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The On-Call Experience – Managing Urgent Incidents as a Lead Software Developer

Zoran Šljivić, Lead Software Developer

Most professionals don't often engage in round-the-clock work, but as a Lead Software Developer, I'm dedicated to being always readily available for my clients. However, it's important to note that my constant availability primarily pertains to urgent situations that may arise in the software development process or maintenance.

What does that mean?
It means that either someone from my team or myself is always accessible to the client. Yes, there are some benefits, such as additional pay, though it also brings some challenges in balancing one’s personal life. 

A very typical day in our atypical working hours

My typical working day is not different from anyone else's. Working hours are from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. or from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. During our regular working hours, my team and I develop new solutions for the client, or we resolve any incident tickets that come up during the client's production. We perform daily tasks and hold 20-minute daily meetings where team members report the status of their tasks and/or ask for help in solving the current task.

The On-Call Experience

After an 8-hour workday, my on-call shift starts. It lasts, for example, from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. During the on-call shift, if any problem occurs, the client can contact me by phone. I'm responsible for connecting via my laptop in the shortest time possible and solving the problem. If I can't solve it independently, or the situation requires team knowledge, I'm responsible for contacting team members. There are different types of incidents, so the reaction time is precisely defined for each incident. Without going into details, let's say that the expected reaction time (connecting to work) is between 15 minutes to a maximum of 2 hours. Resolving an incident can last from 30 minutes to several hours. There have been cases where solving a problem took an hour, while some required up to 7-8 hours at a stretch.

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Is there really such a thing as work-life balance?

The frequency of urgent situations cannot be foreseen with great certainty, so the challenge lies in how to arrange my life. I have been working like this for several years now and managed to arrange my daily schedule so that I get the most out of my day.

As a big advocate of exercise and a healthy lifestyle, I exercise right after regular working hours. Whether training in the gym, running, or riding a bike, I do my best to invest that time in my health when there is the least chance that a client will contact me. 60-90 minutes of exercise is enough, if not every day, then at least every other day. During the days that I don’t exercise, I enjoy spending time with my family or taking long walks.  Of course, there have been times when I have received a call in the middle of a workout, so I would quickly leave the gym and run to my office or home to start work. Days like that do not happen often, but they do happen. The advantage is that the gym is located halfway between work and home, about 4 minutes from both locations. 

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Motivation, discipline, and consistency become a lifestyle

Over time, I have learned that it's much easier if I'm in good physical shape. I try to stay disciplined and stick to my training schedule. If I'm running, my phone is always with me, and if I get a call, I can continue running to the office or home, depending on which one is closer. The trick is to arrange the running route, so you are always about 15 minutes from one of the locations. And it's an excellent motivation to get in shape! 

Some sprints to the office really paid off in races I participated in later. For those who aren't single, having a partner who understands the demands of your job is crucial. 

A supportive team

The nature of my work impacts my daily tasks and for example vacation planning. It's reassuring to have a dependable team who can assist if necessary. Fortunately, I have the privilege of working with highly responsible colleagues. We collaborate on the same project and occasionally take on each other's exceptional on-call situations.

An example is a colleague who had a newborn, and while the baby was very young, the team took over his calls, so the calls were redirected to the first person he was paired with. Also, if someone wants to go hiking where the signal is terrible and it is not convenient to carry a laptop, the calls are redirected to colleagues in the team. However, in cases that pose a greater challenge, every team member must help resolve the issue as soon as possible.

Key takeaways 

When working in such a mode, the most important thing is to have a well-planned daily schedule and to be able to adapt to frequent interruptions during a regular day. What helped me the most was physical exercise and training on how to react in extreme situations. One thing I would like to highlight is the importance of a good, reliable team.  I am lucky to work in a team of very responsible people, from juniors to seniors. Everyone understands the kind of job we do and our responsibility towards the client. With such an approach, this type of working mode is much easier than it sounds.

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