🎶 Summertime and the working is constant

Happy June! The weather here in Philly has been perfect the past couple of days, and in between washing chalk off my driveway and buying watermelon every single day, I’ve been thinking about summer.

For as many songs as we Americans have about summer and relaxation, we sure are awful at it. Not as awful as the South Koreans, but there is something in the American work culture that makes us incapable of taking time off for ourselves.

Blame it on American individualism, our Puritan roots, or just plain bad labor laws, we don’t take time off.

And, what’s even worse, we glorify not taking the time off. First, in a WWDC keynote a couple days ago, Tim Cook gave a shout-out to all Apple employees burning the midnight oil.

What were these developers, designers, and other staffers staying late for? A $6,000 computer, an operating system for a tablet, and AirPods and eyeshadow for Memojis:

Of course, Paul Graham took some time to reinforce his idea that everyone in Silicon Valley needs to be working for pittance wages, under grueling conditions, in exchange for a one in a million chance to become Stripe.

I love Stripe since it (full disclosure) integrates with Substack to give me money from subscriptions, but not every company has to be the next Stripe, and even within Stripe, not everyone has to be the next Patrick or John. It’s been proven over and over again that humans need copious, repeated breaks from work in order to be productive.

Of course, most of the YCombinator crowd is not pushing that narrative. In this thread by Austen Allred, the CEO of Lambda School, a startup partially funded by Graham’s YCombinator, writes about how he lived in his car when he came to Silicon Valley. When his car broke, he hustled by scalping tickets. The story ends with him making $1500 and going to Subway as a treat.

He got a lot of laudatory replies with comments about hustle and struggle, and how inspirational it is. But not a lot of discussion about why it’s so hard for someone to make it in Silicon Valley, one of the wealthiest, if not the wealthiest, areas in the country, or what resources are available for the homeless in Silicon Valley, for example. Why these kinds of stories

Finally, this story from Man Repeller (once a fashion blog run by a single blogger in New York, now, predictably, through American grit, hustle, and acid-washed jeans, a media empire), just made me depressed:

What happened to the lunch hour? It’s been a hot topic of debate for at least the last decade. According to 2018 research, over half of Americans feel unable to take a full lunch break. And per a recent Take Back The Lunch Break survey, 20 percent of North American workers worry their bosses will think they’re not hard working if they take regular lunch breaks.

In his seminal book, “Working”, which I highly recommend everyone at least browse through, Studs Terkel talks about the brutality of constantly going to work, regardless of the setting:

This book, being about work, is, by its very nature, about violence — to the spirit as well as to the body. It is about ulcers as well as accidents, about shouting matches as well as fistfights, about nervous breakdowns as well as kicking the dog around. It is, above all (or beneath all), about daily humiliations. To survive the day is triumph enough for the walking wounded among the great many of us.

Work is hard on people, and we need breaks from it to feel human. All of the above mildly horrify me as a person who extremely values a 40-hour work week. Maybe I won’t change the world, make a dent in it, get to design a $6,000 cheese grater,

or create that perfect spreadsheet. But I leave work every day (or at least try) knowing that my brain is full, and I’m done for the day, moving on to thinking about other stuff like my family and the above tweet.

Because, what, really, are we skipping the downtime for? In his essay (and, subsequently book), On Bullshit Jobs, David Graeber posits that some of us, founders of unicorn companies excluded, are just working harder for jobs that don’t necessarily matter to society, but more importantly, to ourselves.

However! There is some hope.

Natalie, the CEO of Wildbit, a company that’s previously written about its experiments with increases in leisure time for employees, is taking an extended vacation this summer:

DHH, the CTO at Basecamp (and the guy with All The Years of Ruby on Rails experience), has also previously talked at length about the damaging harm of overwork culture:

Of course, he has a dog in the game with a book to sell, but it’s refreshing to see at least some people that influence hiring and promotion decisions speaking out.

So, how much longer before we reach complete burnout? Let’s not find out, and together, take that lunch hour, that day at the beach, put those Slack notifications away, and relax, even if for a little bit.

Art: Young Ladies on the Banks of the Seine (Summer), Courbet 1856

What I’m reading is a lot of self-promotional material (sorry)

  1. I wrote a thing on my personal blog about reading to my daughter in Russian

  2. I was interviewed by CIO Dive for a piece related to my blog post on the world running on Java 8

  3. Emily and Jacqueline have released the first chapters of their Manning book on getting into data science and I have a small cameo in the first chapter, basically telling people to strongly reconsider going into data science

  4. This hospital bill for the delivery of twins from 1949 is pretty enlightening/depressing

  5. What does serverless have to do with steak? Find out in Tim’s post.

  6. A good thread with replies about things that inexperienced data scientists do


About the Author

I’m a data scientist in Philadelphia. Most of my free time is spent kid-wrangling, reading, and writing bad tweets. I also have longer opinions on things. Find out more here or follow me on Twitter. This newsletter, including warm takes about data, tech, and everything around those two. It goes out twice-ish a week for free. Paid subscribers get even more warm takes.

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