For me, burnout first came years ago when I was part of a tiny startup fighting to survive. The team was small, the product still bespoke and struggling to find customer scale, and it felt like I slept with one eye open to monitor a blinking terminal window filled with unpredictable behavior. I was trapped in an escape room of my own making, and the only way out was trying to make customers and investors happy by writing even more instant tech debt. I started to resent my coworkers who got to sleep full nights, and I wondered why any of it even mattered, dreaming of starting anew.
SEARCH OPEN JOBS ON THE MUSE! See who’s hiring here, and you can even filter your search by benefits, company size, remote opportunities, and more. Then, sign up for our newsletter and we’ll deliver advice on landing the job right to you.
Today, just acknowledging the notion of burnout for software developers comes with a caveat. Unlike essential workers, risking their own health to serve others, many developers spent lockdown in the same space they did before—hands on the keyboard, waiting for their IDE to start—in relative safety. Claiming coder burnout may also be burdened with survivor’s guilt, feeling like frontline workers have lost or sacrificed so much more.
And it’s true that developers have reasons to consider themselves fortunate: Our profession as a whole has grown, in fact, technology salaries have hit all-time highs, per Dice’s 2022 Tech Salary Report. Software developer salaries jumped by over 8% over the previous year, and web developer salaries jumped by over 21% as companies rushed to move products and services online. Technologists dissatisfied with their salary dropped down to a mere 10%, from a previous year at 30%.
But it’s also undeniable that many in IT and tech are at an emotional and physical breaking point. Developer burnout during COVID-19 is said to be over 80%. And reports of tech resignations are even outpacing healthcare resignations, with surveyed developers pointing to a lack of diversity and unwelcoming company culture contributing to reasons for leaving their job.
Carving out a space in this industry long seemed like it was only earned by staying later and working harder.
Acknowledging that you’re feeling burned out is the first step, but finding the space to address it can also be tricky. In our field, where struggling with imposter syndrome is so incredibly common, making time for yourself to recover from burnout can feel instead like you’re just falling behind. The pressure, real or imagined, to keep taking tickets or to study up on the latest frameworks and tools may make taking a nap feel like a luxury that you cannot afford. For me, after a completely unrelated academic career, carving out a space in this industry long seemed like it was only earned by staying later and working harder.
While I wrestled with burnout at the tiny startup, I ended up getting recruited by one of the biggest companies in the world. Getting an offer felt validating and reassuring, that there was sunlight on the other side of my terminal window. I took a walk with my CEO to let him know, and while we wandered through Greenwich Village popping in and out of guitar stores together, he made his case for sticking with the company. What had felt like an escape room started to feel like a green room—a step toward a much larger stage. With a clearer understanding of our runway and prospects for the future, and a little bit of leeway to sleep in when needed, I decided to stay. I’m glad I did.
But that’s just me. I’m more of a startup guy than a megacorporation guy, and maybe you’re less likely to be impressed when your left-handed CEO rocks a right-handed guitar. A little perspective helps with burnout, whether it’s checking to see where your salary lands, or finding different ways to establish boundaries between work and home. We’re all living through history, and for a world rushing to live online, our skills have never been more valuable. But as developers who spend our time thinking in code, we need to recognize the need to talk about how we’re feeling, too.