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Long hours are the key to profitability, as Philip Greenspun put it:

"From a business point of view, long hours by programmers are a key to profitability. A programmer probably needs to spend 25 hours per week...Thus a programmer who works 55 hours per week is twice as productive as one who works 40 hours per week.... A product is going to get out the door much faster if it is built by 4 people working 70-hour weeks (180 productive programmer-hours per week, after subtracting for 25 hours of coordination and structure comprehension time) than if by 12 people working 40-hour weeks (the same net of 180 hours per week)."

"If you see one of your best people walking out the door at 6:00 pm, try to think why you haven't challenged that person with an interesting project. If you see one of your average programmers walking out the door at 6:00 pm, recognize that this person is not developing into a good programmer."




Greenspun wrote that about a software consulting business, too. Think about what else has to be going wrong with a consultancy for it to make sense for people to work 70 hour weeks. Hint: serious clients pay in 40-hour person/week increments.

Anyways, it's undeniable that there's a pervasive culture of 60-80 hour work weeks in tech companies. I think it's bullshit; I think it's bad for the employers, who get substandard burnout work and become a revolving door that spins even faster for more talented team members; I think it's bad for employees for obvious reasons.

But I also think (a) a slice of cheese shouldn't cost $200 and have an end-user licensing agreement attached, and (b) we don't need to outlaw that practice.

When you read articles about unfair labor practices at tech companies, I'd like you to keep in mind that software developers are the. worst. at reasoning about the valuation of their own work. Software developers think Stack Overflow is worth maybe a weekend's worth of programmer time because it's just a big message board. The world probably does look a lot more unjust when you look at it through a prism of discounting your own value by 50%-150%.


I was going to write up some big rebuttal but I realize now we are arguing from very similar positions.

1.) Developers don't understand what they are worth 2.) The culture of 50+ h/week working is pervasive

I think the point where we disagree is about the optimal behavior from the companies POV. Based on the exclusivity of existing condition eligible health care and collaboration by major tech firms to illegally collude to prevent competition for work, I don't conclude that it is a system which will fix itself. However, the only viable solutions I can imagine would be unpalatable to too many programmers to be enacted.


We are in violent agreement about the impact of health care on the labor market. I think the ideal system for startups would be nationwide single-payer.

Having said all that (and established some of my statist liberal bona fides), I do not think abuses of at-will employment or overtime exemption demand legislative fixes; in particular, I think that it's far more likely that it would harm startups (and the employment market in general, for employees and employers) to regulate overtime for salaried employees or, worse, termination requirements for employees.


> "If you see one of your best people walking out the door at 6:00 pm, try to think why you haven't challenged that person with an interesting project. If you see one of your average programmers walking out the door at 6:00 pm, recognize that this person is not developing into a good programmer."

Wow! What a horribly shitty attitude. If your "average programmer" isn't spending their every waking moment at work they're not a good programmer?!? Employers with attitudes like that deserve a serious atomic kick in the balls.


He got one. Read the story of Ars Digita sometime...


> Thus a programmer who works 55 hours per week is twice as productive as one who works 40 hours per week

There is plenty of studies done on this that shows that you can get an increase in productivity by working more hours for a short time, but that if you go over ~35h/week for a longer period of time, the productivity drops and some overtime might actually result in negative productivity.


If it takes you 25 hours for "coordination time" you have serious structural issues in your business that need to be addressed. It should really be more like 0-5 hours.


That only works for a short time. People do not produce good work for extended long weeks.

My business strives for a mix of long and light weeks to compensate.




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