Do Software Engineers Only Work 1 Hour Per Day?

Star trek meme with the text "Slacker Mode Engage!" from MKTR.AI

I’ve been asked the following question and figured I’d make a quick post about it.

The all-important question:

Is it true that a lot of software engineers do like 1 hour’s worth of programming and just surf the internet for the rest of the day?

– Concerned non-technical person

My more important answer

There have been jobs I’ve held where this has been the case, and I quit as quickly as possible.

This normally ends up happening when an organization doesn’t really understand developers. So the answer to your question is “Yes… but with a few caveats.” I’ll try to explain.

Problem: The nature of Software Engineers vs Non-technical people

Software engineering, in my experience, normally attracts introverted individuals that prefer digital communication and are easily drained by long ideation conversations not relevant to their current task.

So what happens when you add software engineers to a team of highly energetic, extroverted workers where their only measure of success is based on communication.

Constant interruptions

This illustration shows how this collision of personality types happens:

Illustration Courtesy of HEERIS.ID.AU

So what happens in these situations?

After a while, you give up trying to work, during the day. My solution, with many other devs, was waiting until all of the nontechnical staff stopped working (2 pm –4 pm) and that’s when we finally had time to work on the code. The end result…1–2 hours of real(coding) work every day.

AND THIS WAS TOTALLY FINE AT THE COMPANIES.

I say again, “THIS WAS TOTALLY FINE WITH THE COMPANIES.”

Companies that had devs working like this had no metrics for success, no standards for dev, many times no roadmap for development.

See, the reason for this was that understanding what was being created, why it was being created, timelines and transparency was more important than the speed of which the software was being developed. So technically half of your job was communication, not coding. writing emails, responding to questions, putting out fires, and attending meetings 2–3 times a day.

This is very common on teams where there are only 1–5 devs without project managers or leads. Fortunately, these scenarios are becoming less and less common as more companies are becoming more aware of agile development and many other organized software practices.

I mean there were other organizations where I worked at and barely had anything to do because the tasks they hired me for I could finish in 15 minutes, but I would let the client know they were wasting money by hiring me and could get someone cheaper. *this was rare*

What’s the solution to this problem?

I’ll go in-depth on this topic in the future, as I’ve thought deeply about it, but for now, I’ll give you a couple of morsels to chew on.

Morsel #1

Understand what success looks like. Set goals or OKRs and when you’re setting these, make sure your dev team is heavily involved in the process. Also, establish success metrics which align with a consistent movement toward the desired end state. Reinforce the goals/OKRs and success metrics with incentives which properly incentivize your desired actions and processes over results. (More on this in the future.)

Morsel #2

Contrary to popular opinion, open offices are not the panacea people seem to think. For technical people, open offices can sabotage productivity. So allow software engineers, data scientists, and other technically-oriented people to work remotely a couple of days a week. OR give them space where they won’t be bothered until they come out of it.

In closing

The answer to the question of whether some software engineers only work 1 hour per day or not is YES, but with a heavy caveat.

Do you agree, disagree, or just want to troll? Cool, put it in the comments and I’ll get back at you.