We are Principled: 7th Edition

We are Principled: 7th Edition

Steve Kim

April 16, 2013

We work at a sustainable pace.
We do not burn out. —from the 8th Light Principles of Steadily Adding Value

At 8th Light, we devote ourselves to crafting durable software for our clients. It is important that we give our full, undivided attention to our work and focus on the needs of the client during the entire life of a project.

We work at a sustainable pace

Software is a craft of unique problems. As practitioners, we are constantly inventing solutions which require us to tread into the unknown. Constantly operating in this uncertainty is difficult and requires constant engagement to build up the contexts necessary.

When we expend our attentional resources[1] by working long hours, we can no longer think clearly about the problem in front of us. Our brains switch from peripheral to tunnel. We make bad decisions and implement wrong, corner-cutting solutions. By setting a sustainable pace, we commit ourselves to using the hours of the day efficiently and effectively. Working at a pace within our capacity for attention allows us to deliver quality features iteration after iteration.

We do not burn out

We live by the code of endurance. We do not sprint to the finish line[2]. We know projects are like marathons. If we overwork ourselves, our minds become fatigued and we write sloppy code. It takes more time and effort the next day to rewrite or refactor the mess we created from the night before.

I remember being on a project where we were asked to work overtime to meet an impossible deadline. At the time, however, I thought to myself, “OK, this shouldn’t be too bad. It’s only for one month. I can do this.” For the entire month, I put in anywhere from 10 to 16 hours each day. Not surprisingly, we didn’t meet the deadline and I was completely exhausted. The following months, my body and mind were in recovery mode. I was writing terrible code. I skipped refactoring opportunities, skipped on some tests and adopted an I-don’t-care attitude. I put in my regular hours and left for the day not ever thinking about work.

Marathon runners know the importance of staying within their pace. There is high risk when sprinting at any moment during the race. It can jeopardize results and do bodily harm. In much the same way, we understand sprinting can produce negative effects. It’s a short-term reward with long-term negative consequences. Slow and steady wins the race.

We deliver value to our clients while maintaining a 36 hour work week. We set aside Friday afternoons for fun, open source projects. This gives us an opportunity to learn something new outside of client projects. We also get to pair with others that we do not normally pair with.

This is not to say we are perfect. There are situations where we need to work on Friday afternoons, even nights and weekends. But this is not the norm. We strive to maintain a sustainable pace.

As software crafters, we uphold our belief that overworking leads to bad code and wasted time. We make the most of our eight hour burns[3]. We are endurance runners. We’re in it to succeed. But we realize that to succeed, we must craft our code at a sustainable pace.

We at 8th Light are principled; and this is one of the principles we follow.

[1] From the book, Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware. We're not out of time, but out of attention.

[2] Scrum uses the word "sprint" to represent duration. But how can we keep sprinting all the time, week after week? We like to use the term “iteration” instead of “sprint” for this very reason.

[3] Uncle Bob renamed Extreme Programming's 40-hour week to 8-hour burn.