Using Pair Programming as an Excuse for Mandatory Overtime

I went to a job interview recently. I had applied for a role in a team that worked on technically interesting projects, and they were very keen on the use of agile methodologies. From my first impressions, it looked an ideal place to work.

I thought I made a very good impression on technical part of the interview. The interviewers even made reference to my JUnit Anti-patterns article in a very positive manner, which I took to be good sign. It’s hard to say sometimes, but I don’t think I really made any major mistakes during this phase of the interview.

The one part of the interview that didn’t seem to go down too well was the discussion about working hours. The conversation went something like this:

Interviewer: “The core working hours are from 8am to 6pm”

Me: “8am is fine, but I need to leave around 5pm to get home for 6pm (I like to at least see my kids before bedtime). I’m quite happy to make up hours at other times, or from home”

Interviewer: “We would prefer you stay until 6pm. We’re an agile shop, everyone does pair programming. You need to be in the office during our core hours programming”

I stood my ground on the subject, as I care deeply about being home by 6pm. We continued on to other issues, and the interview finished up an hour later. I found out later that I wasn’t offered the position. This was a vague disappointment (no-one likes to be turned down), but the working hours issue did make me a little wary of the place.

Some issues struck me:

  • In a bit managerial reverse judo, they turned one of the top agile methodologies (pair programming) into one of the worst excesses of un-enlightened management (mandatory overtime).
  • Surely their developers don’t actually pair program 100% of the time. What about bathroom breaks?
  • Why on earth do they think they need 10 hour working day as standard? There is plenty of literature that suggests that this is not sustainable. I’ve done 10, 12 and even 14 hour working days for brief spurts, but not as a regular event. I do want to spend some of the weekday on family matters, as a matter of course.

This was an investment bank, many of which are known for having a culture of long working hours (although this wasn’t my experience when I worked at UBS). I have since spoken to other people who work at the place (Hi George! Hi Ben!), and they tell me that it isn’t really like that, either. Perhaps the question is just thrown to interviewees to see how they react, and so it was my lack of enthusiasm about long working hours that disqualified me from a job offer. Or maybe it was something else completely.

Anyway, as a bit of happy ending, I did get a job offer at a different company. It’s very close to home, so the issue of long commutes don’t affect me, and it has a working environment like none I’ve ever seen before. They did put me through an grueling interview process, that went on for more than 10 hours. In the end, the payback for this time is an excellent working environment close to home with some great people.