Professional Software Developer and Work Ethics

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Your career is your responsibility. It is not your employer’s responsibility to make sure you are marketable. It is not your employer’s responsibility to train you, or to send you to conferences, or to buy you books. These things are your responsibility. Woe to the software developer who entrusts his career to his employer.

Some employers are willing to buy you books and send you to training classes and conferences. That’s fine, they are doing you a favor. But never fall into the trap of thinking that this is your employer’s responsibility. If your employer doesn’t do these things for you, you should find a way to do them yourself.

It is also not your employer’s responsibility to give you the time you need to learn. Some employers may provide that time. Some employers may even demand that you take the time. But again, they are doing you a favor, and you should be appropriately appreciative. Such favors are not something you should expect.

You owe your employer a certain amount of time and effort. For the sake of argument, let’s use the U.S. standard of 40 hours per week. These 40 hours should be spent on your employer’s problems, not on your problems.

You should plan on working 60 hours per week. The first 40 are for your employer. The remaining 20 are for you. During this remaining 20 hours you should be reading, practicing, learning, and otherwise enhancing your career.

I can hear you thinking: “But what about my family? What about my life? Am I supposed to sacrifice them for my employer?” I’m not talking about all your free time here. I’m talking about 20 extra hours per week. That’s roughly three hours per day. If you use your lunch hour to read, listen to podcasts on your commute, and spend 90 minutes per day learning a new language, you’ll have it all covered.

Do the math. In a week there are 168 hours. Give your employer 40, and your career another 20. That leaves 108. Another 56 for sleep leaves 52 for everything else.

Perhaps you don’t want to make that kind of commitment. That’s fine, but you should not then think of yourself as a professional. Professionals spend time caring for their profession.

Perhaps you think that work should stay at work and that you shouldn’t bring it home. I agree! You should not be working for your employer during those 20 hours. Instead, you should be working on your career. Sometimes these two are aligned with each other.

Sometimes the work you do for your employer is greatly beneficial to your career. In that case, spending some of that 20 hours on it is reasonable. But remember, those 20 hours are for you. They are to be used to make yourself more valuable as a professional.

Perhaps you think this is a recipe for burnout. On the contrary, it is a recipe to avoid burnout. Presumably, you became a software developer because you are passionate about software and your desire to be a professional is motivated by at passion. During those 20 hours, you should be doing those things that reinforce that passion. Those 20 hours should be fun!

The Clean Coder, Robert C. Martin

Software Engineer