A Developer’s Vacation: What Didn’t Go Wrong

By Chris Zammit

A few weeks ago I was able to do something that I hadn’t done since graduating college. I went on a vacation without my laptop and without my phone. I had my boss’s blessing and the support of my team. For an entire eight days, I was able to unplug. When I got back, things were just as I had left them. I didn’t have any fires to put out and no urgent business. Everything just worked the way it was supposed to. It wasn’t luck. It was designed that way.

My very first programming job out of college, I was given a badge, an RSA token, and a standard issue Lenovo laptop, complete with Windows 2000 and 512MB Ram. My first vacation request was approved with the caveat that I bring my laptop, call into the weekly meeting and catch up on email nightly. I don’t ever remember an instance where my presence could not have waited, but there was always that nagging feeling that I couldn’t enjoy myself too much.

Eventually it all seemed normal. This is just what young professionals do. I moved on to other companies, but it was more of the same and I never felt like I was getting a break. I’ve always had a real passion for computer systems and software development but that passion was quickly fading away. I no longer wanted to tinker or invent, and I had no interest in keeping up with tech trends.

When I was offered a job at Onspring, I was told that a huge amount of effort was put into ensuring a stable product. The code was clean and requirements were well thought out. Processes were automated where they could be and well documented where they couldn’t. I was promised that late nights and weekend work were rare and that deployments were scripted, tested and rarely lasted longer than 9 minutes. I was told that every effort was made to eliminate single points of failure and that redundancy meant that what had once been emergency work at 3am could wait until morning. It all seemed wonderful and has proved to be true.

Sitting on a boat, in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, without cell service and without a laptop, it really sank in that everything had been exactly as promised.

I could parrot the benefits of vacation and shout about the stress involved in an always-on-call world, but I think we’ve all felt it. The takeaway is this: Don’t tether your engineers to their laptops. Give them the resources they need to build a great product and then let them have a vacation.

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