PHP
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By Bruno Skvorc

Can 9-to-5 Developers Be Good Developers?

By Bruno Skvorc

Stock photo of clock indicating a ticking timepiece

For more on personal development for developers, check out this episode of our podcast, The Versioning Show, covering the three keys of being a productive software engineer.

While picking talks for the conference he’s organizing, James Titcumb recently tweeted that well known speakers get picked over others because, among other things, they’re reliable (i.e. they don’t cancel). I would argue that “among other things” carries more weight – I believe that most conference organizers pick such talks and speakers because they like to play it safe and fear risks.

A Safe Play

The number of times I’ve seen a well known name from the PHP world hold a trivial (and, on their end, too, a “play it safe”) talk is staggering, and it always makes me feel like I try too hard with my submissions. In this day and age of almost instantly-available recordings, why have a talk more than a few times? By the second or third time around, it’s accessible to everyone online anyway. Why pick “safe” topics – who are you if you don’t push the limits of your own comfort zone? Invite discussion, polarization, and disagreement – grow yourself by learning from and educating those who disagree with you, find common ground, see things from people’s various perspectives, prevent the formation of an argument from authority. Stop acting like a prophet, and instead act like a human – fallible, capable of learning, and always curious.

When your whole career is banking on being a speaker, then I suppose it makes sense to have evergreen talks you don’t need to prepare. Traveling around the world and reciting the talk from the top of your head is a pretty good gig and I can’t fault such speakers for this approach any more than I can fault McDonalds for continuing to sell hamburgers. It works. But even McDonalds introduces a salad or a chicken wing from time to time.

Then there’s also the “bubble” effect:

It works both ways, I think. Acceptance of the same speakers (indeed, I keep seeing the same 10-20 people at every conference) frightens the newer ones and prevents them from even submitting talk ideas. As if the impostor syndrome isn’t weighing down on them hard enough already, now they have to fight for scraps among themselves after those who are guaranteed to get in have picked the table clean.

These days where “diversity” is aggressively pushed on everyone, the conference world seems strangely hostile to intellectual diversity. I wish there was a conference which guaranteed at least a 90% ratio of first-time (or first-year) speakers – oh how much more interesting the conference landscape would be!

The 9-to-5

My opinions about conferences aside, this led us to another discussion where some argued* that these talks get recycled not because of speaker laziness or organizer cowardice, but because there are many attendees who have never been to a conference before and are blissfully unaware of such common topics as “What’s new in PHP7”, “Why use Composer”, “Good OOP”, “What’s TDD”, etc.

This, to me, didn’t make much sense. If an employee had never been to a conference before, and the employer is finally sending them, it’s trivial to do a Google search about the topics being presented + their speakers, and recordings of their previous talks show up. Why would an employer who knows an employee has no interest in self-improvement (obviously, since they had never been to a conference) send them to a conference that’s, for the most part, wholly available online and for free?

Granted, the conference might be the first-of-its-kind, but let’s be real – we’re talking PHP here, it’s not going to be talking about something groundbreaking.

The boss might also hope the employee will meet new people there, perhaps do some recruiting, but that’s also hardly the role for a first-timer.

All of which begets the question – what kind of developer has so little interest in self-improvement? Marco Pivetta had something to say on that:

This baffled me.

You come to work. You know your tasks. You do them. You go home and… repeat the next day? Provided it’s not exactly a job at which there’s a lot of downtime, how does such a developer keep up with best practices or new approaches to recommend to bosses in order to improve the app, or assert some leadership, advance in their career? Turns out, they don’t:

Wait, what? This is terrible.

In order to stay relevant in our field, we have to constantly keep learning. We have to actively seek out new technologies, study them, and decide whether or not they’re worth paying attention to. We need to not only assess their potential to solve future problems, but also re-solve past problems on these new potential solutions for the sake of identifying better approaches.

A developer who stops being a developer after 5 pm, especially if the job isn’t overly creative and lacks individual freedom to express oneself in solutions, will build good muscle memory, will remember the core functions and their inconsistent argument order, will be able to hammer everything into the shape of a nail and then drive that nail into anything, board or not. But that developer will never become a software engineer. That developer won’t be able to succinctly present new solutions and approaches, and won’t be able to influence the company’s growth in a good way.

Time

I understand the “No way, I’m married” or “No way, I have kids” or “My time is precious, I want to spend it one something I enjoy” sentiment Malte mentions in the thread. Time is the most precious resource we have, and with family, the value shoots up even more.

But I firmly believe we’re in a tech bubble, and money earned now will be able to buy much more time later than the time used directly right now for a ratio of 1:1. It’s all a matter of balance, of course – moderation in all things is important – but time spent on learning, improving, and setting oneself up (and I’m not saying 24/7 here, but a few hours every day amount to a lot in the long run) – especially if one enjoys it – is an investment worth making. And if you’re not enjoying learning new things about your job, what are you doing working that job in the first place?

In my opinion, you shouldn’t shy away from selling your time until you have enough money to buy more back than you sold. But you should charge a lot for it.

Conclusion

In my opinion, a 9-to-5 developer can be a good developer or, rather, a good code-monkey, but cannot be a good software engineer, or a good community member.

A developer who wants to stay relevant in the field and who wants to progress in their career simply must take initiative and learn. They need to see things long-term, and realize that unless they upgrade themselves now and get a career boost with learning, the time saved and used on “life” now will be wasted tenfold in the future, because the gains could have been high enough by then to buy much of that time back.

It doesn’t even have to be development – there’s more ways to learn than just coding past 5 pm. Read tutorials, write tutorials (and earn some more money on the side), go to conferences to meet people and hear different ideas (excellent conferences like the WebSummerCamp even have a companion program so you don’t even have to leave the family behind) – there’s a wealth of options for every ambitious developer out there.

How do you feel about conferences and recycled talks by the same speakers? How about the 9-to-5 fates? Do you keep learning after you come home, or just drop everything? What’s your end game? Discuss!

*see? Disagreement! And I, as a fallible human, learned about new reasons behind some of the conference symptoms I was seeing.

  • Colin O’Dell

    “Recycled talks” have a shelf life – you can only give the same talk so many times before:

    – The content becomes stale / outdated
    – You’ve already given it everywhere that would be interested

    I have a few talks I recycle, but I always try to tailor the content and delivery to the specific audience so it’s more relevant for them than a recording from a previous conference. Also, although I’ve given maybe 12-15 talks so far, only 2-3 have been recorded, so developers watching those aren’t necessarily getting my best delivery or the one best tailored to their needs.

    With regards to speaker diversity, I totally agree – conferences should have a healthy mix of veterans and newcomers. But I think it’s also important to note there are many more user groups than conferences. Some of those groups have regular attendees and speakers who may not attend conferences regularly; they’re still involved in the same type of learning, just at a smaller, local scale.

  • Keeping up with whatever vocabulary is chic this year is always like pulling teeth. People don’t bother to define their terms or contexts, speak ambiguously and skip transitions…and, not infrequently, rely on false dichotomies or strawman arguments.

    For example, CSS’s alleged inability to have non-global scope is a casualty of what’s currently chic in setup methods—which, frankly, seem designed to increase client dependence on web developers, among some other things—and I also have yet to see an article that protests IDs in a fashion that doesn’t miss the point of what they are.

    Or take the false dichotomy of OOP vs. functional programming. That’s like saying short stories are standalone stories are standalones and story series are series and that they don’t have particular strengths, weaknesses, situations they’re best for, or ability to be hybridized. Sometimes OOP’s better, sometimes functions are, sometimes a blend, sometimes neither.

    Your comments on conferences and recycled talks are ignoring contexts. Many people learn better from in-person instruction. Recycling a talk allows room for editing and updates, and for adjustment to suit the comprehension level of a particular audience. Workplace politics and policies can also factor in, and sometimes you have to make something work with a not-great method because that’ll be easiest for the client to maintain or update, or it’s the most efficient option for the current situation, budget, and coworker training as a whole.

    More, what’s the point of those conferences? Some conferences or educators intentionally seek to teach a specific thing. They focus on that and repeat it for new audiences. That’s their preference and intent.

    Sticking to a specific model makes someone a specialist. Maybe you specialize in being on the cutting edge. Maybe someone else specializes in something else. The problems come is when a person insists their specialty is the only approach that must always be used.

    The circle of conferences with the same speakers might be an echo chamber. They might be an intentional circle of educator friends, where they’re hard to breach on purpose. Or maybe those are who the conferences can find who are able or willing to do it. Multiple possible causes, there.

    It’s just another approach to problem-solving, one that weighs the contributing factors differently than you do–and situations and persons involved do affect the weight of various variables. If my coworker has to be the smartest person in the room, where it’s use his methods else he’ll retaliate, it might be best to just go along with it. It’s certainly easier.

  • Tim Furry

    My 9 to 5 is more like 7:30 to 5:30, but who’s counting? :) I’d love nothing more than to sit down for an evening and learn more about a new web technology. But between two kids still at home, aging parents (including handling estates of those recently deceased), house projects, car repairs, extended family needs and dealing with increasingly stupid/inane/idiotic service providers, if I have a few moments to myself I prefer to spend them outside in the garden where it’s fairly tranquil.

    My employer doesn’t believe in formal training, so no conferences, and very little time for exploration. If I want to go to a conference I have to take vacation and pay for everything myself. We learn on the fly. As far as I know we do not contribute to open source.

    I have had too many personal false starts on learning new stuff…buy the (SitePoint) book, watch the training video, set up a PC at home to play on…and it quickly gets to where I need real answers about how to scale things to enterprise-grade applications, at which point the readily-available content thins out and the time needed to do the research and testing is simply prohibitive unless it’s also being used on the current project at work.

    I’ve been doing web development for 20+ years…I started at a university, before the internet was readily available elsewhere. It’s still a love affair. I hope to retire in another 10-15 years, at which time I will walk away from IT forever and let it boil in its own commercialized bloodlust. Perhaps I’ll take up furniture making or house building…something in which the tools are steadfast for decades and the creations for sometimes centuries.

    • Bruno Škvorc

      > My employer doesn’t believe in formal training, so no conferences, and very little time for exploration

      Harsh! Well done on keeping up in spite of that!

  • Grant Wesley Parks

    We always just called that type “clock punchers”.

  • Jen

    Software dev is no different than any other job. You want more challenge and work 14 hour days – go work at a startup. When you are over 35, have kids and ill parents, life takes over. Everything in moderation. 9 to 5 is plenty and time is all you have.

    • Bruno Škvorc

      > Software dev is no different than any other job

      I tend to agree, but I generally feel passion for any job I accept. I’ll improve things in my own time purely because I enjoy it, believe in the message behind it, and want to prove to myself that I can still grow.

      When a company stalemates or starts a decline that can easily be avoided (such signs are generally obvious), I run because it no longer feels good. I completely agree that time is all you have, which is why I’m really obsessed about enjoying the time I spend at work, too – if I don’t enjoy a job, no matter how much it pays, I’ll quit because it’s literally wasting my one limited resource – time. This also ties into the fact that I can “work” on myself after the job, because it doesn’t feel like work, or overtime, and thus doesn’t lead to burnout.

  • I think it’s important for people in this industry to recognise that these technologies we work with are always moving and improving. It’s folly to believe otherwise. I fully believe that if we stop learning, we start dying.

    That said, It’s important for people to time-block their days, so they don’t become exhausted and worn out from working too many hours.

    If we have to do our Professional Development “Due Diligence” learning off the clock, where does it stop? JavaScript’s mushroom-cloud of growth is impossible for one person to stay on top of. We only have so much mental energy to commit to learning the latest hotness.

    That said, if your employer isn’t interested in your career, they’re using and abusing you: You’re being pumped and dumped. Renegotiate your work, or get out of there; invest in yourself when you’re off the clock and find a new job.

    Security concerns? Accessibility sucks? Usability? Terrible mobile support? Still rely on Java Applets, Flash or Perl or ColdFusion or ASP WebForms or PHP 4 or some other no longer supported, hard-to-hire for tech stack? Customers will leave you in the dust if a better alternative comes along, especially if it’s easy to switch.

    If your employer doesn’t understand the software engineering industry is always moving faster than any company can keep up, and doesn’t invest in your abilities, or in improving your tech stack or workflows, the company ship is slowly sinking, and there’s icebergs they’re sure to hit. No money to assign to this stuff? That’s a Major Business Problem; shit’s on fire, yo.

    Communicate the big things to those in control, and if they refuse to listen to calm, careful risk-assessment reason, abandon ship while you still can.

    • Bruno Škvorc

      > That said, if your employer isn’t interested in your career, they’re using and abusing you: You’re being pumped and dumped. Renegotiate your work, or get out of there; invest in yourself when you’re off the clock and find a new job.

      Couldn’t have said it better myself, excellent comment, agreed with all of it, thanks.

  • Michael

    Sorry but this is nonsense and your ‘conclusion’ is massively flawed. Plenty of people I know are 9-5 developers, and manage to keep up to date with new and exciting trends, and improve their skills. Working all the time is just recipe for burnout. When I get home I want to live my life, not keep working. I learn on the job, if your job doesn’t allow that then you’re in the wrong one.

    • Bruno Škvorc

      Agreed – if a job doesn’t make you feel good, either as a human or a developer, it doesn’t deserve you. A job should definitely encourage employee growth.

    • sincarne

      More than flawed. Frankly, I find it insulting. It patronizes and actively puts down (I’m not a monkey, Bruno) those of us who work hard at our day jobs, but have limited opportunity for the kind of personal development the author seems would make us worth while. This kind of exclusionary, elitist nonsense reflects poorly on Sitepoint.

      • Bruno Škvorc

        Out of curiosity, how much personal growth happens to you at work? Does your employer encourage learning and experimentation?

  • Ah, be careful with the stereotypes and labels. Developers that don’t care will never be software engineers. This is true. Shift workers don’t always fit into that category. Personally, I don’t often learn much at conferences. As you’ve said. It is available online. Corporate environments often squelch the engineer out of developers. Concepts such as, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and “if we don’t have a client paying for that improvement, we aren’t working on it” are hard to fight. Getting creative and working the item to improve into a client’s bill feels dirty for most, but “the ends justifies the means”, right?

    If you’ve ever watched any of the Gordon Ramsey cooking shows, most individuals are accused of having given up at some point. Development in a corporate environment often causes this, but doesn’t highlight the issue. I often try to gauge where a developer stands by offering a suggestion and seeing if they follow it. Giving them the choice between paths will show where their interest and mettle lie. I’d once read that you don’t want to hire ‘b’ players. You’ve described the ‘b’ player quite well. A ‘b’ is strong enough where they don’t feel they need to grow, but not motivated enough to push themselves past that point.

    A true leader, not just an engineer, is able to take this complacent individual and push them. Most middle management is management, not leadership. In development environments with strong leadership – the apathy levels are low. In development environments with strong middle management, the apathy levels are much higher. As for anyone seeking their next position, keep an eye out for weak leadership. It will either be an opportunity, or a demise.

    • Bruno Škvorc

      Very well put, agreed.

      Enterprise environments are a big problem here. At which point, when you’re a single cog in a 10000 dev strong machine, do you say “I’ve had enough of being in charge of writing one single test for this one single function here” and go grow yourself? After years of doing that, I would be dead inside, too, and would feel the need to run away from development after I got home.

      The old adage goes: “no one ever got rich working for someone else.” Also, “Boss makes a dollar, I make a dime, that’s why I poop on company time”. At which point do you decide the job is stifling enough to drive you away? These days, one can’t expect to work for a company for 20+ years, like it was in the old days of factories. So if the job is inevitably going to disappear, why not kickstart the process and instead find something that fulfills you?

      I feel like a good job that makes you enthusiastic will burn you out much less *even if you do it at home as a hobby after work* than a 9-to-5 enterprise job where you’re nothing but a drone, a number in HR’s books.

  • Programmer Djancoeg

    when we are talking about “job”, Software dev are just the same as other conventional jobs
    the different is , the tech are growing exponentially , the software and the hardware every fckin year
    while our skill to adapt to the market and consumer behavior ,
    and our skill to adopt the new tech , are NOT growing at that exponential

  • This is such a bullshit post.

  • Bruno Škvorc

    > Granted, in many cases that might be true

    Yes, Ocramius says in 90% of the cases. Alarmingly high.

    > And I lived very happily that way.

    That sounds like you no longer do 🤔

    > I needed my time off or I’d go crazy

    Do you mean time off from work and things related to it, or from development in general, as in, stay away from the computer and don’t even touch personal projects etc?

  • RichLove

    What a ridiculously discouraging, condescending, patronising post. Way to go to enthuse the 90% of daily grinders (with other life commitments) getting by trying to keep up with the latest tech

    • Bruno Škvorc

      I’m sorry it was discouraging. Are you a “daily grinder”, as you put it? If so, would you mind sharing your story?

  • Lisa L Hilton

    As some others have said, there’s a huge difference between someone just clocking in and out and doing the minimal work and someone actively engaged during the 9-5 hours. I consider myself the latter, and I’ve had to clean up a lot of code of the former type.

    The idea of being a true developer meaning you code from dawn to dusk and later is, I suspect, part of the reason there is such a shortage of competent developers. For many years I thought I wouldn’t make a good developer because I wasn’t so interested in coding to have been doing it on the side no matter what. Yet since I left my previous career for the dev life, I have really enjoyed it. I have learned tons on the job and on the clock. Could I have learned more and progressed faster if I was doing stuff on the side? Maybe, but often in the first year I’d come home with my brain full and need time for the neural pathways to adjust. I also deal with clinical depression and had a serious bout where I could get to work, do a good job, but would then come home and collapse. I literally could not do anything else and still do my job.

    Granted, my boss is also a good leader, and he has no problem with us doing professional development type work on the clock. There’s no budget for conferences (or much else company-wide), but he knows we need to make time for learning. But I also think that needs to be a given for companies who employ developers. In my past career, I considered getting PMP certification on my own dime. It would have made me more marketable, but it would not have done much to make me better at my job. As a dev, though, pretty much anything you learn and any practice you get is valuable both for you AND for your current employer. If the employer doesn’t recognize that and make room for it, they should not be hiring devs. The perception that devs will do all that sort of thing anyway means that employers are getting a lot out of you for free.

    This isn’t to say that doing dev-type things off the clock is a bad thing. Now that my depression is being better managed, I’ve started helping my mom with the web presence for her company and am building a little application for her. It’s fun and rewarding to get to work closely with her. But as you wouldn’t expect a project manager to go home and manage projects on the side for fun and so they can demonstrate their skills to the next employer, it’s not fair to have that expectation of devs, particularly if you don’t give them space to learn and grow on company time. Especially if you want more seasoned devs who are more likely to be married and have families. Even without those (single and no kids here), it’s not a bad thing to have multiple hobbies and interests. I get bored doing one thing all the time. I like doing family history, playing Minecraft, watching silly videos on YouTube, cuddling with my dog, and other things. I need them in my life and to maintain a balance that keeps me from the workaholic tendencies of my past career. And I don’t mean that in a frivolous or humble-brag way, but in a very-bad-for-mental-and-physical-health way.

    If you want devs not feeling overworked, don’t require them to be coding off the clock. Many probably will anyway, but don’t assume it. YMMV, but I’d wager providing on-the-clock learning and some time for personal projects will make a better work environment and improve productivity all around. Would love to know if people have done studies on this type of thing.

  • Bel Rick

    I’m an autodidtat self employed web developer and i don’t give 2 shits about the coding.
    It’s like an architect focusing on his pen collection ffs.
    Get the sale.
    Live and breathe what the client is asking for.
    Create a practical concept design.
    Study up on which particular set of tools works best for this particular client and this particular project.
    Build. Collect cheque. Go home at 5. Play with the kids and fuck the wife.

    Coding is just a means to an end. A finished product.

    Just hopefully ypu are passionate about the products as that is what makes for a successful project and happy clients.

    I work with ultra geeks all the time. They can spell out the differences between multi threading and coroutines word perfect or which min .net version is required for tls1.1 but have no fucking clue how to deliver what the client actually wanted

    • Bruno Škvorc

      It’s different when you’re self employed, no doubt.
      What you’re talking about here is sales. That’s important. But like it or not, you’re constantly growing too – your revamped approaches at selling yourself as a project builder to your clients also keep you on your toes and at the top of your sales game. The learning doesn’t have to start after 5pm if it’s happening during work, too, and it sounds like, for you, it does.

  • You should rather write a blog post appealing to employers so they provide their employees with enough time for self-education. Trying to catch up with everything in your free time when you should relax isn’t ideal and can lead to burn out as others mentioned.

    For example, in our company we only calculate with 6 effective hours a developer can work on projects during an 8 hours work day. The rest is for self-education, breaks, etc.

    • Bruno Škvorc

      > For example, in our company we only calculate with 6 effective hours a developer can work on projects during an 8 hours work day. The rest is for self-education, breaks, etc.

      That’s a freaking fantastic effort, I love that. Every company should do something like that, definitely. That’s kind of like the 20% off time (where most people just take Friday off to work on side projects), but spread out evenly, nice.

      How would you convince companies that it’s worth encouraging self-growth in their employees? Most will, I imagine, say things like “But that doesn’t build our stuff, we need them working on their tasks NOW”.

      • I believe that wise employers understand that so developers can work on the tasks effectively and provide quality solutions they need to stay on track with the latest technologies. Plus new technologies change demand for resources and services, eg. if company and their developers can only work with jQuery they become quite limited in terms of what they can offer to their potential customers.

        Ideally employees will also produce something in the self-growth time – whether it’s a better internal tool or documentation, a funny side project, an open source project or a blog post – all this can be used for the company’s own benefits.

        So I would change the question from your blog to “Can a development company which doesn’t support their employees self-growth be a good development company?” and my answer to that question would be “No”.

        • Bruno Škvorc

          > Ideally employees will also produce something in the self-growth time – whether it’s a better internal tool or documentation, a funny side project, an open source project or a blog post – all this can be used for the company’s own benefits.

          Kind of the point of my post, yes – under self-growth here, do you mean during work hours, or outside them? Or either?

          • I meant during work hours as such self-growth should be paid by an employer. That’s an investment into employees. If the employee wants to further invest into themselves and learn something else in their free time, that’s up to them but it shouldn’t be their only option.

          • Bruno Škvorc

            Agreed!

  • Agustin

    Bruno, I do not agree when you say “the time saved and used on “life” now will be wasted tenfold in the
    future, because the gains could have been high enough by then to buy
    much of that time back.”

    1. How do you know the time used on “life” will be wasted in the future? It does not make sense to affirm that.

    2. “the gains could have been high enough by then to buy much of that time back”?? How do you buy time?? When time is gone, is gone! There’s no way to buy time back. If you know how to buy time, share the formula please!! Or at lease, sell it, you will be the richest man in the world!

    Sometimes is difficult to find a balance between learning after working hours and time for life. As example, try to follow up the craziness in the Front-end world nowadays, with Babel, Webpack, React.js, Vue.js, Angular2, etc etc. Our field changes too fast, and sometimes it is really hard to follow its pace.

    Cheers!!

    • Bruno Škvorc

      Re 1: My thinking is as follows: as you get older, the need to care for other family members, one way or another, increases. You’ll have less and less time on your hands to earn money, and you’ll be more stressed about it. By building a good financial safety net early, you can relax later in life. “I wish I had started saving a little later in life” – no one, ever.

      Re 2: You buy time by having other people do things (which waste time) for you. For example, try summing up all the time you spent in the queue at the checkout in a store. Then, imagine how much it would be worth to you to have it all back. With a healthy career behind you, and good financial base, you can afford to outsource chores later in life when the time really, really matters.

      My logic at least.

      I agree it’s impossible to follow front end.

  • John A. Vieth

    You are assuming “9 to 5” means “not engaging in professional development.” Why would you make that generalization? I have a “9 to 5” job, and I just got back from a 2-day conference last week. Now this week I’m taking a class the meets daily for 2 hours each morning and last 2 weeks. So I’m doing both. Within my “9 to 5” schedule, I’m both working *and* engaging in professional development. Every employer should embrace such a commitment to their employees. Your article is decidedly anti-worker. Your article is of very low quality. If all you want to do is shock and insult people with reckless generalizations and hyperbole, then you have already enjoyed your reward. I hope it was worth it.

    • Bruno Škvorc

      It’s an editorial, an outlet of my opinion and you’re allowed to disagree with it, that’s perfectly fine. I didn’t mean to insult anyone, but I also don’t care if anyone is actually offended by my opinion. I’m asking for input from people and am open to having my mind changed – I’m talking about *my* experience and *my* impressions, and welcome all discussion – I’ve had my mind changed on many topics until now, and hope to have it happen many times still.

      You’re exceptionally lucky in your job to be allowed such growth and attitude towards work, and that’s definitely something more companies should strive to do, yes.

      • John A. Vieth

        I will admit I’m fortunate. But mine is not the only such employer. It’s really in the employers’ best interests to allow employees to spend paid time on professional development—either that, or employees will expect a lot more pay, or they will leave. So, employers, pick your poison. You can choose between (a) higher labor costs, (b) retention problems, or (c) allowing professional development on the clock. As an employer, I would always choose option ‘c’.

        • Bruno Škvorc

          I agree. But it takes mountains of time and effort to convince them – especially when the employer is a marketing-type at the top, and not someone who used to (or does) code. The value of self-improvement is far too underestimated in our line of work, and people write it off as “you know your shit, why would you need to learn more, if you can build me what I need with your current skills?”, but this is such backwards thinking. As the old saying goes, “What happens if we train our developers and they leave…?”

  • sharmasan1

    > Do you keep learning after you come home, or just drop everything?

    I used to try to keep up with everything, however, I learned quickly that I never got to take a break from work. The ability to shut off my brain was every bit as important as using it to learn/do work.

    I’ve gone to a few conferences, and at least the ones done here, are definitely bias/skewed. I’ve lost count of how many times “Ruby will kill PHP!” and “You must use node.js inorder to be serious” was thrown around at this event talking about Frontend Technologies.

    The talks at the event were nothing but “This is how you do node.js code” except for one. It talked about the concept of polymer/Shadow Dom. This was by far the best talk there, because it was about the concept, not just needless code.

    When I study up on new technologies, I want the concept. Why should I use this? What makes it better? Does it solve my needs now and in the future? How long will this last? I don’t need to know how to use it, any body who programs anything should be able to figure out syntax.

    Once more conventions are about concepts of things, I’d be more willing to go, but for code regurgitation that is of no use to me? Why bother?

    • Bruno Škvorc

      Hmm, sounds like you’ve mostly ended up on some not so good confs. Perhaps something workshop-oriented which exposes you to the practical side of a new skill / tool would be more useful.

  • Bruno Škvorc

    Your propensity for jumping to conclusions is curious. If anyone was blocking anyone’s comments, don’t you think many other comments fit the “blockable” bill more than yours? I’m not in the business of censorship, I openly welcome discussion.

    Anyway. I’m curious about your job position, if you wouldn’t mind clarifying. Feel free to answer any questions that feel okay to answer. How long have you been with this particular employer, why, and what does your day to day work consist of?

    • sincarne

      I’m afraid you’ve jumped to the conclusion. I never said I was blocked. I said I could not post new posts. Which was true. I was suddenly in moderation for hours and hours when previously I was able to post right away.

      I’m a dev at a small agency. I’ve been here a couple of years (was offered a full time position after I freelanced with them during a crunch period). I stay here because they make certain concessions for my lifestyle and health issues. I usually work on one or two projects in a day, all up and down the stack.

      I’ve almost always worked at small or medium agencies. For these employers, the following things are true:
      – there is never enough time or money
      – done is preferred over done well
      – marketing oriented sites have a short shelf-life, and while we start carefully, they do not emphasize maintainability
      – you work in a very small team, and everyone wears a lot of hats

      That rules out most on-the-job training, and there few opportunities to do deep dives, since in on one project I may be working with a PHP framework, a CMS, a FE framework, some JS libraries, and maybe even talking to some third party services.

      I do not necessarily disagree with your conclusion. I have no interest in being a SuperRockstarNinja developer. I’m just good enough that I’m still contacted by past employers with opportunities. What I do not like is the dismissive attitude you take to developers like me. It’s problematic to say “just quit your job”. I literally do not have “a couple of hours” every day for personal development. I consider it a win if get a half an hour (which I do most days). To do more than that would cut into either the time I take to do things around the house or with my kid (which I feel as though you just hand-wave away in the article), even further into my sleep, or into my very limited amount of recreation. I am insulted by the implication that makes me an uninvolved developer.

      • Bruno Škvorc

        Fair, sorry for the offense, it wasn’t meant as such.

        Do you feel the desire to learn more outside of business hours at all? Or is that not something you’re interested in? Just trying to understand your situation as much as possible.

        In other words, if suddenly your time at work got 20% freed up (even allowing you to go home, if you so choose) would you opt to spend (some) of it on learning new things, or just boost the free time pleasures you do at home?

        • sincarne

          I am interested in it, definitely. As I mentioned above, I get up really early so I can get in 15 minutes to half an hour in the morning. I try and grab time at lunch as well, but that often doesn’t happen. If I’m learning at my desk, I usually get grabbed for work things. My public library has a Lynda.com subscription, so I use that most. Recreation is really important to me, though, so I also try to pick hobbies that are career-adjacent. I read up on soft-skills, or I write little scripts to make my life easier, or I faff about with an Arduino or Rapsberry Pi project. If I were to suddenly have a few hours a week I could dedicate to training, I would use it for that.

          • Sounds good, thanks! Fingers crossed your employer sees the light and devotes a set amount of weekly time for education exclusively!

  • Sander

    About this: “the time saved and used on “life” now will be wasted tenfold in the future, because the gains could have been high enough by then to buy much of that time back.”

    My wife got breast cancer at the age op 29, and we have learned that you should enjoy life now! Everyone should do that, you never know how long you are going to live.

    If your only passion is coding you should do that in your free time. I have more things I’m passionate about, like dog frisbee, play videogames, watching soccer, watching a series with my wife, play with my two kids, work on my own website to learn new stuff. Every week I spend one evening on one of these things. Thats only a few hours coding, I want to do more but just don’t have the time. That’s why I listen to podcasts like fullstackradio in the car on my way to work.

    Wife and kids should always be the most important thing in your life.

    • Bruno Škvorc

      Ugh, sorry to hear about your wife, fucking cancer :(

      That’s an excellent point to consider. I suppose it’s a risk game – like with saving money.

      If you start saving now, you get such compound interest later that you’ll never have to lift a finger again. Then again, if you get hit by a bus mid-way, all that money will go to the next fastest robber (government, bank, IRS, etc).

      So yes, definitely – I don’t want it to come across like I’m advocating total abandonment of family and fun. Moderation in all, like I say in the post. I’m in the lucky position to actually love what I do, so I have no problem upgrading those skills outside of work hours, but I completely understand those who don’t.

      As a side-note, I also have this constant-paranoia mindset of “What if this job disappears – what if all my jobs and all job offers disappear? How long will I be able to feed myself and those around me?”, living in what’s basically a 2.5th world country, so that has a big influence on things as well.

      • Tim Furry

        I was unfortunate enough to be raised in a family where living paycheck to paycheck was considered normal, so I never learned compound interest. Now that I’m getting closer to retirement, I’m encouraging my kids to start saving so they’ll have more options later in life. But it only takes a couple of big blows (2008, in our case) to set one back literally years of saving. The old people greeting you at WalMart and McDonald’s and the box stores are there for a reason…their well-planned retirement tanked due to forces outside of their control, and they now hold the jobs my kids normally would have taken.

        Although my company doesn’t do formal training, I’m staying on board because it’s the most stable thing around. I’m like an API with a lot of dependents; I can’t just go changing my lifestyle without taking into account the havoc downstream it would cause. In just a few years this will change once my kids are out of the house and we’ve finally settled parental estates.

        I agree with others here that family comes first. Our world is already too torn apart by selfish parents who abandon their kids. Nearly all of my kids’ friends come from broken homes and suffer for it…most are on medication of some sort. Our home has become a safe haven for those who need downtime from their situations. I invest quite a bit of my time into their lives.

        A 9-5 job is great. A career where your employer supports your growth is even better, but rare, in my experience. As the adage says, nobody on their deathbed thinks they should have worked more. One must balance life.

        • Bruno Škvorc

          Great comment, thanks.

          Living paycheck to paycheck is indeed a hard chain to break, but the fact that you’re doing so much else around other people leads me to believe you’re fulfilled in other ways, and I can understand that. I feel an emptiness and fear if I’m not on top of things, and guilt if I spend time on my (non profit) hobbies too long, so yeah, everyone’s tuned differently.

          I can understand the stability appeal, too – if I had dependents when I had first planned to quit my steady job, I probably wouldn’t have dared to do it.

  • Bruno Škvorc

    Well said, good feedback, thanks. I’d only add that when I say growth outside work hours, I don’t mean working overtime. I mean working on yourself – sometimes that includes overtime, sometimes that’s just reading books / tutorials, sometimes that means launching a side-gig. Everyone’s growth path will differ.

  • Piotrek

    Self improvement and keeping up to date with current technology trends requires:

    – knowledge on where to look,
    – discipline,
    – time,
    – commitment,
    – ambition,

    things a lot of people simply do not have (if not all, then at least some of them). Also, conferences are pricy and often abroad or at least in different cities, which adds another reason why people do not attend them. I myself often struggle with finding good sources from which I can learn and rarely encounter good communities (PHP-centered, anyway) that would foster self-improvement. Remember, not all people are perfectionists by nature and often are not taught that in either schools or their homes, so instead of looking down on, you should mentor them.

    • Bruno Škvorc

      I’m an active mentor and educator, both online and in-person locally, so I like to think I do my part. But I’d say you pretty accurately nailed the requirements for keeping up to date on things, except discipline is kind of the same a commitment in this context. I find that, rather than time or knowledge where to look, most people just lack ambition to get started and discipline to keep going – too many people give up when things get tough, and become complacent with an “I now know enough” attitude.

      Everyone has time for self improvement – for example, no one *ever* needs to watch TV. And yet so many people waste time on it. Okay if it’s a children’s movie you watch with your kid together, commenting and enacting situations, socializing, that’s great. But just staring at a device as a group, with no interaction between members, that’s just not family time. That’s not love. One might as well be sitting among them with a laptop, learning, while they’re watching TV, and the level of “socialization” stays the same, but the time is now usefully spent. There’s so many microoptimizations in life one can do to save time or use it better, I don’t believe in the “no time to learn” problem.

      • Piotrek

        Man, why are you assuming people who do not spend time improving as programmers spend their time staring at a TV and are not family people? That is an extremely arrogant stance you are taking there – you do not know people, some of them may simply have issues (family, emotional) that prevent them from being able to devote enough time to learn. Others may choose to not look at the monitor at all after work, because it is killing their eyes. Or they do volunteer work. There is a million things that can prevent people from spending time after work, developing, you cannot just assume people do it out of being lazy.

        That being said I know there is a fair share of people who have time, but simply do not care to improve, but there is little you can do about such people. They just want to get paid and live their lives, which is an acceptable stance as well – we should strive for perfection, but are not required to do so. People have the right to be mediocre.

        • Bruno Škvorc

          > Man, why are you assuming people who do not spend time improving as programmers spend their time staring at a TV and are not family people?

          Why are you assuming I’m assuming that? I personally know many people who prefer to stare blankly at TVs all day, and those (and only those) are the ones I’m referring to. I stand by the opinion that *everyone* can find time to improve, but I acknowledge the fact that not everyone has the same amount of time, of course.

          > People have the right to be mediocre.

          This is where we diverge in opinions the most, I believe. Mediocrity may have been okay in the industrial era, but in the information era where most people are going to be rendered out of a job by automation and will depend on the rest of us to fun their mediocre existence, one shouldn’t pride oneself in being a burden on society. How often do you still see truck or bus drivers in training on the road? I see them a lot. Do you think they’re aware they have 5-10 years of work left, tops? Things are going to change rapidly, and people will, despite all the warning signs, be caught unaware. Same in programming – the menial tasks are disappearing already. This is what I’m advocating by pushing for self-improvement: not letting yourself be steamrolled by time and change.

  • EvgeniY

    Your anxiety is empty. You can die at any time. Therefore, money can not buy time in the future. Time must be spent on what you consider important. Not one reason is better than another.

    • Bruno Škvorc

      Well said, I agree.

  • jrf

    Sorry, but I respectfully disagree completely with a number of points you make.

    First of all: A 9-to-5 developer can definitely be a good developer. They may just work for the wrong company. Any company which does not allow devs time to read up/watch videos/study DURING WORKING HOURS is a bad employer and deserves the developers they get.
    If you work for one of those kind of companies, please see this as an encouragement to look elsewhere as that company clearly does not care for you in the long run.

    Second of all: While I get your point about recycled talks at conferences, I think you’re missing a big point here: speakers do not get paid. Developing a new talk takes on average 7-10 days – quite apart from all the time beforehand spend on learning what you want to be talking about in the first place. Add to that the time to travel and be at a conference, the time investment is easily 14 days (= nearly three work weeks).
    That time investment is generally only worth it if you can reuse the talk several times at different conferences.
    Developing a new talk for each conference is nice and dandy if that’s your job – developer advocates I’m looking at you – but for the “normal” dev who makes themselves available to teach others & share knowledge – for FREE – it is not feasible.

    • I completely agree about the companies that don’t allow growth during business hours – that’s an attitude we need to actively change in many people, but I’m not sure how to convey it to managers and marketing people who are, unfortunately, generally the ones in charge.

      IRT speaking and talks – most speakers don’t get paid, some do. Those who do also often recycle talks from what I’ve seen. I agree it takes a while, and I’m not necessarily pushing for a new talk on *every* conference (I, for example, have a talk for a maximum of one conference season which can be 1 conf or 10 confs depending on where I get in) and then kill it, no matter how popular – see https://joind.in/event/zgphp-meetup-201704/the-framework-is-dead), and that’s a model I would encourage others to use. Several years of the same talk is too long, and one per conf is definitely too much of a time investment unless you’re getting paid big bucks.

  • icywolfy2

    Being a 9-5 Developer myself, you simply improve on the job.
    You learn from your failures.
    you learn from the code you see.
    You learn when you google for help.
    You learn by taking breaks and reading blogs.
    You learn by using down-time and trying new approaches
    You learn by suggesting new ideas.
    On the job learning by doing. Not by listening. Not by reading. But by experience.
    And it doesn’t take much time. While deploying, or mulling over how to solve a problem. I read blogs.
    I google websites. I search. Those 2-3minutes here and there add up.

    I work 20-25min per half hour. Always make sure to not get lost in code. Breaks, coffee, reading, emails. All neatly planned into the day.

    If I take on a story, I pad my estimates to allow for time to take time to plan it. To read, to do online research. And I don’t back down on the estimates. When employers wants things sooner or faster — I outline the story as smaller components/features and my gut “how hard” feeling and tell them what could be removed to meet their deadline. I will -never- back down on my padding/estimates. I do not ever want to place myself committing to time-frames where I do not have flexibility, where I ‘ll become stressed by over-committing.

    And then after 6 years, be make $200k+.
    I turn off my laptop at 5. And don’t use computers on “me” time.
    that time is for recreation, sports, adventuring, socialising, painting, new languages, travel abroad, motorcycling, urban-exploration, wine-tasting, etc.

    And even then, after a few years it went from a 9-5 attitude, to a 10-4 attitude.
    Working my day job, for 5-6hrs a day (including lunch break, and half-hourly breaks), has given me : better pay, better quality of life, and more appreciation from peers. Working with the 4hr work-day mindset has opened up a better means of living. Where work is short, sweet, and enjoyable — and does not interfere with living and experiencing life to the fullest.

    And all the external experiences bring ideas and innovations from outside domains, into the realm of the 9-5, that would likely not be conceived of otherwise.

    I’ve encouraged friends to overcome their fears, and push towards first defining clear work/not-work boundaries. And then to start cutting back on hours worked without reducing work commited to. To add in flex time, troubleshooting time, and “bad day” time into committed dates. And so far, one has moved to being stressed to working from home full-time with a 3 day on 4 day off schedule, so he can travel full time. Another friend basically reeled in his work 9-6, study/improve evenings, and spending his life stressed unconfident with his productivity, to a well-defined working 8-4, and hard severance from work — and gotten two promotions since, due to his improved consistency, and seemingly better estimating skills as well as always having time to assist others while still meeting his aggreed to timelines.

    If anything, I would personally recommend people to NEVER do work-related topics outside of a 9-5 timeline; to get work day reduced, and to fill the day with activities not related in any way to work. You make more money, you have better ideas, you learn to view things from wide variety of non-work related views. And you have more time to enjoy your limited time here in life.

    I look forward to retiring at 41.

    Do you?

  • shahroze nawaz

    If you ask developers what is the favourite time of coding? 3/5 will give the answer “At Night” Yes many of my friends love to code at night. I don’t think 9 to 5 is a suitable job for a developer.

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