I don’t understand the 9-to-5

No, this isn’t another post about taking that step out of the corporate world’s 9-to-5 routine and venturing out on your own. (Though that would make for an interesting future post). This post is more of me asking a question of the development community – PHP or otherwise – to help clear up something in my mind. Let me set the stage…

I’ve been developing PHP for….well, let’s just say a long time now and in that time I’ve come to appreciate the quirks of the language and have had a real hunger to find out more about it. It’s a constant friend in my day to day life. I have multple side projects going that use it (PHPDeveloper.org and Joind.in), so PHP is a huge part of my life. Along with this comes the community, a constant stream of new information and people I can sincerely call friends even though we’ve only met a handful of times. It’s the language that brings us together.

Now, back on my wheel again – what I don’t understand is this completely foreign concept of people that just do this as a 9-to-5 job. They come and sit at their workstation and write their code then, at the end of the day, they switch it off and go do something else. I see them writing their code (yes, some of it’s pretty bad) and I wonder how they can’t have that drive to constantly better themselves by doing more than just pushing buttons and earning a paycheck.

So, dear internets, if you could help me out on this – I’d really like to understand the mindset of these folks. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in their shoes and I’d really like a glimpse inside their heads.

Some comments from IRC and Twitter so far:

  • jbafford: they’re people who think they can make good money programming, as opposed to, people who program to solve problems
  • pierrejoye: usually having other time consuming activities don’t allow one to do more. The few doing nothing but 9-5 are social cases


  1. Well, I can understand the mentality sometimes. I know that sometimes I don’t necessarily feel like coding after a full day’s work. I do have several side projects that I work on, however. For some, it is unfortunately just a job, a skill that they possess but do not like to pursue outside of a working environment. To me, that’s okay as long as performance in the workplace doesn’t suffer. It’s hard for it not to, however, due to the nature of our careers: It’s a constant learning experience that needs an auto-didactic nature in order to fully understand and enjoy.


  2. The reason you are confused is that you see 2 kind of programmers: those who do their job to get paid, and those are passionate about their job. I’m affraid you will never understand the 9-to-5 people, and the 9-to-5’ers will never understand you (or me). Most people have a passion about something which they will call a hobby. Some of them do photography, others make music and others collect stamps. They can AND WILL talk for hours and hours about their favorite subject, just like we do about PHP. My girlfriend honestly does not understand that after a long working day I can sit behind a computer doing the same thing as I do at my work and it’s hard to explain the difference, beause quite frankly, maybe there is no difference. They are just projects, some of them more fun than others..

    I guess we are just lucky enough to get paid for something we consider a hobby 🙂


  3. I work 9-5 but try to do code out of office hours. It’s difficult when I have a wife and daughter though. Thankfully our office encourages us to learn while at work and do problem solving, using initiative and stuff rather than just “do this” and “fix this”. We’re all learning from each other and it’s a great environment. In fact all of us do coding/geeky stuff out of hours that help us better ourselves at our 9-5 jobs.


  4. I understand the 9-5 work day and leaving it at work sometimes. This does not mean that the learning needs to end there. As programmers I believe that we are constantly tinkering. The ones that I do not understand are the ones that do not want to learn or grow.

    I believe PHP to be not only my career but as part of my professionalism and an obligation to be part of the growing community to help educate our counterparts. The 9-5 can be a great opportunity as a manager to help grow people from within the organization, to push them towards certification and training and really to teach them fundamentals that they may be missing. They are all part of the “job”.

    For us that live and breath it passionately – we simply cannot stop at 9-5 but have to continue to find new ways to innovate, to solve problems in our communities, to give something back that we have received freely. Not everyone is in this same mantra or state of mind. Just my 2 cents.


  5. I didn’t think I would ever understand the 9 – 5 thing either, but the older I get and the more responsibilities I have outside of work, it seems like that is the only time I get to sit down in front of my computer and really think long enough to program anything decent. I’m still pretty passionate about programming, and fortunately my job allows me to take the time to learn new technologies and techniques, but between a wife, two school aged kids, and church I don’t have much time for after hours work anymore.


  6. Unfortunately, programming is not the only professional career where this phenomenon is found. I found it when I was in the military, in nuclear power, in management, and saw it in many grades in school and in college, where some teachers or professors were truly engaged (and engaging), while others were detached, living only for the weekend.

    In a better world more people would follow their calling and do what they enjoy, what inspires them. In our world (notice I don’t call it “the real world”), most people are conditioned to think that a career is only about personal economics, a means to an end, an obligation.

    For my part, even when I’ve been in crappy jobs, I’ve tried to open up the scope, move the boundaries, or have run a sideline that gave me a more creative outlet. I have to be solving problems or my brain starts to shrink and rattle around in my head.


  7. I understand the situation fine, since I’ve been on both sides of the fence, and actually have hopped it several times by now.

    When you are programming a project that is engaging and forces you to learn new and interesting things of course it is easy to come home and be still on fire and full of zest to hack away more at the thing you love. I’ve been there.

    And then there are those soul crushing projects that you have to work day in and day out on and that give you NOTHING new to do, because you just have to grind out the code to make it work. Worse even, if you have a horrible deadline. During these days I’ve gone home and thought “If I see another line of code today, I’ll have to smash my keyboard on someones head!”

    If you never had to work in an environment on a project that just made you think “Oh good lord, let it end” I envy you very much.


  8. I don’t work 9-5, but I have three kids and after work it’s extremely busy around the house. Dinner, activities, homework, baths, books, quiet time, and then finally some time to watch a little TV, hang out with my wife, and try to read, pay bills, organize/clean the house. Many times “shutting it off” is the only way that I can focus on the rest of my life outside of work/PHP.

    I do understand the “can’t turn it off” mentality though, and sometimes when I’m deep in a problem it bugs me day and night until I can figure it out.

    The best thing is when you work for an amazing company that you totally love — then I’m driven 24/7 to do better 🙂 And that’s exactly where I am in my life right now.


  9. I work 9-5, but it’s because that is the hours my boss & co-workers work. If I were my own boss, I would have worked whenever I could fit it in. 9-5 is the job I need to get the money, and satisfy the company I work for. I program PHP in my freetime too, and hopefully I’ll make something one day that generates an income. Then I can stop working 9-5 and work on my own time at my own projects. The dream differs from reality, and not all people live their dreams jobwise…


  10. We’ve been having trouble with this lately, but it goes beyond the 9-5. There are a lot of programmers who can’t really program. We have a coding test in our hiring process. And we’ve been having a lot of trouble with senior programmers who can’t do it. They can’t be given a task and an hour and sit down and program something. It’s craziness.
    But I’m another one of those people who program for fun. I’m married, have two daughters, a theater company, and am politically active, and I still find time for it. I just have to. I don’t seem to have an ability to do otherwise.


  11. Two words:

    1. age. You have wife, children, dog. And a lot of other stuff to do. All more important than finishing your hobby project right for tonight (when you grow up you realize that you’re not a rockstar anyway, and the world will not miss you)

    2. wear. After many years of having to deal with the same problems again and again, both on technical level and on a communication/management level, the fun is gone

    That’s of course for old farts like me. People that are coders without a passion for coding in the first place should simply change job, just as in any other profession


  12. I, like, others who’ve commented find life can be too busy after work to find much time to code outside the office (Particularly with a 1-month old at home!). It can be really hard to find time to explore or work on side projects, although really it just takes a little effort, like choosing to go program or blog instead of channel surfing.

    I find that having a job that I really enjoy keeps me learning and trying out new things. At my previous job, the more interesting things I learned/built were primarily outside of work.

    I think there really are 2 kinds of 9-to-5 workers. Those who strictly see it as a paycheck and can tune out when they leave the office, and others who have responsibilities and interets that also take time.


  13. I think your confusing hobby with work. We do coding cause we enjoy it. We have a level of problem solving addiction we need forfilled. Thankfully, we just so happen to get jobs to help fill/fule this addiction. Does that mean I don’t live 9-5? No. 9-5 is my work focus. I focus on what my employer needs: thier projects; thier deadlines. After that, it’s *my* time. That’s when I do think I want–how I want.
    (some employers give you that freedom at work, blurring 9-5 the other direction)

    Now, a few of us are lucky enough to not only have jobs doing our programming passion, but also doing what we would be doing in our offtime anyway. This blurs the line with 9-5. For you, it would be like being sponsored to do just Joind.in. But for the time being, you work 9-5, and focus on Joind.in outside of that.

    In short, don’t confuse our tools with our jobs. Just because we have hammers, and use them for work, doesn’t mean they’re just 9-5.


  14. Hi

    I can understand where you are coming from, I think people should need some thing which will give them good update for the day. And that’s the reason I have created this website ThechnoBits.net (http://www.technobits.net). Which allows software developers like us to remain updated and always have that zeal to learn and create something new….


  15. It is as simple as this: If you don’t have the curiosity/passion for developing, where you feel compelled to tinker and learn new things other than from 9-5, then you are most likely not a good developer.

    Money is great and all, but the really good developers, the ones that actually contribute to the community, don’t do it for the money. They do it to help the greater good. They do it to better themselves.

    Many times it has been 2am (or later) and I will be relaxing after coding for 12 hours or so, then have an idea, or a question about something. I then pull out the laptop to figure it out. I do this because I am care, not because I have too. I have answered support questions at 4 in the morning, not because I have too, because I genually care about the code I write.

    Don’t think that really answered any question of how the 9 – 5er’s can do that, because, well, I don’t understand it. If you don’t care enough to better yourself, just find another profession.


  16. Personally I’m passionate about PHP and the web etc, but there is another part of my life that I’m just as passionate about, and takes up all of my not-9-to-5 time: my family.

    I go home at the end of the day and neglect the community because, unlike my wife and kids, work and the community will still be there if I don’t pay any attention to it for a month.

    Trust me, I’d really like to be able to work 60 hours a week and then come home and contribute 40 more hours to the community, then spend another 10 honing my PHP-fu on abstract problems. If I could I’d be a rockstar by now.

    You make choices in life.

    My .02 internets


  17. I’ll chime in since I think my case is a little different than others I’m reading about here. I work full time as a PHP programmer and I enjoy (most of) it very much and do what I can to get better and better. I find that I’m happy spending 35-45 hours a week programming and reading about programming. It’s not just a job – it’s a real interest.

    However, I also have other things I’m interested in. My “free time” generally gets spent pursuing these other interests. If I didn’t have these other interests/hobbies, I’d probably spend a great deal more time programming. If I did something else for a living, I’d probably spend a good bit of my free time programming.

    A lot of the responses I’ve read here seem to break people down into these groups: “Passionate about Programming”, “It’s Just a Job/Interested in Something Else”, “Interested but Has No Free Time”. So here’s another group: “Interested in Programming and Other Things”.


  18. People who work purely for a paycheck make the world go round. You couldn’t indulge your passion for programming without the assembly line workers who assembled your hardware, the van driver who brought it to your house, the seamstresses who made your clothes, the guy who delivered the pizza you just ate

    Be thankful for your privileged life, and don’t presume to look down on the people who make it possible


  19. Cormac,

    Yes, thos people do make the world go round. However, the jobs you mentioned are mostly jobs that you ONLY need to do 9-5. Has anyone ever practiced delivering pizza in their free time?

    Being a developer is different than most jobs. Most jobs you can do your job, go home, and be done. However, developers have to constantly hone their skills, or some younger guy who knows more will come along and take your job.


  20. Dan, if you’re making dumb comments like calling people bad developers because they have a life outside of coding that they enjoy and want to spend time doing, it’s as simple as this: you simply don’t have the capacity to understand the 9-5’er.

    Staying up till 2am isn’t a prerequisite for writing good code or being a good developer, I’ve seen plenty of non-functional, terrible code from people who code round the clock.

    Just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean you’re good at it.


  21. If you truly had an interest in bettering yourself instead of dick-waving and making yourself feel superior to co-workers you wouldn’t be using PHP.


  22. Well, Not to complicate matters, but I think that there is also a ‘3rd classification’ here. There are people who have numerous other hobbies, families, commitments, etc … who do want to do their ‘8 hours’ and be able to walk away and spend time elsewhere.

    But, they can still be very passionate and committed to their language, to their community. They may do some of that during their working hours. Or they may still engage in their off hours, but not sit down and attempt to ‘just code’ for 4 more hours a day. I guess this falls very similar to Scott Saunders statements above. One’s passion can’t be measured in the hours they spend on something, especially if there are so many things in life to be passionate about.

    It also starts to play back into the ‘hours’ versus ‘quality’ comment. An oft-quoted statement (in various forms) is that a ‘top’ programmer can be 10 times more efficient than an average one. That can often come with extra burn out capability as well though. But it also means that someone could spend more time engaging, while working, and still be more efficient, than someone who ends up doing it for 12 hours a day.

    But anyway, I digress. I’ll circle back to Scott’s comment. There are many things in life to be passionate about. Some people focus that passion into a single outlet. Others feel the need to be a Renaissance man, and to spread their passion across numerous outlets. And unfortunately, there just isn’t enough time in the day for all of them.


  23. Something tells me you do not have a spouse and kids. If you’re 25 and single of course you have time to work all day, then come home and continue your programming side projects.

    Perhaps a better question is why most employers don’t have a work environment that encourages the professional growth in their programming staff while they are at work. This way people wouldn’t feel like they have to choose between being good programmers and being good parents, or having a hobby, or having friends, or having side projects that (gasp!) don’t involve programming.


  24. Ugh, several arguments here…

    First argument is the excuse that people who only do 9-5 are too busy.

    Too busy? I call bologna.

    Let’s put things in perspective.

    I’m the wife. That means laundry, dishes, ironing, cooking, cleaning, driving kids for an hour every night to activities and shopping (not necessarily in that order). I work full time — yes I telecommute but that doesn’t mean I work any less (in fact it means I tend to work TOO much). My husband works full time so I don’t have a “house husband”. I have four kids (yes, count them, four) a golden retriever big enough to ride and two cats.

    And yet I still do not do 9-5 programming. Nor do I neglect the menagerie in my house. Instead I cut out other things – like TV.

    You have time for whatever you find time for, you can claim it’s “too busy” but the bottom line is you do what you love and make time for what is important to you.
    If you love programming doesn’t matter if you do it during the day or not. If you love TV and football, that’s what you make time for.

    Now for the tangent – just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean you’re good at it. This is true.

    But how DO you improve something? You practice. And let me tell you something, natural talent is only 10% of any skill, the other 90% is hard work. That means doing it. A lot.

    You get good at programming if you work at it. Doesn’t matter if you program PHP, C, C#, python, lua (I do all those) or lisp and COBOL for goodness sake. Being a good programmer is not linked to lanuage or to passion for that matter. But there IS a correlation because if you are doing a lot of programming, especially open source peer reviewed programming, you WILL get better!

    No, being a 9-5 programmer doesn’t make you a bad programmer. But only doing 9-5 means you’re not getting any additional time to learn and improve.

    As for John S. – well personally I’m incapable of the skill you mentioned, it would be mighty strange if it were possible, and it sounds to me like you’re making snap decisions over someone because they are very active in the PHP community. Most people don’t have the time or interest to be involved in EVERY language community or learn every programming language. I’m always happy with someone willing to be involved in ANY community (something that seems to coincide with both skill and passion) – and considering you’re not even brave enough to post your own name or claim your own involvement in any community – go troll somewhere else.


  25. As many others have already stated, people are different. It’s great for you and your company that you can obsess about one narrow area of focus for most of the day every day. Not everyone is like you. There are plenty of great developers out there who work 9-5 and are passionate about their work and then have other interests and passions outside of work hours. They may never be as knowledgeable about PHP as you are, but they probably know a lot more about other things than you do.

    Hopefully they don’t spend too much time wondering what’s wrong with people like you, and instead focus on making their lives better. I hope you can do the same. It’s pointless to worry about why other people are different than you. Accept it, embrace it, feel happy for them as you obviously feel happy for your own quirks.


  26. As someone who has been doing software development for 15 years, I’ll chime in for the more 9-5 people out there. Personally, I still love software development, working on cool problems, building better software and sharing my knowledge with others. But I also generally work 9-5 (actually more 10-6).

    Earlier in my career I did the work all the time thing. 60, 80, even the occasional 100 hour weeks, also spending much of my non work time in front of a computer either doing more work or learning something new.

    So what’s changed? I don’t think I’m burned out. I still love software work. I just found that I love other things too. Getting married, having a child, owning a home, and developing other hobbies including creative outlets like playing music and building models (something I loved when I was younger but then lost track of when I got super involved in software). I think I am a lot happier now than I was 10-15 years ago. Having balance in life has helped, and also making room in my life for other people (wife/son).

    If software is your whole life now, I think that’s cool. I’ve been there, met a lot of people who are still good friends now, learned a lot, and built some cool software. I still have that. But, if you start to feel the pull of other interests in your life, or wonder where the old interest went, don’t be afraid to carve out some time for it. Your company or side project won’t fall apart if you decide to go home early or take a weekend off and you may find you are personally better off too.


  27. I’ll be honest and say I am a bit sick of people who denigrate those of us who don’t spend our every waking minute coding. I’m a 9 to 5 programmer unless there is a deadline or my employer really needs more of my time. I have been doing so for nearly 11 years now and I’m very good at my job. Why do I work 9 to 5? I have a wife who works in the medical field and I’d like to spend time with her because both of our schedules are packed. I have a home that needs to be maintained. I own rental properties which have tenants who I need to keep happy. I enjoy traveling, biking, going to sporting events and actually living because one day we are all going to be dead and I’d like to die knowing I wasn’t attached to an electronic device my entire life. I’ve got bad news for you, unless you create a project that is the Egyptian pyramids of software all the work you’ve done will eventually be replaced by something newer and better. Does this mean that I do a poor job during the 8 hours I am working? No, I do an excellent job and push out high quality well thought out code with documentation much faster than my peers. Does this mean I don’t have side projects? Not at all, I spend some time hacking embedded linux on Atmel microcontrollers, trying my hand at android development and keeping up with the latest news on tools I have already taken the time to learn, but I’m no longer single and I have other responsibilities.


  28. “or some younger guy who knows more will come along and take your job.” oh yes that’s what I thought about my future when I was younger but now I am past 36 and I know this to be poppycock. A youngster will not have the experience, the vision, the world view to take a senior’s job. Of course I did not stop learning (nor contributing to an open source community) but I am not afraid of youngsters anymore.


  29. Some people do their 9-5 just to be able to pay the bills. Their spirit isnt in their job. These people often have many side projects – they run home to work on their side projects. Others just dont enjoy it, or have other priorities.

    Then there are people how really believe in the company they work for – they often go home and do more work for the same company – these people usually have stock or options in the company – if the company wins they win.

    Then there are those who are – lets just say, not the smartest cookies – who work their ass of then whole life to make someone else rich. These are the ones that work well beyond 9-5, but have no stake in the company.


  30. Hi Chris,

    I always feel a bit sad reading posts like this. I’m not sure with this quote:

    .What I don’t understand is this completely foreign concept of people that just do this as a 9-to-5 job. They come and sit at their workstation and write their code then, at the end of the day, they switch it off and go do something else.”

    you are trying to make which of the following points:

    Programmers need to work longer hours than a 9-5
    Programmers should code in their preferred language on their off time
    Programmers should devote their entire spirit to their (corporate) work
    Programmers should be looking for ways to better themselves

    If the latter, then fine–everyone should be looking to improve their skills and themselves. But, I suspect it’s more the first three.

    Why? Have you been drinking the corporate kool-aid? Do you want to be a wage-slave, toiling countless hours for a salary? Do you want to give up your right to a life outside your job, to other interests, to social or intellectual pursuits, all for doing more PHP and more work?

    As developers, we need to encourage other developers to lobby for better worker’s rights. Pro-corporate sentiment is unjustified given the predatory at-will working relationships in the US.


  31. The point of view that someone is better because they program outside of work is just prejudice.

    If you program 7 or 8 hours a day that is more than enough to be a great programmer. It depends more on which of the time you actually use to code or the time you spend reading blogs or going to twitter at during those hours.

    So be free to feel superior, but I do have a college degree, and my code is actually published and benchmarked as the best of the world in my area. (now I also develop web, be afraid)

    And I work from 9-5. But I really work during that time.


  32. As many mentioned already, once you got a family it all changes. Its the real life thats more important than hobbies (or a job).

    Those 24/7 developers are often not the better devs, rather the opposite, as they tend to rush through their work and often aren’t able to gain a greater vision, as they’re just too focused on the small details.
    Passion is a two-sided sword.


  33. The rebuttal to this post is very simple:

    1) PHP is wonderful and I spend a fair percentage of my work time trying to become a better PHP developer, however…

    2) Though perhaps shocking for some to hear, there are more important things in life than PHP or even the internet in general.

    3) It is healthy to have a home/family life, spiritual life, friends, and *gasp* other interests and hobbies. These all tend to develop a more well rounded and better adjusted person, and perhaps even add skills that would make one a better developer.

    During the time I choose to spend every day as a developer, I am committed to learning more about PHP and getting better at writing it and solving problems with it. However, PHP is not my entire life and I wouldn’t want it to be.

    When its all said and done and the measure of my life is taken, I hope I have more to say for my time here on earth than I spent every waking moment trying to be a PHP hero.

    Bottom line is that one’s profession is just one part of the whole person, and bettering one’s self can take a lot of forms other than improving one’s PHP skills/knowledge.

    1 John 2:15-17


  34. Every comment referring to working longer than 9-5 completely misses the point. I also think everyone who suggests Chris is advocating for working on code all the time are being obtuse. Finally, I think both these types of people see themselves in what he mentions: people that don’t “have that drive to constantly better themselves by doing more than just pushing buttons and earning a paycheck.”


  35. Well, I am not exactly a 9-5-er but more a 10-6:30-er (I am legally forced to have 30 minutes lunch) … I am new to the corporate world, fresh out of university, and I have to say that I am not so much a fan of having to work from A to B, but I very well like to enjoy the many-folding range of activities you can enjoy while exactly sitting NOT in front of a monitor. I am totally with the tenor here that you have to improve … but for chists sake not b/c of a client or employer, but just for the sake of me, b/c programming is a HUGE pain in the ass when you don’t know what you are doing … OTOH it’s smooth as (think of your prferred smooth something here … and I hope for you it’s not computer-related) … also I have to say that it seems like sitting in front of a computer is weakening a mans mind and passion … starting to salivate and laugh nervously b/c you hacked the most “beautiful” code ever does not count as passion, I am sorry. Also if you ask me, I know you won’t, but gonna tell you anyway, 8 hours concentrated work is more than enough to take some time working AND improving, I always take an hour or more off to just read something dev-related. But I am sorry, life has so much more to offer than that … making a dead machine do something that eventually looks nice and can be sold afterwards :-/


  36. I have a typical “9-5” developer job, I do however continue my personal projects after work but you have to understand these “personal” projects are basically for me to better myself not to make any money. So after 8 hours of racking my brain to solve problems at work I really just love to go home and relax and not have to worry about PHP. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad developer or lazy it’s just after dealing with people coming at you with changes every hour and constantly having people tell you to just “make it work” it gets frustrating and irritating so I personally like to leave my php self at work.


  37. I love coding/problem solving, but have other responsibilities to my church and family (5 children). I wish I could spend my day working on projects that could directly effect the ministry as I have a passion for youth and missions, but as it stands it’s hard to find that type of job. If I could I’m sure I would spend more time coding in my private life. I certainly desire it.



  38. Please try to understand ‘foreign concept’ getting yourself in their place! Instead of ‘coding whole day’ you wrote this article! Why? It seems ‘foreign’ to me as people like you ‘wasting’ their time writing these articles instead of ‘coding’ outside 8 hrs.
    What other people think of the 9-5 people is none of 9-5’ers business. Every people has their own individual set of life styles. Please try to accept this. Please don’t ‘waste’ your valuable ‘coding time’ thinking about them.
    All the best wishes.
    Let be open, Life will be easier – Goutam Budhdha.


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