Cover image from Passion (1954), public domain. Screenshot by Wayne77.
Popular job advice, especially in highly competitive fields like tech, often states that you should be “passionate” about your work. The word passion gets written into job descriptions all the time. There are plenty of articles on Dev discussing how to demonstrate your passion to employers, how to cultivate your passion, or how to maintain passion through tough times. While the sentiment originated in white-collar jobs, it’s now so pervasive that you might see a customer service position that requires the applicants to be “passionate about the customer experience”--there are even articles about how to tell if an employee is passionate enough about it. If we accept that demanding passion is absurd at the cashier level (do you really want your grocery bagger to be passionately placing each can in your reusable waxed canvas bag), then why is passion considered a prerequisite for so many jobs in tech?
Asking interviewees to demonstrate passion might be a way to try and predict quality of work--you might assume that someone who loves what they do will do it better than someone who’s just here to get their paycheck. However, it’s pretty easy to play up passion on a resume or in a job interview that you might not feel during a forty hour work week. So why do employers assume that they can gauge someone’s passion, and that passion matters, when it’s fairly easy to falsify?
A cynical answer might be that an employee who’s claimed that they are passionate (or who--I guess--is actually passionate) might be easier to persuade to work longer hours for the same pay, or pursue work-related research and professional development off the clock. From an accounting perspective, that means you can pay the passionate person less. Someone who puts in a 60 hour week when the job is for 40 hours is technically getting paid about 67% of what they said their hourly rate was--and they’re giving themselves professional development off the clock, which means you don’t necessarily have to pay for conferences and trainings. And so perhaps employers are incentivized to ask for passion so that they can expect you to prove your love by making big sacrifices for the company.
But even if we assume that employers aren’t trying to get one over on you, there are drawbacks to their seeking only the most passionate employees. Some fields within tech don’t have degree certifications, and must be either learned on the job or self-taught. If the expectation is that hires will have to learn those skills off the clock, in order to demonstrate passion, then employers will lose out on smart, teachable candidates who might have great reasons for not “passionately” pursuing their career outside of work--for example, if they have young children, or have to support elderly relatives, or have illnesses or disabilities that take up much of their non-work time. Sometimes, what employers mistake for passion is actually “plenty of free time” or “some disposable income to spend on personal projects.” This can make passion a metric that inadvertently locks out women, people of color, and working-class people from tech positions where they might otherwise thrive.
In many fields, the passion requirement ends up screening out candidates who would otherwise be qualified-enough, because they didn’t manage to sufficiently demonstrate their love for doing work for free. Liking your job and doing it well are important, but a great step to diversifying tech would be to back off this endless thirst for endlessly thirsty employees.
Have you had an employer ask you about your passion for your work? What do you think about passion as a job requirement? Tell me in the comments.