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Why would there be any pressure if everyone knows what they are doing and the projects are accurately estimated? If there's pressure, or even high pressure, then it implies what they are currently doing is not working, why would any good programmer want to join a team like that? Are these kind of job posting failed at trying to show off or are they really just being honest? Or is there really some good reasons for having pressure?

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closed as off topic by Karl Bielefeldt, NickC, Walter, gnat, Jarrod Roberson Feb 29 '12 at 22:18

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"everyone knows what they are doing and the projects are accurately estimated". Yeah, I had a dream like that once. –  Oded Feb 29 '12 at 10:39
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My first professional C programming job suffered from this. The company had given a software house all their budget to write some software for them. It didn't work and so they tried to fix it in house, which is where I and several other guys came in. To cut a long story short, I left after a couple of months. No amount of planning can deal with that kind of mismanagement. –  Jaydee Feb 29 '12 at 11:01
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That's the code phrase for "we severely underpay our programmers". –  dasblinkenlight Feb 29 '12 at 15:33
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Important qualifier: Are these jobs in the software development industry, or another related industry such as high frequency algorithmic trading. Seems like EVERY answer below is assuming software industry. Obviously, that's not the only industry programmers work in, and by far not the highest pressure. –  Marcin Feb 29 '12 at 15:36
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@Marcin People who work on HFT software are industry specific, and they work under high pressure simply because their clientele are (IMHO) some of the most stressed out and seriously unhappy people I have ever encountered. On top of that, a number of people wouldn't even consider working for such a company on moral principle alone. I would rather use my knowledge to improve algorithms that solve real world problems and that make the world as a whole a better place to live in. –  maple_shaft Feb 29 '12 at 15:53

16 Answers 16

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Example high pressure job: High frequency algorithmic trading. A software engineer friend of mine is working for a trading shop. Huge stress, huge pressure. All deadlines are "right now". Everything is shipped to production on the day it's written. Even a few minute delay could cost the company millions. Not many people can handle an environment like this. If you can do it, expect a 50-100% higher salary than industry standard at your level + end-of-year bonus based on % of your algos' profits. It's super high-risk, high-pressure, high reward. It has nothing to do with unrealistic deadlines or lacking management, and everything to do with your ability to handle the pressure. (And traders swearing at your face as their P&L goes down the crapper that day.)

Other examples:

  • Jobs where producing the kind of software with high-requirements for dependendability:
    • medical software,
    • embedded software.
  • Jobs where deliverables (and failures) would have:
    • a direct and large impact on people,
    • a direct and large impact on the company's image.

Alternatively, it's not necessarily just code for "we're under-resourced and have unrealistically aggressive deadlines", but also possibly code for "your responsibility makes you an expendable liability if anything goes awry".

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I agree. I guess most people want a cozy job. However, there are people that want to work harder today for the potential of a big pay-off and possible earlier retirement. –  Sarel Botha Feb 29 '12 at 17:37
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@joshin4colours: I was an advisor to a "high pressure environment" small web development shop. I found nothing terribly wrong with that - it was a part of it's market strategy. The business strategy was that we could fix someone else's mistakes in ridiculously tight deadlines - the programmers nightmare dream. The demands? One day you wake up and are told that the team got 3 days to develop and test something quoted at 300mh+. Yup, that meant 16h workdays, no room for personal drama and clockwork accuracy. It also meant 50-150% higher salaries, and 60% of paid time devoted to personal projects –  qdot Feb 29 '12 at 19:35

I've always considered this code for "we're under-resourced and have unrealistically aggressive deadlines."

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it does appear a lot, but usually they are in different wording, like 'stressful,' 'time-sensitive,' and 'fast-paced.' Even 'we want someone love to be challenged' can imply that too. –  Andy Feb 29 '12 at 10:59
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Rapid, fast-paced, dynamic are all buzzwords for 'Management can't tell their arse from their elbow and change direction as often as they change suits' –  mcfinnigan Feb 29 '12 at 11:58
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You omitted the end of the code: "and don't expect a raise based on high pressure: you were aware of it when you got hired" –  mouviciel Feb 29 '12 at 12:25
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And they want someone with a CS masters degree and 5-8 years of recent "hands on" experience with OOD/OOP, C++, C#, Java, AJAX, Oracle, SQL Server and PHP. –  jfrankcarr Feb 29 '12 at 14:16
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And they wanted programmers with five years of Java experience. In 1997. –  James McLeod Feb 29 '12 at 14:21

The one place where it's okay for this to pop up is if you'll have a job where lives are on the line.

For example, if you're the sys admin for services that must be up in order to keep airplanes in the sky, you should expect it to be high pressure. Or, if you work on software that will be deployed for soldiers in a warzone, you can expect pressure.

If you see this, ask the interviewer if lives are on the line if you miss a deadline or alarm. If not, they're being dramatic.

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It means they never heard of Agile or Scrum or Kanban, and they don't care about burning out their developers.

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I ignore those kinds of jobs postings now. What they mean is we want a slave who will work 80 hours a week and not get paid squat. It is a sign that management is not bidding projects correctly or not managing projects correctly.

Well run teams run on time and without extra stresses, like managers that take on 100 new requirements and try to keep the date. I haven't had a death march in years. The closest thing was when I came back to a failing project as a consultant making exorbitant hourly rates and worked a long holiday weekend to bail out some major fail.

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It's a code phrase for "We want young unmarried programmers who are willing to work completely unreasonable hours at the expense of having any personal life."

They can't say that explicitly in part because it is illegal to discriminate based on age and marital status.

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HA - "Dear Respected Employer, I am a young, asexual, unmarried programmer. I love bits and eat silicon chips. I will live in office, and make coffee to boot. " –  Adel Feb 29 '12 at 17:29

Why?

Because they ARE high pressure.

Why?

Because, in IT terms, they do not know what they are doing, or more precisely, they do not follow good development practices, because someone outside of IT is in charge.

One of the problems we software developers have is that software is not a tangible, physical object. To non-IT people it is this wooly, obscure thing that just exists inside their computer.

But because they cannot touch it, they do not appreciate the intricacies that go into building good software.

So when you get these types of people "driving the bus", you soon get comments like:

  • just build it
  • we need it in 1 month
  • we don't need testers

They don't get it.

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Believe me, I do get it. All of what I said above is exactly applicable to the situation you describe. And the situation you describe forces bad management practices onto the dev team. Fair enough maybe those managers "do get it" as well, but they are still putting bad practices onto the dev team. –  jmo21 Feb 29 '12 at 13:38
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@maple_shaft Management is to blame, if you want long-term profit, then you don't take quick & dirty orders that will yield sloppy quality and poor products. If you do so, you jeopardize the company's reputation. Also, the customer may very well be clueless of what they are ordering, they may lack the necessary technical knowledge. It is then up to the salesmen to make it perfectly clear to the customer what kind of quality they can expect for a certain price. It is also sales' job to make the customer abandon various crazy ideas, they shouldn't just nod & offer a price for it. –  user29079 Feb 29 '12 at 16:04

One of two reasons:

  1. They want you to give up your social life doing 12 hour days and weekends for no extra reward to save a project that is late and over budget with the customer threatening to sue. Usually because the sales team promised extra features without running them past the developers.

  2. The windows don't open and the staff suffer from flatulence.

I think it's 1.

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"if everyone knows what they are doing and the projects are accurately estimated?" is a really big assumption. Usually that assumption is false if the company says it is a "high pressure environment".

And, yes, there are a lot of companies that fail to plan and have under-achieving employees. There are plenty of companies that don't fit that mold, you just have to maintain your own standards and refuse to work in these high pressure jobs.

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Man, there's a LOAD of venting in this thread :P

"everyone knows what they are doing and the projects are accurately estimated" is what everyone wants but you shouldn't forget that those teams weren't always like that. Every team starts off bad before it eventually gets better, so until it gets to this utopian state, pressure is normal. If it weren't then management would probably be guilty of asking too little.

I like the "high pressure" statement on the rare occasions when I see it because those are the teams that have seen the symptoms, even though they may not have all the answers. That is better than most of the other ads that have no clue at all.

So unless the competition is some great software house that I know of, odds are I would find this "high pressure" one interesting at the very least. There are less good teams in the market than good programmers and frankly, holding out for the best (assuming they want you as well) is pretty much a waste of time unless you don't have mouths to feed.

So in that sense, the phrase "high pressure" doesn't really deter me at all.

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We're not venting, it's a distributed semaphore. –  Adel Feb 29 '12 at 16:28

A startup that rushes to the market must struggle to be faster than the competition. For such a company, it makes sense to create a high pressure work environment, since being there two months before others working on the same problem might make the difference between being the next facebook and being, well, a too-little-too-late service nobody remembers. Working in such a company might make you rich quickly, through stock options.

For a well established software company, constantly high pressure is a sign of bad management and/or greedy owners and therefore a red flag.

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From what I gather, if you're working in something like high-frequency trading (which is controversial but whatever) then there are business requirements for fast turnaround times but high demands on your code's quality. –  fennec Feb 29 '12 at 19:16
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Yes but.... Facebook is a bad example for the point. They were late to the party and won anyway. –  Lord Tydus Mar 1 '12 at 2:17

It doesn't mean that much in most cases. After all, would a company really say that they have a work environment where their philosophy is "Mañana". It's one of those standard clichés that get throw into job listings by HR people, just like saying they want "highly motivated people" and that they offer "a competitive salary with a complete benefit package".

You'll need to find out from your interview exactly what kind of pressure a job is likely to have, if it's just HR-speak or if they really have time critical work that has to be done. For example, you may find out that they do a lot of client driven or time critical projects that need to be done very quickly, such as advertising campaigns or event planning. Or, you may find that the organization is populated with bullies and jerks who create ugly pressure. Or, it may be just HR-BS and the environment is a pretty typical development shop.

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I rarely see it worded like this, but then such statements are buzzwords at best, and baseless drivel at worst.

I have seen jobs that were described as "fast paced" being some of the slowest, most uninspiring, brain decaying and insidiously boring jobs that could possibly be concieved for a human being. I have also put LOTS of time and was significantly challenged at jobs where by the description in no way gave credit to the actual needs of the job.

You would make a mistake to put too much thought into wording like this. You learn far more about a work environment and the responsibilities of a potential job by interviewing and in turn asking the interviewer important questions that help unveil the hidden mysteries and dysfunctions that they don't tell you about.

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+1, Job descriptions should be taken with a grain of salt, but sadly many developers tend to take stuff at face value. The only way to find out the real situation is to talk with them IN PERSON. Glassdoor might give some insight as well. –  Angelo Feb 29 '12 at 15:25
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@Angelo Glassdoor might give some insight as well. THIS. A thousand times THIS! If you ever start to hate your job, just go onto Glassdoor and look at employee reviews for 20 other software development employers in your area. You will very quickly realize just how lucky you are. Even taking into account that most people writing a review are disgruntled to begin with, you can find generally enough inside truth to know that the vast majority of software shops are just awful places to work for. Good management and best practices is unfortunately the exception, not the rule. –  maple_shaft Feb 29 '12 at 15:45
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I definitely expect "disgruntled" reviewers on glassdoor. My red-flag is if there are NO or very few positive reviews. By the same token, I would be suspicious if all reviews were uniformly positive. –  Angelo Feb 29 '12 at 15:55

Maybe the recruiters assume that someone who can stand, or even enjoy, a "high-pressure environment", would be more productive in that particular company.

It can actually be a correct assumption: an inferior developer, who's willing to take the pressure for the sake of keeping his job, may be marginally productive, while a good developer, who can afford to choose and thus, should he end up in such a joke company, would leave in no time and wouldn't be at all productive.

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+1 Good answer. Such places would rather have an inferior and subservient developer. –  maple_shaft Feb 29 '12 at 12:17
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+1 because your answer is therapeutic to read. –  user16764 Feb 29 '12 at 14:44
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+1 this is totally correct based on my experience –  nicolas Feb 29 '12 at 19:37

well the fact is most of the times projects are never accurately estimated!

which will create high pressure !

also most of these companies have week teams which will create system failures that will need you to work at midnight on short notice under pressure :)

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actually, projects are quite often accurately estimated, but the estimates are not accepted by the higher levels of management. –  Chris Card Feb 29 '12 at 11:57

I think you get the point.

Good programmer don't work in theses companies, then company get less thing done (different studies show a difference of TCO going from 10 to 26 between devs, which is huge) and increase pressure, which lead to more good devs leaving.

Such a company will often cut on testing, QA or refactoring to reach unrealistic deadlines. Which lead to harder to meet deadline for the next release. This is a self maintaining process, and as long as the upper management doesn't want to break this trend, this is a recipe for disaster.

Note that 60% to 80% of IT project are considered as failure (see chaos report for precise numbers). And this has a lot to do with the behavior shown in the job posts you read.

This is often referenced as dead sea effect, and is a very real phenomena in the IT industry.

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60% to 80% of IT project are considered as failure I hear this statistic a lot but it is inherently disingenous. By whose standards? The application and project managers always find a way to spin a failure project into a success. Stakeholders don't like to admit failure because they have time and money invested in the project. It is not politically beneficial to any party to admit when a project has failed, except for maybe a third-party playing the auditing or consulting role. Put your head in the sand and accept crappy software that you paid too much for and only partially fills the need. –  maple_shaft Feb 29 '12 at 12:23
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@maple_shaft I did mention the source : it is the chaos report. You can check it to know everything about their measurements and make your opinion about it. –  deadalnix Feb 29 '12 at 12:31
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What does "TCO" mean? –  user39685 Feb 29 '12 at 12:50
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Yes TCO is total cost of ownership. In other terms, own much does the work of a dev cost you, including indirect cost (a dev doing less bug for example, will cost less in QA and bugfixing). –  deadalnix Feb 29 '12 at 13:17

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