Time Off, Vacations and Sabbaticals for Programmers

by Krishna on September 27, 2011

Joel Spolsky asked a question on Google+:

Programmers: would you work for 75% of your current salary if you got 3 months vacation in the summer?

There were many interesting responses. But let me highlight a few, ignoring the “no” comments.

Some programmers liked it because they thought they could work the 3 months on their own project and try to launch their own product, for example, an iPhone app. The only problem is that unfortunately many employers have contracts that specify that anything created by the programmer even during non-working hours and using their own hardware resources still belongs to the employer.  Even if this is not explicitly stated in the contract, it could be a problem if you use some ideas that are related to the work that you do during your employment.

The only way around this is to quit your job and then do coding. Even then, you may have to worry about non-compete clauses and other intellectual property violations. Another thing you could do is to spend the time learning technologies that could give you a boost in the job market, maybe do a couple of sample applications that could be used for showcase purposes. But both these beat the purpose of the question which is employment with vacation, instead of the “3 months between jobs” thing.

A few suggested that working 4 days a week is more preferable than a longer vacation. I sort-of agree with that. The most important benefit is that you can get to do errands during that day which cannot be done on weekends or which you would rather not do on weekends. A few years back, I did this for several weeks instead of taking a longer vacation and it was pleasant. But I am not sure if I would do it for the entire year because it makes the week days much more intense sometimes.

My personal preference (not actual experience) is a long voluntary sabbatical, (i.e., not forced unemployment), lasting 6 months to a year after achieving necessary personal finance goals. Such a thing would work like this:

  • One should not have to worry about money during that period, which means that you have enough money to pay for your regular expenses and for the expenses during the sabbatical, such as travel.
  • One should be able to return to employment from an employer or to self-employment. That means keeping skills up to date and hoping that a recession does not hit. So a sabbatical would still involve some kind of work, though not for someone else.
  • One  should not have to answer to any employer or any customer during that time. This is difficult for someone who is self-employed. The concept here is that a sabbatical should be free of worrying about other people’s problems.
  • A sabbatical is meant to a peaceful time for self-discovery and understanding what to do with the rest of one’s life.
This is mostly a pipe dream for now. But something to aspire towards before it becomes too late and the “sabbatical” turns into “retirement”.



barbara pagano September 28, 2011 at 5:51 pm

Krishna, Your idea of what a sabbatical should be may be a pipe dream for some, but not for all. Over 130 companies offer sabbaticals to employees and the list is growing. (see http://yoursabbatical.com/learn/workplaces-for-sabbaticals/)

The average sabbatical is paid and six weeks long. Disconnection, as in your item #3, is encouraged and in some cases, mandatory. And while those self-employed have challenges, we know of many who make a sabbatical happen with positive results for their business.

Thanks for a terrific post. I enjoyed it.

Krishna September 28, 2011 at 9:22 pm

Thanks for your comment, Barbara. I visited your site and it looks like a great resource for employees.

Andrew May 13, 2012 at 12:22 pm

"many employers have contracts that specify that anything created by the programmer even during non-working hours and using their own hardware resources still belongs to the employer"

Any such provision is against California state law.

Krishna May 30, 2012 at 9:26 am

Andrew, you are right, but I believe that Google has employment contracts with that kind of provision. And it relates to how the California law is stated (http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=lab&group=02001-03000&file=2870-2872)

2870. (a) Any provision in an employment agreement which provides
that an employee shall assign, or offer to assign, any of his or her
rights in an invention to his or her employer shall not apply to an
invention that the employee developed entirely on his or her own time
without using the employer's equipment, supplies, facilities, or
trade secret information except for those inventions that either:
(1) Relate at the time of conception or reduction to practice of
the invention to the employer's business, or actual or demonstrably
anticipated research or development of the employer; or
(2) Result from any work performed by the employee for the
(b) To the extent a provision in an employment agreement purports
to require an employee to assign an invention otherwise excluded from
being required to be assigned under subdivision (a), the provision
is against the public policy of this state and is unenforceable.

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