Bonum Certa Men Certa

Debian Developer at Sirius Was Under the Wrong Impression That Staff Must Check or Should See E-mail All the Time (24/7 Work Attention is an Occupational Health Hazard)

posted by Roy Schestowitz on Mar 04, 2024,
updated Mar 04, 2024

My personal and professional experience with a Debian Developer (DD) at work didn't leave me scarred, but I will always remember how he (and only he) expected me to read work E-mails even on my days off (5 days a week were 'off days'), basically working for "free" and not mentally disconnecting from the job

Silhouette Boy With Telephone

13 years ago I had only just joined Sirius (February 2011) and it didn't take me long to see who's who (or what).

In my experience, we a had Debian Developer (DD) at the company and he used his DD status to appeal for authority, or so the boss would have us believe. As Daniel Pocock often says, DD is used as a recruitment badge or as inherited status symbol, never mind if in recent years one could get "DD" in one's resume for merely sleeping with a guy in a position of authority at Debian. No need to either write code or even know how to write code!

Anyway, Chris Lamb-gate was a lot more recent than 2011, so let's assume DD still meant something back then. In Sirius, there was just one DD and, in my case, it was the principal vector of toxic and unhealthy culture, brought into workplaces and imposed upon others (my colleagues at the time).

See, back in 2011 when I only worked weekends (Saturday and Sunday strictly; years later I started doing full-time) and someone was 'bossing' me I was repeatedly reminded to check my E-mails often, even if I'm off work for 5 days in a row.

Old toll phone - public phone

Sadly, I cannot find all the relevant E-mails (it was a very long time ago and I cannot remember what terms to look for), but suddenly it seems very relevant because Mr. Pocock wrote about this toxic work "ethic" - one that could result in a car accident (people deprived of sleep) or a lot of overwhelming stress due to overworking or people mailing you 24/7 (or gossiping about you in some secretive E-mail/mailing list). Boundaries between home and work (or life and labour, which can happen in the same location) are encouraged for a good reason.

Mr. Pocock spoke out based on him experiencing such things back to the 1990s, noting that this "24/7" culture was likely in violation of labour laws; this endemic/addictive culture helped explain how or why it was harming people's health in Debian and this mindset was brought into Sirius in 2011 or earlier (before I was there).

To be clear, one person - and a single person only - prodded me to check E-mail while I was off work; only a Debian Developer told me this, ever. In fact, this theme kept coming up in 2011 (several times) and they put pressure on colleagues to not be truly off work, even when formally the work time was over and it was time to rest. Here is an E-mail dated Thursday, 24 Feb 2011 (about a fortnight after I had joined the company):

Subject: Re: Jabber status messages - Message Received

Hopefully you still read your Sirius mail more frequently than once a
week ;)

On Thu, 24 Feb 2011 18:06:15 +0000 "Roy Schestowitz - Autoreply Message" xxxxxwrote:
> [Debian Developer], > > I am in the process of replacing E-mail correspondence with other, > more effective & real-time means of communication. I still read my > E-mail, but I do not read it regularly. I will collect messages about > once a week, which makes manual filtering of spam a lot faster. > > If you are willing to have a conversation with me, please consider > creating/using an account in identi.ca < http://identi.ca/ > (or > Twitter) where I can be contacted by handle @schestowitz. > Alternatively, you can find me on IRC, under the Freenode network at > channel _techrights > > If the E-mail is urgent, please send mail to s@schestowitz.com, which > I will read more regularly. For an explanation of why I prefer to > phase my E-mail accounts out, see < > http://www-cs-faculty.stanford.edu/~uno/email.html >

There were E-mails similar to it around that time.

Is this the sort of culture Debian Developers can bring to a workplace, as if someone working twice a week should in fact 'work' every day and not take breaks?

A few months later there was a relatively long discussion among colleagues, including myself. Here's one E-mail from that thread:

Re: Backing up emails

Date: Fri, 15 Apr 2011 15:59:33 +0100

From: Roy Schestowitz

To: [Debian Developer] CC: [redacted]

> A couple of quick points:
>
>> I must agree with xxxxxxx. Personally, I read NOC folder+triage at least
>> twice *every* day,
> ...but much more regularly when you're on shift, because there's an SLA
> on responding quickly.

Yes, then I get it alerting me within minutes, like an RSS feed. But actually, the shift reports are the ones I read carefully while not on shift. Jabber me any time, too. I'm always here watching, even if I just lurk.
>> even though I work just twice a week. In the NOC >> folder, I must read all messages *urgently* before they vanish >> (otherwise I can't keep abreast of developments which are relevant to >> my weekend duties). > The contents of the folder /should/ be cleared out quickly (though > stored for reference). It's an incoming spool which should be dealt > with and logged. Anything that's relevant to the job should be > summarised in the shift reports and/or on the wiki. > > If you have time to read everything that flows thought that's great, > but part of the point of the shift reports is to provide a quick digest > to make it easy to catch up without reading every single mail.
Indeed. :-)

I cannot find the "smoking gun" at this moment, but going by/from memory, I was 'told off' for not checking work E-mail during my days off.

I was also (at the same time) working as a postdoc at the university and working on my sites, so my hands were full all the time.

Download Debian Developer Certificates

It's not like I was sitting there watching TV to "kill time".

Remember we're talking about a sordid employer which, as we found out over a decade later, was defrauding many employees and in more recent years began hiding from prosecution, even arrests. The former wife of the CEO, who had also served as a manager and Director, was aware but at the same time (apparently!) she was deeply concerned about this. She wasn't a geek, but she was complicit. It's not over, either. We'll get back to this one day.

The above (regarding E-mail) isn't a crime, of course, but it's just a recollection, brought up belatedly and in hindsight. People should not be required to perform work duties outside the workplace or outside working hours, even if it's just checking their E-mail. In Japan and elsewhere laws were passed for the "right to disconnect" (from work) and this means actual legal ramifications (actionable in court) for employers who defy the laws.

Employment rules and regulations are often discussed here in relation to the EPO. We'll do lots of that this month.

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