The term "fast-paced" environment appears often in job descriptions for software engineers. From a software engineering perspective, among other things, this may imply pressure to produce software quickly. It is challenging to estimate effort in terms of time accurately, so it may be unreasonable to use any estimate as a hard commitment.

What is the baseline to which productivity is compared? Would it be that of others that came before or would it be one's own baseline over a particular time? If one passes the interview, joins, and then is not as productive as those others or does not show increase in productivity later, would one be eventually let go? Is this average then ever-increasing, and corporations put people through themselves, letting go off lower performers while retaining the higher performers? How does this affect people's health - of those that stay, those that leave, and those that may be let go? How does this affect the offered products and services? How does the continuous growth conversation affect this performance and people's health - has it shown to be effective in increasing productivity while not having negative impact on health of people and product, or otherwise?

There are many questions here, many show my concerns. I'd like to learn more about all of them.

Picking one specific question - would there be any known "well-paced" environments for software engineers, as opposed to fast-past ones? Particularly, any in Canada?

  • 4
    I think you are overthinking this. "fast-paced" is a buzzword. It does not mean anything concrete. The answers to all the questions you have are highly company-specific. We can not answer them, because every company is different. – Philipp May 8 at 20:50
  • I disagree that I'm overthinking this. I'd argue a book can be written on the questions here, and probably related books exist. I'd be up for any recos on those. Yes, questions I have would have company specific answers, however, I'm interested in any emergent patterns and studies that may have looked into this. – foamroll May 8 at 21:11
  • 3
    It's just a marketing term. – Kilisi May 8 at 22:11
  • 6
    The real question is: can you take that phrase as a flag to avoid applying at those companies? Perhaps. Or take it as an indicator to ask pointed questions about work life balance in the interview and make a decision based on the answers. – David R May 8 at 23:46
  • @foamroll - you are wildly, wildly overthinking this. it's a buzzword that means literally nothing. – Fattie May 9 at 14:02

Look for companies advertising that they have a "good work-life balance". I think that's that the closest a company will come to calling itself "well-paced".

(Regarding "it's hard to estimate effort", this is a universal truth that doesn't change whether the pace is fast or slow. The best way I've personally seen to deal with how hard this is, is in the Scrum methodology -- roughly speaking, the team completes work in a fixed-length span of time called a "sprint", usually two weeks long, and after many sprints have passed, the team gets a feel for whether a given piece of work can be completed in a sprint or not.)

  • This is the closest direct answer in terms of what to look for. A comment earlier mentioned that another obvious strategy would be to avoid fast-paced environments. Pete W's comment validated my main point. It's interesting to see the variety of thoughts on this. Glad it got a discussion going. – foamroll May 14 at 5:08

"fast-paced" is an euphemism for "our planning is a complete mess, we don't even have a proper plan for the very near future and our best guess at a plan is an actual shrug. Despite that, we do have highly paid people that call themselves project managers, they are just not worth their money. So welcome to the circus, where you work with clowns.

There are a lot of "well-paced" companies. They will not call themselves "well-paced", for the same reason they do not advertise themselves as "non-seal-clubbers" or "pay on time" or "do not stalk and kill employees" or "boss is a nice person". You don't have to advertise "normal".

  • 3
    Not to mention that "messed up" companies are the ones that have to hire more often as sensible people leave and the burned out people are forced out. In any list of want ads, there are likely to be a higher percentage of "messed up" companies than they are in real life. – David R May 8 at 23:45
  • 3
    to be fair, 'fast paced' could also just be a direct statement about higher-than-average work intensity... may or may not be related to quality of planning. I'd agree it's something to watch out for. – Pete W May 8 at 23:46
  • 1
    +million for the first para :) – Fattie May 9 at 13:59
  • @PeteW, if you consider "work intensity" to be a synonym for "the rate of exploitation", then it often is a direct statement of the fact. Also, the planning may not be poor by intent, but firms which adopt these buzzwords are often marginal and buffeted by market forces, so there will be little sense of stability. What I'm not clear about is why they advertise being fast-paced - it's oblique enough to be unclear to the naive, but does there exist a stratum of experienced candidates who like to work long hours for low pay doing low-quality work, and to whom these buzzwords speak? – Steve May 9 at 16:16

Frequency of Change

Companies do have a huge variety of the speed at which they do adopt or implement change. On one end of the spectrum is a government job: you learn how to fill out Form 4229 and as long as Form 4229 persists that is what you will do. On the other end is a startup with 3 people: In the morning you solve complicated differential equations and in the afternoon you clean the bathrooms and swipe the lab floor.

It's often a function of the size of the company and the "progressiveness" of the sector. Small companies change faster than big ones. Banking changes slower then game development.

"Fast pace" simply means "changes faster than average". This may be due to poor planning, due to the recruiters using "hip" buzzwords, or due to the company actually being alert and agile. That's what you need to find out during the interviewing process.

At the end of the day, it's a matter of preference. A speed boat is fast, agile and a lot of fun but you certainly can get wet and capsize. A container ship is stable and can haul huge amount of cargo it's fairly boring and not changing direction any time soon. Whatever rocks your boat !

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .