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I love coding

Its been my hobby since my family was attacked by a salesperson in the eighties and relented that having a “computer” which hooked into the panasonic tv would be neat. The obsession didn’t take long, as I sight copied an enclosed booklet of BASIC examples which inevitably produced a moving stick figure. From then on ive been hooked - whether it was creating simple batch scripts that let me showcase Mortal Kombat trivia games, custom sounds that played on windows startups, creating worms in VB 2.0 that looked like solitaire or even the thrill of being the only kid in class who could break out of AtEase for the schools macs. Being a programmer was what I wanted to be and thanks to many awesome and dickish folks I eventually landed a career in it. However I would be remiss if I didn’t say sometimes passion can lead you down a bad path and that’s what I wanted to write about here. A time and a lesson well learned, about coding and about managing employees as people.

It was around March of 2013 the sweet song of “Thrift Shop” was blasting out of every car stereo and I like many of my programming boys and girls who worked at Cardshark Analog were trying to complete a sprint that would finish off the 14th release of a somewhat famous trading card game, CAKE. Usually we had a one to two month release cycle for new cards being vetted and flushed into the game. Followed in parallel by twice monthly fixes to both the client or server. These dates usually didn’t clash however this time they had resulting in more stress in the office then usual.

Now this weekend was my birthday, but thankfully my wife who understood the job figured that I would be “crunching” with my coworkers and had moved my birthday beer hike to the following week. Crunching was very common, and since id been dealing with the endless burning out for years I was fine with it (it also didn’t help I was a pack a day smoker and didn’t have anything close to a work out routine) my days were optimized for fixing bugs and being the best backend game developer I could be.

I was lit, I was hungry and this was going to be an amazing week of coding

So not to go through each day of the week, but ill say that on average I worked from eight in the morning to past nine at night. In case your wondering eight to six was considered “core” hours - if you think that’s bad welp im sorry to say your right! But when you work at game places enough, you just stop thinking about yourself and your own well being. You ONLY think about the team and mostly you think about not introducing more stress to the environment.

Cardshark Analog was very “butts in seats” - so no remote work for you (unless it was in the middle of the night because lol on-call rotation) - so even working late into the night still meant that you were expected at your desk at eight and in the standup by eight fifteen. So as you are probably guessing, YES, this place was a grindstone that gave me an endless amount of bugs and things to code and as the week wore on it was taking a fairly large toll.

I noticed it Friday before my official birthday, my neck was cracking, my eyes were burning and my head hurt from having to hold a schizophrenic jury in my head about the best way to update every deck in the game live without database or game downtime. As usual we didn’t hit our marks from the 5:30pm standup - so it was known that we would be working the weekend. Our overlords released us to go home at six.

That night I was called for a production issue at around 2:00 in the morning. I never filled out an email to the upper up’s - a few secret restarts and some one on one to the guy handling the NOK. When my head hit the pillow again, my wife turned over and weakly said happy birthday, it was 3:30am and I kissed her good night. I woke up a few hours later too my four year old kissing my face and a dog I barely saw begging for attention. My wife had already made breakfast so we went to the kitchen and loaded up on pancakes. As I left the house my little girl grabbed my leg and begged me not to leave, I kissed her head and thanked my wife.

The drive to work broke me

I arrived at eight on the dime as traffic is really nice on Saturdays with my CTO sitting a few feet away coding away. He had decided to work on the project today to ensure that everything went smoothly for Monday. Nothing big, I put down my stuff and proceeded to walk to the door.

“Where are you going?” my CTO asked quickly

“For a smoke” I said

“You just got here.” He said not looking away from his screen

“Um, its Saturday” I responded to which he retorted “Yeah? We’ve been HERE and crunching - most of us since seven”

Now I went for that smoke and as I did there was no one on the seventh floor overlooking a gorgeous chilly colorado morning. I remember looking at those mountains in the west as my wife called and once again told me how much she loved me.

I hope you’re having a good day

I wasn’t, it was my birthday and I was working side by side with someone who was my senior and couldnt be bothered to ask how the previous nights on-call went before jumping in on my obvious lack of work ethics. But could I blame the CTO, when he had come in this Saturday as well. To me this wasn’t an issue of who cared more for the success of the release, it was the product of a culture which promotes working yourself to the bone to never fail a deadline is worth it. Fundamentally is it worth it to work on a weekend? I think you should ask some important questions

  1. Is this culture one that can change to meet my needs?
  2. Do the deadlines need to be as set as they are?
  3. How long have you felt the way I described above when going to work on the weekend?
  4. Does the culture reward loyalty properly for sacrificing weekends?

My grey matter worked arduously pondering the answers to those questions. After a few years trying to change the issues with “crunch” culture alongside other employees - I ended up finding a different employer. But that day working the weekend was a wake up call because it lead me down a path of discussing those questions with my coworkers and attempting to work towards a better work environment. Thinking about what my time was worth, asking how others saw adequate compensation for their time and my advice is this:

What are your weekends worth to you?

Developer DeathMarch Blogger Benzor