In Defense of Hard Work in Tech


My last post created debate about an unexpected topic. From 5 Attributes of the Engineer I Want to Hire, the questionable topic was:

Willing to Put in Hours

I was surprised because “hard worker” seemed like such an obvious attribute for an employer to want in an employee. Instead, I had commenters complaining about me destroying work life balance.

I guess I should have expected this. Everyone thinks I’m saying you should become a workaholic when I bring up working hard.

We also have the culture Tim Ferris created with the “4 Hour Workweek” and all of the related writing about lifestyle design, working as few hours as possible, and generating passive income.

Given all of this, I think people confuse the lifestyle result with the process it took to get there.

If you start a blog with the expectation that you’re immediately going to be able to quit your job with enough income to travel the world, you’re going to be sadly mistaken when only 10 visitors show up to read your article after 2 months.

The successful bloggers spend years of their lives and thousands of hours to figure out how to make money online. They all probably sucked in the beginning, just like you would suck at anything you have never done before.

This was my point in the last article. When you’re learning something new, you have to put in the hours. There’s no way around it. You simply can’t expect to be good at anything without putting in the work. As Malcolm Gladwell advocated in Outliers, 10,000 hours is the magic number for anything you want to be good at.

That can either take 5-10 years, depending on how many good hours you’re willing to put into working on your skill set every day.

All of the lifestyle design people, Tim Ferris included, all put in years of long hours before they ever got to the point where they could work “4 hours per week.”  Tim Ferris even talks about being horribly out of balance at one point when running his supplement company.

When you start a new job, there are tons of new things to learn, so there’s a large need for hard, focused work until you get up to speed.

So let’s talk about that tricky work-life balance issue, since some readers seem to think that I hate it. This commenter sums it up nicely:

you might want to focus more on treating employees like human beings with all their strange needs and odd scheduling conflicts and weird soccer tournaments. They’ll appreciate it and refer their friends to your company. 40 effective hours in a “40 hour workweek” is never going to happen. Maybe if they put in 55+ hours they could squeeze in 40 effective for a quarter or two, but then they’ll just go find another job that allows them to have time and energy available when they get home from work.

To this I agree and disagree. There are definitely companies out there that treat employees like replaceable cogs. They have bosses who require you to answer email at all hours of the day or on the weekends, and they couldn’t care less if something happens to you or if you get sick.

But at the same time, I’ve known plenty of people who will milk a company as much as they can. They’ll work as little as possible, doing just enough to never wind up on the chopping block.

Maybe it’s because I know so many doctors, but I’ve always thought of software engineering as a Godsend. We make great money, we have awesome hours (for the most part), and we live a relatively stress free existence.

So don’t become a workaholic. Work on focusing more than your co-workers. Stop jumping between sites on the internet when you should be working. Put on headphones and get to work.

If you can put in more effective hours than the average tech worker, you’d be a great hire for an employer.

photo credit: Proejct 365 #346: 121215 What A Grind via photopin (license)