Series: Recovery in software development is lacking – Intro

If you do any type of sport you probably know a bit about the concept of recovery. To give an extremely simple explanation of recovery in sport in case you don’t know what it is: it’s what you do in between training sessions to feel ready to train again. Examples of what you can do to recover well: you get enough sleep, you eat well, you put enough time between training sessions to let your muscle repair itself, you rest for your mental wellbeing, etc. There is way more to it, and you will learn more about recovery in powerlifting if you read this blog series whether you like it or not, but I promise the info I’ll give you will be useful when we apply it to recovery in software development.

What’s important to know for now is that there is more than one type of recovery and you need to employ more than one type in order for it to be effective. If you are serious about a sport, it’s not enough to just sleep well but then eat like garbage. You can’t be an athlete on a McDonald’s diet, basically. Makes sense, yeah?

Okay, so let’s make the jump to software development. Most of us are pretty serious about our job, yet we only get very limited options when it comes to recovery, the most obvious one being: free time between work days (evenings/nights on weekdays + the weekend). We use this time to sleep, eat, and do all the other things normal humans do. The line between work- and non-work time has blurred more and more since the Global Panini (Pandemic == Panini, thanks Tristan Lombard for coining this term, you rock!). Because of this, people find it hard to even get proper rest between work sessions because it’s unclear that there’s a boundary.

There are also some perverse anti-recovery notions in the way we work. I want to take the time to address these issues as well in this series. I will shit a lot on Scrum, is a teaser I can give you now.

The problem I’m seeing is that the lack of work-related recovery does many people harm. I personally have felt depressed and burned-out because of it, because I could never “switch off”. This was before I started powerlifting and before I learned about recovery in sports. Now that I know about this and how incredibly important it is, it’s painfully clear to me that many people don’t know about this and I would love to fill in the gaps.

In the end, I would love to see more than one type of recovery in software development. The world would be better off when people are happy and can sustain their working-pace and have time to recover properly. I don’t dare to say anything about how it might improve productivity and I don’t want to because productivity as a term can fuck right off, in my opinion. The goal is not to squeeze out as much productivity as we can, no, it’s the inverse of that: how can we make sure that people are feeling good and see what happens then?

Before going into the topic at hand, I just want to make a remark about how good we still have it as software developers compared to other industries. You have probably heard that people working in an Amazon warehouse are barely allowed to have bathroom breaks and their every move is monitored closely, often with an app that they’re forced to install. To me this is basically modern slavery and absolutely disgusting.

Crap like this can creep up into our work-sphere too, maybe if your computer is being monitored for “productivity”? That will probably give you stress and this is a clear example of an anti-recovery measure. Stress is very bad for your health in the long term. And this is important to realise: recovery isn’t just for the short term, it’s also about the long term outlook. I presume you want to work for a long time, so your health (mental and physical) needs to be good enough to sustain this.

So, to conclude this first blogpost in the series on recovery in software development I want you to remember this: recovery is required for our short term and long term outlook. It’s not enough to “sleep 8 hours” between workdays if work is stressing you out, you can still get a burn-out long term.

The first in-depth topic for next post will be MRV: Maximum Recoverable Volume. This is a concept from strength training recovery and it will illustrate the differences in recovery every individual needs. Not everyone needs the same amount of recovery and some people are more resilient.

I hope to see you there!

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