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Duplicates (see comments)

Programmers.SE: How to deal with stress symptoms of overworking
Programmers.SE: How do you know when you are tired of programming in your life?
Programmers.SE: Query for similar posts

In question: "What causes developer burnout?" I told of a co-worker who got burned out and ended up leaving the profession. Have you seen developer burnout? Tell the story here.

Whether it is funny or just plain sad and touching I'm sure it will tell us something about our profession.

This will give us a sense of how common it is as well.

13

I've since recovered, but I took a year off from work after getting burned out once. Here's my story: http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?RealStoryAboutDeveloperTurnedManager

What I learned from the experience:

  • I don't have super-human abilities.
  • I can't control everything.
  • I shouldn't take work so seriously.
  • Taking a year off from work is nice. (We should all do it once in a while.)
11

I've burned out twice, and reckon I've only got one more "Get Out Of Jail Free" card left. That makes for some very conservative decisions :}

Both times I burned out were similar - increasing amounts of work with constantly decreasing timeframes. These factors, coupled with the fact that I truly loved both the work and the company, led to escalating feelings of frustration and helplessness.

Yes, these factors should be "managed" - but I think we all know that they very often aren't.

11

A classic developer burnout story is EA Spouse

10

From Fall 2005 to Spring 2006, I began a blazing burnout that, had I not done something to stop it, would probably have led to my hospitalization or death.

The story mirrors the experiences of others who have posted here. Micromanaging boss, unrealistic expectations, lack of communication, impossible deadlines, and so on. I also worked from home in Seattle while my boss was in Texas and my staff was on the east coast (as well as India).

I knew things were bad when I rarely left the house, my hair started falling out, I stopped caring about personal hygiene, and my eye started twitching. I quit my job and moved to the Midwest where my family lives. That move saved my career and my life.

8

I worked on a large project for one of the more prominent software houses. I'm pretty sure that most of you have it on your machines or a program to read its file format.

The ingredients for burnout in this project were:

  1. Exciting project with huge potential
  2. Eager, sharp engineers who put everything into their work
  3. Management that was buckling under pressure from the CEO and never encouraged people to take time off
  4. Increasingly aggressive deadlines
  5. The belief that, after release 1.0, numbers 1-4 were status quo.

At one point, the entire department was getting pressure from HR because pretty much nobody had taken a vacation in two years - and they still got away with it. Personally, my body decided that I needed a vacation and I ended up hospitalized for three weeks and on disability for a month. I was again hospitalized a year and a half later for something else.

At one point, I was talking to a few peers about the dreaded eye twitch and discovered that all of us had health issues from stress. I made a chart on a white board with engineers in one column and a row of stress related maladies. I asked engineers to rate themselves on the chart in the Consumer Reports style of rating with the worst being a filled in red circle. The white board was mostly red. Yikes.

The group had close to 80% loss of the engineering staff after two and a half years. They seriously took a "crunch all you want, we'll make more" and it paid off. This product pretty much quadrupled the company's stock value, but it cost.

7

The key factors for me were (aka. The beginning of the end):

  • Working overseas for a 3 month period.
  • Average work day ran from 8am to 4am.
  • Average work week - 7 days.
  • Everyday we had production critical issues to deal with and the client standing over out shoulders asking "Are we there yet?"
  • Still expected to deal with responsibilities back in the home office.

Got back home completely exhausted. Only lasted in the job for another few months. The final straw was almost not being able to get out of bed to go to work.

Took a 3 year break from IT in all ways, shapes and forms.

6

Can I chip in a manager burn out story?

Many of the same factors:

1) The project was very highly pressured, the whole "the future of the business is hinging on this" line

2) There was another team elsewhere in the company who were actively briefing against us (they wanted to do the work). This was then used by my boss and the project sponsor to attempt to instil a culture of fear which entirely undermined team morale.

3) The scope had been defined by a project sponsor who had left. A new project sponsor took over, significantly moved the goal posts (redefining alphabetical order was my favourite one), changed the way of working but wouldn't let budget or time scales shift.

4) My manager wasn't listening to reason (or indeed anything that didn't corroborate his world view), insisting we throw more people at it, that the fact that our designer had gone long term sick was in some way our fault, that the replacement designer should have it written into his contract that he shouldn't be allowed to be sick (?!)

5) As more pressure was piled on him he did nothing to block or mitigate it, instead choosing to pass it straight down. While I can't claim to have done everything (or even most things) right, I did at least deflect much of this once it hit me so it didn't get to the team.

In short we were given a complete hospital pass, undermined and told it would all be our fault when we failed (which we inevitably would) and that would be our careers done.

It was a horrible time - insomnia, snappiness with each other and with family, genuine ill health (go to the doctor ill health) - but eventually we all got the message that it was just time to get the hell out of there and did so. We got to the point of not caring any more and while everyone remained professional the whole situation got far easier when the daily bollockings ceased to be something you gave a crap about.

The morals of the tail:

(1) programmer, manager, whoever, if this is what you face you're better than that, don't put up with it, get the hell out of there. If you don't think you're better than that then (a) sort out your self esteem, (b) find something you can do better than that.

(2) Your manager also has a manager. Try and work out whether it's your manager or his manager (or his manager) who isn't listening to reason before you point the finger. Often your boss is in the same shitty situation you are.

5

From my recent experience

  • unsatisfying salary (not the main reason)
  • no challenges
  • 95% of maintenance, 5% of new work
  • no new technologies, work in plain C in 80s style.
5

I have seen it burn-outs and near misses all too often at my last job.

My organization had a bad habit of setting aggressive project schedules to win the business. The penalty for questioning those schedules was weeks or months of debate while nobody was writing any code. And you guessed it the deliver date and resourcing levels stay the same. By aggressive I mean projects that some nutter in marketing thinks will be ready in 3 months by 6 developers but in reality takes 18 months and 20 developers.

Two very close friends of mine ended up in hospital and another colleague whom I didn't know so died of a heart attack.

5

My burnout story was about a time a little over a year ago where here is the situation:

I had been with the company just over 2 years as an Application Developer working on a web-based application for doing location-based services work. The person who hired me had left a little over a year earlier and his brother had also left to go somewhere with better pay and get away from where he wasn't really valued since he was the brother that was helping but didn't quite seem to be in the club in a sense. The void that was created didn't get filled but everyone else just sort of took on more work and away we went and the other application developer and I were equals and neither really was the boss of either of us.

I got diagnosed as Diabetic, learn I have a broken foot from a condition known as Charcot that requires me to wear an aircast and get new shoes that won't hurt me as much, I have neuropathy in my feet so I don't always feel things down there, and that is just the medical side. In my social side, the car I bought didn't get picked up for 3 weeks, was lost temporarily, the hatchback I wanted I didn't get as apparently the order went in for a sedan and the salesman who sold me the car moved to another dealership. On the work side, there was this task I was given of copying over this one site's functionality into how we do similar things in our own application suite. Now, things never got more pinned down then, "Just take a look around," and I guess I was supposed to get further into it than I did but as I went onto some new pain medication, I woke up one morning and didn't go to work. For the rest of the week, I barely did anything but dreaded going back to work as they were expecting me to have something to show.

Fast forward to Monday when there is this Microsoft event I decide to go to, thinking that I'd get more out of that then being in the office. Now, this is a company where I was at the point of not doing anything unless told to do it because of at least a handful of times I did fix something that had to get rolled back because we didn't have the resources to test it. Never mind that the code change was rather minor and that someone else could have looked at the little code changes I did make, oh no it just gets taken out and the bug is back in. This met some raised eyebrows when I'd tell that aspect of where I worked but it is totally true and something that I think is worth getting out there. Anyway, I get back to the office in the afternoon and my boss nearly has a heart attack I think. He was furious and pissed that I went to that event rather than be in the office and that since I hadn't cleared it with him, this would be the final straw. The following day I got my walking papers and away I went.

Course I did end up with depression but I did get a new job within a few months and have a much better work environment.

4

Yeah, I've been burnt-out. For me it was having an important and intellectually challenging role to fulfill without any of the necessary technical or managerial support. I didn't know what burnout was, so I went through the counter productive self-blame cycle like everyone else too.

Eventually I stopped caring - I'd turn up for work and would have nothing invested in whether I completed the tasks assigned to me or not.

The eye-twitching thing is interesting because I had that too sometimes.

My solution is to work in a field that I am passionate about and ensure that I am really good at what I do. That way I can be choosy about where I work and leave a bad employer without fear.

So I'm in an enviable place now, but with a rather jaded worldview unfortunately.

4

A few years ago when I was in Russia I worked for a very small company that were manufacturing LED panels and wanted some kind of internal CAD software to program animation effects into them. I was right out of the school, with just a half year of commercial experience. As my uni point was exactly on CAD systems, I gladly took the job.

We tried a few technologies, experimented with a few technologies, then I started to code it. I was working alone with two other people briefly appearing once just to be fired soon.

I managed to implement a basic editor (yeah, even over 3D API like 3ds max), a basic component library support, to make plans for the future and then I burnt out. Gladly it was just the time to go to Germany so I had a good reason to quit. Thought I told them I was "finished" working alone without assistance. I was about to continue my studies again so it was a good scenery change.

I had symptoms like having fear and almost brain pain not only to code, but even to return in my thoughts to that project. It took the better part of the day (I was working from home) to accumulate enough bravery to open VS and start coding it further.

It was very interesting but a very heavy task, mainly psychologically. To get one graduate to implement a CAD system where there should be several people working for a couple of years at least, is a hard one.

I guess I would describe the situation as a "burden of work".

I learned from that experience two things:

1) Do not take this kind of responsibility-work, where you have to bring a huge project to the finish. Just agree to start working on it, and whether it will finish or not, is a concern of management.

2) Do not associate yourself or get deeply into the job. Just do it in an emotionally-detached fashion 9 to 5 then go home. At home there is your life, either family or maybe your little beautiful project that you can dive into, love and cherish. Job should stay just a job.

P.S. I just read today an article (cannot find the link though) about the 10 unneeded professions in the coming future. Programmers was one of them. The curtains drop...

4

My burn out episode:

  • Endlessly working on a product that wasn't converging on a final product. Writing code just to write code is not fun, you want your sacrifice to be for something

  • Difficult co-workers. The field attracts obsessive compulsives--they like the tidiness of computers, but they're difficult to work with.

  • As developers we are intentionally putting on the autistic hat and thinking compulsively about a very narrow topic, like a line of business database application for years at a time. While a true autistic patient can have a life time obsession with door knobs, after a few years the database schema I'm working with gets tedious.

  • The isolation isn't good for one mental health. You really can increase your productivity by avoiding other people, but you pay for it with a less resilient mood.

I got depressed, back pain, marriage fell apart about that time. Taking time to exercise has mostly turned around my health. I use IM to help reduce the isolation without interfering so much with getting codings done.

The best move I made was to start working as a contractor and stopped being the isolated developer in a non-IT organization. The contracts eventually change and you're more likely to work with people who have a realistic feel for what technology has to offer. If you let the point hair bosses tell you to write artificial intelligence, it will consume all your time and you'll never finish.

Estimation of software project size is still hard, so I still am getting into situations where I'm working too much and risking burn out just because I want to live up to my promises.

4

To be honest I'm a little burned out as I'm writing this.

We are struggling at work to create a new website, database, and agency management system to replace what we currently have. The end goal of all this is to create something that's easier to manage while also being more versatile. In the end it should meet the needs of the company and our customers better. So that's all good. I'm happy with the direction we're going and once done I think we'll have something pretty cool.

However, even as we're working on all of this, business must go on. So I'm constantly stuck trying to maintain and improve things that are ultimately going to be replaced anyway. And then I can't seem to satisfy anyone because of this constant struggle and my inability to devote 100% of my time to both tasks (building the new while maintaining the old). I've asked if we can hire another developer to help out but management is convinced that it'll take too long to train them. So I've decided that it's not worth it to try so hard if my efforts are going to be futile. And so this vicious cycle has gone on for about a year and a half as we develop the new system at a snail's pace.

UPDATE (December 27, 2010):

We finished up the project I mentioned above and a few months afterwards I quit my job to work for myself (I have a little software company called BucketSoft). It's been fun. I get to work on whatever I want. All the while I'm balancing programming, design, support, and the business aspect of things. Naturally I wear a lot of hats but that keeps things interesting. I've always wanted to do this.

3

A friend of mine use to work for game company which demanded some pretty long hours. After crunching for the better part of a year (6 days a week, 12 hours a day) he quit. Now he works in politics and buys computers from apple.

Of the people I went to university with a large number of them have either moved into other careers or have gone to work for the government, which is a lot like vacation. If I had to guess I would say 20% and I'm only 5 years out of school.

3

I have two major experiences with burning out.

One is in a software development position with a company based in the States. I was working on a project that was supposed to be written in .NET 1.1, but reading it up it was obvious that is was ported from ASP classic, evidenced by little or no use of either postbacks or viewstate, and the app had its own home-brewed very-hard-to-learn-and-use HTML rendering framework based on tedious amounts of XML.

When we introduced a module that was written with Object Oriented Programming in mind, the immediate reaction of the senior developers was that it was "over-engineered". Even if we had done only simple classes.

Since we are in Manila, there is an obvious gap between timezones, and our employer decided that Manila-based software devs were to work in Eastern seaboard time. We started going to work 9PM, but ended up going home 10 AM the day after. After a few weeks of doing that I was fired due to an offense I made (unpublishable) that was part of the effort to keep myself awake.

The other is for a company that has "overtime" institutionalized and written all over the place. The office is still usually full of people until 10 PM, and it is not unusual for people to go home at 3 AM. They require you to work Saturdays, and when deadlines come that means Sundays as well.

It makes you feel guilty to leave work at 6PM, actually.

When I asked some senior members of the company why such is the case, they just shrug and say things that range from "because we have to" to "we're used to it".

2

Ugg I'm about burning out now. I've been doing software development for over 10 years now. I think I started getting burnt out because of all the frameworks involved in the Java web development environment. I'm tired of learning new frameworks and packages (especially when so many are so poorly documented). I long for the days of perl. But at this point I'm sick of computers in general - the frustrations engendered in trying to get them to do what you want them to do, and I honestly wonder whether on the whole whether they've done more harm than good. Starting to gather ideas for a new career - I don't care about money anymore - I just want to do something I enjoy.

2

I worked for Accenture for 3 years. The average working hours were like 12 noon all the way to 8 am (the next morning). I took 3 hours of sleep then took my brunch and went back to office. I was completely burnt out.

2

I burned out massively over 2009 and 2010 and finally quit in January this year to take some time off (essentially a self-funded sabbatical - which I am still on right now).

It wasn't really the typical "overwork-oriented" burnout in my case. It was more the classic "Office Space" type of burnout where you just get sick of dealing with the same mind-numbing corporate bs and scenery over and over and over, indefinitely. There were definitely some issues with micromanagement and unrealistic deadlines too, but for the most part, it was more of a gradual boreout-turning-into-burnout scenario than the more sharp "breaking under high pressure" scenario.

It all started with a project from hell in late 2008. Something that was supposed to be fairly quick - several weeks work - turned into a massive, highly disorganised and repetitive year-long re-iteration slog. The product is a subscription based service, and our work style was agile, so on paper there wasn't anything very wrong with what was happening (the client seemed happy to keep dragging out the iterations, and our company didn't care, we were getting paid) - but internally something snapped in my brain in early 2009 - there came a conclusion that the job is a dead end. I was convinced that I'll grow old and die in that cubicle maintaining that same boring business system, iteration after iteration, forever.

By late 2009, that particular project was more or less wrapped up, but it was already too late. I didn't know it at the time, but I was already sliding downhill into a fully blown burnout. Subconsciously, the job just wasn't satisfying anymore, but at the same time the routine (good people, good location, decent pay) was comfortable enough not to leave it. But most of all, I was already burned out enough that I was no longer passionate about programming anymore - so the idea of looking elsewhere for another job just didn't take (in hindsight, finding another job at that point and jolting myself out of the funk might have been my last chance - to avoid the fully dysfunctional rock bottom burnout that I hit later). In a sense, I conflated my frustrations with that particular bad project with all "programming" in general, and couldn't find any way to be positive and proactive about programming anymore.

It was a fairly gradual decline. For another six months I droned along. The work available happened to be relatively easy maintenance mode, so for a while I just accepted it as a temporary slump - but I was probably only on about 10% productivity. Then by mid 2010 I was so "over it" and burned out with programming as a whole that I started considering making a career change. Not into another "knowledge work" job either - but becoming a truck driver. My burnout started making all "office work" feel like a dead end existence. Even just the act of working in an office and being cooped up indoors all day seemed very depressing, no matter how interesting the actual work itself might be. By then I was already reading a lot about burnout on forums, and starting to make more sense of what was happening - but it was too late to save myself. But at least, instead of outright dropping out of the profession, I decided to just take a break instead.

Now, four months after quitting, I'm starting to enjoy programming again (I'm teaching myself Ruby on Rails). Starting to realise that burnout (at least the slow motion type that I had - can't speak for the strictly "overwork" type of burnout) has more to do with overall environmental factors, company politics, and motivation than the technical content of the work itself. I'm planning to make my re-entry into the workforce later this year. I know what traps to avoid now (not so much anything that can be generalized into advice here, more just personal psychological patterns - I'll see the early pre-burnout stages a mile away from now on).

1

aku, if I didn't know any better I would say you worked with me!

The new technologies one kills me. The stuff I work on was written in the early 90s, Borland C++ to be more specific. Anytime we want to rewrite something in an updated language, we get shot down after they find out they need to spend money on it.

I don't know about burnout, but the turnover rates in companies that have the traits Aku described are through the roof, there the McDonalds of the software world.