An Interview with Uman Shahzad of IPinfo

An Interview with Uman Shahzad of IPinfo feature image

This post is the first in a series of interviews with individuals working 30 hour jobs. If you are interested in sharing your own story (I will work with you over email), please shoot me an email!

Introduce yourself! What’s your name, what do you do, and where do you work?

Hey! I'm Uman, an engineer working 15-20 hours per week at IPinfo. I currently take care of IPinfo's application that serves billions of requests per month for IP and related information to users across the world. I do this remotely out of Pakistan — yes! — while the rest of the team is just as scattered all across the world.

What does your reduced work schedule look like?

I try to keep my schedule consistent for my own sanity and efficiency, so in practice that's 3-4 hours per day, Monday through Friday. Some people prefer working a few more hours per day and then take one of the standard workdays off, but I feel more efficient with less hours per day. So in practice that usually means putting in some really high-focus work each day, which you can only sustain for a short period of time — kind of like sprinting versus jogging — and then distributing that out across a week. The aggregate completed work is almost always much more than what you'd get by squishing all that into one contiguous timeframe.

With that model, I'll sometimes even go down to 2-3 hours per day and work on the weekend too. Since the amount per day is so little (some people's work commutes these days take 1 hour on their own!) this doesn't really take much from my other weekend activities.

What prompted you to decide to pursue a reduced work schedule?

Being overwhelmed by too many hours in the past. I think the people most susceptible to burnout and over-working are industry newcomers, because everything's so fresh and new to them and they really want to stand out and make a name. When I started I exhibited this behavior quite clearly — my coworkers were surprised I'd be instantly replying to their comments in asynchronous communication mediums when it's deep in the middle of the night where I was.

My logged hours per week were consistently above 40, sometimes 60, and that's actual hours sitting on the chair and doing stuff. For people who work 40 hours in an office, it's not the same — office time includes lunch, meetings, socialization, and more — 40 hours of remote work is very different for many remote workers.

At some point I could feel the burnout via demotivation, and took a month-long unpaid leave and reduced my commitment to 30 hours per week for when I was back. My CEO at that company (shout out to OpenCraft!) totally understood the situation and accepted the request.

How has a reduced work schedule improved your life?

I now see it as central to my efficiency as an engineer. It gives me incredibly more time to, well, do other things in life than just work. I can read and study unrelated things more. Spend time with family more. Take more naps. Everything is just more. And all the benefits from doing other stuff more ultimately spill over into work efficiency — happier and more capable of doing a better job. It's honestly a positive feedback loop, a sort of 'secret recipe' to efficiency that almost all employers and employees would highly benefit from.

And so now, if I have to work 8-hour days again, I know that up to almost half that time will be highly ineffective. Use the analogy of sleep — if you get 3 hours every day for a while, at some point you feel like it's normal, but when you finally get that 8-hour sleep, you feel like you just gained superpowers! It's like that for work hours, but vice versa of course (less is more)!

Have you noticed any downsides to working less hours per week?

The pay decrease is obviously significant, proportional to your hour decrease. In my own case I'm blessed to be able to live comfortably in a low-cost society, so even with a reduced salary, it doesn't affect me much. But not everyone has this luxury.

Other than that, I can honestly say I haven't experienced any downside yet from this model. However I'd be interested to hear what employers have to say about it - their experience with hiring and managing low-hour employees. Ultimately to push this model to more widespread adoption, we need the employers on-board, too. That's why it's been such a great success at IPinfo - our CEO, Ben Dowling, is clearly on-board.

Do you have any tips for others looking for a job with a reduced work schedule?

Yeah, use! (Just kidding, that's optional 😉).

Frankly, just negotiate and explain your case reasonably. People consider 'fulltime' to mean greater than or equal to 30 hours per week, so you can leverage using that word while still pushing for your reduced time. As long as the other person comes to understand that, hey, this person will deliver more in less for us, you've got a considerably stronger case.

Do you plan on keeping this schedule for the foreseeable future?

Absolutely plan on it. I still make exceptions for when I'm really passionate about something, but my commitment will almost always remain at most 30 hours per week.

Anything else you would like to share?

If you got this far, I hope you agree there's a lot to be gained by going down this road, even if that means a salary cut (or hey, you may be getting a new position right now, which is an opportunity to achieve this without a pay cut).

If you're successful, the fact is that you've done everybody else a service too, by breaking a barrier. You'll have made it possible for other people to reduce their hours too. Of course, you'll need to set the right example to your employer first, so they're convinced by hard evidence that this can work, but I assume you're awesome so that's not a problem 😉.

Now go out there and figure out a plan to make this happen! Maybe step one:

Uman is a software engineer working at IPinfo. He makes sure the service's billions of requests per month are handled properly! You can check out more of his work on his GitHub account.

Nicholas Rempel