Do software engineers have enough time for their families? What is the quality of life like for people pursuing this career?
Do you get to spend weekends with your family? I have a daughter on the way so family time is important to me. Are there opportunities for work-from-home positions?
1. Yes, there are software engineering jobs that offer remote positions (some hybrid, some fully remote!). I myself am mostly working remotely as a software architect at my company (I'm rarely in the office unless I want to catch up with some coworkers in person or there's a company event like a holiday party or an in-person workshop).
2. Yes, there are a lot of parents at my company who are also software engineers and they are able to balance their home life with their work life.
Tatiana T.’s Answer
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Charles M Hurd
Charles M’s Answer
The main variables to work/life balance are you and your family, the company your work for, the management philosophy of the company, the management chain you work for, the workload your company has at the time, and how far away you live from where you work. There are probably other factors but the most important element is you.
Are you a person that regularly gets their work done with time to spare, or do you struggle to get things done on time? Each individual is different and gets things done at a different rate (has a different clock speed), but learning to do your job well lets you get things done faster. This includes memorizing information so you don't have to spend time looking it up (both data and processes) and having an effective filing system so when you do have to look things up, you can get it done quickly. (Consider the book and other material around Getting Things Done by David Allen.) Using effective planning and prioritizing techniques also helps you get the most important things done on time. My perspective is that you will be doing a lot of this planning, memorizing and filing "off the clock" on your own time. How much of your time you allocate to sharpening your saw by becoming better at your current job is up to you. Sharpending the saw is a concept taught by Steven R. Covey in his book The Seven Habits of Highly-effective People. Another way to say it is taking care of the goose that lays the golden eggs. You want that goose to be in the best of health.
I used to work with an engineer (not software) that was amazingly productive at work and at home. In addition to his day job, he was the mayor of the town he lived in and he built play structures and other things for his kids.
What are your ambitions? Do you want to rise in the company quickly? You will need to be able to take on a good share of the additional responsibility your next position will have. How much of your time you allocate to that depends on what is most important to you.
How good are you at being firm with your boundaries? If you are lax with your boundaries, and allow others to dump more work on you, and you get it done at the expense of your family time, it will be hard to overcome that habit and that reputation. But if you clearly define what is work time and what is family time, and stick with it, you will get a good reputation and others will learn to not bother you with extra work or ask you to stay late on youth night, or date night, or work on your sabbath if that is important to you. I had one employer where before I accepted the job, I told them that I was never available to work on Sundays. They agreed, but kept trying to get me to work on Sundays. I kept explaining it to them. I am grateful the HR person was on my side. She kept having to argue with management for me. The one time I did agree to work on Sunday, I prayed about it first and was assured by the spirit it was the right thing for me to do. When I was done, I donated 100 percent of the money I earned to a charity, so technically, I was not working, I was providing service, both to my employer and their customers and to the people that the charity served. I still had to pay taxes on that money so technically I lost money. I have a friend that tells his company that he will work up to midnight on Saturday night, and be back working at midnight Monday morning, but unless there are soldiers in the field depending on the work he is doing, he does not work Sundays.
Another element is your family. What needs does your family have? You have to make sure those needs are met to call it a work/life balance. And those needs change over time. How big of a family do you want? What does family time mean to you? How much of the load of caring for the family can your spouse and children handle? How much of the load of caring for the family do you want to outsource? Do you want to pay others to do things for you like house cleaning, yard work, tending and tutoring, etc. There is a lot to be said about parents teaching their children how to work and other responsibilities by having them do the chores in the house. Linda and Richard Eyre have written several books about that, Teaching your Children Joy, Teaching your Children Responsibility and Teaching your Children Values are just a few. They know a lot about this, they raised nine children. Anyway, if you are teaching your children at home, that takes more time.
How long do you want to spend commuting at work? There are work from home opportunities, but you have to have strict boundaries between what is work time and what is home time, or your employer will get the impression you are slacking off. Personally, it really irritates me when I want to ask a team member a question, and he is not available because he is taking his dog for a walk in the middle of the afternoon.
I had a job where my commute was pretty long. I got dropped off near the park-and-ride. So I walked a half mile before I would get on the train. I rode the train to another stop, where I waited for the bus. I took that express bus across town, where I waited for the other bus that dropped me off across the street from my workplace, about an hour and a half after I started. If I wasn't too tired, I could get things done, both work and home things, during the trip. Now my commute is 5 minutes and I spend that extra time sharpening my saw once I get to work.
The other element is about the company you work for.
Are they known for having a hard-working culture? Are they known for being good to families? I had a friend about 20 years ago, an IT guy, that quit working for Amazon because he said it just wasn't family friendly. That was around 20 years ago. I do not know what it is like now. You can get a lot of information about that kind of stuff from Glassdoor.com.
The new thing in software development (not so new anymore) is Agile development. I've not worked it myself, but it is structured to prevent long stretches of massive overtime.
Companies go through busy times and not so busy times. If the company has a big delivery coming up, it's going to be busy. If they have just laid -off a bunch of people your workload will increase. If they depend on contracts, and they have not landed a contract for a while, it will be slow. I worked for company one time, where we went for more than a year without a new contract. we were working on existing contracts, but it was worrisome.
Your management chain has a lot to do with how busy your are also. If they are managing things well, you should be able to avoid many crunch times. But if they encourage you to choose the company over your family, it is hard. I had one manager and a software development company say to me, when it comes to giving out raises, who do you think I'm going to give a bigger raise to, somebody who worked the weekend of his wife's birthday or someone who always goes home at 5:00? The way you get that kind of information is to have a big network of people and just gather that when you talk to them.
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The idea is to be the person that the company needs, and that gives you the chance to choose where you wanna be.
Some companies have a bad culture, where overworking is good quality, working over hours... keep away from there... a good company looks to keep you comfortable, and happy. Look for that always and working from home is a very usual thing now in tech companies.
You are asking a lot of questions at once which can be answered simply as it depends on your company and yourself.
1. It is up to you to impose limits to how long you work. Most contracts for Software Engineers is 40 hours a week, so 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Some will have different contracts based on their role. For example, support engineers may have a different requirement, and some may work the weekend, with different shifts.
Many companies have enough work to keep people busy 24/7 so it's up to you to make sure to stop when appropriate, still doing the job that is expected from you.
2. Remote working. This is becoming more and more common, especially for software engineers. Many companies offer at least a hybrid mode where the employee may have to come to the office every once in a while. Again that really depends on the company, the team, the job ...
I personally never worked on the weekend or been asked to. With the experience I have, and I accepted it, I could be called for urgent matters. But that was all up to me to accept or refuse. The company I work for, Dell Technologies, offers full time remote and I have to admit that since they reopened the office, the cubicles and corridors are pretty empty.
As one of my friend and manager said: you have your career in your hands, and no one else will make it happens the way you want it unless you express yourself and make it happens. But yes, it exists.
If you are interested https://jobs.dell.com/
We offer full remote job offer and we have ton of work :)
In my opinion software engineers in big companies and mid-sized companies have a really good WLB(work-life balance) whereas engineers at startups tend to work a lot more. A lot of us work from home remotely now due to the pandemic. I'm able to spend time with my family a lot and it really depends a lot more on their schedule than mine. There are definitely work-from-home positions but I would like to say there are more onsite/hybrid positions than remote ones.
Having a work-life balance really depends on the company you work for. I have about 20 years experience in the Software Industry working remote and in the office. I've found remote jobs can give you lots more freedom, but you need an organization that values work-life balance and encourages you to make good decisions. At some place I've worked at remotely, they assumed and expected me to work extra hours to get things done on time. They did not encourage me to take time off.
So make sure when you are applying for a role you do some research on that company and how they value people's time. Ask the employees their experience and how much overtime they work, if they are on-call and how long they are typically on-call. Make sure you have the time you need in your day and that they are supportive of your needs.
What field are you working in? What is the organizational culture like? Do you have an on-call rotation? (And if so: what is that like?) What's your own appetite for advocating for your needs?
In my experience, a huge part of this is going to be governed by the answer to that last question. No matter what type of organization you're working in, if you don't self-advocate for your boundaries and needs, you'll never get that balance. Never forget that your relationship with the organization is an exchange for your labor ... and the employer will always be looking for ways to maximize that labor. (Sorry if that sounds cynical but it's true even of the most humane employers!)
Back-tracking to the part about organizational culture: different flavors of organization often have reputations for being more demanding of your time vs. others. Consider for example that a burn-the-candle-at-both-ends start-up may offer you some lucrative stock as part of your comp (putting aside how much of a gamble that can be) -- but they are going to want many hours of your time and it may often bleed into evenings and weekends. Contrast this with a government-based organization which often has strictly limited and mandated hours for roles and you may find that you are seldom working more than 40 hours a week. (This is often because of their legal structures.) Private firms can fall anywhere between these two extremes, but more often than not, the size and age of the company is a good indication of what kind of time-demands they are going to make.
Many software roles these days often have an on-call component which you should factor into this work/life balance as well. If your role has some on-call requirements, consider what that schedule looks like. Are you taking the pager rotation for a day at a time every week or so? Or are you on-call for a week at a time every few weeks? On top of that: how flaky are the systems you're monitoring? Are you getting paged every couple hours? Or can you go a whole week and still get a full night's sleep? But even if you have a noisy pager, you might still be able to tolerate this if you feel well-supported and well-compensated at work *and* have an understanding partner.
Lastly, work-from-home! It seems like these days, most companies offer some kind of work-from-home or location-flex as a benefit. Especially after the pandemic hit, even a lot of companies that said they would never permit work-from-home quickly found that they could support it. Work-from-home is definitely a great option for many parents/families because it can give a lot of flexibility in terms of childcare. But also consider whether your organization knows how to well-support people in a work-from-home situation -- you might be able to work from a home office but find that you are missing out on a lot of "watercooler conversations" or other less-formal meetings where decisions get made etc. It's also incredibly easy for work to spill into home/non-work time -- you no longer have a commute serving as an "impermeable boundary" between where work happens and the rest of life is happening. It's also very important to have a respectful manager in a work-from-home situation -- someone who trusts you and knows how to communicate with you in a way where they are not violating the boundaries you set between working and home-life.
It also comes down to how you manage your time and deliverables. Usually managers/stakeholders do not micromanage if your deliverables are of good quality and on time.
Overall, software engineering is a great place to be. There is a lot of flexibility that can be leveraged. Be sure to research the company AND team you'd be joining though. That's crucial.