Software engineering is a fantastic career but can leave a lot of programmers feeling stressed and burnout. The day-to-day of a programmer varies a lot depending on the company and industry you are in. However, there are always times when there can be too much and that leaves a lot of developers struggling to keep afloat.
The best jobs for burnt-out developers include a move into consultancy, management, technical sales, or even just a move to a better software engineering role. More than 75% of workers have experienced burnout and it’s impossible to sustain long-term. Things have to improve otherwise you risk your mental and physical health.
Failing to deal with burnout can have serious long-term consequences for your health. It negatively impacts you both physically and mentally. As a programmer burnout can sneak up on you so it’s crucial to regularly check in on yourself.
Let’s take a look at the symptoms of burnout, then explore the best jobs for burnt-out programmers to transition into.
Symptoms of burnout
Burnout presents itself in various ways that will differ from person to person. Usually, it brings on a mix of both mental and physical issues. Mental burnout may present itself as:
- Decreased performance and productivity
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lower commitment to your job
- Lack of purpose
- Frustration and negativity
Burnout may present itself physically as:
- Exhaustion and fatigue
- Headaches and general body aches
- Disrupted sleep
- Increased illness
As a burnout programmer, you may experience some or all of these symptoms. For some, it manifests more mentally, while others experience more physical symptoms. Like I mentioned it often creeps up on you slowly, so be mindful of your health.
The best jobs for burnt-out programmers
The best job move for a burnout programmer may be a move into consultancy or upper management, a transition out of the field into sales, or simply a better software engineering role. Making a change when you suffer from burnout is crucial for your long-term mental and physical health.
The best option for you will depend on your personality type and the things you want to get out of your career. We’ve outlined some of the jobs you should consider to help reduce stress in the long run.
Consultants liaise with clients to help establish their requirements and provide the best possible solution. It’s a more holistic role with less focus on programming and you will focus on system design and requirements gathering. As a consultant, your work is likely to be more varied which can help with burnout. Your position is more advisory so the demand to deliver large quantities of code just doesn’t exist.
A step into management is a great way to move away from coding in your day-to-day. As a manager, you help developers with their careers and manage performance. You take requirements from the business and distill them down to your team for completion.
Management is not stress-free but is the next logical step for developers. If you are suffering from burnout it could be a welcome step away from software engineering.
3. Technical Sales
Technical salespeople are a potent mix of communication and technical ability. They help sell technology-based or scientific services and products. It’s important to be able to relate to people and have a deep understanding of the technical details. Sales are demanding but incredibly financially rewarding.
Unlike software engineering, you have monthly and annual targets to meet. But if you are looking for a new challenge and want to leverage your current skills it’s a great option.
4. Software developer
It sounds counter initiative to recommend a software development role to a burnout programmer. However, a lot of burnout comes from being undervalued or underappreciated at your current company. Switching development jobs to a business with a strong developer culture that pays you the market rate for software engineers can go a long way to reducing burnout.
Often it’s the company’s practices or expectations that can cause stress levels to build. Simply finding a better place to work can make all the difference.
5. Customer relations rep
As a developer, you build up a wealth of experience in the systems you use. One way to transition out of engineering but stay technical is to get a customer-focused role. A customer relations representative helps build relationships with developers who are clients, customers, users, or other advocates. They are responsible for building a community around their company’s products.
It’s a change of pace and would suit software engineers who love the social aspect of their job. It’s a chance to create interest and buzz around software you may have worked on in the past.
The tech industry is set to grow at a faster rate than the national average over the next five years. More people are entering the industry so more people need to be taught how to code. If you enjoy the mentoring aspect of programming then consider becoming a teacher.
The cool thing is that there are now multiple tracks you can go down. While teaching at a school is always a good choice, you have more options available to you now. The explosion of coding boot camps means you can teach would-be software engineers and impart your real-world experience to them.
Do software engineers get burnt out?
Software engineering can be stressful and an incredible 83% of software engineers report feeling burnout. Workloads can be difficult to manage as a software engineer and if left unchecked can lead to developers becoming overwhelmed. Incredibly, only 17% of software engineers report feeling no burnout at all.
Each industry treats its developers differently. Gaming has a bad reputation for overworking and underappreciating software engineers. There is a never-ending supply of programmers who want to work on games so they are treated as disposable and easily replaceable.
Similarly, working for a software agency can be stressful because there are constant customer deadlines to meet. Missing a go-live date is not great for your reputation and can harm customer relationships.
Some programmers are more than happy to work overtime because of the potential of the business they work for. They put themselves under more stress in the short term to reap the rewards in the long run. However, it isn’t sustainable and is always going to cause negative consequences for your physical and mental health long-term
The main reasons why software engineers get burnt out are:
- Working too many hours
- Taking on too much
- No work-life balance
- Lack of varied work
- Being undervalued
- Being underappreciated
- Too many deadlines to meet
Striking a good work-life balance is crucial to staying healthy in the long run. Far too many software engineers experience burnout. You have to take care of yourself or run the risk of not performing at all.
How to deal with burnout as a software developer?
If you are dealing with burnout as a software developer you should look to change roles or jobs, strike a healthier work-life balance, exercise more, and make sure to voice your opinion early on. Only 17% of developers report not suffering some burnout so it’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed, the important thing is to act upon it and find a solution that works for you.
The worst thing to do if you are suffering from burnout is to ignore the problem. It rarely goes away and will usually get worse over time. The best things you can do to deal with burnout as a programmer include:
1. Changing roles
As we mentioned early in the article there are plenty of different roles available for software engineers. You can take a more product or people-focused approach to your career, or transition into sales or teaching. The skills you acquire as a developer will serve you well in a lot of different roles. So if you aren’t happy or feeling burnout perhaps a change in direction is what you need.
2. Changing company
A lot of burnout comes from working too hard. Usually, this happens when you are underappreciated and overworked. Plenty of developers change jobs if the workload becomes too much and you should. It may be that you enjoy programming but the specific company you’re at has sucked the joy out of it for you. Switching to a new company will help. Most developers stay at one company for less than two years anyway.
3. Striking a balance
It’s easier said than done but it’s important to strike a healthy work-life balance. In most software engineering jobs you aren’t saving lives. Remember that while your work is important, so are your family and friends. The world won’t end if you log off on time and make extra time for the things you enjoy. Simply striking a balance can go a long way to alleviating burnout.
4. Exercising regularly
Getting your heart rate up and enjoying a good workout is like hitting a reset button in your brain. It helps the stress of the day melt away and keeps you focused on the task at hand. It releases a tonne of endorphins and is great at improving your mood. Adding some light exercise to your schedule can reduce stress and improve overall well-being.
5. Eating a balanced diet
People often overlook the food they eat. You wouldn’t put the wrong fuel in your car so try and do the same with what you eat. You don’t have to be religious about it but eating good food impacts how you feel and your mood. Making time for healthy food improves your energy levels and allows you to focus better. It may not be the single answer to programmer burnout but it’ll help a lot.
6. Getting enough sleep
Between 50 and 70 million Americans don’t get enough sleep. A chronic lack of sleep has all sorts of negative consequences. When tired it is harder to focus and maintain a happy mood and it releases chemicals that make you crave bad food. It also causes an overreliance on caffeine or other stimulants to stay awake. Make sure to give at least seven hours a night and it’ll make a wonderful difference in your workday.
7. Taking breaks
It can be tempting to think that skipping lunch to get more work done will improve productivity and output. But this is rarely the case. Take time throughout your day to step away from your desk and have enjoyable “timeouts”. These breaks can help you refocus when you eventually sit back down and often improve creativity. Cut yourself some slack and take that much need timeout.
8. Getting support
We are going through a loneliness epidemic and it means that many people bottle up their emotions. If you can lean on your professional and personal support network. Often people will have suffered through the same experience and are more than happy to listen or offer advice.
9. Voicing your opinion early
Let your line managers know you aren’t happy with a situation early on. If too much is being asked of you let them know. Setting boundaries early on and letting management know if things are becoming too much will save you in the long run. One of the biggest frustrations is feeling unheard so try and make people around you understand your challenges early on. It doesn’t mean openly moaning or being negative. Use one-to-ones as a way to constructively voice your opinions and come prepared with some solutions in hand.
Nathan Britten, the founder and editor of Developer Pitstop, is a self-taught software engineer with nearly five years of experience in front-end technologies. Nathan created the site to provide simple, straightforward knowledge to those interested in technology, helping them navigate the industry and better understand their day-to-day roles.