Take the 2-minute tour ×
Programmers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I'm a dev at one of the big-name tech companies. I like the job for many reasons:

  • I do interesting work on a cool product
  • I solve challenging problems and use a lot of high-level skills (quantitative, creative, writing, presenting)
  • It pays well

The problem is that I feel I need a more relaxed atmosphere (shorter hours, less performance pressure, and more flexibility), in order to free up time for other pursuits and reduce stress. The ideal would be a job that's around 30-35 hours a week, where there is flexibility to work more or less in a given week. Can anyone suggest where to look for a job like this, where I wouldn't have to sacrifice too much on the above points? (Obviously I would have to sacrifice pay.) My employer does not generally offer part-time employment.

The closest thing I can think of is when I did summer internships at my university's CS department. The work was very intellectually challenging, but if I needed to go home a couple hours early or get flexibility on a due date, nobody batted an eyelash. However, I'd like to find out if there are alternatives to academia since from what I've seen the pay there is a gigantic drop from what I'm currently making.

I've done freelance development before, but I do like that as an employee of a large company I have a lot of things taken care of for me (e.g. benefits and guaranteed stable employment).

share|improve this question
5  
Are you really looking for flexibility in working hours or just a reduction in amount working hours? a small but important distinction. –  tehnyit Aug 30 '11 at 6:54
2  
@tehnyit: I consider "shorter hours, less performance pressure, and more flexibility" pretty clear, actually. –  sbi Aug 30 '11 at 7:28
    
Have you asked about reducing hours at your current employer? If you feel you're generally valuable to the company then you're more likely to get this sort of arrangement with people who already value your skills. Someone has to be the first part-time employee, the first telecommuter, etc. –  Steve Jackson Aug 30 '11 at 11:40
2  
Be aware that in the US most employers will not provide benefits for part timers. If you're doing 30-35 hours, you might be better off just stepping up to 40 hours for the benefits of 401k, group health, etc. –  Uri Aug 30 '11 at 20:01
    
You might also check whether they support job sharing. I know I've heard of people doing that at Microsoft. The downside is that you also get 1/2 benefits. –  SnoopDougieDoug Aug 30 '11 at 22:32
add comment

closed as off-topic by gnat, MichaelT, user16764, Bart van Ingen Schenau, GlenH7 Oct 24 '13 at 18:05

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Questions seeking career or education advice are off topic on Programmers. They are only meaningful to the asker and do not generate lasting value for the broader programming community. Furthermore, in most cases, any answer is going to be a subjective opinion that may not take into account all the nuances of a (your) particular circumstance." – user16764, Bart van Ingen Schenau, GlenH7
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

10 Answers

up vote 77 down vote accepted

I'm doing 30hrs/week jobs for more than a decade now. In my experience you will not find a niche in the industry where part-time jobs are waiting for you to grab one. Instead, you will have to carve such a job out of the common job market. That's not easy, because many only bargain for money when they interview, so companies are not used to employers wanting to work less, but it's not impossible.

I have found the following important when looking for a part-time job:

  • Be good at what you do. When you are good, they will want you, and are prepared to pay for it. Some candidates will want more money, some will want more holidays, a few will want fewer working hours.
  • In an interview, explicitly ask about a company's overtime policy. Is overtime something normal at the shop, that's done by everyone regularly? Unpaid? If so, you will be unlikely to really be working less than 40hrs, no matter what contract you sign.
  • If you have the feeling they might be hard to convince to let you work 30hrs, start out offering less (20hrs?) and then let yourself be "persuaded" to work 30hrs. :) I did this with my first part-time job.
  • Don't expect too much pay or other benefits when you first do this. Under these conditions you are closer to a junior job than you used to be. Once you can show excellent references for two or three such jobs over the last decade it will be easier to convince employers that your special needs are worth the hassle.

Once you have such a job, be sure to follow these rules:

  • I usually explain upfront, right in the interview, that I am never working for free. I clock every hour I work for the company, and expect to take leave the same amount of hours for compensation. (I have, twice over more than a decade, accepted money instead. But that was me accepting it, rather than them pressing me to do it.)
  • Do not let them press you into doing more hours without compensation. You might have relinquished other benefits (like money) for doing 30hrs/week. There is no point in relinquishing what you got for that. (The others wouldn't give up that money even if pressed hard, right?)
  • Remind everyone that you only have 75% of the time others have. Make sure that your team leader, when planning resources, remembers that. If they have never worked with such an employee, then this will need constant reminding in the beginning.
  • We all know that in this industry crunch time is a common phenomena. When others work overtime, you might have to do that, too. However, be sure to make it absolutely clear that for you, 40hrs/week already is overtime.
share|improve this answer
4  
How do you find the position in the first place? Do you just interview for a regular position and negotiate reduced hours? –  kubi Aug 30 '11 at 11:30
3  
@kubi: As I wrote, for my first job I made it clear in my application that I applied for 20hrs, even though they were advertising a 40hr job, and let them persuade me to do 30hrs. That was more than ten years ago, and back then here in Germany they hired as C++ programmers everyone who could spell "C". But do not let that stop you. I got the first job I applied to, so in the now worse economy there's still room for applying more often without abandoning the hope of ever getting such a deal. However, I since had interviews where I didn't get an interesting job due to my 30hrs limit. Priorities. –  sbi Aug 30 '11 at 12:19
3  
+1 for not working for free. Working hourly is the way to go. –  GrandmasterB Aug 30 '11 at 20:13
1  
I agree it's good advice but this doesn't actually answer the original question of "Where to look ...". –  Paulo Pinto Aug 30 '11 at 22:25
    
is there possibly a distinction between USA and Europe here? For example in the USA it is EXTREMELY rare to have more than about 1 week of vacation per year, whereas in Europe, I get the impression that triple that (or more) is the norm? –  Jeff Atwood Aug 30 '11 at 23:39
show 5 more comments

Target small businessess. They are the most flexible with hours. A smaller company may more than welcome the opportunity to have access to an experienced developer for a lower cost (paying for fewer hours/wk). How do I know? I've done exactly this a number of times.

The trick is... you gotta ask. You might be suprised at the response. I've known folks who have done this with larger companies too. Of course, not everyone will go for such an arrangement - but do you really want to work for such conventional thinkers?

The downside - dont expect all the perks of full time employment. Depending on where you are, that may mean having to purchase your own insurance, handle your own retirement funds, etc.

share|improve this answer
1  
It's not just a matter of cost, either. A small company may simply not need a full-time developer. –  Dave Sherohman Aug 30 '11 at 10:37
1  
I'd say tyhe opposite: Target big companies. Small companies, especially start-ups have very little redundancy in skills and capabilities. It's very hard for them to compensate for people not being there. Big companies, especially government often have very clear policies and expirience in execuing them. If company polciy supports / allows it you have a very good indicator. –  user12889 Aug 31 '11 at 0:59
    
Small companies dont have 'policies' to begin with. Thats the point. They dont have fixed corporate hiring frameworks that are imposed upon them from above because there's usually only one or two levels of supervision. There are some large companies that will take part timer 'professional' employees, of course. But your chances of being successful in asking for a non-traditional role are better off in a smaller company where the person making the hiring decision is either the owner or one step down, and thus they have a lot of flexibility/authority. –  GrandmasterB Sep 1 '11 at 18:34
    
@user: As a data point, I have never worked in a company that had more than three dozen developers. OTOH, I have never even tried (mainly for other reasons) to apply for a part-time job at a big company. –  sbi Sep 9 '11 at 8:15
add comment

The kind of job you are looking for doesn't automatically exist in North America, in the software field. It's so exceedingly rare (assuming you're not willing to give up work quality, too), that your chances for finding it pre-defined are best for just stumbling into it by random chance.

Your best bet is to invent the job yourself. The two standard alternatives are to build up a contracting type portfolio and lifestyle, or going into business for yourself.

The third, less often mentioned alternative, is to pick a subset of what you are good at and specialize at it until you are good to be clearly within the 0.05% on your market. In the US, that means you'll be one of the top 500-600 developers in the country. Once you're recognizably that good, you can dictate the terms of your own employment, including the number of hours worked and exposure to stress, etc...

share|improve this answer
    
The situation has changed, somewhat, over the past two years; a few startups with 75% time employees have made, and caused some waves. So I would now say "slightly less than exceedingly rare". –  blueberryfields Oct 24 '13 at 18:53
add comment

Your friends and family will be the best bet here - unless you have a first-hand account of the working environment, it's basically impossible to see what you're getting into when you turn up for a job interview.

Anything less than 36 hours a week is part-time employment, so it'll be hard matching that kind criterion right off the bat. Keep talking to people and soon enough, you'll find a work environment that matches your desires.

Keep in mind that no company is going to dish out money for people bludging around. People want to be surrounded by others who are smart and get things done.

Disclaimer: I have a job (salary) that I find extremely interesting. I choose when to get to work, when to leave work and when to work from home. I get treated as an adult, so I'm prone to be bias in my answer.

share|improve this answer
add comment

You can do it at your current job (35 hours a week means only subtracting 1 hour for every work day, or taking a 2 hour lunch break instead of 1). Just leave early. Your manager won't call you a slacker until at least your next performance review which could be in 1 year. It helps if you hang out with marketing or app engineers or other employees with travel schedules (so work hours are incredibly flexible) so that your absence can be ascribed to "flex time" rather than complete slack-off. If your manager is "busy" (either overseeing too many underlings or just not paying attention) then it may never be noticed that you are slacking. In fact you may get a promotion! It seems plenty of managers behave by these rules already.. Exaggerating this a bit, you may be able to get down to about 30 hours per week.. without change in pay.. there's examples at every company of employees slacking like this. (As the saying goes: start smoking, you get more work breaks!)

As to the eventual down voters who don't "like" the above approach: Hey, the asker asked!

share|improve this answer
    
It sounds like OP is working more than 40 hours per week and everyone works crazy hours so it would be noticed if he went all the way down to 30. –  Dave Sep 5 '11 at 17:28
add comment

I've done that before, in the following situations:

  1. As a contract programmer I've worked several places (often in govt) where reduced hours are the norm. For example, my local municipal govt requires everyone take every second friday off as a budget-cutting measure. The rest of the time it's normal business hours. I've also done several contracts where the hour requirements were very flexible. If your rate is high enough, they expect you to be productive when you're there, but if you've done your work, you don't have to hang around to run up the bill.
  2. I currently work as at a law firm, and the standard hours for the firm is 7hr/day (plus 1 hour for lunch). There's also a lot of flexibility in start/end times, along with flexible vacation days.

Ask in interviews. Ask about flex and vacation days. See if there are opportunities for working from home. Find out if they pay overtime, or if they give time off in lieu. Either policy will encourage less overtime from the top down.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Have you considered jobs in a Scientific Research organization?

I think this type of job should keep you happy in the "interesting" and "challenging" departments, while also being competitive in salary (your mileage may vary of course).

Being a research organization, instead of a commercial company, I'd say there's more of a chance that the environment is more relaxed and more flexible too.
I have personally experienced this, although of course I can't generalize and speak for all research organizations.

If you are also looking for shorter hours and more flexibility, I would suggest Europe as a possibility.
In particular, France and Germany seem to offer the best hours and among the best paid time off.

So, to answer your question, look into Scientific Research Organizations in Europe.

share|improve this answer
add comment

I've spent most of my career working at big name tech companies, and they've all offered most of the conditions you're looking for (save for working hours, the lowest of which has been 37.5/week). Maybe you're just in the wrong big name tech company...?

share|improve this answer
add comment

I think that looking at things purely in terms of working hours is a mistake.

The real difference between 30-40 hours a week is not that significant especially if you have a long commute and are not talking about working 4 days instead of 5. My experience is that unless you work less days, it doesn't really matter all that much. Once you go over 45-50 hours, every hour starts mattering.

Different workplaces have different approaches to time. Some have longer hours where the actual time is more relaxed, and others have shorter hours but somebody constantly makes sure you are typing at your desk and not veering anywhere.

Time is also about perception - 8 hours of something you enjoy can be shorter than 5 hours of something you absolutely hate.

It's legitimate (and important) to ask about flex time when you are negotiating an offer, and also ask your future TL about the actual working hours. I have interviewed in places where the hours were simply too long for me to maintain work-life-balance with a family and they openly admitted it. Others are quite family friendly.

share|improve this answer
1  
I beg to differ. Working 30hrs instead of 40 makes a huge difference for me, and it did so even when I was working 5 days/week. For example, with 30hrs (and some minimal flexibility) I am able to pick up the kids in the afternoon several times a week and actually spend time with them during the week. I couldn't do this if I was working 40hrs. There's other things, too, where I see the difference (I used to like to do my weekend shopping before the weekend), but spending time with the kids not only on the weekend really is the most important for me. –  sbi Sep 9 '11 at 8:19
add comment

I have found that working in an academic environment for software research (specifically in HCI) provides very interesting intellectual challenges, an extremely relaxed environment (especially compared to my previous job), very interesting projects, and by definition the work is "cutting edge" (it's research!). It doesn't hurt if you have an interest in others learning too, which would lead you to becoming a lecturer or professor of sorts.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.