Up all night: How the tech elite pushes a crazy workaholic culture

Want to know why techies work such crazy hours and nap at their desks? Start at the top.

Balance? What balance?

One of the most famous -- notorious? -- aspects of the tech industry's hard-driving culture is the expectation that workers will spend long, long hours at work. In many ways, the fabled work perks of Silicon Valley life -- the in-house chefs, the comfy chairs -- are designed to keep employees at the office as long as possible. But it's not just for plebes: many of Silicon Valley's luminaries put themselves through crazy working hours as well. Here, in (mostly) their own words, are tech industry giants and their imbalanced work-life balance. Slideshow was originally published on ITWorld.com.


This slideshow "Up all night: How the tech elite pushes a crazy workaholic culture" originally appeared on ITworld.

REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Michael Arrington

"If you work at a startup and you think you're working too hard and sacrificing too much," TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington once proclaimed on his blog, "find a job somewhere else that will cater to your needs. But if deep down you know that you're part of history, that the things you are building will be written about and thought about forever, then maybe after that good cry after a short sleep under your desk you'll pull yourself together and remember ... You might be sad that you work long hours and that sometimes your boss yells at you when tensions run high. But you also know that there is nowhere on earth like Silicon Valley."

REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Marissa Mayer

Yahoo CEO and ex-Google exec Marissa Mayer worked insane hours when Google was starting, but says she never felt burned out. "It was 130 hour weeks. People say, 'There's only 168 hours in a week, how can you do it?' Well, if you're strategic about when you shower and sleeping under your desk, it can be done. I don't really believe in burnout. A lot of people work really hard for decades and decades, like Winston Churchill and Einstein." But she doesn't believe burnout is about missed meals or naps. "Burnout is about resentment. It's about knowing what matters to you so much that if you don't get it that you're resentful."

REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Mark Zuckerberg

For Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, blurring the lines between work and home life is an ideological and business imperative. "You have one identity," he told David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect. "The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly. Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity."

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs explained to an interviewer why he sometimes answered emails from strangers: "It was a whim, he said: He was up one Thursday at 1 AM working on a presentation for the following Monday, and this kid's note popped in, so..." The hidden point: Jobs was up late obsessively polishing a speech that other CEOs would've given to someone else to write. Jobs expected late-night dedication from his employees, too, noting that "innovation comes from people ... calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea" (so keep your cell phones turned on late, Apple minions).

REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Elon Musk

PayPal cofounder and current SpaceX/Tesla double threat Elon Musk gave an interview with Businessweek in which he seemed a bit puzzled about how to juggle his multiple jobs with romantic relationships. "I think the time allocated to the businesses and the kids is going fine,” said the twice-divorced Musk. "I would like to allocate more time to dating, though. I need to find a girlfriend. How much time does a woman want a week? Maybe 10 hours?" He'd had one vacation in the previous four years.

REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Jack Dorsey

Jack Dorsey puts in a standard eight-hour workday -- at each of his two jobs. He starts the day at Twitter, where he's the chairman, then heads over to Square, where he's the CEO. The offices are two blocks apart in San Francisco. "The only way to do this is to be very disciplined. I theme my days ... There's interruptions all the time, but I can quickly deal with an interruption and know 'it's Tuesday, I have product meetings, I have to focus on product stuff.'" After a week of 16-hour days, Dorsey does relax on weekends, dedicating Saturday to hiking and Sunday to "reflection, feedback and strategy" (sounds like work to us).

REUTERS/Gus Ruelas

Bill Gates

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates was a notorious workaholic back in the day. Between 1978 and 1984, Gates took only 15 days off of work. (Four of them, somewhat bizarrely, were spent at a tennis camp.) But he did know how to treat himself to small pleasures: a habit of his in the early days was to work a long day, leave the office and go to a movie -- and then head back for more hours burning the midnight oil.

Jamie Zawinski

Jamie Zawinski, one of the original Netscape engineers, wrote about life at the browser company in 1994: "I just got home; the last time I was asleep was, let's see, 39 hours ago. And I'm not even tired right now. I guess I'm on my second or third or eighteenth wind ... My hands have been really been hurting lately; I hope all this typing hasn't finally blown out my wrists. If I can't type, my life is over. My right hand especially is flaking out -- the last knuckle of the middle two fingers ache, as if they're badly bruised. I guess it's time to figure out how to use our medical program."

Courtesy of the Clemons family

Jack Clemens

Was it ever thus in the Valley? Jack Clemens, a pioneering IBM engineer who later worked on the Apollo program, discussed life at Big Blue in the 1950s: "This was seven days a week, eight, ten, twelve-hour days, pretty routine. I remember one Sunday afternoon, about 6 o'clock, as we left the lab, one of the guys said, 'Have a nice weekend,' because we were going to be back about 7 o'clock the next morning."

Mukund Mohand

Is it any wonder this attitude has filtered into the standard advice given to aspiring tech entrepreneurs? Mukund Mohan, who works for Microsoft's venture capital fund, puts it bluntly: "Most every entrepreneur will tell you they work extremely long hours. That's par for the course. Some 'older' entrepreneurs (usually over 35 years of age) will share their ability to 'strike a balance' between work and life. Practically speaking (I hate to break this to them) that does not exist in a startup. If you have that balance, you are not serious enough about your startup."

REUTERS/Noah Berger

Larry Ellison

Oracle founder Larry Ellison may come closest to a voice of reason in all this, asking: "What is play? What is work? Is work something you get paid for and play something you don't? I put a lot of work into my flying, and a lot of work into my sailing. I used to play tournament chess, I put a lot of work into that. They were all forms of exploration. I put a lot of work into my job, where I get paid. They're all in pursuit of the same thing: self-discovery, the discovery of my own limits." Or maybe it's another way to rationalize spending so much time at the office.