We've all heard the phrase 'work-life balance'. It's a topic that lots of incredibly clever people on this site delve into regularly. I've seen lots of excellent commentary and discussion about how best to balance the 9-to-5 with the activities that allow us to wind-down.
However, what I personally struggle with, is winding down in general.
As my partner will attest, he once came home late and found me passed out over my keyboard, compiler listing errors that filled the page. (This was approximately 2AM so usage of 'late' in place of 'early' is up for debate.)
Stereotypical student behaviour, perhaps. However, since then, I've heard reiterated many times how important it is to have side-projects, to practice programming outside of the daily grind. Of course I'm all for personal/professional development but my question is: where does it end?
One of my favourite things to have learnt during my placement year is that leaving work at the door feels wonderful. Having worked at a boarding school, I've been constantly shocked and amazed at the culture there. Whether it's being available via e-mail 24/7 or being expected to work 6 days a week, regularly, from 7am until 11pm, there was a persistent desire to be contributing your role whenever required.
Does programming demand the same dedication?
Is it not the delight of home life to be an escape from work? To come home at the end of the day and be able to do something unrelated to your career for a change?
For instance, one of my passions is creative writing. I've published several pieces of fiction over the last 2 years, one of which was 200,000 words long (roughly the same length as Moby Dick). Does this not contribute towards my portfolio, albeit differently to pursuing a new coding language? Is it something I should list on my CV or is it - simply put - irrelevant?
Does it not enhance my portfolio despite not being related specifically to my line of work?
I've also started working on a Raspberry Pi-based project. Developing software for my local animal shelter is a way I can stay involved with my community and also develop my skills. Yet it's very difficult to come home after a day in front of one screen and convince myself to look at another. Especially when the alternative is picking up my guitar or reading a book or walking my dog.
So why is there a need to constantly be busy? With the topic of ergonomics and bettered work environments (both inside and outside of work) being a very hot topic, is it not worth experimenting with other projects? The benefits for not working all hours of the day is surely evident, no?
Hobbies and passions outside of work are great for relaxing and turning your brain off. You can return to work the next day feeling rested. Calmer. Looking at code with fresh eyes.
My mother's often said how sitting with a puzzle for an hour before bed helps her unwind; the simple act of sifting through misshapen cardboard and slotting them together leaves her in a better head space for work the next day.
My sister enjoys adding to her sketchbook outside of work. In fact, she's produced some incredible drawings of comic book characters and local wildlife on account of her dedication to it.
Even my father, a paramedic, finds time to play his Xbox outside of twelve hour shifts and career development training.
However, none of them are programmers. Is it simply a burden of the business? Should we not have pursued programming if we didn't want to be doing it all the time? Are we allowed to have interests outside of our technological bubble?
For the record: personal and professional development, I believe, is absolutely crucial to anybody looking to develop their career. Even now, I'm swapping the HDMI cable on my monitor so I can make some progress with my Raspberry Pi.
However, equally, as somebody about to enter the workforce, I do worry about the culture being developed that might be off putting to new developers or ultimately lead to exhausted, less-efficient programmers.
This post has posed more questions than answer, purely because I do not have any. Being a year away from graduating university, I'm not sure I've got enough experience in the world of work to try and suggest solutions - yet.
However, I've had enough of a taste of employment to know that these are questions I want answered.
Employers and employees: what do you think? I'd love to know how you work - and how you stop.