Hey, I'm Miguel

Burnout as a Software Developer And How to Fix It

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May 6, 2022

Burnout. It’s been written and spoken about a lot, but those have been in general terms and not geared toward the software development industry. Now, don’t get me wrong here; I’m not saying that burnout in any other industry is inferior to what we do as developers… everyone at some point has and/or will experience burnout. What I’d like to do is focus just on us geeks, nerds, coders, builders of amazing software, and web applications that impress.

As developers, we’re required to sit for hours in front of one, two, or more monitors (I use three plus my laptop) often writing complex code, coming up with sophisticated algorithms, implementing software design patterns, and creating features out of thin air. The amount of concentration, focus, and brainpower seems to be a super high level most days that at the end of the day we are super exhausted. We don’t want to look at another screen, check social media, or help our neighbors with their printers because they think we know everything about technology. We just want to drink a beer and talk with our significant other or hang out with our friends at a local bar.

As we build out our experience over many years, we increase our value to the companies we work with or work for. In doing so we are compensated with higher salaries, better benefits, and promotions. But, the one thing that many companies don’t really think about is burnout. They expect us to continue working, improving, and enhancing the product, and to take the weekend off or use the 2-week vacation time.

Effects of Burnout

Many companies don’t realize that burnout can lead to various issues. These issues, if not addressed or checked, can ultimately cause harm not just to the company, but to the developer. Here’s just a list of things that can happen:

  1. Brain fog and/or fatigue can decrease productivity and efficiency
  2. Unhealthy eating habits and weight gain
  3. Drinking alcohol in excess can lead to hangovers, being late to work, or even missing work
  4. Poor sleep can also lead to being late for work, brain fog, and frustration
  5. Stress and frustration can lead to high blood pressure and eventually lead to a valuable developer quitting their job

I’ve known developers that have experienced burnout so bad, that they left their company due to health issues. These are people that didn’t have any prior health-related issues and developed them over time. I listed them above, but there are more issues that can come up. These are some of the problems I’ve experienced in the past and sometimes still do.

What to do in the meantime?

Very rarely on weeknights and even on the weekends I will not do any work whatsoever and have some “me” time and do something that I enjoy. Here are some of the activities I do to get just a little bit of a reprieve from work:

  1. Workout, go running, and/or meditate
  2. Join an MMA gym (a great way to blow off some steam)
  3. Hangout with family and friends
  4. Play video games (Zelda: BOTW primarily)
  5. Go to the gun range (I’m a Marine, I’ve got to keep up my skills)
  6. Have a date night with my wife

Figure out what you can do to just relax. Because you know you’ll be back at it again in the morning or on Monday.

Many companies offer 2 weeks of paid time off (plus holidays) and will increase that time based on the number of years you’re with the company. What the hell is a 2-week vacation gonna do over the course of a year? A lot, if you only get burnout once a year. But if your deployment schedule is every month or every quarter and you’re busting your ass to get everything done and tested in that time, you’ll need more than your allotted 2–3 weeks for the year.

What to do with your time off?

Everyone is going to be different when it comes to taking time off between three-month projects. The main thing is to recharge and reset so that you’re fresh when you get back to writing software. The one thing I absolutely commit to doing when I take time off is not to open my laptop or write any code whatsoever (do that for a whole week and see how you feel). Here are some of the things I’ve done:

  1. Rented an AirBnB in Georgia and went hiking
  2. Gone camping and kayaking in different parts of Florida
  3. Had my son help me turn a spare bedroom into an epic game room
  4. Played video games (Zelda: BOTW primarily) and had a family Mario Kart competition with physical trophies
  5. Binged on t.v. shows (Billions, Yellowstone, Modern Family, etc)
  6. Visited family and friends

Since the pandemic, many companies have gone remote which is great as it helps to curb burnout. Some companies are back in the office like the one I’m working with and understand that developers experience burnout. They promote self-care and allow the developers to take time off after big releases as they know we are creating things that have not been done before. The one valuable thing we have to take care of is our minds. So, do one of the things I listed above, take on a new hobby like smoking meats (briskets, bacon wrapped anything, c’mon it’s meat), and learn a new skill like woodworking or playing an instrument.

Whatever you do, make sure it’s something that allows you to switch off the analytical coding mind and get a complete reset and recharge. When you do, you get to go back to work with a fresh mind, and eagerness to tackle hard problems, and you’re less of an asshole to your peers.