I always had the idea that the term ‘burnout’ had a pretty standard meaning in software development. I’m sure each developer have their own way of phrasing it but in essence, I was always of the idea that it meant ‘over working leading to exhaustion and lack of motivation’.
I wanted to see what the exact thoughts of my peers was so asked on twitter “what does burnout meant to you?”. I got a list of varied responses:
@tomasmcguinness: Burnout in terms of software development? For me, it means losing the ability to concentrate and focus,combined with mental fatigue
@mbrit: For me, it’s about ending up at a dead end in terms of stimulation/career progress.
@kristofclaes: “I should have kept this as a hobby…” or something like that. Not sure how to put it into words.
@jcmm33: whatever the cause, its a lack of focus/motivation/drive/engagement within an employee when there used to be
@NathanGloyn: burnout = not able to work any more, nervous breakdown, catastrophic event
These are only a few of the responses, but as you can see the vary a lot. The reason I asked this question is that whilst on a trip to San Francisco recently, I was able to catch a company organised talk from Jay Parikh, the VP of Infrastructure at Facebook. I don’t need to tell you who Facebook are therefore you can imagine I was very interested to hear his thoughts on the subject. Whilst talking to us, Jay spoke about Facebook hack-a-thons. Basically their entire team (product owners, devs, IT guys etc.) get together on a night of the week in the Facebook campus and work on something they don’t normally work on.
One of our developers asked the question, “how do your devs avoid burnout when approaching hack-a-thons in the middle of a work week?”. Jay discussed that development at Facebook wasn’t a strict 9 – 5 culture and that developers would work the hours that they felt quite at home with. He said the developers at Facebook don’t suffer burnout as “burnout is loosing interest in a project or piece of work” and their developers work for a maximum of 12 months in a team before moving to another.
I can see Jay’s point but I don’t feel that working too much and losing interest on a project are mutually exclusive. I think if you work too much then you can become bogged down in feeling a bit frustrated in your work. This can create boredom and make you lose interest and (or) focus. This is where I think burnout creeps in. This is what we need to make sure we avoid when we plan work. I usually associate burnout with long waterfall projects.