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gwen
gwenix
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April 2011
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gwen [userpic]
Hmm.

I have to admit that stuff like mandatory overtime is a part of why I want to remain sequestered in Academia for the rest of my life, but I also wonder what some of the consequences of these suits will be. See, I always sort of expected that eventually the industry would calm down on forcing people into crunch times, because eventually you do run out of people willing to live that way; I didn't expect there to be a great sudden legal blow to the practices. I suppose I should have seen that coming.

Anyway, I see potential side effects of this, precisely because it was a sudden legal blow, one of the big ones being less flextime for the tech industry. Hours would have to be more regulated to make sure that workers aren't in a position to sue for uncompensated overtime work, which means that many of the workers who come in lackadasically, then working until whenever, will have to stop.

And given my experience, this is a fairly common phenomenon in certain quarters of the industry, and has spawned a culture of habits set up around this sort of working life. How long before the culture built upon this lifestyle is then lost? Is this really bad as well? I always thought it brought employees together a lot more readily than any "Company Group Building Retreats" could do, but it also meant workers ate all of their meals with their coworkers more than their spouses and families (in one extreme case in my experience, one guy lived in his cubicle 4 days a week, and saw his wife and two kids only on the weekends... if then).

I dunno. Less hours enforced on people is good, I freely admit that. I'm not sure that a forced upheaval sort of change won't completely change the industry too suddenly though.

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Comments

one guy lived in his cubicle 4 days a week, and saw his wife and two kids only on the weekends... if then
Maybe he didn't want to go home?

Well, from my end, here in Silicon Valley, I don't see companies being worried about this one too much. Mainly because EA doesn't actually work the same way as most of the engineering companies out here. The differences may seem minor, but they amount to a huge difference over whether people would sue or not.

First, EA made overtime a requirement. While it may seem like a requirement at most jobs out here, overtime is not officially required by most (non-startup) companies in Silicon Valley. It's understood if you need to take time off to see family and the like.

Second, most companies that expect you to work insane hours also let you work most of the extra hours from home, these days. From what I've heard from EA folk, I don't think that was the case there.

Third, and probably the most influential factor - EA pays programmers less than any other major company in the Valley. They get away with it because the people who work there _really, really_ want to work on computer games, so they take the lesser pay to work in that industry. In other words, EA is basically exploiting the programmers' love of gaming. So EA programmers don't earn the same pay as most Silicon Valley programmers do. Most of the folk in the Valley are willing to work insane hours because they feel there will be compensation for it, whether it is via higher salaries, or through stock (startups, obviously, go the stock route). Take away what amounts to extra pay for extra work, and it's no wonder that the EA programmers eventually got fed up with it.

Finally, from reading the article linked, most of the positions they're talking about do _not_ qualify for "exempt" status from California's overtime laws. Unlike every single Engineering position in the Valley.

I could be wrong - this may yet have a big impact. But considering how most of the people out here genuinely are working extra hours voluntarily, I doubt it will really have much of an impact on software engineering firms, anyway.

I think this assessment is spot-on.

Game companies have always been known to be sweatshops (and EA has long been the worst offender). "Don't like it? There's a line of people out the door who'd love to take your place." I'm glad to see it's changing, and within the game sector I think it may have the ripple effect Gwen describes, but that sector has always been an anomaly.

I'd also like to disagree with Gwen's assessment that "they'd eventually run out of people willing to do it." The problem with that logic is that the institutions of higher-education are churning more out every year. Even with the dramatic downturn in enrollment in CS programs [most of which are "Programming" degrees, and their graduates wouldn't know real "computer science" if it bit them in the ass!] there will always be bright-eyed, idealistic folks who haven't been ground down, and who are still starry-eyed at the prospect of someone paying them to do something they love.

I know I was one. And I was thoroughly taken advantage of. In the end, my situation worked out VERY well for me, but not everyone has my luck. And it was pretty much sheer luck that GALT landed me in California during the boom.

"Even with the dramatic downturn in enrollment in CS programs [most of which are "Programming" degrees, and their graduates wouldn't know real "computer science" if it bit them in the ass!]"

Ain't that the truth. While a bit different from the "computer science" vs "programmer" distinction, there's also a "programmer" vs "software engineer" distinction. I'll just note that I very deliberately wrote "programmers" with regards to EA, rather than "software engineers"...

Most of the companies I know of who tend to practice mandatory overtime (10-12/hrs a week for 6-7 days and PTO isn't allowed) are already really strictly regulated. They have "core" hours that they're required to be present for, some of them are 10-4, some are 9-4.