Why indie developers may face the biggest burnout risk of all


The biggest competition for indie app developers may not be other indie app developers, or even larger publishers and brands. It might be the warmer weather, the smell of barbecues and all those photos from friends' cottages in their Facebook feed. That, and the desolating sense that they just can't keep on doing what they're doing.

With all the hype and excitement about the market opportunities around mobile apps, it would be easy to overlook the fact that the struggle to create a hit could take its toll on many developers. That's what made a recent post by Dan Rowinski so refreshing and meaningful. Writing on the blog for Applause, a testing service based in Framingham, Mass., Rowinski offered both some personal reflections on the risk of burnout as a well as a roundup of examples from other developers:

"Developers may live by their own masculine code of ethics, but that does not mean they do not have the same issues that everybody else in the world does. Ask for help, take some time off. Don't work for an employer that stresses long hours and tight deadlines 365 days a year," he wrote.

Rowsinski's post seems largely about software developers working within businesses, though he does note that even the self-employed carry burnout potential:

"Burnout is not just a professional and personal hazard though," he cautioned. "The life of an entrepreneur may seem glamorous, but long days and high expectations tend to push people towards anxiety, depression and existential angst."

In between developers working full-time on enterprise apps and those creating a startup (which may still have a team of half a dozen other people to lean on) is the indie developer who creates apps on the side, either as a hobby or a moonlighting gig they hope will one day become their primary source of work. This segment has long been a mainstay of the FierceDeveloper audience, and I wonder if their propensity for burnout is even greater.

After all, when no one is forcing you to make a mobile app, you could just quit, right? Except that means giving up on an ambition that may have carried you through the drudgery of your day job. There's also the issue of the demands of a day job--and burning out doing it--having an adverse effect on your ability to make apps in the evening or on weekends.

There's no easy prevention or cure for burnout among app developers, but Rowinski's post hints at one of the best tactics: becoming less of a lone wolf and more of an active member of a community. That might mean joining an industry association. It might mean forming a loose collective of peer support with other developers who work in a similar space. It might mean being more proactive about finding a mentor--something that's often suggested for startup founders but not necessarily for app developers. The important thing is to work in such a way that you are frequently reminded that you're not alone. Because even if you only occasionally feel the symptoms of burnout emerging, chances are you're not the only one. --Shane

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