Tag Archives: Business

Where are all the UK entrepreneurs?

If all goes well, then by the time this article gets published I will have received my first pay cheque in 6 months. Not because I’ve been unemployed, but because I chose to leave my permanent job for a pre-funding start-up. When I told people I was quitting a steady job to work without salary in the worst downturn since the Second World War, I expected a lot of people to tell me I was being reckless. What I wasn’t expecting from people was incredulity.

I’ve honestly been surprised at the number of people who think it would be impossible for someone like me to forgo six month’s salary. By the time you factor in the reduction in my tax liability, my opportunity cost has been less than the cost of buying a new BMW 1-Series, but if my acquaintances saw me driving a brand new car I doubt they would bat an eyelid. This comparison ignores the fact that shares in a start-up (sometimes) appreciate, while the car costs money to run and depreciates at an alarming rate.

If this attitude is as widespread in the British population as my anecdotal evidence would suggest, this says something slightly alarming: many people think that the best a person can do is to work a steady job and consume the proceeds, and that risk-taking and investment are something for “other people” to do. More worryingly, debt-driven consumption is regarded as perfectly acceptable (nobody would think to ask where I got the money for the 1-series, or whether I could afford it).

Would you hire a programmer who didn’t write code recreationally?

The question came up not so long ago on Reddit as to whether it’s wise to hire a software developer who doesn’t write code in their spare time. I think this is a very interesting debate that illuminates some very important questions that the industry needs to find consensus on, but I think a lot of the debate misses a more important point.

To summarise the debate, the ‘No’ side argues that any developer who doesn’t write software in their spare time is not in it for the love of the craft, but apparently only for money; if a person has to be paid before they’ll consider doing something, their heart obviously isn’t in it. Whether you like it or not, software development is a business where you need your staff to go the extra mile, not work to rule.

On the ‘Yes’ side of the argument, people usually reply that the weekly capacity of a developer is limited, and that down time is important to avoid burnout. There’s a strong argument by analogy to other professions; nobody expects their doctor to treat people in their spare time.

Interesting though these arguments are, the issue of “spare time” is very contentious, and the danger is that the debate generates more heat than light. It’s easy for arguments about what you “should” do with your time off to become charged with an implicit accusation of being lazy or venal. It seems to me that rather than focusing on whether software should take up your spare time, we should ask whether your spare time should be taken up with software.

I’d be worried about hiring a programmer who didn’t do something constructive in their spare time, but it needn’t be programming—I’d go as far as to say that it’s better if it isn’t. Brilliant ideas tend to come from divergent backgrounds. How about hiring a person who spends their spare time learning (or better yet, doing) philosophy (ethics and logic), statistics, music, counselling, history, art and design, architecture, first aid, foreign languages, etc. ?