The Emerald Resource Group Blog

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How to grow your back-end development career while maintaining a good work-life balance

Note: We do not get any form of payment if you choose to buy any books or courses recommended below. Our recommendations are purely based on what we believe to help network professionals secure and grow their careers.

 A study conducted by the CDC found that working consistently over 50 hours a week can contribute to both short term and long term health problems. Yet many companies continue to push their Back-End Developers to work 50+ hours a week. Many Back-End Developers professionals believe this is necessary to grow their career. 

In my 30+ years of helping Back-End Developers find a balanced opportunity, I found that working consistently 50+ hours a week isn’t in you or your current company’s best interest. Here are ways to grow your career while maintaining a good work life balance. 

1. Pick the right opportunity

In my 30+ years of experience, I have found that companies either get it or they don’t!  In most cases it’s not your direct manager, it goes above him or her. Work life balance is baked into the company’s culture. One reason for this imbalance is that many companies believe they over pay Back-End Developers and in return they expect these engineers to work more than 40 hours a week. 

These may be very financially successful companies, but not the greatest companies to work for.

What my firm and I have found over the past 20 years is that the best way to ensure you have a work-life balance is to pick the right company! 

Some of the best ways to ensure you have a work-life balance is to identify opportunities that don’t just match your technical backgrounds, but also align to what is important to you. In my experience, this is the key to finding a great opportunity. That being said, identifying the right company is easier said than done so here are some tips that I tell Back-End professionals when determining if the company is a good fit.

  • Talk with a recruiter. In my experience, great recruiters who have been in the industry a long time understand what the culture is like in companies. Why? Because we have been talking with Back-End Developers over the past 30 years who work there. As a result, we learn about the cultures of various companies in the area directly from the people who work at the companies, not from the HR professionals who’re trying to fill the job. 
  • Look at Glassdoor for reviews.
  • Ask other friends or past co-workers if they have heard what the culture is like in that company.
  • Do a LinkedIn search of companies that you’re interested in and with your job title or related job title. Make sure you include past and previous employers, so you include people who used to work at the company. What you’re doing here is looking at how long people remained at the company. This gives you a rough idea of what the company’s turnover rate is like.

2. Identify a company that fosters a work-life balance culture

In my experience, matching the technical skills is the easy part. The key to a successful placement for both the candidate and the company is understanding what the most important career criteria is to the Back-End developer.

So the problem becomes, how do you identify a company culture that prioritizes work-life balance? Even after doing your homework, oftentimes you can’t get a true feel for the company culture unless you have been there for a few weeks. However, over the years, I have learned about various companies’ cultures and how to identify them. 

Other than talking with hiring managers, CIO, CTOs of various companies for the past 30+ years, here are some ways I have been able to identify company cultures.

  1. Partner with a recruiter you trust and have placed other IT professionals with the company in the past.  Ask the recruiter if you can talk with a person he or she placed off the record to find out what it’s like to work there.
  2. Find the company on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc and see what they are posting about. 
  3. If you have an interview, show up early and observe how the employees are interacting with each other.
  4. Ask for a company tour. Oftentimes you can get a vibe of the culture by walking around and observing for 30 minutes.

3. Make sure the expectations are clear

Having a clear understanding of what is expected of you within a company is crucial in understanding how you will be able to grow your career during a 40 hour work week. This is not only helpful for keeping a work life balance, but also useful when trying to get more work from home time. Ensuring you are meeting all of the expectations and KPIs is a sure fire way to keep your career focused and on the right path. That is why it is important to know what is expected before you even accept the offer.

4. Excellent communication skills

Occasionally, Back-End Developers may have to work 50+ hours a week because of a deadline or an install, however working 50 hours a week should be the exception not the norm. I’ve seen Back-End Developers with great soft skills that are able to work with their managers, through candid and consistent communication, to push deadlines back when necessary. It’s important to communicate with your manager early, why your project is ahead or behind schedule on a consistent basis to build trust.

The willingness to communicate early bad news with your manager, on why a deadline is not going to be met and what your solution is, is a great way to maintain a work-life balance! 

5. Eliminate time hogs

Get more done in less time. We’ve all heard it, but it is much harder to accomplish. If you can’t influence your project to be pushed back with clear and early communication, being mindful of time hogs may be your only hope in working a 40 hour week. Here are a few tips to be more productive as a Back-End Developers

  • Put headphones on. Whether or not you play anything is a personal preference, but the headphones signal to your coworkers that you are in the zone and not to be interrupted.
  • Work in a cooler temperature environment. Studies have shown people are more productive in cooler work temperatures.
  • Pick your coffee breaks when no one is around the break room.
  • Here is a hard one. Keep your phone in your car or only check it at set times throughout the day.

If you’re interested in becoming more mindful about how to spend your time at work, Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown, wrote a great book called Deep Work. The book goes in depth on specific tips on being more productive in our distracted world.

6. Partner with a recruiter

Recruiters often have the stigma associated with them that they are just trying to sell whatever job position that they have to fill. However, that is not how my firm does business. I focus on the career criteria you value most. If they do not match a job that I have, I do not even waste your time. Because if I place you in a position that you will not be happy with, you will not be able to perform to your maximum potential. This leaves me with an unhappy candidate and client on my hands. 

Even though things might be OK where you are now, you might be wondering if there’s anything better there. I can give you a quick assessment of what other companies are doing in the marketplace to see if anything makes sense for you. 

I know this may sound like a plug, but we know the companies we are working with. I have placed the CIOs and other Back-End Developers at these clients before, therefore I know how the company is being run. If you really want to know what the culture of companies in the area are like, feel free to give me a call.

It possible to have a work-life balance

Working over 45 to 50 hours a week does not need to be your normal work week. But if this is a common occurrence or projects are consistently understaffed, that’s a company culture issue that’s most likely not going to change. It does not have to stay this way when you are able to find an opportunity with the right culture.

It’s been my experience that a company either gets work life balance or they don’t. Know that companies do not always place work-life balance as a priority. If you are looking for a better work-life balance, give me a call. We can talk through some options.