I think most people will default to how many hours you put into work. But at what point do we say someone is working hard? Is it working 40hours/week? 50hours/week? or 80-100hours/week?
And how do these hours vary by geography?
What’s considered working hard?
In an ideal world, working hard means that you deliver the expected amount of impact, ship high-quality work, and mesh well with your teammates. It shouldn't be connected at all to the number of hours you put in - If someone can meet expectations working just 30 hours a week, they should be allowed to do so. I actually was able to do this during my later days at Meta and most of my time at Robinhood: Both of these companies had pretty clear expectations by level for their engineers, and I had some incredible managers during this period.
However, most companies unfortunately aren't like this as it's difficult and takes a lot of effort to get this more holistic picture of software engineer performance. We all know that the world is far from ideal, so I'll cover more of the reality of the situation below.
And how do these hours vary by geography?
I've only ever worked in the Silicon Valley, so my perspective here is very limited (would love for folks to correct me if I'm completely off). Here's my very narrow perspective in broad strokes:
I think the vast majority of companies, including those in tech, care a lot about the appearance of working hard so raw number of hours worked is more important than actual impact unfortunately. 😔
However, even in companies that do actually reward impact, they tend to be FAANG companies or FAANG-equivalent ones. This means that their bar for impact is sky-high, which leads to overly long hours worked for the majority of engineers there anyways. 🤷
Zooming out, if you're worried about not being perceived as working hard, I would work with your manager if possible to set concrete goals, almost like a contract, around what a good performance review cycle looks like in terms of actual results. From there, you can work backwards from what you actually need to accomplish, not how many hours you need to work. Putting on the mere performance of working hard is not only draining, it's detrimental for your growth - Always strive to focus on actual results. Here's some good resources we have around that:
I have many more thoughts around how you can still achieve great results while working "only" 40 hours a week (or less!) here: "Is it possible to do well at a SWE job working less than 40 hours a week?"
I feel like I can add some value here having worked in Asia (India) and now in Europe (Amsterdam).
From my view I think Alex hit the nail on the point of it depends on your manager and company.
I know when I was working in India I would routinely work less than 20 hours per week including meetings and still got exceptional ratings, while other people in the same team even work 50+ hours and got meets. Now that doesn't mean I was by any means vastly exceptional however, a key difference was quantifiable output that was done along with the perception of value (setting templates for pipelines, creating naming conventions, roadmap planning with business, etc).
Something similar in Amsterdam, sometimes I work less than 30 hours sometimes more than 40 (depends on many factors including my mood). However, my output / value remains consistent. Although while seen as norm to not work as much, there are a lot of people who put in 50+ hour weeks even in Europe.
The highest value in my experience for myself is from connecting dots and bringing together initiatives. Which in raw hours takes less time but overall might actually take more. Since I do this on top of my actual expectations of others (which after demonstrating other higher priority work, I start discussing with my manager to have someone else take it over). This is similar to just growing in your career like the next level roles but at the same time figuring out what can be left out without impacting the value (perception is also key but if it's just an illusion it can only last so long).
As Alex stated, the expectations are also sky high, so it's best to determine how much you're willing to put in. There are times I decided that I won't do more for now as I wanted to focus on something else in my life outside work. But just knowing that you're making such a decision is crucial to feeling better about the work / value you bring in.
There are tons on resources on Taro for growing in your career and in my view evaluating against a career / level framework or even just Job Description is a better indicator of working hard than the hours. Mileage will vary by manager / company. In startups these may not be defined but I took that as an opportunity to sit down with the CTO and CEO and ask them hey I'm doing these things, what do YOU value from it (of course business and tech value things differently)? What else gaps do you see for value delivery (sometimes it's a strategic opportunity to grow and other times I decide it's not for me). Bridging the business and technical gaps in value or better presenting it in a different light for each is value.