Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
[dupe] I Knew a Programmer that Went Completely Insane (2013) (startingdotneprogramming.blogspot.com)
186 points by tim333 on Mar 17, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 127 comments

Rant incoming:

I've recently been involved in a project where I worked very long hours for weeks in a row, including Saturdays and Sundays. One day I got the flu but I ignored it. I stayed at work till 11:45pm. I was shaking uncontrollably when I was walking home, I felt like dying. I took two days off but the flu stayed with me for an entire fucking month and it was hell. Had some serious relapses and felt like shit all the time.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, I finally feel better, but one day I got up from the couch and had the most horrible attack of vertigo and dizziness. I had to throw up hard, and the vertigo didn't go away. When I woke up the next morning I thought I was better but the moment I got up from bed the same shit happened. I went to the emergency with my gf and it turns out I have benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. The doc managed to fix it with some positional maneuvers, but I still feel a little bit disoriented from time to time.

I feel like this job is ruining my health.

Edit: Removed some personal info.

That's called having the job ruin your health. Let me tell you a little story to make sure you never do this stupid shit again!

When I first met my fiancee, perhaps a couple weeks after we met and a week or so after our first date, she got sick. At first we thought it was just a head cold. Then it seemed to be a bit of a flu. She is, of course, a workaholic Determinator of a woman, and kept working on her courses (we were in university) through the whole thing. Eventually she went to University Health Services and got diagnosed with mononucleosis.

A day later, she was passing out in the lab and having purple spots flash in front of her eyes. She finished her work, and then had her parents drive out to fetch her and take her to the family doctors. It turned out that she had bacterial meningitis from an impacted tooth, she had to be hospitalized for three weeks, couldn't come back to college for two months, and nearly died.

Why? Because for days on end, she tried to power through her illness, and of course because University Health Services didn't check for what she actually had.

Don't power through your work when seriously sick unless you want your family and friends praying for you to live.

The problem is that our society is so terrible about choosing leaders (in academia or business) that its only resolution is to understaff, to generate busywork, and to load people up with artificial stress until most of them crack. It's an idiotic war of attrition. Usually, the "brick wall" is a low-level mental illness (anxiety, depression) in a previously healthy person and it often goes away in a year or so. Sometimes, it doesn't. This is why those of us who have real neurological anxiety or mood disorders can never expect genuine accommodation. Our disease is the culling agent that, with enough stress, will also flare up in the normal and be attributed (God of the Gaps) to "personal weakness".

We have this fucked-up culture of "powering through" that malaise. When it's a hard biological issue (i.e. an infection or cancer or mental illness) it refuses to play by our rules. It's not going to go away by "downshifting" at work or when we get that reward for being the last one standing. It's imminently dangerous. But, in our culture of "power through it and get the prize", most people don't get the help they need until it's too late.

I would argue, though, that there's no value in this war of attrition. We have enough resources to give everyone a good life and autonomy over their work, and it's only getting better. Why do we set up these health-destroying tournaments of fools in the first place? If we need to pick leaders, it will happen naturally. If we don't, then why not have a looser arrangement where everyone has some autonomy?

This attrition game that we use to fill the corporate and academic upper ranks doesn't pick good leaders. The military has known this for a long time. There are 2% of people who don't have the stress-sensitivity of the other 98%. They can be placed in danger or have to kill others and they won't get PTSD, and they don't get the context-driven anxiety and depression disorders that most people get from overwork. They're neurologically insensitive. Not all of them are bad people (some are very good people, if neurologically indistinguishable from murderers, because morality won't show up on an MRI) but half of them are psychopaths. You want people from that 2% (at least, the good ones who have a sense of morality and conscience; but the bad ones are often directed toward things like running POW camps) doing elite and dangerous work (they often enjoy it) but not making general-level decisions that affect thousands.

> I would argue, though, that there's no value in this war of attrition. We have enough resources to give everyone a good life and autonomy over their work, and it's only getting better. Why do we set up these health-destroying tournaments of fools in the first place?

Didn't the tournament of fools get us to the place where we can feed everyone?

> If we need to pick leaders, it will happen naturally. If we don't, then why not have a looser arrangement where everyone has some autonomy?

I am reminded of the tyranny of structureless.

> some are very good people, if neurologically indistinguishable from murderers, because morality won't show up on an MRI

This is implying a large amount of certainty about neuroscience knowledge that we simply do not have.

> We have this fucked-up culture of "powering through" that malaise. When it's a hard biological issue (i.e. an infection or cancer or mental illness) it refuses to play by our rules. It's not going to go away by "downshifting" at work or when we get that reward for being the last one standing. It's imminently dangerous. But, in our culture of "power through it and get the prize", most people don't get the help they need until it's too late.

I can agree here: our culture does a terrible job of helping people become emotionally adjusted individuals. I do really hate the phrase "hard biological issue" when used to describe mental illness though. It seems so defeatist, like telling someone they will never be a pro athlete or something. Even if it is true, my reaction will be the same: to continue trying.

What's the motivation for keeping them away from making general-level decisions?

Dude/Dudette, it IS ruining your health.

Start looking. You don't have to quit to start looking - and you might be pleasantly surprised at offers coming your way. Especially if you're in a high demand area like SF or NYC (or can reasonably commute there), but even if you are not.

> it IS ruining your health.

No it's not, he is. He is refusing to balance his work out to more healthy levels. He is pushing himself harder to be there. He is not looking for another job.

If he can't control himself and work less, he'll simply do it in another job if he moves on.

In the worst case, if he's established the precedent of working weekends and is now expected to do so, a fresh start could still be useful. Transitioning to another company might also help provide him with the clean mental slate necessary to trash this habit of over-working himself.

Also, there is the possibility that the company is somewhat at fault--his post is lacking details, and he may be under legitimate pressure to do extra work.

Lets not go down this road. This is like the guns don't kill people debate.

Maybe - but maybe mhurran is right - I've definitely been the guy that works weekends at the job where no one works weekends.

It's not healthy - and work life imbalance is usually driven by others, but sometimes not. And to fix it you need to figure out what the cause is.

Looking at yourself shouldn't take that long if your job is the problem, and if you are the problem well you should attack that. In my case working myself to the bone was not a healthy response to a bad breakup but admitting that took some time.

When did it become that you are not responsible for your own health? He is not a slave that has to jump when the whip is cracked.

I agree with the earlier post. We need to all be responsible for our own contribution levels. At the end of the day, each of us chooses how much work to put in, and a tendency to overdo it will follow us from one job to the next unless we admit we're directly, albeit unconsciously, enabling the imbalance.

Granted some workplaces will ask more than others, but it's absolutely a two-sided deal.

The human mind is a funny thing.

You're assuming that the individual isn't affected by social factors, and that he can effectively isolate himself from negative demands and expectations. But if research in social psychology has shown nothing else, it's that the individual is not separate from his social environment. Even when we know better, when we should be able to rationally extricate ourselves from a situation, we continue on in it for a myriad of reasons.

We see the warning signs, only to blindly rationalize them away so successfully that they disappear from conscious thought. I've been there, and I've suffered the consequences.

Take an external authority figure, in this case a boss who values a person's ability to lose themselves in their work in order to get things done, and sit back. Add in a culture of co-workers who celebrate the same. Maybe the employee wants to work their way up the ladder, or maybe they just want to get the satisfaction of positive feedback from those figures. Watch as these factors slowly influence the employee's sense of perception, and eventually through it, their behaviors and how they judge them. Eventually, you'll see a affective and cognitive responses as they integrate these changed beliefs into their self-identity. This is made all the easier by the presence of authority figures

You see this everywhere. Why do young investment bankers accept the idea that they need to work upwards of 80+ hours/week, and often, 100 or more? Worse, they not only accept it but they make it part of their core self-identity to be celebrated. Why do undergrads pull all-nighters and consider them a badge of honor? Or far more darkly, why do so many battered spouses stay with their abusive partners, justifying the abuse as something they somehow "deserve?" If someone tells you that you're dirt enough times, eventually even the strongest-willed of us will start to question it, and far too often, come to believe it.

Across all these examples and more, the same cognitive phenomena are at work. You think this is solely a matter of willpower. It's often not. Yes, he's pushing himself. But social factors are also pushing inward on him, making it easier to do so.

I'm not belaboring your end point. It's a good one, and the presence of outsiders willing to give such advice--get out, get somewhere where you can rebuild your sense of self and personal boundaries--can help empower people to act on it. But don't assume that it's as simple as turning off the screen, or that you're immune to these pressures. You're not. No one is.

Given enough time, even the strongest can and will be influenced by social factors. Often, to positive ends. But not always. Given enough of the bad, eventually, everyone breaks. Not at once. Never at once. But little by little, piece by piece, people will change without even realizing it. And once you're there, the mind's ability to rationalize and protect itself will help keep you there.

Been there, done that, never ever doing it again. It's not worth it.

My advise: leave. You're a developer, you've got a world of options before you. You have no reason to work in that environment.

I, too, had to leave college for financial and family health reasons. It always left a question in my head as to whether I was as good as those at the job with a degree. I, too, worked my way up redacted, since personal info was removed by parent poster, my whole rise driven by feelings of inadequacy. Despite the ever increasing disfunction at the job, I stayed way too long, fearing I was not good enough to find another job.

You know what? I got over the fear of change and quit (you don't have to, one can always job hunt while still working). A year later, rested and in a better place, I started the next phase of my career where my experience was acknowledged and I gained a much better sense of my worth. I now work with great people, at a job I love, doing interesting work every single day.

There is better to be had out there, you just may not see it until you are on the other side. Take the chance, if you value your health and life.

I had vertigo for about a month a few months ago. Another friend (in Australia) mentioned he had it as well when I tweeted about it. It can be caused by a virus. Your immune system gets whacked when you don't rest properly, so it's possible you had the same thing that was going around.

Try ditching the phone/computer after 8PM and just relax and enjoy life. There will always be more work to do in the morning.

Working through a flu (a real flu, not a cold) is not a good idea. I've been around Wall Street and startups for a long-ass time, so I know people who've developed permanent anxiety/panic disorders from that. (March is a deadly month. You have winter's flus and viruses combining with spring's mental health risks.) Flu is usually mild, but it is a potentially life-threatening condition, i.e. not to be fucked around with.

You need to change jobs and get one that won't have you working unreasonable hours. Any time other than now is too late.

I find that if I try to work through a flu, I'll be sick for a week or two. If I just go home and stay in bed, I get over it in a few days.

In the long run, it's much more productive to take care of yourself before your work. No matter how productive you think you are being while sick, the quality of your work is most likely suffering.

Some companies have this horrible "PTO" pogrom (typo intentional) in which sick days and vacation days are pooled. It wouldn't be so bad if there were a sizable pool (say, 30 days) but usually, it's an excuse to present the company as having ample vacation (15-20 days) while actually deducting sick days from it. It means that a week-long illness will cut into your vacation.

Then you have this arrangement where people "work from home" (WFH) while actually ill, just to avoid losing a PTO day. Then you need a manager who understands the difference between sick WFH (don't hit him up, he might read emails and type out a few replies and that's it) and real WFH (you can actually expect that person to be working)-- and who, in addition, cares about that distinction.

All of that said, I'd much rather people work poorly from home with awkward expectations than come into the office and infect the rest of us! Realistic expectations or real sick days are better still, of course.

As a US worker, I greatly prefer pooled vacation days. The companies that I have worked for that don't have this have _at most_ 15 days of paid vacation (usually either 10 or 12 until I had a few years of work there and had it increased). They had separate sick time, but only ~5 days of it.

The pooled vacations one have 16-20 with sick bundled in. It's about the same if you are sick for more than 5 days (you'd lose either way). If you are sick for less than 5 days, pooled is clearly better.

> ample vacation (15-20 days)

15-20 days is hardly "ample" vacation time.

I agree but, by US standards, it's generous.

We are not a first world country anymore.

It is absolutely physically impossible to work through a flu, at least for me.

The flu is one of the most debilitating disease I've ever had. I literally can't move, much less drive myself to work.

You positive you had flu?

Spring has mental health risks? what causes that?

I think it's less common elsewhere, but so-called "March Madness" is a HUGE problem in the US- leading to countless hours of lost productivity.

I could find absolutely no evidence of an uptake of mental illness in March on either Google or Google Scholar. The absolutely only thing I can find is this: http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/parentingchildwithmentalil... which speaks of changing seasons affecting patients with Seasonal affective disorder, well duh.

Also March Madness doesn't mean what you think it means.


The main part of the breeding season of the European hare.

Events surrounding the single-elimination Division I college basketball tournaments performed each spring in the United States. The main tournaments involved are the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship and the NCAA Women's Division I Basketball Championship. The tournaments' nickname, "March Madness", originated in the 20th century and was later adopted by the media.

NCAA Basketball series (formerly March Madness series), an EA Sports college basketball video game series.

Mega March Madness, a defunct pay-per-view television package covering the college basketball tournament.

Illinois High School Boys Basketball Championship, a single elimination high school basketball tournament.

The month of the government of Canada's fiscal year end (March 31), when departments traditionally rush to spend the remainder of their budgets in order that they not experience budget reductions the next year. This usage was apparently the origin of the uses for basketball.[1]

I think you may be conflating a sports event (basketball brackets) with mental health ... not necessarily unrelated, but...

that's the joke

Sorry, I don't usually joke about mental health issues.

well you did sort of just comically imply that basketball fanatics have a mental illness

You are dying.

I had a glimpse into that "lack of recognition" recently when the company had an AGM type thing for all employees.

We're fundamentally a software company, we fundamentally make some B2B software, sell it, ship it, support it.

Despite being a software company, the development team, the whole development office was a side note. It was clear from this event that the company as a whole saw the development team as a marginal entry under R&D and actually that it was support and sales who were the "real" business.

It made me realise quite sharply that even as a software company, we're not a software company, we're a support company who happens to make a product to support.

It goes a long way to explain why programmers don't always get the recognition that they think they deserve. While you might see your core product as a piece critical to the success of the company, others may barely notice it.

I had an exit interview with a software company like this. The CEO was a marketing guy, and asked me why I was leaving after only a few months. I explained that the salary they paid was pretty low compared to what I could get elsewhere. He agreed and said they considered paying software developers the market rate was too expensive and that they would prefer to have a high turnover of devs rather than pay more. I pointed out that this was a short-sighted policy for a software company to have, and he asked why. I explained that the quality of their product would be lower than if they weren't continually training new staff, and he was surprised that I thought that developers had anything to do with the product. As far as he was concerned, the product was produced by marketing, and the code was unrelated to it.

By far the most bizarre exit interview I'd had, but very genial and good-natured for that.

Out of curiosity, I just checked out how they're going. And yes, they did have >90% of the market, now down to 60% ish and dropping.

It is not just money - it is respect, recognition etc too. And most engineers aren't good in socializing, being "known" etc whereas it is the exact opposite with sales and marketing (of course, there are exceptions - well known engineers with blogs, books, speaking engagements etc). I once worked for a megacorp - my manager was a terrific guy (this megacorp bought a smaller company and he came to megacorp via the acquisition), putting in 10-12 hours regularly, and if it weren't for him, the product wouldn't exist. But there were a couple of marketing guys who were getting paid a lot more than him, doing a lot less.

In every company wide meeting when they would do "recognition" the IT team would come at the end, if at all they remember. And this was a software company :(

If you left over pay, wouldn't you have known that a few months earlier when you took the job ?

Yeah, I knew I wasn't going to be staying there long. I'd just moved country and needed the job to have a job so I could apply for jobs.

They didn't seem to mind, like I said they seemed happy with the high turnover, so it worked out all round shrug

Sometimes I think it takes a few months/years of being undervalued before it really sinks in that you're being undervalued. And then even more before you actually do something about it.

I don't know the situation; but it is easier to get a job when you have a job. People love the thrill of the chase and like the fact that you are choosing them over your option. It can also be a factor that, if you are jobless, people wonder why and that can work against you.

So, depending on the situation, a job with low pay may be better than no job at all.

Maybe, but then you need to make sure you're actually working on improving your situation: if you're in a crappy job, you should be quietly applying for other jobs.

If you're in a desperate position, bad pay is better than no pay.

I've worked (as a support engineer) at software companies where, over a 7 or 8 year period, almost every member of the development team has been replaced, and those that weren't could have been. The same was true of the support team too. I then left and the company survived the shock just fine, so clearly I was replaceable too. So yes developers are vital, there would be no product without a development team to develop it, but then without a sales team it would never get sold. Without a support team it would be unsupported, etc. Removing any one team would be like cutting one of the organs out of someone's body. Sure you can outsource stuff, but the function being outsourced still needs to get done.

The problem comes when people from one world start making the decisions about how to run one of the other worlds. In my experience it's pretty rare for a technologist to try and tell the sales and marketing team how to do their job and expend their resources. Unfortunately I've seen several companies essentially collapse because really good sales and marketing people tried to run the engineering groups and make what are fundamentally technical decisions. I've never yet seen that end well.

I think it's partly because if you run a duff sales campaign, you can regroup and try an alternate strategy relatively quickly. The problem with development projects is they can take several years to come to fruition and if you're on the wrong path it can take several more years to fix the problems. By then it's often way too late.

Yes, it's often difficult for developers to prove their worth because they're so far removed from the money. The closer to the money you are, the easier it is to say you deserve a piece of it. It's easy for sales - they say, "I sold £X amount last year so I deserve £Y amount bonus."

The only way as a developer you can really do this is to find a niche for yourself that is yours and yours alone. That way you can say, "product X wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for me, and that sold £Y amount last year. Hence, the £Z amount bonus I'm asking for is nothing in comparison."

Also try and get some friends in sales who can tell you what's going on. I know the separate species of dev and sales don't usually mix, but it's a relationship that can help both of you individually. You'd be amazed how often managers will push the "next big product" so you work on that thinking you'll be in line for the big bucks and the promotion, but then you speak to sales and find that it's actually the old tried and tested stuff that's actually making the cash.

And for the sales guys they actually like having an "insider" in the dev team so they can get one up on their colleagues. "What's that? New product X has fallen behind schedule again?! We were told everything was fine and to go and sell it!"

You need to take credit for everything you do and you need to tell people about it. Stayed very late to work on something urgent (and therefore important)? Send out an email when you leave that you need to leave now but you have achieved this and this. CC in as many people as you think you can get away with, ideally the manager of your manager as well.

Right, that's a problem with the notion that you should work at a software shop because you're making the product rather than being a cost-center. It might be that way, but not necessarily, as you found. There's no easy heuristic like that to determine what's a good place to work and what isn't, unfortunately.

> It was clear from this event that ... it was support and sales who were the "real" business.

You're company appears to be a corporation for the mutual benefit of support and sales.

This isn't as uncommon as you might think, I've seen colleagues, particularly those of the workaholic bent, crack - though not to this degree. A good friend used to quite literally sleep in the office during crunch times. When management pointed to him as the reference example for the rest of us, I left. I feel guilty for doing so, he ended up taking several years off on disability after his marriage ended, the founders successfully exited and the new owners outsourced development.

Ultimately when you push yourself this hard, you're doing it wrong. Work to live, not live to work. Life is far too short for that. As much as I love what I do, I harbour no illusion that any of it is important enough to damage my well being.

Not all workaholics are same. Some know when to just take a break. What happens with people like that is, they generally make great progress career wise, take breaks when needed. Come back and again play hard.

I know a successful people who do that.

This isn't binary 'healthy long living easy takers' Vs 'Just to be dead workaholics'. There are regions in between them where people do just fine.

A fair point, but in my book the "holic" in "workaholic" implies the inability to do just what you describe. You're describing an effective worker.

It's interesting to note people have always been taught if you work hard, you'll get ahead. This just isn't the case anymore, and this is a great example.

This guy worked his ass off and how is he rewarded? By being given tighter deadlines and more work. No promotion, no increase in pay. They just worked him to death until he broke in glorious fashion.

I just won't accept this lifestyle anymore. When I leave on Friday, my laptop and work phone stays off all weekend. When I leave the office, it takes an act of congress to get me to crack my laptop and do extra work after hours. I've seen it over and over again how it doesn't matter how hard you work, you need to know someone to get promoted. Yeah, office politics suck, but if you don't play the game and simply do your work and go home, you'll be a lot healthier in the long run.

Amen! I'm the same way - I know that I'll never climb the corporate ladder this way, but it does mean that I have a happy home life - I actually get to spend quality time with my wife, get to travel, tend my garden, and just be, well, happy.

Isn't that the point of life?

It makes me really happy to see someone saying this on HN.

Weirdly simplistic view of mental illness and an employer's responsibility to their workforce.

"completely insane" normally refers to psychotic illness - a person cannot distinguish their hallucinations or delusions from reality. This type of illness is rare.

We do not reduce stress in the workplace to reduce the incidence of very rare illness, although that's a useful side effect.

We reduce stress in the workplace to increase productivity and quality, and to reduce the incidence of much more common stress related mental health problems.

It is disappointing to see that a company chooses to fire a previously productive employee because that employee had some time in hospital. It feels like it is fine to do that if the employee had a mental health problem but not, for example, cancer or a broken hip. (But maybe this is a bias of mine: I just hear about the people with mental health problems?)

[1] I use "stress" to mean "bad stuff, over which you have little control". I use "pressure" to mean "good stuff, that makes the job exciting and dynamic and etc". What one person may find stressful another person may find enjoyable pressure. re

What the heck makes you think psychosis is very rare? Over 3% of the population will experience it in their lifetime[1]. That isn't "very rare" in the slightest. People might not talk about it, because they are ashamed, there is still a big stigma against mental illness.

I've known quite a few people who had/has psychosis, including family members. One person I knew (an acquaintance) spent as much of the time sleeping as possible because it was the only time the voices ever stopped. They always told her to do horrible things, such as light herself on fire and she wanted very bad to escape them. She tried to live as normal of a life as possible out in public, however she often had very bad "breakdowns" in private. For all the author knows he worked so hard because that was his escape from the psychosis and one day the psychosis got out of hand.

I had a friend once who told me about his friend (someone I never met). The only way his friend could tell the difference between real people and the people he hallucinated was his hallucinations didn't have shadows.


Psychosis is rare compared ro other mental health problems.

Major depression is more common than psychosis; mild and moderate depression is much more common than psychosis; anxiety disorders are more common than psychosis; borderline personality disorder is an order of magnitude more common than psychosis.

Stress and anxiety in the workplace, which are serious problems and which need employers to protect their staff but which are not severe enough to require specialist secondary mental health services nor medication (the kind of thing treated in the UK by IAPT style services) affect many many more people than psychotic illness.

> It feels like it is fine to do that if the employee had a mental health problem but not, for example, cancer or a broken hip.

It most certainly isn't. No idea where the guy in the article is, but anywhere civilized a verifiabley sick employee, regardless of the nature of the problem, that's fired should have some legal recourse.

I think the same, but I suspect in the most (all?) of the USA sick employee have no recourse when fired. I remember something about that (what to say to a sick employee you're "involuntary separating with") in a course I had in "Change Management" (what a polite thing to say instead of "Bloody Restructuring") during my tenure as manager in a US multi-national company.

Which side of the "anywhere civilized" this places USA is a different problem, open to debate, that seems most of US people don't think is something they should fix (it's our business, btw, I'm not an US citizen, nor living in the USA).

Even if you are employed at-will, if you are fired for any of a number of predefined reasons (age, sex, disability status, etc.), you have legal recourse.

Many states have their own protections as well - a common one is sexual orientation.

>Many states have their own protections as well - a common one is sexual orientation.

Sexual orientation is protected federally as well.

In 2011 and 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that job discrimination against Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender individuals classified as a form of sex discrimination and thus violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

"The EEOC has held that discrimination against an individual because that person is transgender (also known as gender identity discrimination) is discrimination because of sex and therefore is covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. See Macy v. Department of Justice, EEOC Appeal No. 0120120821 (April 20, 2012), http://www.eeoc.gov/decisions/0120120821%20Macy%20v%20DOJ%20.... The Commission has also found that claims by lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals alleging sex-stereotyping state a sex discrimination claim under Title VII. See Veretto v. U.S. Postal Service, EEOC Appeal No. 0120110873 (July 1, 2011); Castello v. U.S. Postal Service, EEOC Request No. 0520110649 (Dec. 20, 2011), http://www.eeoc.gov/decisions/0520110649.txt."


I think you and the grandparent overlooked something: the article mentions "a few threatening phone calls", and from the description of how the employee behaved, those likely were phone calls where he threatened the company or management.

Even though that was obviously a symptom of his mental illness, it's probably sufficient to make the firing legal.

Threatening phonecalls are obviously very serious. And it's possible that those threats were not a result of mental illness but just anger and stress. But still, maybe they were a symptom of illness and while legal it'd be better if companies could work with employees who have mental illness. "Fire fast" is popular mantra but there doesn't seem to be much investigation on the effects of employee churn.

Imagine you are an employee. You find out that another employee has made threats of violence. He's coming into work today. What do you do?

It really really sucks for the mentally ill guy, but it's not on the other employees to tolerate it. A violent coworker is just as violent whether it's due to a chemical imbalance, him being a deliberately violently person, or him being justifiably angry with the boss.

I say "hi", I ask about the meds he's on, I ask about his time in hospital.

Maybe it's because I've seen inside different forensic units (medium secure and low secure) and a variety of different mental health wards that I can appreciate the difference between people who make threats of violence (which are not acceptable) and people who have been violent.

> I say "hi", I ask about the meds he's on, I ask about his time in hospital.

Good God, that is awfully rude. Let the man have privacy. Do you want all your coworkers asking about your medical problems, in detail? Do you share your medical history and current medications with all your coworkers?

>I was the one that the company sent to visit him in the hospital to check on him after his breakdown.

What a horrible and terrible breech of the employee's privacy. The employee has a right to privacy in the hospital and not having his coworkers "checking up" on him. If he was collecting disability, he should have his doctor communicate with HR/someone who handles the claims and HR needs to keep their mouth shut to others. I spent an extended time sick and a bunch of that time was in and out of the hospital and I would have been awfully pissed, really really pissed, if my boss or coworkers showed up to "check in on me." That was my private time to suffer in peace, I was disheveled, suffering, and in pain and the last person I wanted to see was my boss/coworker. I was collecting disability through my employer and my doctors filled out the appropriate forms and faxed them in to the HR person who handled medical claims. I informed my boss when I would be coming back to work when I knew and was cleared by my doctor. My doctor had to sign another form permitting me to return to work, so I called my boss once that form was faxed into HR. If they needed to know if/about when he was coming back, they could have called and asked if there was a time the employee would be back to work without asking details of his illness or progression. Sending someone to "check up" on him was terribly inappropriate and was possibly a violation of the law.

Furthermore, the author also doesn't have any idea what caused the illness, don't assume it was caused by working too hard. There could have been no cause at all, or the employee could have had a history of acute psychotic episodes for all the author knows.

This scared the hell of me. I am on my first programming assignment ever, putting extra efforts to do it quick and do it well. I am working on it for like 16 hours a day and in 3 days have brought it to level which was expected to be in 15 days. I made it 18 hours yesterday thanks to the comments like "phenomenal work" from my employer/mentor.

Side effects? My head is feeling numb. It's the same feeling as you have when sitting crossed legs and your feet go 'sleep', when you can't feel you have feet and there's no feeling of pain on pinching them. Also I am finding it harder and harder to think deep. I could collect great level of detail earlier, but now I feel like my head is refusing to think. I thought it was just another level of boredom as I haven't seen daylight for last 3 days. I thought my brain is behaving strange because it's tuning itself for more optimal performance. But Fk performance, I didn't realize things can get as wrong as the OP says.

Unless you're some sort of superhuman the odds of you consistently working well on 16-18 hour days are pretty slim, and the odds of you doing so without burning out at some point in the not too distant future are even slimmer.

I don't know where your work, or what you're doing, but unless you're on the verge of finding a cure for cancer I'm going to respectfully suggest that whatever it is isn't as important as your mental health. Take a break. See some sunlight, spend some time with friends, and think about something other than work for a little while.

This absolutely. I work long hours coding on my PhD (because I love it), then I come home and work the rest of the hours on side projects. Over the course of a few months my productivity wanes a lot - I can feel the burnout creeping on.

Over the last two years I've figured out that taking an hour out to go for a walk every day makes a huge positive difference. Sometimes, like this week, I take a week off and just do whatever I want as long as it's not my PhD. Afterwards I'm refreshed and ready to hit it hard again.

The main issue with doing work in 3 days that was scheduled for 15 under such circumstances is that your employer will start to expect such performance - and you might get a worse treatment for performing "normally" than your coworkers who never excelled (but weren't particularily unproductive either).

This doesn't mean that you should never put in some extra hours and work miracles when the situation is clearly improved by doing so, but be careful about the expectations you set. They might come to haunt you.

And in particular, learn to say "No". It doesn't make you "friends", like cutting 12 days off the schedule (and by the way, if your work is billed by days, that's actually a problem), but it's one helpful tool to keep your sanity.

Also note that when you do 15 days of work in three 16+ hour days, what you've actually done is do 15 days of scheduled work in 6-7 days by being smart and competent, and then compressed those 6-7 days into three by being stupid and anxious to fit in.

Quit while you're ahead. If you can cut project times in half while working 8 hours a day, you probably shouldn't kill yourself working 16+ hours a day to quarter them. Halving is impressive enough.

Can't agree more about expectations. They make you live somebody else's life, when we know somebody's expecting something from us and have a +ve score of keeping that expectation in past, we naturally behave to build more on that expectation. It's kinda same principle with which 'In App purchases' in modern mobile games are making money.

I've read a lot about how overly-expecting boss make someone's life worse. But I am on my first assignment for a freelance job, so wanna make a +ve history. But probably I am hitting my limits. Got to be careful.

Please take a step back and listen to yourself. You will fuck up your mental health if you keep working yourself this hard.

>> I thought my brain is behaving strange because it's tuning itself for more optimal performance

WTF? How can you possibly think this is anything other than a warning sign?

I've got a childishly optimistic imagination.

The OP is probably an extreme case, but the most important thing for YOU is to take care of yourself.

You're probably just lacking sleep at the moment (when I work crazy days like that, I have codemares, which means my mind never really gets a break from coding). You need to unwind properly this weekend, or whenever your next days off are.

Also, I'd recommend telling your boss how you're feeling, and what you've put yourself through. He might not understand, and may be surprised at how you're feeling about it, but you don't want him thinking you came in as a rockstar and burned out in a flash. You want him to know he can rely on you when things get rough, as they always do, but that you can't push yourself endlessly.

I'd go a lot further: take a day off tomorrow, no matter what the work schedule says. Of course do that after telling the boss that you're exhausted and unproductive due to overextending yourself with multiple 16 hour days.

In an agile, healthy work environment, this shouldn't even count against any leave budget given that you just gave them 6 workdays for the pay of 3.

Beaurocracy can complicate things and make it impossible to do that, but at the very least your boss should agree to let you go home early. If you get any negative feedback about this, I would seriously consider looking for a better place.

I am working from a home like place on a freelance project, so basically I am always at home. Nobody is forcing me to work harder, not even my employer. He knows I am new in this. It was my own stupid ass who thought of making an impression.

Look like tomorrow gonna be a holiday for me, or may be a half day off.

Half days aren't worth it. An entire day off is worth at least 3 half days. You still have work hanging over you for the rest of the day, and it usually ends up being far less time 'off' than you planned on.

People, especially young people, can push themselves quite far for a short period of time, but it takes a toll on you. Don't do this for longer than absolutely necessary. If you're in programming for the long haul, adjust your pace. It's not the 100 meter dash. Or if it is, make sure you take time to recover afterward.

Take care of yourself first. Even if you care only about work, you're no use to your employer if you're sick.

> This scared the hell of me. I am on my first programming assignment ever, putting extra efforts to do it quick and do it well.

Unless you're predisposed toward some condition, you're fine. This sort of thing will take years of locking yourself away in your cubicle doing work that guarantees someone else's promotion to send you off the deep end :)

Why are you doing that? Have you an immediate and direct return in doing that?

Beware in creating unhealthy social expectation about you.

Yep, sure that might be fine for a few days... but a candle that burns twice as bright burns out twice as fast.

Sounds like you should take 12 days off!

How is future you supposed to live up to the amount of work that you're putting in now? Beware of creating unsustainable expectations.

I've known a few programmers who have been institutionalized.

Many places that hire programmers abuse them terribly. One of my goals in life is to do something about the terrible way most developers are treated.

However, I've also known a few people who, when diagnosed with serious/terminal illness, chose to continue working through that until the end. These are people who made conscious choices to do the thing they love right up until the end -- even if by working it shortens their life.

Finally, let's not forget that programming attracts the aspies -- the people able to do something terribly unnatural: sit in front of a glowing rectangle and type for hours on end solving abstract mental puzzles.

Stories like this one push all the Millennial buttons. Don't sacrifice your life for something as silly as work! Don't let the system abuse you! Take care of yourself first!

These are all good and true things. But it's also true that people have the right (I'd argue obligation) to find something in their pathetically short existence that's more important than they are. Not every unhealthy decision is a poor one. We're not just put on this planet to exist.

My husband is an aspie, and he still burns out. No matter the project (School, work, freelance, etc), he still has to pace himself. He currently has some sort of flu due to burning himself out on a project class. He was doing something he enjoyed, but the professor was rediculous on project timelines and expectations and the whole class is suffering from it. If anything, because he is an aspie, he has a lower tolerance for burnout.

Previous discussion (guess you got this off reddit yesterday): https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5575144

547 points by null_ptr 332 days ago | flag | comments

Ah, yeah. Sorry - didn't realise it was up already.

Just like the good ol office space quote, to me this is about incentive. I have PTSD from my combat time in the Corps, and when I got out I determined to never work so hard for so little ever again. I have since been a part of 3 startups (current employer included), and I continually see the issue where C levels like to do C level things and offer little to no incentive for actual productive employee's to continue to be so. I think there is a miscommunication in the American social business contract that is more exaggerated these days and that is where these problems start.

It goes like this:

C-Guy: I work 80 hours a week, and have for X years.. (implying worker A should too)

Worker A: I get paid salary, and no matter how hard I work I don't get anything other than state-mandated overtime pay.

C-Guy: Well if you worked harder and produced more value to company you might get a bonus or incentive Y.

(This is where the misunderstanding comes into play)

Worker A: I'm not going to kill myself on verbal half-assed promises of maybe bonuses. Honestly I'm getting underpaid as it is (startup culture ftl) and my time is worth more than you are paying me.

The problem is the idea of vague half promised incentives that aren't on paper and aren't easily legally enforceable. Hence, and entire section of the work force who might be able to do great things doesn't.

I forgot the other jab the C-level gives:

C-Level: We are working to benefit humanity and doing great work! Isn't that incentive enough?

This is true outside of programming too.

I work at an engineering consultancy and I was highly motivated to "prove my worth" going in. I shipped like crazy on my job in the initial few days. X numbers of procedures written, Y number of proposals evaluated, Z number of reports generated where X, Y, and Z were much higher than average. It was mostly to see how much I could get done, and I was getting a lot done. Initially my boss was happy but then more work kept piling up on my desk because I could obviously get this work done while some of my co-workers continued to work at snail's pace. I don't fault them because they obviously knew that it was better just to do the minimum amount of work to not raise questions and then chill in the break room or just catching up on each other's lives.

Anyway long story short I learned that unless it is a make or break situation where the upside is written in a contract, it is just better to coast along when working at MegaCorps (I can't comment on startups as I haven't worked at one).

On another note, one of the things we do is we train and certify people. This is a high volume service and most companies want certificates for each individual that they contract with us for a training. One of my co-workers used to manually copy fields such as ; FirstName, LastName, NameOfTraining, DateofAttendence, Validity, NameOfCompany, NameOfTrainer, CertificateNo, etc. from an Excel file for each individual on to a word document and then hit print. She would do this 100 times if there were 100 attendees who were trained. It was her full time job because it was so time consuming. All I had to do was setup MailMerge on MS Word that took data from Excel and generated all the certificates in one batch to reduce her full time job to 10 minutes. Obviously I need to switch companies soon lest I go crazy too.

I've known a couple people who have gone insane to varying degrees. All were hard workers.

One was a grad student with schizophrenic tendencies, who just lost it after Phd quals.

Another was a coworker who had a nervous breakdown at a client site after too many trips.

Another was a grad student who had false views of grandeur after stopping his medicine.

Another threatened violence on the entire company after being let go.

Other than hoping that I'm not the common link... But - I think it's more than just "Working too hard." Working beyond your capacity isn't good, but there are other things at work too. Many focused geniuses have autistic-like symptoms. The mind has a lot of complex chemistry. "Just work less" doesn't solve it, any more than "Just cheer up" won't help someone that's clinically depressed.

My heart is out to the people on this thread who shared painful stories.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the Redbull fridge at midnight looking for an angry fix,

nodejs hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to DynamoDB in the machinery of the cloud,

who runway and hungry and hollow-eyed and high sat up staring at the supernatural luminescence of terminal illness floating across the tops of Macbooks contemplating scale,

who bared their brains to Apple under Jobs and saw cross-compiled apps staggering on tenant servers illuminated,

who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating funding and Techcrunch tragedy among the scholars of more,

who fled from the academies to publish obscene odes to Mammon in the windows of the user's skull,

who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall...

I know a lead developer who would complain to me about his team's problems. Basically "I don't care about your problem, just do your work - I don't care if you have an addiction, if you have family problems...". He also made a note to never work with software developers because "they are all crazy". Needless to say, the guy snapped over an issue is now no longer talking to me.

On another issue, I had a line manager that I had to report to. He was very "non-technical", for example in my last discussion with him after I quit I had to do some handover documents. He thought that because an API is "very technical" (does not even attempt to understand what an API is) it should be relegated to staff member who he deemed would be "technical enough" to work with APIs (this staff member was a freakin Director!!). Whenever he requested something from me, or makes some sort of demand (which makes sense, as he was a line manager) I used to get -very- angry to the point that I would physically freeze up out of anger and this is the first workplace where it's happened. Eventually, I gave my notice to quit.

Sometimes you can't choose your leads or managers, but you can choose how you react!! Don't leave it too late.

Having been through some 'nightmare' crunches myself i do feel some sympathy. However, it is cautious sympathy because this guy chose freely to do this and made the situation for himself.

The fact that he was too weak of character or naive to deal with the situation is entirely his own fault and not something that should be respected or sympathised with too heavily... otherwise the message is that this behaviour is acceptable and that there is nothing wrong with putting yourself in a situation where others will have to pay for your mistakes...

Perhaps whats worse is that these situations arise typically because owners, managers etc. make mistakes - and instead of solving it with their skills they simply fob off their responsibility onto their underlings - who end up carrying their dead weight.

Leadership is a two way thing. When your leaders fail you don't be afraid to chastise them - especially if you are going to work hard to cover for their failings. Ultimately they will never get booted out or otherwise penalised in these situations unless /you/ make it obvious that they are failing.

I worked at a shop where one developer committed suicide, 2 other developers had mental breakdowns, and another tech manager developed serious medical issues. Some other suffered silently from alcohol and drug addiction. I can't tell you home many marriages went under.

To say we have to consider and appreciate the lives and well being of technical professionals is an understatement.

Worked at EA? Another game shop? Curious.

Not a game shop. It was a dotcom.

I've had a weird episode in a job. Pressure was immense and the boss had the nice habit of calling everybody Friday evening or just before an extended holiday to berate everybody's work, threat to close the branch etc.

Everybody sat tight because the business was lucrative and expected to find the gold pot at the end of the rainbow, you know. I resisted about 1.5 years.

At April 21, 2003 I began to tremble and it wouldn't go. At April 30 evening, the boss did the usual show like clockwork (May 1 is holiday here) and then I quit. (Funny how I remember days, even the hours, of this episode.)

Any kind of contact or just passing by the street where the business was located, the trembling resurfaced. Was a hard lesson about how you bump your limit, damage is done and you don't see it coming.

Other people continued to work there under God-knows-what medication. They kind of improved the treatment of people after I quit, to the point of forbidding the boss of going to developer's room. But no developer got rich, either. Empty promises.

I snapped at a coworker the other day. Yelled at him and threw him out of the office.

My mother is dying from brain cancer, my wife was ill (had emergency surgery on the weekend), getting stuck with the scutwork of integrating code from a frontend designer that's leaving (I'm usually tasked with backend/devops).

It was not a day I was in the mood for a prank.

True, succinct wisdom by the author: "It may be hard to swallow but the extra effort and hours that you put into your job as a software developer does not usually amount to someone higher up thinking you should run the company. It has been my experience that good producers are more likely to be asked to continue to produce.".

There is a period people feel angry and sad when they lose the things they cherish the most at that present moment, e.g. power and reputation. The only thing you can do is to let them rage a bit verbally, send in people to check him, take him out for a few meals. I don't know if this is a law or not, but release him after three months looks like a good gesture.

I used to do this in the past. I would stay in my research lab overnight like every once or twice a week. even if I went home I would continue to work on my project. I did that probably because I wasn't very competent. I knew little but I had an image of what I wanted to accomplish. I had a picture of how the project should turn out to be. I had a high expectation for myself and I wanted to amuse me and other people. But being incompetent, I couldn't waste time so pushed myself very hard.

I think most people are even ashamed/afraid to admit they put in too many hours. The stigma of being exposed as against the norm scares people.

Their employer may find out; that's where the shame stems from. I think a lot of us feel working too many hours is bad. Except for critical times, like 1-5% of the time at most, but most of us will never admit to it because of that stigma.

I was offered a great role recently but turned it down because the employer explained that most guys here bring their laptops home and work weekends and the actual work hours are 8 - 6:30 pm. The role had full paid benefits and an awesome salary.

I am not lazy by any means in fact I am extremely self motivated but there is a threshold and like most people are saying on here the quality begins to dip beyond that threshold and your health starts to get affected.

(I've posted versions of this before...)

Someone I knew at a quasi-government organisation went to their boss to ask for more staff and/or more money because they were being overworked and had far too much to do in to a 40 hour week. Employee was told there was no money in the budget for staff/raises, but he'd have his official hours cut to 4 days a week on his same yearly salary, therefore he was getting a 20% bonus. 20%! Wow!

He still had the same amount of 40+ hours work to do, so the net result was exactly nothing.

He went back to his desk and was found a short time later slashing his wrists.

He spent some time in the local psych ward and once he was medicated and on an even keel he went back to work, but was never the same again. He just kinda pottered around in his own heavily medicated haze and not doing much of anything.

I was working on a project recently (in fact I still am sort of), staying late (really late) working ... and working. At first it was ok, but doing 3 weeks in a row with no weekend and very little break in between (the occasional game session here and there) really got to me. I remember one night I was sitting in the office I looked out of the window (gorgeous view - 35th floor in a sky-scaper in Abu Dhabi) and I just started crying. I had a massive breakdown. I've had panic attacks for the next 2-3 weeks almost daily. Just to clarify, I love coding, I'm coding in my free time, I enjoy it more than anything. This being HN, I'm sure a lot of people can relate.

This story seems very familiar...the fact that it's trending again on HN, leads me to believe that some of us devs must relate with the coder that lost it.

I can strongly relate with the programmer. With the wealth of knowledge that I as a coder possess, it is still disappointing when I constantly crunch numbers, design a structure, or spend what feels like an eternity on a project, only to be stuck on a simple fix.

I envy the ignorant seriously and those who can accept things for face value. I over analyze everything and am critical of anything. One of the sweet blisses I have is to read HN to take a mental break from coding.

Still doesn't answer to questions like this: http://programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/163954/are-th...

so sad.i always push my junior do some sport like bowling or badminton. i not believer of agile or extream programming which push programmer to the limit.it part or senior developer or manager to manage their staff.

Back in the 80s, I was one of those bright-eyed smart young things that went to work for a startup as a developer. Before I knew it, I had a team of developers working for me, and we were all working 80-100 hours / week. At first it was fun. We enjoyed the work and each others company. We cranked out code. We laughed at, and with, the sales people as they tried to make the first big sale that "just needed one more feature".

And then, as their (very young) manager, I realized that we were all being royally abused by the company. I don't recall what the trigger was, but the light bulb went off.

I started telling people to go home at 8pm. I urged them to "take weekends off".

A few months later I was ask to resign ... or to open a new office for the company in another country. (Never mind that productivity had gone up and people were way happier - the CEO loved that people were working all night and weekends and was royally pissed off that they no longer were).

I wish I'd had this to read back then: http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2009/10/07/the-gervais-principle-o.... I encourage every engineer to work through it slowly. And Michael O'Church has great practical advice.

Having worked in several startups since, and a couple of big companies too, I have a few takeaways that might help newer engineers:

* predictability trumps productivity - if you tell management it will be done by Friday, have it done by Friday. Don't promise them Tuesday and pull an all nighter to do it, and then miss by a day. Pad by a day or two to allow for the inevitable. If you get done early, use it to catch up on your personal work projects (exploring new tools, cleaning up that code from last week, helping out a co-worker). As a manager of engineers, I came to appreciate the (seemingly) slower but more predictable performers, as well as the rockstar miracle workers -- and they usually got paid the same.

* make managers choose what you work on, don't just do it all (they're paid to choose!) - The most useful scheduling / workload trick I learned was to always have handy a list of all the things expected of me. So, when big boss comes over and says "Hey, I know you're busy, but is there any chance you can squeeze in XYZ for me?", you can say, "Sure, I'd LOVE to Mr Big Boss. Which of the following should I push to next week: project A, B or C?" Nine out of ten times, XYZ is less important than what you're already doing and Big Boss will (honestly) re-think and move on. (The sleazy ones will try and find another patsy, so watch to see what they do next so you can calibrate accordingly).

* find a life & validation outside your workplace. When you enjoy your work and your colleagues, it's easy to make that your life. Resist, for fear of living at work. It can be good for a while, but it becomes a rut and you can easily be abused. It's better to find something outside that will forcibly pull you away and give you perspective. Find a sport, form a band, take up a new hobby. Anything that gives you a compelling reason to be out of the office.

* take vacations a week or more at a time. Don't let them expire unused. Don't take them as pay. Get out of town. Go see family. Go skiing/biking/sailing/hiking. Do a course. It will give you perspective and you'll come back to work renewed and a little more clear-eyed.

I see I've rambled on... My meta point is:

Life is short, don't be someone's patsy.

> Later he spoke about how the effort he put into the company should have given him more respect and a better position.

He was free to find another job, or create one. I hope he bounces back...

> He was free to find another job, or create one.

Easy to say, but not how we work, the more you commit the more difficult it is to extricate yourself. This holds true of everything I can think of at the moment: jobs, relationships, gambling and addiction.

> the more you commit the more difficult it is to extricate yourself

Well said. We commit, and we become invested.

Some of us come back from our twisted versions of personal hell...

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.


I knew a guy who had a similar breakdown because of personal life issues.

Should the take-away be to not have a personal life?

What a silly article and a silly reason to not just take personal responsibility for the work-life balance that you choose.

I knew a guy who overdosed on pills and died. Should the take-away be to not overdose on pills?

Yes, yes it should. Overworking is bad, don't do it. Having a shitty personal life is bad too, try not to do that either.

"overworking" is the new boogeyman.

Rather than encouraging people to make deliberate, healthy choices to find a work-life balance that achieves the goals they want to achieve, we see simplistic articles like this trying to pin someone's (very possibly) pre-existing mental health issues on their work life as though everyone needs to take more vacation.

Working hard has its place in the path of people who want business success.

WTF? This article is exactly about making healthy choices and work-life balance. You make it sound like overworking and vacation have nothing to do with healthy choices and work-life balance.

"Despite being well treated and paid, for his hard work, he was still looked at as just a worker that produced well. He was never considered to be a key player in the company."

He was right. He should've been recognized as a key player. But the idea that being seen as a key player in the company requires you to be higher in the hierarchy is a fallacy.

The art of good company structure is keeping the hierarchy relatively flat (not non-existent, but still relatively flat), so hierarchy does not become the de-facto tool for "recognition" of an employee. There was no reason this programmer shouldn't have gotten more respect (during decision making) and more money even than his direct boss, but staying in the position he's in, where he's contributing his best.

Apple's infamous "top 100" meetings pick 100 of the most influential people in the company for a secret retreat. They're not selected by hierarchy. They're selected by their individual contributions. There's a lot of wisdom in that way of doing things.

And a side note about mental conditions. It's easy to say "oh he was probably unstable anyway", but that's bullshit. Every one of you "stable" people have a breaking point. Every one of you. Environmental stress is a huge factor affecting our mental health. So if this happens at your company, don't look for external excuses. Look around yourself, identify the causes, fix them.

>>Apple's infamous "top 100" meetings pick 100 of the most influential people in the company for a secret retreat.

A thing I can assure you those "top 100" people are people whose managers would have fought hard to be nominated as the top people, and are not necessarily the actual top people.

This is a big problem in big corporations. Your manager needs to play Godfather to you, else no matter who you are or what your contributions are, you are screwed.

We're talking influence here, not intelligence or hardworkingness or importance. If you can't influence your way in, by definition you aren't one of the hundred most influential.

You know, cynicism doesn't count as insight nor evidence in my book.

Huh? If your manager dislikes you, consciously or subconsciously, you are screwed. I didn't know that was controversial.

This is how humans work, regardless of whether we like it or not.

It doesn't mean, however, that it is impossible to get the 100 most influential people in the company together. It just means that you can't do so by relying on the existing company hierarchy.

The easiest way is to randomly draw 10000 employees, then give them the opportunity to anonymously declare which employee they consider the most influential within their branch/location.

Top 100 voted "go to Disneyland".

Still, his interpretation is more plausible than expecting that the ghost of steve himself visits Tim Cook at night to tell him which 100 guys out of a workforce numbering over 80,000 really deserves that honor.

I like to view software developers as artists. Artists that are inspired, happy, and well-rested produce wonderful works of art.

Software development has been dehumanized for so long. It's time for a positive change.

I believe that when man and technology is in harmony great things will happen.


The problem with software engineers is that they embrace Cluelessness. Read up on the MacLeod hierarchy. Venkatesh Rao's series is a great place to start: http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2009/10/07/the-gervais-principle-o... . You can also read the series I began last February: http://michaelochurch.wordpress.com/2013/02/19/gervais-princ... . Those'll take a few hours.

The MacLeod pyramid has bare-minimum players (Losers) at the bottom. They aren't really losers in the sense of being undesirable or weak; they know employment is a losing proposition and commit minimally (rational disengagement). In the middle are the overeager Clueless, destined for middle management but rarely able to cross the barrier (effort thermocline, which is where jobs transition from getting harder as one moves up to getting easier) between them and the cynical, politically savvy but rarely eager executives. At the top are the Sociopaths who are openly out for personal gain. Again, Sociopaths aren't all bad (the label is more negative than what it describes) but what they are is self-interested and insubordinate. They won't put the organization's interests above theirs, and why should they?

The Clueless tier is the worst place to be, because you become the company's true janitors. You're always cleaning up the messes made by the bare-minimum players below you and the self-interested, capricious gods of industry above you. It leads to overwork and burnout (which can be the first step toward cluefulness and cynicism). You eat buttloads of a pie you don't especially like (even if you once did, in moderation) and the prize for winning the pie-eating contest is... more of that same pie.

Software culture embraces the culture of the middle tier (the Clueless). Startup cults are even worse. They hire specifically to maintain certain illusions, and exclude people who might contradict those (i.e. over-40 engineers who might say, "I've been here before" when a death march begins or a ridiculous executive promise, never to be delivered, is made to motivate people to sacrifice their health.) The real reason these cultish startups discriminate on age and gender is that they don't want to let in people who have the perspective to call the execs out on their bullshit.

Some people, steeped in middle-class eagerness and Cluelessness, struggle with the cognitive dissonance that hits when they realize that (a) there are no adults over adults-- something people've desired for thousands of years, so much as to make them up out of vapor and call them "gods"-- and (b) no organization is a meritocracy and advancement is always political. It's not "who you know" over "what you know". It's what you have over those other two things. Knowing people isn't enough. What can you do for (or to) people? Rather than acknowledge the ugly truth, they plow into their work (heads in sand) hoping the ugliness will go away. It never does. It starts to look like a context-driven case of OCD ("I have to get this done and it has to be perfect"). For some, it leads to exactly this.

Excellent post and links, thank you very much for commenting!

Now I can say "I know a programmer who knew a programmer who went completely insane."

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact