At a recent software programmers conference in San Francisco, one senior engineer, Nick Floyd, stood up to give a talk on work-life balance.
Ditch it, he said.
The idea of work and life being separate is outdated and impractical, he claimed. Instead, the New Relic engineer proposed something new: Nerd Life Balance, in which work and nonwork hours are no longer divided.
"What if we made work and life more like Velcro and less like sandpaper?" he said as his audience of programmers responded by nodding and clapping. "What if I could bring my nerd side home?"
Programmers -- who are known to sleep under their desks, wear pajamas all day, and code for 16 hours straight without standing up -- have long been pushing against workplace mores. Traditional labor unions have worked to strengthen the work-life divide, fighting for such separations as weekends and eight-hour workdays.
Meanwhile, tech executives, who pay their employees partly in perks like haircuts, gym equipment and snacks, have built cultures that blur that divide. Programmers are encouraged to stay all night for "hackathons," and many offices have nap rooms.
Under his Nerd Life Balance philosophy, Floyd doesn't try to fight this new blend of office and home but argues that programmers can still start families (teach your kids to code) and live normal lives (think of exercise as a pleasure as great as coding).
Chris Kelly, director of developer relations for San Francisco software company New Relic, agreed that the traditional work-life divide is an antiquated vision.
"We're talking about the engineering culture of the future," he said. "It doesn't mean you have to work 16 hours a day, but it means your brain is kind of always thinking about work. While you're rock climbing, you're thinking about it."
During Floyd's talk, which he's given to groups of programmers on retreats, he focused on using common sense -- exercise, don't stay up all night, start talking to people about your work. He showed pictures of his children building a computer as an example of ways you can incorporate work with life.
"The fact is that work and life are not faucets we can turn off and walk away from," Floyd said. "So instead of becoming frustrated at trying to compartmentalize, we should try to make these aspects of our lives more congruent."
He spoke in engineering-lingo, saying it's time to "change the settings of your life," and posting a slide with an equation that translated into: The current work/life divide destroys balance.
He ended his talk with a promise: "Welcome to the Nerd World Order."
Neal Ormsbee, the 22-year-old co-founder of a startup called Feather, said he usually works from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and joked about getting cots in the office. He said that many engineers feel that "normal people" don't understand what they do, which can be isolating. For him, Nerd Life Balance is appealing because it means he wouldn't have to be embarrassed of tech speak in normal life. "I work on network TCP and IP streams, which doesn't mean anything to you, right?"
Meggie Mahnken, a 23-year-old programmer, said that coding can be addictive and it's easy to lose sight of basic needs like food or sleep -- and there's pressure from employers to stay at work all night. "There's this implicit contract that you're supposed to give your life away to the company."
(Nellie Bowles is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: email@example.com Follow her on Twitter: @NellieBowles. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.)