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Working all night is not 'a badge of pride' (bbc.com)
174 points by hhs 14 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 84 comments

Interesting. As a dev, anxiety can (edit: sometimes) cause stresses to build up to the point where thinking can be hard. Which is exactly the wrong thing for when you need to tackle complex problems. I've found it's easier to get into the zone late at night when I know no-one else is up and working, and I can just let all that go.

It wrecks the next day though, and can easily turn into an evil cycle - even more so now when having a family and there's no opportunity to sleep in to catch up.

The last thing you want to do is commit code at 02:00. Better to leave it to when you have a fresher head to review what you did beforehand, both for quality and perception reasons.

2nd EDIT: Having to be always online on Slack with all the @mentions pinging off constantly and/or just working in a busy and loud open office with meetings every few hours can be detrimental to being able to build up that mental model needed to see things clearly when tackling something new / that I'd like to get done in a better way. I'm probably not a fantastic dev, and showing my age, but I try to make up with persistence and enthusiasm for my work / field..

Re: slack, I've started getting in the habit of setting my computer and phone to "do not disturb" mode when I'm actually in the thick of things. Notifications are poison for flow - and even if I don't look at my phone just hearing it vibrate and knowing there's a message there is distracting. (On macos you can suspend notifications system-wide in the drawer thing on the right of the screen. Pull it out with a gesture and scroll up to find no not disturb mode and night shift).

I think its not a reasonable expectation for productive programmers to be always available for random questions and conversation. Make the messages and notifications wait until you have downtime.

I'm wondering why people install Slack on their phones at all. If you have monitoring duty it may make sense, but for development? Typing on a keyboard is a million times more convenient, and I've been fine by catching up with chat at the office in the morning.

On the same note, I don't do mobile email either. Colleagues can call me if the shit really hits the fan. Nobody ever does though, which I think speaks for itself.

The only thing that I use Slack on the phone for is reminders: When I have a sudden thought about a work topic, e.g. in the shower, I go into Slack and type "/remind me to do $THING tomorrow" so that it comes back up on my desk next day at the office.

That's been a huge booster for me as well. I have a few friends that like to blow my notifications up and they don't quite get the hint when I'm busy. Between muting them and DnD mode it's been a godsend. Also helpful has been making sure my slack goes into do not disturb at the same time every day.

One problem with system wide muting is since we're a fully remote team if something is breaking I have to be available. Maybe it's possible, but I'd love a way to enable do not disturb except for a single app.

Why do you need to be available? Are you managing uptime, infra and ops? People who want you to be available all the time are most likely the ones who waste time the most

We're a very small team so yeah I end up doing ops. I'd be nice to have a dedicated ops team but we're really far from that (and thankfully our setup has been pretty stable recently).

Wow, this perfectly describes me. Although, I usually don't have to stay up till 2AM to get that productivity boost. I know it sounds strange, but when it gets dark outside, my productivity is so much better. I don't think it has much to do with the darkness itself. It is probably the fact that when it gets dark, the flood of Slack messages, E-mails and whatnot stops.

I am terrified of how I am going to manage this when I have kids. It's just me and my fiance right now. We both work at the same company and we're both very career driven. It's not a problem yet.

When you start a family I strongly recommend this pattern:

  Always, always, go home for dinner and put the kids to bed, then go back to work.
If you can work from home, this is relatively easy. If you have to be at work, it involves an extra commute, which may or may not be possible. If it is not currently possible, I would anyway recommend making your commute shorter, or negligible if possible, because it will make your life so much better.

As a personal anecdote, I used to commute to work by bicycle. So I would cycle home for dinner with the family. Then I would drive back to work, which was relatively short (~10mi, 15km). Sometimes, if I worked right through the night, I would drive home at dawn, change clothes, and jump on the bike to go back to work (single car family). Yes, tiring, but I was young at the time - couldn't do that now.

Thanks for the advice! I'll try to remember that when that time comes.

Luckily I hate commuting so I will do everything to avoid long commutes. Currently takes me <15minutes to get to the office.

You don't happen to live in the Netherlands? It's not often that I see people calling 15km "short".

No, it was in USA.

It was short when driving :)

One route was Natick-Weston-Waltham, MA, so quite tough fighting with the snow (and snowplows) in the winter.

Another was MillValley-Sausalito-SF, including the time the Golden Gate was closed to bikes after 9/11. So all Marin cyclists had to cross the bridge on a free shuttle bus, which towed a bike rack trailer.

Not so young any more, but recently changed job, and started a 15 km bike commute again ...

I can only second that.

I regularly leave the office a bit earlier to pick up my kids from school and spend some time with my family, then I work again 1 or 2 hours in the evening.

I would not do that on a daily basis though, it's also nice to spend time with your partner once the kids are asleep.

I have a very similar approach to things. I found regular (but not daily - maybe 3 times a week) pair programming and test-driven development was bitter medicine for my anxiety.

Pairing at first can lead to high anxiety in an introvert, but like exercise for someone out of shape, I've found built up confidence in my abilities (and also kills overconfidence which is another affliction). A unique kind of flow can be achieved with your pair, one that isn't quite as productive as 2 a.m. "in the zone" flow, but is also much easier to slip into with regularity.

Nowadays I find in general my solo work just requires freedom from distraction (shutting Slack notifications off), the anxiety builds more slowly.

I'm working right now at midnight because it is a "distraction free" time. It is silly. I should be able to make my own "distraction free" time during the work day just by turning off all notifications. Idk why I don't.

Because it's not socially acceptable in most offices.

Working at 2am solves the problem of interruptions in completely the wrong way. Wouldn't a far better solution to the problem of interruptions be to engineer a situation where your coworkers know when you want to be left alone and respect that enough not to interrupt you during that time, and to put processes in place for them to deal with issues without you?

If that seems impossible then you have a different problem to solve first - which is "why can't I work optimally?"

Managing an intelligent, adaptive adversary seems more Art than Engineering

It also helps that Reddit and HN don't move at night so my distractions ebb.

What do you mean? Both sites are international.

HN has quiet times, starting from about now and going for the next couple of hours, it's particularly pronounced on (local)Mondays because it's still Sunday in America. Annoying for me as this is the end of workday unproductive time. Reddit can be similar depending on the sub.

It took me over 10 years to overcome this. For the longest time, I needed fatigue to kick in to overwhelm the anxiety and enable productivity (albeit at nowhere near my potential).

Thanks, that is a very insightful and a helpful comment. It's happening a lot less for me these days, but have had a recent resurfacing.

Physical exercise and mindfulness can be great helpers, and making time for them even when there doesn't seem to be any is paramount.

"I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer." -Martin Luther

This made me laugh. So relatable! Sometimes I spend my first 2 hours in bed plus having a very long breakfast with my wife (I work remotely) just so I can mentally prepare for the work ahead.

FWIW, the resolution for me eventually came when I was able to get a nice feedback loop of breaking off what I thought was a day’s work at the beginning of the day, doing a day’s work, and either succeeding or taking the loss and rescoping for the next day. The sleep deprivation is a cycle from hell, where I can get something done, but it’s at a cost of the next 2 days of productivity, which causes more anxiety...

I've always guessed this could be the inspiration for the fictional "Ballmer peak" (alcohol taking the place of fatigue).[1]

[1] https://xkcd.com/323

Call me crazy, but it's not fiction to me. When I figured out what I am gonna do, a beer or two helps me focus.

I drink red wine 1-2 times a month. Most of the time I get the dosage right and I feel like Skynet for 3-4 hours.

But I do it rarely, don't want to ever be dependent on alcohol.

The top firms all recruit heavily from biz schools with the #1 criteria of billing a crazy amount of hours. I'm not surprised they're trying to market themselves as "less ridiculous" than the competition but don't really believe it. We would work until 7 or 8, go eat dinner and drink on the company dime (purposely with only other consulting team members) then go back to work, drag ourselves to (most likely) a hotel room for a few hours of sleep (because they prefer to keep you on the road) then back to work and repeat. Low utilization was 2200-2400 hours annually with many (most?) billing substantially more. It's hard to believe that a business built on taking a piece of every hour worked would be serious about cutting back the number of hours.

They treat young workers like oranges, squeeze out all the juice and pitch the rinds. The math says not everyone can make partner so don't worry about keeping people happy, just load the funnel with new grads.

Borders to slavery in my books. It doesn’t even matter whether these are productive hours, it’s just forced labor using social anxiety peer pressure and FOMO to force people into doing your bidding.

Thought we had labor laws for that...

Nobody is forced to do it, you can quit if you don't like it, and you get compensated very well. Please explain how it "borders on slavery" to allow people to work a lot for a lot of money out of their own accord?

Peer pressure / FOMO != "force". Please do not conflate the two.

There’s certainly no physical force applied, but using the right techniques, we can predictively force a large part of the population to work against their own best interests using psychology alone. Obviously, this is an amalgam of social elements, redefined value system, stress response and sunk cost fallacy.

Nobody is conflating them but they are de facto identical in terms of results. The physical forcing has been replaced by social pressure and guilt tripping and they are just as effective into getting you to work more hours as were the physical tortures of the times long past.

The major difference being you can just say "I will not succumb to social pressure", where as you cannot say "I will not be forced physically". That's why it's called "force".

This seems like a very different story from a developer working at night because they need the alone time to catch up.

This, and not only developers I think most people or at least people of a certain persona need that alone time to process clearly.

Agree. I write (code for the human compiler) and that is true, although I am more Lark than Owl

As a night owl, I have to think that at least some of those people are just showing up in the morning because that’s what’s expected, and then spend most of the early part of the day spinning their wheels until their brains kick in later and can actually get something done.

Some of my most productive days were going into the office at 5 or 6am and getting in a solid 3 hours of coding in before everyone else showed up. Naturally I'd leave earlier (3pm-4pm), thanks to flex-time.

10-11 hours is a normal length for a working day?

I didn't feel the need to do it more than a few times a month if I felt like getting a real head start on a particular problem. Plus I'd probably take a longer lunch or start socializing in the afternoon. Average actual work time still worked out to 7.5hours/day, some days more, some days less.

What is important, is to figure out your own personal rhythm and if it defies convention, then f*ck convention.

I find I probably get an order of magnitude more work done from 8-10 pm compared to 8-10 am, all other things being equal.

Other folks have different drums they march to.

One book I recommend is "the war of art".

The small one-page section called "what I do" is illustrative. He's a writer and describes his daily routine. He starts typing away in earnest about 10:30, and probably 4 hours later he starts making typos, which he realizes is the point of diminishing returns and calls it a day.

That’s easy to say, but unless you’re self employed, that’s an entirely impossible approach to take. Companies expect you to be in the office at a certain time, and that’s not an unreasonable request as most people need to work in teams when everyone else is also available.

The ability and flexibility to work like this is very much a Silicon-Valley-only thing, and you can’t have a meaningful conversation assuming everyone can do that.

And others are Larks, wake up at 5 raring to go

I recall managing somebody like that. He would come to work at noon. I was cool with that but had a boss who insisted I dock his pay if he did not come to work at 9. Welcome to Dilbert!

It's interesting to note how the general opinion of sleep is starting to shift away from the stereotypical ideal we had decades ago of the "powerful CEO that only sleeps 4-5 hours a night."

We know a lot more about sleep than we used to, and we now know how harmful lack of sleep is to the brain and body.

I highly recommend the book, "Why We Sleep" by Matthew Walker (who is a professor of neuroscience and psychology and the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley), which goes into the myriad reasons why we require plentiful sleep.

The book discusses numerous studies conducted over the years that highlight how lack of sleep (in both quantity and quality) affect our mental faculties, our behaviour, and the increased health risks, such as the greater risk of heart disease and dementia, from lack of sleep.

Surprisingly, I encounter a lot of other developers and engineers that don't really concern themselves too much with sleep, and some that, as the article states, still do wear their poor sleep patterns as 'badge of pride.' I wonder if it's because engineers generally fall more into the 'night owl' chronotype category? Is there any kind of study that looks into chronotype by occupation to see how our genetics align with our job preferences?

As a 'night owl' myself, I know how punishing it can be if you're used to working late, and then having to wake up early to commute and get into an office at the same time as everyone else, and it was one of the reasons I moved away from agency work and started working remotely.

I wonder if one day we'll go so far as to stagger start times for people with different chronotypes (night owls and morning larks)? Or if we'll make adjustments to school start times for students in their teenage years, which is when longer sleep associated with a shift in circadian rhythm kicks in.

> It's interesting to note how the general opinion of sleep is starting to shift away from the stereotypical ideal we had decades ago of the "powerful CEO that only sleeps 4-5 hours a night."

This is very American and overall "hustler" filter bubble. A lot of my acquaintances in Europe giggled when discussing Americans and various try-hard CEOs they know and mocked them for accelerating their own deaths by killing their most important body recover mechanism and filling the extra hours with busy work that didn't contribute to any bottom line.

I don't mean to be demeaning. I am just pointing out that in the circles I frequented my entire programming life (~18 years) it's a very common wisdom not to screw with your sleep.

Hustling is a useful philosophy if (a) you are that kind of person -- namely living under the motto of "I want to progress, even if by a little bit, every day" and (b) if you are motivated by real gains and not just by nebulous promises that you might see a 5% salary increase if you stay 5-10 years with your employer.


Let's face it. Most workers hustle because they have been successfully guilt-tripped into it.

Truth is, we can derive a lot of wisdom from the ancient hunter-gatherers: they worked a lot during certain periods but were mostly just enjoying life 60% to 80% of their waking time.

There were various studies published in the last year on the typical "work" schedule of the hunter-gatherers but sadly now I can't find them. If you are curious, look for them. The bottom line was: the ancient people worked on average ~15h a week.

You really don't want to work for a company that demands 'all nighters' or deadmarches. At the same time, if you're doing something you like, whether it is coding or making music and you like the atmosphere of the night then I don't see any reason why you shouldn't. I can work just fine during the day and yet, there are a couple of those all-nighters that started with me being inspired about something and continuing to work to see where it lead. One or two of those ended up defining my career.

I am proud when I complete a long-term project. All nighters are detrimental to that. Anyone truly committed to a long-term project inevitably comes to the same conclusion

Wow, this article rings all too close to home for me. I had written a post a couple of weeks ago called Badge of Honor[1] that was aimed at a similar topic. My question in the piece: why don't more people in the tech sector ask hard questions of leadership when long hours are pushed/required?

1: https://blog.benroux.me/badge-of-honor/

Everyone should do the work all night at their office once in their career to realize how utterly pointless it is then never do it again.

Bonus points if you do it for some tiger strike super important big project that gets cancelled three months later when the C-suite finds a new partner du jour.

I did a 36-hour coding marathon to hit a deadline in my 20's. By 24 hours into it, I was writing garbage (actually by 12 hours into it I was writing garbage, but it didn't become painfully obvious until later). I kept going because I thought I could muscle through and get it done. My boss came in to find me asleep on the office sofa.

At the end, it was "done" but so bugridden that we couldn't deploy. I had to go sleep for a whole day to get back to normal, and then it took me another two days to fix everything.

It would have been so much better if I'd just worked about 10 hours, gone home to get some relaxation and sleep, and then come in and worked another 10 hours. By hour 12 I was damaging the code base, and by hour 30 I was just making more work for everyone.

In subsequent roles managing devs, I learned from this and sent my devs home after they'd done 10 hours. And defended them against sales/senior managers who tried insisting that they stay and get it done. I learned that if you absolutely insist that crunch time can't happen, and the rest of the company knows it, then miraculously it stops being a thing. Deadlines become more realistic if everyone knows that pulling an all-nighter to get it done is not going to happen.

I admire people like you who are able to dig their feet into the ground and defend the sensible position.

We need more people like you in management: namely to be willing to take bullets but not budge when they know they would otherwise damage their staff.

Please, never change.

Huh. Today is my 40th year of writing software as a professional (getting paid for it, I mean -- I was writing code long before my first real job).

Anyway, in all that time I've done (...counts...) four all-nighters. I did plenty of nights until 2 or 3 in the morning, but I've only seen a sunrise at work four times. This includes stints at Atari, Apple, a number of Silly Valley startups, Microsoft, and my current gig.

Each one of those all-nighters pretty much killed me for a day or two. In retrospect I do not regret them, they were necessary to the team and for me to keep my word about completing a critical component on time. I'd probably do the same again.

Despite the name being fairly clear I think people have different conceptions of what an all-nighter is. I interpreted the following quote from the article as saying that they went home very late into the night and then came back to the office the next day.

> "I remember doing my first 'all-nighter'," she says. "I came back into the office the next day with a swagger."

I'm a firm believer in work-life balance. If I spent almost every day in the office till night, very highly there's something wrong with my self management.

> And she thinks the prospect of working those anti-social hours puts off potential employees, especially women and those with caring duties or young children.

Correct. They are perceived as sweat shops, selling the dream of making partner. Earning double what any other graduate program is paying (at least when I looked years ago) helps, although the hourly rate is probably the same.

My twins cured me of my late nights. They wake up at 6am every day. It's easy to make yourself think you're productive with just 6 hours of sleep a night. Not so much with just 3-4.

This practice comes through as a clear lack of prioritization most often on the mid-management's part. Or indeed, anxiety of the team members.

Sure there're tight deadlines, and now-or-never cases, but when this becomes a feature, let alone a badge, in that move up or move out culture, it's a sign that the company became obsessed with an image it projects out over the quality of what it offers to the client.

Do they proudly stamp over such a report 'Red-eye: Compiled in the wee hours by our tireless professionals'? Better be, so a client could double check any findings, perhaps discount it just like the airlines do.

When I worked as a corporate lawyer, I remember some associates would send emails late at night in order to give the impression that they were working through until that time.

I saw that from wastes of space Product Owners. They weren't even sending anything useful, it was just "Thanks for getting back on that!" or similar, via email or Slack, just to make it look like they were busy late into the evening.

I hope they were using something like Boomerang to program those emails to be automatically sent at that time because if they actually did it manually they are idiots.

We were running Outlook for Windows XP at the time (2007), so I don't think there were any Boomerang-type tools (and even if there were, IT wouldn't have allowed them to be installed). But it wasn't a big deal for them to send manually — they just stopped working at 8, went home and did stuff, then sent the email at midnight before going to bed.

To be clear, I never did this, since the partners I worked for didn't value burning the candle at both ends.

I'm getting tired just thinking about this.

Working all night once is a badge of honor but doing it repeatly is a badge of early death.

Feeling not quite good enough -> working at night -> not making progress -> Depression. Got me fired from a FAANG and sent me into a year long depression and recovery. As to whether I deserved to be there who knows. I sure as shit didn't do myself any favors.

I’ve observed a trend in my life where destructive context switching during work hours leads to working after hours at home where peace and quiet facilitates productivity. I just want to get my work done and done well. I take pride in my work. No badge needed.

I might live a privileged life but I have never been at a job where it was OK to work overtime. When you did your hours, you were expected to go home to your family. You don't get paid overtime and after work you should rest so you can work the next day. If you are a parent you are expected to use your parent leave fully, otherwise people look funny at you.

I noticed it very much depends on which country you lived in. Here in Europe all-nighters are generally frowned upon although greedy leaders who try and guilt-trip their people into working themselves to death exist everywhere. But around here people are generally less receptive to such manipulation.

As a developer, frequently working overnight is a sign of terrible management and/or an inefficient worker. Nothing to be proud of.

As someone who prefers working night to morning, calling night owls "inefficient" due to their preference is toxic behaviour. If that is my preference who are you to judge?

As you might deduce from context, overnight here means overtime.

It's 1AM now, I'm going to be up all night working, making good progress so far.

Major media outlets are really digging deep for the “duh” content these days.

Sadly what you and me find painfully obvious is a mind-blowing revelation for many younger workers.

I wish there was a way to educate the young without greedy bosses taking 5 years of their total life expectancy by forcing them into all-nighters. :(

At the same time some organizations have terrible scheduling that they leave you little other options. I'm glad I do t have to deal with them.

this is only a problem at big firms where your performance is tied to your billable hours.

Why is this not obvious to everybody?

Many business owners and middle managers are really good at manipulation. I observed it happening in front of me, many times. And many people respond as they are expected by the higher-ups, especially when guilt-tripping is involved (which is very often).

Sad but true.

A work environment so demanding that people keep leaving the company to seek better work/life balance is a feature, not a bug. Accounting is really not that hard, and neither are consulting, or banking, or law, or any of the other 100 hour week industries. If basically everyone can do their job competently then how do you decide who to promote to partner? The answer is to work all the juniors to the bone until most of them burn out and quit. Problem solved.

Spotting a junior dev working over their capacity is the responsibility of seniors to tell them to take it easy. Remember how they (and yourself) worked you to the bone and how it would have helped if someone would have stepped in early.

You can't save them all but you can atleast give the message that their situation is seen and recognized.

If having partners necessitates causing burnout in young people, maaaybe it's not a great way to structure things.

Exactly correct but is happening all the time nevertheless.

It's not about if areas X, Y or Z are hard -- it's about how much time it takes to do something productive.

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