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By Jack Ganssle

Overuse of Overtime?

Published 3/06/2001

Philip Greenspun wrote an intriguing article about managing software folks (, which suggests the key to running an efficient development house is lots of overtime. A quote: "long hours by programmers are a key to profitability."

Another: "A product is going to get out the door much faster if it is built by 4 people working 70-hour weeks than if by 12 people working 40-hour weeks."

Suppose he's right. What kind of team has he built? Won't people who have a life bail at the first opportunity? Are the rest losers who can't get a decent job anywhere else? Perhaps Mr. Greenspun has built a sea of cubicles housing Bob Cratchits hunched over their terminals, afraid to go home, terrified of losing their jobs.

And that's a productive environment?

As a former manager of embedded developers, I've got to plead guilty to hearing and at times heeding the siren call of free OT. The deadline is looming and those bloody engineers have the gall to go home! What could POSSIBLY be more important than this deliverable?

Yet overworked people burn out fast and develop major attitude problems. I betcha most folks who spend 70 hours or more per week on the job wind up doing quite a bit of personal business in that apparently-at-work time.

Compensated or not, I think routinely long hours are akin to indentured servitude.

The other side of the coin are those developers who won't put in a minute of overtime. There's a balance here; part of being a professional is taking responsibility for the job, even in the hard times. So I think sometimes OT is unavoidable and reasonable.

Some companies offer comp time for those extra hours in lieu of pay. Not a bad trade-off as this tends to limit the abuses.

An alternative might be to really, honestly, let the programmers do the scheduling, and then hold them to their promises. But getting rid of capricious schedules is sort of like hoping for world peace. Ain't gonna happen any time soon.

What do you think? Are you afraid to sneak out of the office at 5:00. or even 6:00?

Are you compensated for the OT?

What's fair?