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I am a junior developer in a very small company and have been there for a year. Only a month ago it was just my boss and I working on developments. While I am a junior and only 21, I have had previous development and teaching experience and as such feel that I am competent in the job and do not require the hands-on teaching that most juniors need.

With this in mind, I have been struggling recently to handle the stress of my job. We have extreme deadlines, very needy clients and on top of this a new junior to train, which has been allocated as my responsibility. It's not that I can't handle the work, more that there isn't enough time to handle all of this, meaning the quality of my work isn't as high as I'd perhaps like.

In my role, I have often stressed personally about the performance of the team and whether these tasks will get done. I've worked late in office, and at home without being asked, haven't taken a days holiday since I started over a year ago, and frankly feel a bit like this might not be for me.

My question: Should I as a junior developer be stressing out about aspects of my company that I am not directly responsible for, and what would be the correct way to proceed in this role in a way that mitigates stress?

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    "Should I ... be stressing out about aspects of my company that I am not directly responsible for...?" Comments like this always remind me of the Serenity Prayer from AA. If it's not your responsibility, no you shouldn't be stressing out about it. – Adam H. Jul 1 '15 at 21:30
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    There's really 3 questions here. Which do you want answered? Is your workload acceptable/normal, is your reaction (stress) to this workload normal, and should you get a new job? – Scott Jul 2 '15 at 0:01
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    Welcome to the reality of most development companies. I am also 21 and i've been in the same position when i was 19. I've heard "your time will come" 100's of times and believe me, it actually did. But don't fool yourself thinking that a new job will change everything. We are humans, and humans always want more. It's just the way it works and eventually you will learn how to deal with it. Just don't give up now! – Rodolfo Perottoni Jul 2 '15 at 16:21
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    If anything, you have more stress early in your career. In time, you learn how to handle the pressure, how to say no to the 1am coding marathons, and how to accept that things just become late. (Hint: documenting the reasons why when they happen and communicating to stakeholders will help reduce your stress.) – corsiKa Jul 3 '15 at 5:12
  • @corsiKa: Yes, indeed. I remember my first programming internship, where I started dreaming in FORTRAN. – jamesqf Jul 3 '15 at 18:07
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How should you think about this?

Should I as a junior developer be stressing out about aspects of my company that I am not directly responsible for,

It's not normal as a 21 year old to work constantly and never take time off. The correct way to proceed involves a few things to first understand/learn/realize:

  • You can't be perfect in the working world. Nearly everyone has higher personal standards than what most work requires.
  • What are your responsibilities? It's tempting to worry about things way outside your role responsibilities. You should have a team lead/project manager, it's their job to worry about "will everything get done?" - your job is to communicate your concerns and capacity.
  • What are your bosses expectations of you? You probably are expecting perfection of yourself. Most bosses don't expect this. This is important.
  • More hours != better quality. With very rare exception working tons of hours constantly results in lower productivity/effectiveness. Everyone thinks they are unique here, but statistically most aren't...

What to do?

what would be the correct way to proceed in this role in a way that controls stress?

Then, do the following:

  • Stop overworking. Most people cannot work tons of hours at work/home and not take time off. Everyone gets less effective eventually, and a year is way beyond the timeframe.
  • Talk with your boss/team lead. You are going to burn out. Everything you have written says "I am burning out." Make sure that you have a conversation understanding your responsibilities and that your boss understands your situation.
  • Figure out your responsibilities and understand them. It's admirable to take on new responsibilities but doing so the way you are is not healthy.

Should you find a new job?

In the event your company is a place where working 60+ hour weeks without vacation is normal consider finding a different place to work.

Some companies just expect this. You are young, not all companies are - don't believe the "all companies are like this" line and if you find yourself in one... find a different job.

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    And from experience in a similiar situation: You will burn out within a year. You don't want to burn out. You REALLY don't want to burn out, neither does your boss. – Martijn Jul 2 '15 at 8:45
  • I was in same situation and I left that job, took rest for a month and switched to a new job – Umair Jul 3 '15 at 7:18
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This would be an excellent topic for you to discuss with your manager. He/she should be able to give you advice about achieving a good work/life balance to manage your stress. He or she should also be able to help you prioritize your responsibilities to make them more manageable, or even move some of them to someone else. If you're overloaded, your manager needs to know that, and don't be afraid to say, "I can take on this other project, but I need deadlines extended on other projects accordingly." He or she may not realize how loaded down you are, so you have be honest and upfront about how much work you can handle. You mentioned your company is small, so you may not have a dedicated HR team, but you can talk to them as well if you do.

It's normal to feel stressed early on in your career. You're still learning how to be an efficient worker and managing adult responsibilities outside of work, in addition to your job duties. It's important to recognize this, and take advantage of resources at your disposal to help manage it. In addition to your manager, you can also seek out other, more experienced people in your industry to get advice, such as your old professors that you had a good relationship with. Many of them probably worked in the industry before moving into the academic world.

Since you mentioned working long hours and holidays, I would like to add extra emphasis to the work/life balance. Completing your projects at work is certainly important, but it doesn't do you much good to burn yourself out by not allowing yourself to have a life outside of work. You're obviously already feeling the effects of burn-out. Don't let a single-minded focus on work sour your career and other aspects of your life.

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    alternet.org/story/154518/… – HLGEM Jul 1 '15 at 19:46
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    I will add that developement is an inherently stressful job to some extent. You do need to learn to handle stress and especially how to handle things like unrealistic deadlines. When the deadline is too close, always point out how many hours it will take and how many hours are available and then ask what features you need to drop to meet the deadline. Part of your job is to push back when expectations are unrealistic. Overtime is sometimes needed but it should not be an everyday occurance. That is sign that your company has too few people. – HLGEM Jul 1 '15 at 20:01
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    To add to @HLGEM's comment here... It's often more effective to commuicate up front than to 'push back'. You should be discussing expectations and estimates with your boss all the time, not only when the deadline is too close. This is time management, and it's a tough skill to learn. Numbers speak volumes: Figure on 6 productive hours a day (given an 8 hour day with 1 hour lunch), review estimates for work remaining (through the life cycle of the project) with your boss, and see if there's enough time. Communicate constantly... Working overtime tends to hide these things from your manager. – DrewJordan Jul 2 '15 at 12:42
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It's not that I can't handle the work, more that the time isn't there to be allocated to handle all of this, meaning the quality isn't as high as I'd perhaps like.

With respect, it is that you can't handle the work. You have too much to do.

This has very little to do with your position, rather how you communicate your workload to the people piling things on. Your managers need to know you either need to compromise quality or do less. Your clients need to be restrained to channels that don't unfairly burden you.

A good job with a good team won't consistently keep you at this level. Companies that try, haemorrhage developers to burn-out and cushier jobs.

So seriously, this is something you need to take to your manager. Explain what roles you're performing (they might have forgotten), explain what new things are causing stress and together work for a compromise that lets you perform your core job better.

Again, a good manager should want to help you. If they don't, that's your cue to look for another job.

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It is not unusual in any way for someone new to the workforce to push themselves too hard. In school, you were trying to complete your projects to the best of your ability to get a good grade. In the workplace, it's often more important that it is on time than excellent quality.

What I've inferred from your question (and I could be completely wrong) is that you're probably an overachiever. You excelled at school, you started your first job and you did really well. Your boss recognized your ability and gave you more responsibilities. You feel obligated to do everything you've been given, and do it really well, because anything else would be failing. What you don't see because you lack experience is that your boss doesn't really know how much work he's given you. He knows the tasks, but he might not understand how much time it's requiring if you haven't communicated with him.

You have to change your thinking about how good is good enough. You will receive more recognition for getting things done that meet the requirements than you will for getting less done that exceeds the requirements.

As others have mentioned, you need to discuss your workload with your boss if you're feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes it looks much better on your review if you reached out for help instead of killing yourself to get everything done.

Experience will solve the problem ultimately, and in the short term all I can recommend is to be thoughtful about what the true requirements are for your tasks, and to be very proactive in communicating with your management when you're starting to feel stressed. Often your boss will gave a better understanding of what needs doing and what can be deferred. Deadlines and the scope of a project are often negotiable if you just ask.

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    60 hour work weeks are "not unusual in any way?" Really? From what I can tell, the person here is being exploited. He doesn't know any better because he's only 21; management knows that and is working him as hard as they can until he burns out. Don't encourage him. – stackexchanger Jul 2 '15 at 1:24
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    I worked 72 hour weeks when I first graduated, not because I was being exploited, but because I didn't have the experience to know when I should push back and what level of performance was actually expected. I wasn't told work yourself to death or lose your job, I did that to myself because I had unrealistic expectations of what I needed to do to excel at my job. @stackexchanger – ColleenV Jul 2 '15 at 3:23
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There are various questions here. You are asking whether there should be that amount of stress that early in your career (at 21), but in reality you just don't have the experience yet to get rid of the stress. There are some principles that you should be aware off:

  1. Working long hours and not taking holiday - been there, done that. When I was a lot younger. In reality, nobody thinks any better of you for working long hours, and nobody will thank you for not taking any holidays. And then there is the proven fact that about 40 hours of work per week is optimal for productivity - people working 60 hours long term are less productive. Not less productive per hour, but less productive per week. And not taking holiday is the same, long term it costs you productivity. So don't do that.

  2. And then there is the stress. And I must tell you, the stress is produced by you. Clients can be needy, but in the end they are trying to put you under pressure, and that is something you must learn to just ignore. Yes, you are in an environment that tries to force you to stress, but the stressing is done by you. Been there, done that. Many years ago. Was so much under stress that I couldn't function anymore. Had a long think how I would go on, told my boss that some job wouldn't be completed in time, and from that point on it wasn't my problem anymore. It was his problem. Guess what, I immediately started making huge progress because the stress for me was gone.

3

Outside of the startup world and maybe game development, 60 hour work weeks are not normal. I tried but could not find real statistics to back that up. If anyone has reliable statistics on the number of hours worked per week by software engineers, please provide them. In my personal experience, conversations with developers, and reading news articles on this subject, 40 hours is a lot closer to the norm.

If you want to stay at this job (I wouldn't, personally), here is how I would handle it. Prioritize tasks. Keep your boss/customers informed as to the status of projects (honestly, but putting your best face forward). Don't make promises you can't keep. Honestly consider whether putting in extra hours is actually improving productivity or is merely putting on a show of it.

As for this, "Should I as a junior developer be stressing out about aspects of my company that I am not directly responsible for." "Directly" there introduces some ambiguity (are you "indirectly" responsible for them?), but if you are not responsible for them, then you shouldn't stress about them. For example, the DBA is supposed to create some tables for you but doesn't seem to want to do it. "Stressing out" will not cause the DBA to do his job, will it?

All you can do is this: document your requests. In every email (use email because it creates a paper trail), indicate if you have previously made this request ("2nd request," "3rd request"), and CC your boss. If the project fails because this task was not completed, and your boss comes to you to ask why, you can then provide him with documentation of your good faith effort to get the task completed. It is not within your power to make other people do their job. Furthermore, unless you control a significant stake in the company, it is not of much consequence to you whether projects succeed or fail. (So long as you can't be blamed for failure, hence documentation of good faith effort.)

Is all this worth it? Without knowing more, I'd say no, unless you're working on some really cool cutting-edge stuff (and at a small company, I doubt you are). Do you have a reasonable expectation that this level of effort will lead to a reward? (For 60 hrs/week, I'd be looking for promotion to architect.) If so, is that reward valuable enough to you to endure short-term suffering? That would appear to be the profit / expense ratio for you to calculate to determine whether to look elsewhere. Just remember, 60 hour work weeks is not normal.

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    21 year old architect? No. Because of hours worked? Double-no! Salary increase? Yes. – Robert Grant Jul 2 '15 at 10:32
  • Salary increase was what I was getting at. You are correct that architect probably wouldn't be an appropriate title. – stackexchanger Jul 2 '15 at 14:03
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Had the same problem myself, and looking back I realise I should have just looked for a new job sooner than I did. Although the bosses "really appreciated" what I did they also constantly gave the impression that it would be a struggle to pay the employees if such and such wasn't done by the end of the week. I was also bad at estimating the time for tasks and often found myself overworked because I had underestimated how long something would take.

Project planning is key here. You need to do a planning meeting for each week during which you tell him how much can be accomplished each day. If your boss interrupts you with something urgent, you need to get a definite answer from him on what the highest priority (and don't accept "They're all priorities" as I sometimes mistakenly did, get him to put a number beside each one), state explicitly that this interruption will push out the delivery time of the task that was interrupted.

Never give a range of how long something will take, e.g. 2 to 4 hours. You think you've allowed yourself 4 hours but your boss - himself probably under pressure too - expects it in 2. Just say 4 hours.

Don't tolerate emotional blackmail. I'm guessing your boss is really generous with the "free" rewards (i.e. compliments, understanding and appreciation). Doing a 60 hour week should really be only in exceptional circumstances.

Regarding needy customers, you need to just set their expectations right. They may be needy because your boss has promised them a quick turnaround to improve his sales. If something is going to take a long time or you won't get to look at it for another three weeks, tell them up front. They may get annoyed at that, but they'll have to just put up with it. They'll appreciate it a hell of a lot more than if you promise it the end of this week and fail to deliver because you underestimated or had to do something for another needy customer. Again you need to be assertive.

The question really is, if your boss can't earn enough to pay his employees for an honest week's work, does he have a viable business? If not, you need to look for a new job.

Finally, your boss may talk about how, once it's established, the company is going to be huge and you, having been in on the ground floor, are going to be rich. Don't listen! Maybe it will, maybe it won't. But don't take the gamble based on what he says, no matter how convincing he sounds. I'm not saying it's a trick to keep you loyal, he's probably convinced of it himself. Doesn't mean it's true.

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    So true. I would put the last paragraph under "emotional blackmail" too, even if your boss believes his own BS. People who use tactics like that will not deliver on their promises, even if the company does become huge. – Jørgen Fogh Jul 3 '15 at 8:35

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