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How Much Do You Code?

As a software developer, how much time do you actually spend writing code? I recently have discussed this topic with both junior and senior coworkers, from which I have realized that this is a very important question for many developers. The amount of time the average developer actually spends coding can be surprisingly small, and is determined by a variety of factors:

  • Your position. Are you a junior developer, a senior developer, or a team lead? In my experience, senior people often have less time for coding because of time spent providing assistance to junior resources and providing input on higher-level topics like project direction, architecture, or design. Very junior people, especially those fresh out of school, are often given a greater share of the mundane, non-coding tasks like user support, updating documentation. Development team leads, even of small teams, must spend time managing and coordinating the activities of the team. Intermediate developers and juniors with a few years of experience generally get the most coding done.
  • The kinds of projects you are working on. A typical development project to create a new application will involve a lot more coding than maintenance of an existing suite of operational applications. This may be one reason that many developers prefer to be on development projects rather than maintenance.
  • The phase your work is in. Whether you are working on a major new application or on a small enhancement to an existing application, there are periods when non-coding activities will predominate, such as when gathering requirements, clarifying the solution, testing and fixing defects, or producing documentation. In my experience, there is a natural fluctuation in the amount of coding - some weeks or months you get a lot of coding in, and other weeks or months almost none.
  • The organizational culture. Every workplace has a certain amount of weekly overhead activities, such as time sheets, weekly or daily team meetings, performance reviews, etc. Places with more process or more required documentation typically mean less time spent coding.

The period of time when I was doing the most coding was on a project to create a new application, during the construction phase. The waterfall methodology was being used, and the design phase had been completed. The team was quite small, with only one junior resource, so we were able to spend the majority of our time coding new features. I spent over 90% of my work week coding. Currently, in contrast, I am doing very little coding - probably under 20% - due to my role as architect or technical lead on a number of projects.

How much coding are you doing?

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6 Comments on “How Much Do You Code?”

  1. Also the level of expertise matters. Sometimes a senior programmer could achieve the end result in just say 10 lines rather than a junior programmer’s 100 lines.

  2. [...] hobby-projects. It sounds obvious, but it was only today, while reading Basil Vandergriend’s post, that I deeply felt, why we are actually starting those side-projects. It’s like pieces of a [...]

  3. I’ve gone from nearly 100% to nearly 0% in the course of the last year. I only do coding when a critical bug needs to be fixed and no other developer is available. The rest of the time I spend in project management / team lead activities, like reporting, specification, giving guidance, some server administration and code review. I still have to decide for myself whether I like that I now use vim more for editing natural language text than code.. :)

  4. I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one whose coding percentage has been quite low recently. I liked the insight of comment #2 into why developers work on side projects – I know that is accurate for myself at least.

  5. miguel says:

    I quit my management job so I could code again. I’m giving a startup a shot so nowadays I code all my waking hours.

  6. datta says:

    I coding hours depends on the workload and timelines to meet. I am agree that we need to code more if we are working on new feature. But we are doing very less coding when we are fixing bugs :-)

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