I've been a full-time software developer for the past 3 years, since graduating with a Computer Science degree. I initially had a lot of passion for this field - I used to spend my free time writing all kinds of things (artificial intelligence for various board games, a ray-tracing 3d renderer, mods for various computer games, etc...), a passion which grew the more I learned. I loved knowing this stuff.

The thing is, I was home-schooled before university and I would often be free by noon (okay, criticize my grade-school education if you want, I still graduated university with a perfect 4.0 gpa, so my parents must have done something right). I never had many friends, and I'd spend most of every day in my room, just keeping myself occupied (playing games, programming, watching tv, building neat things with my construction sets, reading). Hence, "normal life" for me is very slow-paced.

University was damned stressful to me since I wasn't used to the ridiculously huge workload, but having 3 months vacation in the summer, then another month in the winter, allowed me to sort of recuperate from that and give my mind a "reset". It was also fun and exciting looking forward to a completely new semester, of courses of my own choosing, after the summer.

This programming job though... well, objectively it's the best I could hope for. Friendly coworkers, almost never any overtime, pays really well - but it's tedious and dull as hell. It's also getting really hard to keep up with technology (which is now seriously impacting my productivity). The absolute last thing I want to do after programming all day long, every single day of my life, is learn more about programming. The passion I once had is now totally dead.

I'm tired of this, very burned out. The measly 2 weeks of vacation I get per year is nowhere near enough to really "reset". What the hell is the point of going on living when you're whole life revolves around the office? Having to restrict life solely to evenings and weekends only, for the next several decades until I can retire, is just so damned depressing when, for most of my life before, I actually owned most of my life.

Now, I feel like my employer owns me, but because I have a "good job" (according to my dad, and society in general I guess) I'm not allowed to complain.

My question is: Considering my above described objections with the conventional work schedule and preferred lifestyle, what can I, as a young and competent professional do to find more meaning and motivation with the said arrangement? For example, should I consider looking for a different career path or discuss my preferences with my manager to find mutually agreeable terms under which I will find work-life balance as well as be a productive team member?

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    There is big difference between your current work life and your college/home schooling life, that is, you are getting paid.
    – Nobody
    Aug 19 '15 at 7:49
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    Well first thing is to find a job that you enjoy so the 40 hrs (and some people regularly do much more) isn't a chore. Also there are 168 hrs in a week, take out work and sleep and there are 72 hrs for you to do something that makes life worthwhile, even allowing for food/family etc there's plenty of time if you want it. Aug 19 '15 at 10:33
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    Aaaaaand here is Bertrand Russell chiming in on the subject
    – amphibient
    Aug 19 '15 at 21:58
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    @KGreen I'm the exact same as you man, the exact same. I sit at work wishing I could learn, but all I'm doing is mundane crap. That is why I'm leaving my job, using my frugality to go to Korea and then seeing where I can get from there. Might end up back in Australia, maybe back in London... but I know for sure my current job isn't something I wanna be in for the next few years.
    – insidesin
    Aug 20 '15 at 14:31

I have largely the same experience as yourself (except the homeschooling bit). Did great in college, enjoyed college, used to spend much of my free time programming artificial neural networks and writing software. Started work at a software company and my urge to do that kind of stuff died.

They weren't horrible, the hours weren't bad but it was still killing me. My girlfriend was starting to worry about my health. Days of staring at stack traces combined with the push to spend evenings learning about frameworks that might once have fascinated me but which now just make me feel more burned out and sad.

A job doesn't have to be horrible to eat at your soul.

Jobs which depress you don't have to involve horrible bosses or 100 hour weeks. Sometimes it can simply be the job slowly turning your brain to soft jelly.

After a few years of that I moved to a different job and it made a world of difference. I'm back to writing code for the joy of it again.

Small things can contribute towards being generally unhappy and can make a job eat far more than 40 hours because you need longer to unwind.

For example some things can be common in junior programming roles:

  1. Okay, but not great pay.

  2. Lack of control of your own work.

    The senior people poaching the interesting work before you ever get a shot at it.

  3. An office where nobody is hostile or horrible but never the less you say "Hi" to the guy across from you and "Bye" in the evening without much more social interaction.

  4. Lack of classes/learning as part of the job rather something you're expected to spend your evenings and weekends doing.

  5. Inflexible hours.

  6. Commute times which can eat 10+ more hours per week in many large urban areas.

I moved to a new job which fixed many of these and other relatively minor issues and started smiling on the way to work again.

You likely have your own list of things which are getting to you.

40 hours can eat your life or it can be a light burden depending on the workplace.

So I'd advise finding somewhere else. It's not worth your sanity. Give it a little time, learn from your current job, make sure to remember the things they're doing right, keep on good terms but try looking for a different role that interests you more.

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    This answer is not relevant to the OP, since the OP did not state any of the issues you experienced (no control over work, seniors stealing work, inability to connect with colleagues) but instead was just complaining about working 40 hours a week.
    – March Ho
    Aug 19 '15 at 11:29
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    They are however relatively common in junior programming roles. I wouldn't have listed some of these issues until I'd experienced another workplace and realized they'd been part of the problem. Either way they're just examples of the kind of things which can contribute to an otherwise pleasant workplace being oppressive and depressing. They can be the sort of thing that makes even a 40 hour week horrible. I'm including them because the OP reminds me of how that job made me feel.
    – Murphy
    Aug 19 '15 at 11:39
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    I find it ironical that the post that begins by advising "Ignore the preachy posters. They're just bitter" shows more bitterness than any other answer, complaining about things the OP is not having trouble with. Aug 19 '15 at 13:29
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    @PatriciaShanahan When I wrote this the existing replies were chastising the OP for having the temerity to be unhappy with his lot and saying the problem was with him rather than possibly with anything else whatsoever.
    – Murphy
    Aug 19 '15 at 13:36
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    I appreciate the response, Murphy. In fact, 3, 4, 5, and 6 do apply to me (well, my hours are flexible-ish. I can come in an hour later if I want, but then I'd have to stay an hour later). I know I need to find another job, I just don't know how because I don't really have any skills in other fields, and definitely not the energy to attend night classes to obtain them. Hell, I couldn't keep up with coursera classes I took for fun.
    – KGreen
    Aug 20 '15 at 2:09

If you still have enough money if it is only 75% or even 50% of your current salary, you can think about working part-time which means 30h or even 20h per week.

Having worked six hours per day a week after a standard 40h week I can say that you really feel the difference. You are fresher, you are less sick and you work more intense. I would even say that I would not reduce it further even if offered, but your mileage may vary.

The whole problem is your working environment as TJennings answer indicates. There are unspoken assumptions like that it is unfair, that you are spoiled, that you have still so much time, that people need to work hard (or the standard: Other people have it much worse) etc. etc. often convieniently ignoring that you earn much less money. Depending on your culture you may see more or less resistance, so I cannot give you general advice how to approach your employer.

Anyway: It is your decision what your goals in life are.

First of all, there are people who thrive under hard-working conditions. They can and want work 80 hours a week, they are ambitious and they want to acquire status symbols and climb up the social ladder. And they would be very unhappy if they could not work.

That said, some people gives the impression that 40 hours are at least normal, most people live fulfilling lives with it and if you find that too strenous, you are mollycoddled and do not know real work.

The problem is "most people". In our country we had a time where young people had a compulsory social year and so I did short time in an old-age home.

Me and other people noticed that some of the most important and frequent regrets of old people are that they did not a life true to themselves and that they worked too hard !

Given that I hope you understand that I think the "most people live fulfilling lives etc." argument is...a bit...unconvincing.

I know that there dire circumstances like supporting a family or other people does sometimes leave no options, but your conscience will know that and it will be no trouble later. But decide with wisdom what you want from your life, what other people do with their life and think how life should be is not your concern.

  • Some of my friends go with this approach, 4 day weeks can be a good compromise which can make things much more manageable.
    – Murphy
    Aug 19 '15 at 12:09
  • In the UK part-time programming positions are almost unheard of, so that might not be an option everywhere.
    – domen
    Aug 19 '15 at 12:48
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    @domen That is the culture part which I mentioned in the second last sentence. Yes, it may be not (easily) achieveable, so in fact it really depends how far are you wiling to go (move, 4 x 10h days, another job may be other options). But I have the suspicion that many people are simply not willing to test their boundaries because they are fearing social ostracization and excuse their lack of trying with "It is impossible". Aug 19 '15 at 13:03
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    I'd love to work part time. Problem is - it isn't 1/2 hours for 1/2 pay. It would be closer to 1/2 hours for 1/8 the pay (that's not a typo - part time jobs are nearly always minimum wage, or close to it), plus I'd be losing some significant company benefits (namely free medical and dental insurance).
    – KGreen
    Aug 20 '15 at 2:16
  • @KGreen, would it be the case with 30 hours a week too? Because it is a good compromise. 8 hours a day and 6 hours a day makes the difference. And it could still be acceptable for the employer,
    – dyesdyes
    Aug 20 '15 at 15:11

I think many people go through that phase. Here's some advice from my experience (in no particular order):

  1. Have you considered moving abroad?

    I think there's a lot difference in working culture between countries. I have worked as a programmer in 4 different countries in Europe, and the normal working conditions I encountered are 35-40 hours per week with 5-6 weeks of holidays.

  2. Have you thought about looking for a better company?

    I think that a good tech company understands your need to develop your skills and treat the learning as a part of your job, not something you do in the evening after hours.

    I have had companies sent me to conferences (and pay for it) / give me a couple days off to study (in addition to normal holidays) / pay for my programming certifications / send me to language lessons, courses etc.

    This is all possible with a good company that supports your developement.

  3. Have you tried organising your day better / more efficient?

    There are many ways to save some precious time. Some of them include:

    • Rent a flat near your office, so you save time on commute
    • Use some time to plan your day / week ahead. Run many errands at once.
    • Prepare meals for the whole day (or a couple days) at once, so you spend less time cooking
  4. Can you take some time off in between jobs?

    When I changed jobs I often took a month off in between them to travel and charge my batteries.

  5. Have you considered freelance work or running your own company?

    I honestly believe that office work and 9 to 5 jobs are not suited for everyone.

    When you're your own boss, you set the rules. Want to go home early? No problem. Need extra holidays? Just make sure you can afford it and go.

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    +1 for constructive suggestions, and also bringing in the issue of working conditions by country. At a guess OP is in the USA and only gets 2 weeks a year holiday; in the UK 5 is the norm, and some European countries more than that. Aug 19 '15 at 12:01
  • I was reading this and it's interesting how much more seriously they take their "holiday" in comparison to America. I obviously live in the wrong country lol Aug 19 '15 at 12:09
  • Thank you for the reply. 1) I have seriously considered moving to Europe, but I don't know anyone there, nor how to apply to jobs there, nor even what companies to apply to (I don't want to pigeonhole myself into another yet programmer role I might hate, while being stuck in a foreign country with no family or friends at all and without speaking the language). 2) By any objective measure, I am in a great company. Programming just isn't for me anymore, but it's all I know. I guess I just don't know how to find a field I'd like that wouldn't burn me out. No one prepared me for this.
    – KGreen
    Aug 20 '15 at 2:30
  • @KGreen In most of the countries capitals you'll find english is a common language. In fact in our countries capital (Belgium) because of the language barrier between the french / dutch speaking parts, most meetings are simply in English. Or failing that in "speak your own language, just make sure everyone understands" mixture of languages.
    – Reaces
    Aug 20 '15 at 7:09
  • @KGreen: Don't worry too much - the ability to manage your time, handle stress, make good decisions and career choices comes with experience. This is precisely the kind of wisdom that makes veteran employees valuable. The good thing is that you can learn it too if you keep a cool head and do your best. The truth is no one can fully prepare you for life - not school, not TV, not even your parents. Be proactive and think about solutions to your problems rather than things you can't or won't do. I know you can do it! Good luck! Aug 20 '15 at 9:40

40 hours a week is pretty far from your whole live revolves around the office, and if you've got friendly coworkers, almost never any overtime, you've probably got vastly more free time and a more pleasant workplace than others who don't feel like their whole life revolves around the office.

Your life doesn't stop while you're at the office, and resume when you leave, unless you absolutely hate your job and everyone at it, in which case get out and find something else. You can keep up with technology at the office, and if your passion is dead, that's not the fault of the job - It's because you only enjoy something when you're doing it as a hobby.

"Work to live, not live to work" is the mantra, and it seems like you're actually doing a pretty good job of it if you're working 40 hours in a good job. There's 168 hours in a week, you spend less than a quarter of that in the office and around the same sleeping. It sounds to me like your upbringing has simply spoiled you for choice in being able to do what you like whenever you like, with a work-life balance skewed too far in the 'life' direction, and you're having trouble adjusting to more conventional scheduling.

To answer the question, people "handle working 40+ hours a week" by not viewing their work with a sense of resentment that it's taking up their time. The problem isn't the working culture, it's your mindset towards work.

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    The end of this answer sounds judmental. The problem is the inadequacy between his culture, education and the current typical work organisation in our society. Nobody is to blame. And although I agree it is more likely that the OP will eventually have to adapt, arrangments can be made, so that the OP finds a balance that satifies him. Not likely, but still.
    – Puzzled
    Aug 19 '15 at 8:37
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    @Puzzled It wasn't intended to be judgmental so much as to suggest that he had a fortunate upbringing that unfortunately didn't do well to prepare him for the pressures of a modern workplace, no different from any other culture shock one experiences when changing into a different world culture.
    – TJennings
    Aug 19 '15 at 8:40
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    I quite agree with your answer, not its wording. And Thorsen S. also has a point with part-time working that could be a good arrangment if the OP is ready to give up a part of his income.
    – Puzzled
    Aug 19 '15 at 9:01
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    This answer may sound a bit judgemental but it seems like the OP has been a little mollycoddled and has false expectations. Assuming from the mention of gpa they are from US, in western unis the workload is notoriously low-medium. You don't have to work all day in a job you hate and that may be part of it but a 40 hour week is normal and you will have to get used to that whatever you do. Remember programming is a tool, it is the things that you do with it that are fun or not. If you context switch on the subject then it'll be easier to find business logic boring but then go and play with AI.
    – JamesRyan
    Aug 19 '15 at 11:04
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    @ThorstenS. each employee carries an overhead to employers. Part-time employees cost more to cover the same amount of man hours so full-time will always be preferable. The type of jobs available part time tend to be non-career, lower paying jobs. Don't forget tech hobbies cost money. Contracting might be an option but that comes with its own additional burdens. If the OP is suffering culture shock from 'normal' working then I'm not sure they would be adaptable enough, although its a skill that could be learned.
    – JamesRyan
    Aug 19 '15 at 11:52

It sounds like you are trying to do a job which is your hobby, but what you have found is that your hobby became your job and you are not left with a hobby any more. Fortunately it sounds like you have some other hobbies ("playing games, ... watching tv, building neat things with my construction sets, reading"). Maybe you should focus more on these.

I also found myself in a similar situation - when I had been coding all day I didn't enjoy going home to do some more coding "for fun". So I stopped and found some different activities.

Ironically as I have grown more into my role I have found that I am doing less coding, with more time spent in meetings, fleshing out requirements, helping more junior developers, etc. When this is the case those are the days when I feel like I want to get "back into the code" and I am more likely to work on pet projects.

As a very practical solution to your problem, some companies allow employees to do x% projects [1][2] (typically x is about 5-20) where the employee is free to develop whatever they want in that x% of their time. You could see if you can read up on x% projects and come up with a compelling reason why your company might want to allow you/your team/all devs to do an x% project. This would allow you to do some of the tinkering that you enjoy, but can be in the main part of the day when you are most fresh.

  • People asked me why I did not study Electronics in school and make that my career... This reason! I still love Electronics and Radio, but burned out on programming after a few years. I did what interested me most at the time, then moved on. It is said that most people will have 6 "careers" in their lifetime, so just choose another one!
    – user37746
    Aug 19 '15 at 13:41

how do people live full, enjoyable lives despite having their lives restricted solely to evenings (when too tired and stressed out to want to do anything but play a mindless game for a couple hours before bed), and weekends?

Most people don't have the same upbringing you had. And (perhaps consequently?) most people don't have the same outlook on work and life that you do.

Most people I know aren't so stressed out after work that they don't do anything but play mindless games. For me, that never happened.

Most people I know find at least some parts of their work rewarding. For most of my career, I have found my work very rewarding.

Most people I know have a social life that they enjoy, at least part of which is at work. That has always been the case for me.

Most people I know are capable of living full, enjoyable lives despite the normal demands of work.

Perhaps it's just maturity (sometimes new graduates feel this way until they have adjusted to the working world). Perhaps it's upbringing. Perhaps it's just personality. Perhaps you just haven't found the right job or career that would be sufficiently rewarding. Perhaps you need to consider alternate job styles where you have more time off (such as contracting). Perhaps you need some counselling to deal with personal/emotional/physical issues.

"how do people live full, enjoyable lives?" Most do. Some do so immediately, others take a while and have to experiment with different careers/jobs/job styles to get there. It's hard for some young folks who haven't ever had any real-world work experience to get it right the first time. Some never do.

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    I'm a bit disillusioned to read that someone could be burned out after 3 years of 40hr work weeks in ICT. It really shows a lack of preparation for work life that seems to permeate my generation. I wish more of us spent a few years doing menial labor. And less stigma on menial jobs. If the OP's parents had have him try a summer job at a super market for a few years he might have a completely different perspective on life.
    – Reaces
    Aug 19 '15 at 12:53
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    Whose life is he living though - "most people"s' or his own? It's kind of irrelevant that most people are capable of doing xyz if he can't. The 40 hour work week doesn't suit everybody, and it's certainly not the only way to make a living
    – Roy
    Aug 19 '15 at 13:16
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    @Reaces: One thing that "burned me out" as a developer after a few years was the lack of social interaction: I was one of 3 programmers using the language I knew (There were 30 other programmers) and I worked mainly on independent projects. So I was not even going to meetings or talking over development issues! Isolation is not conducive to happiness.
    – user37746
    Aug 19 '15 at 13:46
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    @Roy While I can appreciate the advice that people need to thread their own paths, it does not make the statement that most people are just fine with 40hr work weeks any less valid. The vast majority of us have jobs we enjoy, that earn us enough money to further finance activities we enjoy. Stating what the majority experiences helps put in context what the repercussions for being part of the minority might be. And the financial deficit is important, even more so when you become more and more independent.
    – Reaces
    Aug 19 '15 at 13:47
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    @Reaces: I did ask for help at the time (over 15 years ago) and tried to change to another job in the company. But the company had only about 100 people, and was bought and sold to other companies several times while I worked there. Later I ran a retreat center, and also burned out and was isolated. I worked on an assembly line for half a year - isolated, no one worked near me (I did sometimes train others). Being a teacher / instructor mostly works, but my "real career" (as two girlfriends have said) is not open to me : ) Some people are just different, so the usual solutions will not work.
    – user37746
    Aug 19 '15 at 13:57

I can completely empathise with you OP, I'm in almost exactly the same situation where taught myself web development and programming because I enjoyed it and it was my hobby. I then turned that hobby into my profession after university and after a couple of jobs like yours I'm now likewise burnt out from tedious and dull work. This seems to be pretty common in the software development industry - probably because the industry is largely full of self-taught developers who learnt because it was fun, not because they had to.

The issue is when you are programming for a hobby you have free reign over what you do and when you do it. Suddenly when you work professionally you have deadlines to meet and specs to follow. You can't do what you want and even your personal programming style might be overridden by the project's programming guidelines.

Luckily there are a lot of options out there in this industry for people like you and I - 40+ hour a week jobs in cubicles are not the only way you can be a developer. Freelancing is very common, as is remote working. Also since burn out is common in this industry some companies are starting to recognise this and work to mitigate it - I only work Monday-Thursday at my current job, for example. Or you might simply find that developing professionally is not for you, and it's best just to keep programming as a personal hobby/side job.

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