to me, and a lame one at that.


I'll agree on the reason why they're doing this, but I've actually always wanted this deal, or something like it. Less hours for less pay, which as a software professional would still be pretty good money. The challenge is having that be accepted by the organization, which most American companies won't because we're all supposed to love what we do or whatever.

If you're supposed to still accomplish the same amount of stuff in 75% the time then that's just clearly not going to work. Can't fit 10 pounds of shit in a five-pound bag.

But anyway, yes, I'm sure it's either a PR stunt or bound to fail or both.


never heard of a bag that has a weight limit instead of a volume limit.


Shhhh.


> "Even names like that, 'part-time' or 'reduced,' make it seem like a deviation from the norm, like you're doing less."

This is a telling statement. Why are we still stuck on a minimum of 40 hours being 'full-time'? After over a century of productivity increases, and with ever-increasing automation, we could soon be at the point where a 15-hour work week is the equivalent of an old 'full-time' work week. Now is a good time to start nudging down expectations.

The pay cut is wrong, however. The fact that people are producing much more now in 30 hours than they used to produce in 40 argues against that. If a company is profiting from the benefits of that productivity, but can't afford to pay the employees for their work, then it needs to change something else.


>Now is a good time to start nudging down expectations.

Agreed. As technology advances, we have a much less need for labor. Yet we are not yet at the stage of "Star Trek abundance", so people still need to work for a living. A cultural shift to a shorter standard work week will be essential, I feel, to avoid having catastrophic waves of unemployment.

I'm not sure about the pay cut being wrong however. That may be necessary to some extent, society-wide. But if nearly everything is becoming automated and dirt cheap, one's standard of living need not necessarily decrease. It may dramatically increase, even if the dollar amount of your paycheck doesn't change (or even if it goes down).


The folks I know at Amazon may have been in the office for a normal amount of time, but they worked long night after long night from home. If they're approaching a 30 hour work week as a reduction from 40, it's bound to fail. They have to realize it would be q reduction from 60 or 80


I agree. First, this is a team made up of part-time workers, not full-time workers, which is not what I was expecting by reading the title. So working 30 hours a week is really really not that special, consider they are PART TIME.

Regardless, there are weeks people will have to pull extra hours to complete work, such as during product launch week.

If this were a program made up of full-time employees, I would be interested to see the number of overtime hours this team will accumulate. Otherwise, I don't see what's so interesting about this experiment.

BTW, I work extra hours because sometimes I just want to work extra hours. Sometimes, I just want to pull extra hours to get the most boring stuff out of the way.

Instead of a 30-hour pilot, make Friday a half-day for everyone.


It's special in that currently getting non-full-time work as a software engineer is pretty tricky (you can often arrange to drop down to part time at your existing company, but getting a job at a new company on non-full-time hours is much harder). So if it catches on and the opportunities for part-time workers become more numerous that's great for people (including me) who don't or can't work full time.


It is special in that you have proportional salary and full benefits. Many part time jobs have substantially reduced pay and benefits, unlike this.


Perhaps that's the appropriate pay and 40+ hour/week workers should be making more?


I agree about the hour spread. It should be something like a max hour per week, but that you can partition as you see fit.


And my team at Amazon almost every day has only 4/5 engineers at the office because one is taking it easy working from home. Sometimes people take hour lunches and leave after 7 hours. Sometimes they want to finish something and stay later.


Don't work for Amazon but work from home. I don't take it easy at all. It can be even harder than being in the office because it is hard to stop working. So have to be vigilant about that.

Now not burning gas and time and nerves stuck in traffic every day and being able to have lunch with my family is a nice bonus. But if that is considered "taking it" easy, a potential employee wouldn't benefit from that either, that would be time and resources just wasted (I guess car mechanics and gas stations would benefit from that at some point).


In which way is "working from home" "taking it easy"?


When you're running errands, fixing your car, and working on changes when you can.


Work-life balance?

As well-educated adults it makes me cringe how we constrict ourselves mentally to being productive employees only in a specific geographical location.

When working in companies with a global reach, the workday has 24 hours.


You put "working form home" all in quotes :)

For some of us its "working" from home :P


It can be quieter, you don't have to deal with office distractions, and if you are an introvert it can be less draining.


That sounds ideal for working harder, not taking it easy :).


Certainly agree on the "less draining" part -- but I'd like to think I'm being paid for making stuff, rather than for ending the day shattered.

Some employers seem to have different views, though.


I don't disagree; Google says "take it easy" means "proceed calmly and in a relaxed manner" which I think fits what I described (and you'll probably get more work done this way, too if you already have a good idea of what you need to do.)


Because working from home is usually light on working.


Your viewpoint, without experience, is toxic to rational discussions regarding remote work (and is ironic, considering your employer).


No, it's just a different viewpoint.

If you don't have measurable inputs and outputs (i.e. Tickets, service requests, widgets, cases, etc), you typically lose productivity. Not necessarily because of the employee, but also because of managers who don't function well with out of sight people.

Personally, I think in many cases you'd get better outcomes out of sending people home at noon on Fridays than having them telework.


> If you don't have measurable inputs and outputs

Of course if you're not giving employees anything to do, you'll get reduced productivity. That's also true if you force them to sit in a chair in the office and do nothing. If you can't come up with anything for them to do (slow season, sales pipeline stalled) maybe let them pitch ideas for things they'd like to work on and give the ok on some.

Either way, if they have something to do and you keep in touch with them on how things are going, things should keep moving even without specific granular measurements. But why not use tickets or tasks or something to make it visible?

> also because of managers who don't function well with out of sight people

Those people probably shouldn't be managers, at least not working with remote workers. Communication is critical. A remote team should feel like they're communicating at least as much as an in-office team, if not more.


My viewpoint is exactly that, my viewpoint. I make it well known that when I am working from home it is likely because I have 9-5 errands to run, but I will be available throughout the day.


Viewpoints are anecdotal. Bring data, not opinions.


Maybe this is the case for the specific type of person who ends up working where you work. But it isn't universal. Many of us don't need "adult supervision" in order to be highly productive.


> But it isn't universal.

Neither are people being highly productive without "adult supervision."

In all seriousness, I find your comment incredibly insulting. I gave an opinion based off of experience, that doesn't mean that I'm some sort of child that needs to be supervised.

> the specific type of person who ends up working where you work

I typically prefer to keep my comments here civil, but seriously? Fuck you.


> I gave an opinion based off of experience, that doesn't mean that I'm some sort of child that needs to be supervised.

It also doesn't mean you're an expert. Next time you give your opinion, try not being insulting, and help us understand why you have that opinion. You gave one sentence that painted everyone working from home as lazy, and stated it as a fact.

I work from home when I need to be more productive. The office has too many coworkers with ad hoc questions that apparently aren't important enough to ask online.


Your post was a general statement that working from home is usually light on working.

Stop and think about that for a second. Many of us here are 100% remote. How are we to interpret your general statement, except as insulting?

A little self-awareness would be far more helpful to you than lashing out in anger.


>>> Neither are people being highly productive without "adult supervision."

This may be true, but it's frustrating when that just gets assumed.


Not in my experience or the experiences of anyone I know or work with.


A few times we got "work from home" day when teams moved from one building to another. You would expect more emails that day than usual as you could not just talk in person. Well, both number of email and commits went down significantly which tells me that people mostly "worked" from home that day.


That was a one-off event. Folks who don't regularly remote work will think of that as a "treat". In their minds they're probably viewing it as an unofficial day off.

Assuming that's comparable to a true remote work policy is silly.


If you're measuring productivity by email and commit volume, and you're a manager, you should be fired. It's the digital equivalent of "hours in the chair".


Personally, I can't effectively work at home. If you send me home to work, I'm going to be constantly distracted. If you want me to be productive, make sure I have an office.

So, with forewarning, I'm not the only person like this, and if a manager or executive wants to make this kind of decision and expect productivity to not suffer, they're being... stupid.


It's usually more honest. I guarantee I'm not working 8 hours straight in the office.


When I work from home (or often, a cafe), I don't waste time commuting and going out to a long lunch. I get more hours of work done and less stress from navigating traffic.


I usually work from home when I have a full schedule of back-to-back calls. This quite frequently happens in my role.

Looking at a slide deck listening to people talk can be done everywhere.


That's true sometimes, and makes sense in the salaried way. But to take a reduced pay you would need to be guaranteed reduced work.

Also, you sound disgruntled, why don't you do the same if you feel your team allows it?


Punctuation and order are not prerequisits for making a point, but they help. Sometimes sleep deprivation manifests itself in strange ways sometimes.


Like saying sometimes twice


As does spelling.


So while this is really good for people that have dependents at home, or other consistently demanding activities. I would not enjoy such an arrangement.

The arrangement I'd be most excited by is a team with forced three month sabbaticals yearly (or honestly even 6 month sabbaticals). Of-course with the normal amount of vacation time added as well.

The way it would work is: Say a team is supposed to have 8 people. Hire 25% more people and schedule sabbaticals such that there is always ~8 people working. Additionally, you could ensure that there is never a time where two developers go more than 2 months without working together.

Benefits: Increases the supply in the job market; Reduces income disparity; Improves employee work-life balance.


Also ensures good handoff on projects -- if you work 60h/wk for, say, 8 weeks to ship something, and 40h/wk for 2 weeks before/after to handle turnover, and then are basically AFK for 8 weeks, you'll probably do a pretty good job on handing it off.

(My personal ideal is ~8 days on (12-16h/day), 6 days off, and then a month or two off twice a year.)


This is one of my most preferred potential arrangements...but I think the problem is that it actually benefits the worker more than the company - why hire the extra two when you can leave them unemployed and hang the threat of unemployment over your eight?


Do you do extended vacation between jobs?


fantastic idea


What is likely occurring at Amazon is that the board has outlined that executive and line managers should be paid based on number of reports beneath them and this is a scheme simply to get more butts in seats so manager can be paid more. Before you say that can't possibly be correct, consider you don't know Amazon. At Amazon this sort of out in the open cheating or ability to game the system is seen as a mark of power. It's the same as cheating vendors or publishers. It's seen as a positive. Secondly the management culture is that employees are mere chaff to be used in any way possible to increase management compensation and power. There is absolutely no way this has anything to do with making Amazon better as a business.


Makes sense to me. For most of my 40+ years of working, I worked a 32 hour work week and this was mostly for large corporations. I simply informed HR that I would not be working Monday's and to pay me 80% of my salary. It always amazed me that I was able to do this decade after decade, but the trick was that I worked really hard the 4 days I was in the office.

I mostly used the extra time for friends and family, and to write books.


BTW if you went around and asked a bunch of software engineers how they finangled there way into working a sub-40 week and collected that into a e-book. I would buy the shit out of that. And judging from other hacker news posts there are lots of other developers who would as well.

I would do it myself but I don't have the extra day to write books :) and I'm a terrible writer.


This is fantastic news. It's absurd that it's basically impossible to have a successful career working a bit less than full time. This is way overdue in the modern world and hopefully becomes an option in more companies going forward.


There's a 25℅ reduction in pay. This policy is another one of Amazon's "screw the worker" policies.


Working 75% of the time for 75% of the pay is screwing the worker?


Do you mean 25% or something else (since you did not use the % symbol)?

Actually, I did a bit research and it seems the symbol you used is not even a mathematical one. It stands for "care of" and "signifies an intermediary who is responsible for transferring a piece of mail between the postal system and the final addressee."

So you can, I guess, disregard my question.


I've been told by people that work for Amazon that they can barely keep their teams properly staffed and working over is just a common occurrence, I doubt a 30-hr work week is viable for a company that is more or less (now) a logistics company. Doing so would require higher headcounts, losing money, or both. Not a viable solution, even with the automation push Amazon has.

The only type of companies I could see getting away with this would be pure software companies or agencies. Otherwise, I can't see it fitting many models or personal finances.


> I've been told by people that work for Amazon that they can barely keep their teams properly staffed

I think that's true of every tech successful company. There's always more +EV work to be done than people to do it, and recruiting quality people is never easy.

It seems short-sighted to suggest that the existence of this problem necessitates working long hours. There are lots of factors to consider:

* It's possible that somebody working 30 hours is actually more productive than somebody working 40 hours, so productivity goes up under the new policy without hiring anybody new.

* It's possible that many more people could enter the workforce if a 30 hour week with a flexible schedule was possible. This working style could be appealing to students, retired people, stay-at-home parents, artists, etc.

* Maybe it's actually okay for productivity to go down. If the company is able to remain stable while getting slightly less done and having much happier employees, perhaps that's a net gain to society.


The 75% pay / 100% benefits thing is likely the factor that prevents many companies from doing this. This is part of the reason I love the idea of a single-payer health system. If companies were no longer on the hook for the most expensive benefit, then more flexible wrking arrangements with concordance between work and pay would be possible.


Agreed. I don't think healthcare should be tied to work.


Just wondering, but it strikes me as odd to have the Washington Post report anything about Amazon, since bezos owns them both. It's like Bloomberg reporting on Bloomberg's flirtation with a third party bid.


I have quite a few friends who work at Amazon and what I hear from them is that the quality of your experience is completely dependent on team you're on.

There are teams where all horror stories you hear are common occurrences(although less so in recent years) and others where it's an absolute pleasure.


I work for Intel, and just a couple weeks ago switched to a 32-hour-a-week schedule. I had to get approval from my boss, and presumably my boss had to get approval from his boss, but it was a pretty easy switch. So far, it's been great. Benefits are the same, salary amortized at 80%, and stock grants are reduced a bit more than that.

I think most people would rather have the extra money, for various reasons. If I owed a couple hundred grand on a mortgage or was saving to send my kids to college, I might think the same but as it is I have no house and no kids and relatively low living expenses, so I can afford to be a little bit self-indulgent and take a 3-day weekend every week.


Good for you. I can assure you that there are plenty of people with kids who like this idea, too!

But what's the justification for a more-than-pro-rata loss of stock grants?


I still get full benefits even though I'm only working 4/5ths the hours, so it makes sense they'd take that out somewhere else. I don't get a lot of stock, so I think it works out numerically that the stock I don't get is probably about equal to a fifth of the cost of my health insurance. I think that's fair.


When I was at amazon I was routinely putting in 170hr+ work weeks. It was impossible.


I'm gonna assume you meant 70+, not 170+, unless you're a time traveller...

Or you really did mean it was impossible, in which case... math checks out.


He was doing 4 men's jobs, but not even close to 10xer's 400 hr/wk


Do you get overtime pay? I assume you meant you are on-call 24x7.


Pff I do 171 hour weeks



What?


Doing what?


Time dilation


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