Software Development: Crunch

Nearly everyone in their working life will experience at some point a very tight deadline, significantly increased pressure to complete a specific task, and/or an insanely amount of extra hours that are expected of you to do. In the software industry (could also be used in other industries not too sure) this is referred to as “crunch“. There are many articles out there about crunch, especially in the video game industry. It is a time where you rarely see your family and friends, you eat and drink way too much junk food, your regular exercise regime is thrown completely out the window, and you may even dream about the code you had written (and not in a good way).

Currently during my software engineering career I have only ever experienced this crunch period twice. I wouldn’t consider the first time really crunch though. I did have to work towards a really tight deadline, longer hours, but it was only for a very short time. The second crunch I experienced was recently and it was for a longer period with an insanely tight deadline, a significant amount of work, and very long hours both during the normal work week and weekend. Personally I think crunch every so often, but not too frequently is a good thing. A little stress and hard work can be beneficial. In saying that though, working in an environment where you are in crunch mode every couple of weeks is probably not great for your well-being and highlights a potential problem with the operations of your organisation.

During my crunch I had to unfortunately stop attending my BJJ classes, working on my side projects, playing video games and even going out with friends and having a couple of beers. After my crunch period ended, I was exhausted but I made a commitment to myself to go back to my BJJ classes and attend my usual social gatherings at the minimum. With the software engineers that I worked with during this crunch period, I asked them how did they cope with all the stress, what techniques they used to mitigate feeling like garbage, and do they have any tips or tricks to make crunch not feel like a massive drain? All of them essentially came back with the same or similar responses:

  1. Breathe and take everything one step at a time:
    • Don’t panic as panicking will only make things worse.
    • Rushing or not paying attention to what you are doing will only cause you to make more mistakes and then cause you to panic even more.
  2. Switch off after your day is done:
    • You most likely won’t work for 24 hours so when you are done for the day and have worked close to 20 hours, clock off.
    • Focus on something you enjoy and do not bring your work home with you.
    • Be with your family and/or friends, or enjoy what little sleep you can get.
  3. Communicate and do it early:
    • There is nothing worse than needing help and not asking for it, you will only then fall further behind, rush and make mistakes and/or panic.
    • Others may be able to help you solve the problem faster and you will less likely panic if you know that others are here to help.

Along with all of these handy little tips and tricks I remembered some of the useful information that was presented in “The Clean Coder: A Code of Conduct for Professional Programmers” Chapter 11 – Pressure. That chapter essentially had the same information as what my colleagues had said to me.

Come the next crunch (which I know will happen at some point in the future) I will be better prepared mentally and will ensure that when I do get some time to myself\ I spend it making sure my body gets the rest it deserves or spend it with the people I enjoy being around. Keep my mind and body sane and happy 🙂

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