I'm a master student in CS in a German Uni and I will graduate soon and start looking for jobs in Germany as a software engineering/java developer. I never worked in the industry before. My main concern is that I don't know how the working-hours system work. What I know is that you go to your job to work normally 8 hours a day. But what happens during those 8 hours? Are you always in front of your desk coding?! Can I take a break? If i take a 30 minutes break, should I compensate for the break time?! What if I go to the toilet?!

What I know is that usually there is a device that you check when you enter the company and then it will start counting the hours you spend inside the company. But suppose I waste two hours doing nothing, or being in front of my computer with the IDE open pretending to be thinking but really doing nothing. How would they know? I mean sometimes my mind is stuck and doesn't work. It's completely stuck and I can't code for 30 minutes or an hour. Should I report that then? Or is it totally acceptable?

  • "usually there is a device that you check when you enter the company" not that I have heard especially in Germany have you contacted the union that deals with IT ver.di and IG Medien are the ones covering TMT
    – Pepone
    Dec 3, 2014 at 20:39
  • @Pepone It does exist, and not too seldom. And what´s the problem why you´re recommending to contact an union?
    – deviantfan
    Dec 11, 2014 at 22:14
  • @deviantfan excessive monitoring and in this case for professional salaried jobs where it is inappropriate. And as the op isn't a native having some one explain how things work would be useful
    – Pepone
    Dec 12, 2014 at 11:37
  • @Pepone The OP isn´t even hired somewhere yet ("I will graduate soon and start looking for jobs"). When he gets a job, I´m sure he can ask someone how it is in this company. And if there is nothing to check when he arrives and leaves, in a flexible work time system, how should the employer prevent that everyone betrays him (like working only the core time instead of ~40h per week)? And I wouldn´t call a chip card terminal at the gate "excessive monitoring"
    – deviantfan
    Dec 12, 2014 at 14:06
  • @deviantfan that's not how it works for "professional" salaried jobs only blue collar line workers clock in and out
    – Pepone
    Dec 12, 2014 at 15:20

4 Answers 4


While I agree with The Wandering Dev Mar's answer in terms of what you'll spend your day doing, I think this is more a question about workplace etiquette, rather than day to day activity:

What your day will NOT be like

  1. Arrive at 8:50, make a cup of tea and take your coat off
  2. Sit down at 9:00 and work until 11:30
  3. Take a 15 minute break
  4. Work until 13:00
  5. Lunch until 14:00
  6. Sit down and work until 15:45
  7. 15 minute break
  8. Work until 17:30
  9. Go home

What your day WILL be like

Who knows. It depends on the culture of the company. As Dan said, your best bet is to mimic your co-workers, but I'd add that you should err on the side of caution: their job is secure, you're there to impress. You also don't know if they've got a medical condition which allows them more breaks etc. Generally, though, you're okay to mimic the majority of other staff.

This usually means things like

  • If you go and talk to a colleague, you don't have to leave instantly the conversation is over.... if you stay for a couple of minutes to chat or joke, that's almost never going to be a problem. If you're stood around for ten minutes people may be bothered, but a quick chat is fine
  • Take a break. This doesn't mean 15 minutes each morning and afternoon - if you need 5 minutes to stretch your legs and un-cross your eyes after searching for an escaped closing bracket, do so. It's better to take a 5 minute break and refresh your mind than to spend 2 hours trying to solve a 1 hour problem because you've got yourself in a bit of a muddle
  • If you've got something to say, say it: a quick chat about current affairs when nobody is busy is a good way to foster team morale. Few companies will be concerned as long as you keep it sensible

And most importantly

Breaks are breaks

  • If you get in late (in which case apologise) or need to leave early (in which case ask permission) then certainly try to make up the time.

  • But if you need to take a few minutes to go to the bathroom, you don't have to take that out of your break time unless you're doing it every day (medical issue are the exception here).

  • Some companies allow smoking breaks, but you will usually find that you are expected to only smoke in your existing break times (and it's good practice to avoid non-smoking colleagues seeing you as a slacker)

For the most part, don't think of it like school or a rigid call centre job, this is a professional job: you're likely being paid a salary, not an hourly wage. This means that you're being paid to do "a job" not to do "x hours of work per week" - sometimes this means overtime as a deadline approaches, other times it means you can ask to go home an hour early.

You'll find a few companies are very rigid, and it's a good idea to take your cue from others in any case, but for the most part if you make sure you're getting your work done and aren't wasting excessive time, you won't even be noticed.

  • your answer is the closest to the information i was looking for. However I would have loved if you added the "What your day WILL look like". Because I really thought that my day would look as you described in "What your day will NOT look like". I wonder what else could it be other than that ...
    – Jack Twain
    Dec 6, 2014 at 13:18
  • I did put that..., it's just that it's very hard to know. The timing of 9-5 or 9-5:30 etc will be similar, and you'll get lunch for an hour between about 12 and 2, the rest of the time you'll be working in some way - at your desk, at someone else's desk or in a meeting, or just somewhere else in the office talking to colleagues about work things. My point is that your day will not be rigidly timetabled, you will have a task to do and you do it in whatever way required
    – Jon Story
    Dec 6, 2014 at 13:21
  • 1
    Also why my job is "to impress"?!
    – Jack Twain
    Dec 6, 2014 at 13:21
  • 1
    Your job is to do whatever work the company requires, I'm just saying don't completely copy older employees. They can be a good guide for what is/is not acceptable behaviour, but remember that they have worked there longer and have a good reputation already: in a new job it is better to err on the side of caution, as you are still proving yourself within the company
    – Jon Story
    Dec 6, 2014 at 13:23
  • Why do you think what you wrote is 'how your day will NOT be like' is not how some ppl work (apart from that your describtion describes a 7h workday, and not 8h)
    – lalala
    Jun 6, 2019 at 14:32

A job like software development is like other office jobs, there are multiple parts to them. If you were working a manufacturing line, or a checkout, or a call centre reading a script I'd expect you to be doing the same task for the full time (minus your breaks, each country has its own laws about the time you must take, and you don't make that up).

As a developer there is no way you can (or should) crank out code constantly during your work day. If that could be done, we'd automate it and there would be no further need for developers.

As a developer, I (as a development manager) would expect you to spend your time as follows (in vaguely right order):

  • in discussion with the business about the task you are doing to ensure you are doing the correct work
  • researching (stackoverflow, google etc) on best approach to the work you are doing
  • designing the solution to the task
  • in discussion with the ba to ensure your solution is correct to the business rules
  • in discussion with the tech lead/architect to ensure your solution is correct to the system design/architecture
  • updating the story/spec based on the discussions above to help document decisions
  • discussion with testers to help them devise proper tests
  • writing or designing unit tests (ideally automated)
  • writing code
  • running tests
  • building code (compiling..., see below)
  • writing documentation/wikis etc
  • taking a break (chatting to co-workers, a bit of surfing, coffee etc) to give your brain a rest and help with team building

The various tasks above are built into your estimates to complete tasks, and I'd expect you to make a judgement about how much is appropriate for each.

If your estimates are excessive, you are either struggling with the task, or using your time inappropriately. If the former I'd want to know before the plan slips, if the latter, change how you do things (and make up time if required then).

If your estimates are acceptable and you deliver, I'm not too bothered about you spending half an hour chatting, I am though if we are close to (or past) a deadline.

Xkcd compiling!

  • +1. And I assume you will cut a fresh college grad some slack when it comes to estimate accuracy, right? Dec 3, 2014 at 20:23
  • Actually Development is more akin to a professional job where you are paid a salary and not by the hour. Its nothing like say a call centre operator where you have to make 8 contacts an hour
    – Pepone
    Dec 3, 2014 at 20:33
  • @StephanKolassa - of course, estimation is a skill, like writing good code, you need practise to be accurate. Dec 4, 2014 at 6:25
  • Great answer - although I'd throw in time making coffee and helping out on support issues, fixing servers etc depending on the size of the company
    – Jon Story
    Dec 4, 2014 at 14:40
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    JUst to add, the amount of slack time is often a function of how your time is billed. If you are in an environment where outside customers pay for your time through billed hours, they will expect you to use far less slack time than if all the customers are internal or if you produce software sold to cutomers after being written (Commercial Off-the-shelf software). Startups and Software companies typically understand the need for more breaks than companies whose main business is not software.
    – HLGEM
    Dec 4, 2014 at 15:42

Not sure how German laws work. From what I understand European has better workers than any other country. Now I'm in America and I'll explain to you what I felt when I first got my job.

First, it's hard to adjust. In college, you sort of have classes here and there and throughout the day you can do whatever here and there. Having a job is nearly the same but not really. Basically you work 9 to 5, and it feels like you're sort of stuck at first. Eventually you'll get used to it somewhat.

As far as breaks, it's up to you. Most positions tend to have a 1 hour break - again not sure in Germany - but the environment tends to be relaxed. Chances are you'll be in meetings, and all that and doing stuff. For most of the 8 hours you'll be sitting down or at your desk though. You can get up and walk around as freely as you like. At my place, we have 1 hour lunch breaks, but reality is people normally take breaks here and there and go out for coffee or just a walk.

As far as coming and going from work, it really depends. However, most software positions I seen tend to have people coming in at various times, leaving early or late and I mean it really depends.

Just go there and just mimic what your co-workers are doing.


Here's how it is like in Finland:

  • 8:00 - Arrive to work, check the syslog for errors
  • 8:00 - See if the errors are repeat-offenders, and make a note
  • 11:00 - All data errors have been corrected (malformed unicode character, missing data from field, things like that), create a short description and sales pitch, and offer a patch to fix the errors for the client (billable hours)
  • 11:30 - Add all incidents into your daily time report with a 30 minute granularity
  • 12:00 - Lunch in premises
  • 12:30 - Client approves a previous suggestion for a patch, start implementing it
  • 14:00 - The patch has been tested in a test environment, and can be integrated into production
  • 14:30 - Make a short release note for the team
  • 15:00 - Continue monitoring for errors in the syslog
  • 15:30 - Talk chit-chat
  • 16:00 - Go home

Rinse and repeat until there are no more errors for a while, and then move into a new team to do similar stuff. If no teams have need for extra workers, get laid off, and start working in another company. You might find that funny or an exaggeration, but that has been the reality here for the past 7-8 years - there is very little work in software nowadays, so workers generally stay in a given company for only a short time (6 months to 2 years commonly).

  • 1
    That doesn´t sound like a general description of software developer, but more like "debugging consultant"
    – deviantfan
    Dec 12, 2014 at 14:11
  • That's depressing to read.
    – atw
    Jan 7, 2016 at 15:45

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