Opinion

The Ultimate Caveat for Software Executives and Millennials

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We all know about caveat emptor. Let’s try on caveat innovator for size. Even though I’ve been in and around IT for 36 years, I don’t want to come across as a geezer because this article will do no good if it is read only by other geezers. So please, millennials, read on. 

Throughout my career, I’ve thrived on building and executing, moving technology products forward with features and quality that the customer really needed. I never worked on fads, gimmicks or consumer tech, instead focusing on infrastructure, platform technologies and algorithms that do the hard work of enterprise IT. 

And hard work was my personal hallmark. I brought an energy and focus that was infectious. I was steadily promoted, reaching the SVP level at a couple of publicly traded software companies. I never worked more than 18 hours at a time, but I pretty much always worked 60+ hours a week. On vacations, I might work just 20.  

Caffeine was a major contributor to my energy level and style. One of my signature tricks was “midnight madness:”

  • Hop on the red-eye flight back to New York, get maybe three hours of sleep.
  • On arrival, go to the airport hotel and bribe the front-desk clerk to let me use the shower in their exercise center. No need to rent a room.
  • Work a full day in the city.
  • Get on the dinner flight back out to the West Coast.

I even did that no-hotel trick a couple of times between San Francisco and Europe. I calibrated those as six-cappuccino days. 

For decades I got away with this. Everything really was OK, even though I was getting older and it was getting harder to sleep more than six hours a night. Then five. And I was unable to nap. 

Guess what: It turns out that people who don’t sleep so well don’t think so well either. Brain fades, memory fails, some crankiness … maybe it just comes with age. OK fine, no big deal; sleep is still for wimps. 

Yeah, but no. 

People who have sleep problems are nearly twice as likely to develop heart disease, hypertension or stroke. Even though I’m over six feet, and I kept my weight and cholesterol below 200, and even though the doctors said I had a healthy lifestyle … sleep problems got me. I managed to develop arrhythmia and sleep apnea (traveling companions on this express train), with a side order of a blocked coronary artery. So now, I’m the proud owner of a stent. I get to take blood thinners for the rest of my life. Looks like I won’t need a pacemaker. Everything’s OK, actually … I’m sleeping better, but there aren’t any bratwursts or spare ribs in my future. 

Avoid this fate by setting this little challenge for yourself: no more caffeine, period. Yeah, it’s harder to get focused in the morning. And between 2:00 and 4:00 p.m., you might get sleepy. That’s your brain being smart, telling you to take a nap. Listen to it. 

While you’re at it, lose the eCigarettes/vapes/hookas … whatever. That they are harmless stimulants is a rumor propagated by people who sell that stuff. Had I been a smoker, you wouldn’t be reading this article. 

Managers, seriously: remove the temptation of caffeine from the workplace. The colas, the energy drinks, the crummy coffee, the tea, the tea-juice. People will prefer the decaf equivalents if they are really high quality. Spring for real juices and a cappuccino machine stocked only with the right kind of beans. 

And watch for telltale signs that your team members aren’t getting enough sleep. Encourage them to get tested for sleep disorders— most insurance plans cover it. Discourage all-nighters. Don’t fire off a bunch of emails yourself at 4:00 in the morning. (They’re probably poorly thought out anyway, and they’ll be sending the wrong message even if the words are right.)  

This article is not from some do-gooder and it’s not a lame public service announcement. This is one executive telling another how to get more productivity and output from your days … without limiting their number.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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