By: Shankar
April 21 2019

Confronting developer burnout

The General Social Survey of 2016, that has kept a track record of the attitudes and behaviours of American society, has found that 50% of respondents are consistently exhausted due to work as compared to 18% a couple of decades ago. Attaining a simpatico work-life balance seems pragmatically out of reach today’s era of workplace burnout and getting wearied, ambivalent, stressed, scoffed and overextended has become a normal part of working professional life.

A developer working on his laptop in a dark room


As a matter of fact, occupational burnout goes beyond requiring a simple vacation or a family retreat and institutions like Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasise on long-term and unresolvable burnout as not a symptom but rather a colossal health issue. Even though it does not appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, that focusses upon psychiatric disorders, it does appear in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, which is a classification used by WHO (World Health Organisation).

Developers in digital firms have to deal with this too. This calls for serious measures to be taken by the organisations to avoid the scenarios of developer burnout.

A story of a developer

Let’s start off with the story of a software engineer named Bolbo that was shared by Coderhood. He was a quintessential developer working for a software company that held the patent for a new video compression technology. The New York Times’ fantastic review of this technology and two rounds of VC investment helped the company to grow to about 200 employees. Still, the company found it difficult to get a massive business deal. During those desperate times, millions of dollar contract landed on their lap which this software company agreed to build without considering technical due diligence and grabbing the deal with the promise of finishing it within an unrealistic deadline.

Bolbo understood the situation and knew it was too late. Being the Engineering Lead for the project, he had a huge responsibility and very soon the reality started kicking in. Engineers, along with Bolbo, needed to work on the project for long hours. Bolbo estimated that only 70% of the work will be finished by the deadline that was set in the contract. Considering the financial situation of this software company, this would spell the end of the business and Bolbo will lose his job.

This is that juncture in Bolbo’s career when working on this project almost killed him and his passion for coding.

Why burnout happens

Burnout is something that any technical professional can experience. When Blind enquired its users to identify the true extent of tech industry burnout, it found out that 57.16% of its respondents say they’re burnt out.

Burnout is something that any technical professional can experience

Some of the major reasons for this are listed below: 

  • Physical inactivity is considered as one of the major reasons for health problems among the working class. This also applies to developers. Sitting at your desk for a long period of time in front of your computer may make you feel more lethargic.
  • As a highly cognitively intensive job, software development may also lead to mental fatigue.
  • It may also be because of soul-sucking and unrewarding work that you are doing. Taking some time off and figuring what you would like to work on can be an option.
  • Also, when you are involved in a work where you are required to repeatedly make huge amount of sacrifice and put in too much effort into high risk problems that fail, it can negatively impact your brain. This is when you start conditioning your brain to link your work with failure. This is exactly what Hacker News comments section states too.

Preventing developer burnout

How do you overcome developer burnout? For the developers to avoid feeling burnt out, there are some tips to adhere to. First and foremost step that you have to take, or rather the very basic ones too, is to start eating well, sleeping well, exercising well, avoid overworking, and incorporating pomodoro technique into the work life.
 
You must keep experimenting and learn new prototypes. You can be good at doing the things that only you can do in the best manner. There does come a saturation point and it gets banal and trite over time. Therefore, you can try out new technologies, create something new and fun (which may not be related to work), or learn something out of your comfort zone.
 
Developers can attend international conferences, be a part of meetups, and listen to what thought leaders have got to say in industry podcasts. Such meetings, where you get to interact with other developers or listen to what they got to say about their struggles can motivate you.

Developers can attend international conferences, be a part of meetups, and listen to what thought leaders have got to say in industry podcasts

A good working environment is of utmost importance and going cheap on your software tools isn’t going to help you in any way. And, in case, you work in a noisy and crowded environment, high-quality headphones can be an option to cancel all the noise. Moreover, the provision of good tools makes software development more enjoyable and mastering them will make work even more efficacious.
 
It is important to take regular breaks and get yourself engaged in your interest areas besides software development like sports, reading, filmmaking etc. Also, if you are stuck doing an insipid work, switching jobs or starting a different project may work.

Conclusion

Every technical professional confront challenging and high-pressure scenarios. Every person has his or her limits too. Increased stress and pressure would only lead to physical and emotional exhaustion. Such a situation of burnout not only affects the particular person but also the team members, friends and family. It is important to work developers and their manager to work together and help avoid the cases of burnout.