Making software and software development teams. Mostly the people parts.

Problem I'm Learning More About


This is part of a broader theme I’m picking up on re: the worrying state of mental health in the developed world.

I appreciated this post because it including multiple perspectives, including some that cast light on a "risk of medicalizing everyday distress… labelling more and more healthy people as sick and building bigger potential markets for those selling medicines"

Here’s what I know about burnout:

My dad worked for the federal government. QA for the DOD. He made sure the people who made the missiles and tanks were making them safe, performant, reliable. That just sounds like the type of job that would require weekend slack or phone call sessions. I never once saw my dad work on the weekends. Not a phone call, not a whoops Dad has to go into the office for a half-day Saturday. He did his 9-5 (actually 7-3), came home and relaxed with his family.

Most of my career has been spent in small-shop scenarios: Solopreneur or Founder or CTO. There’s a 24/7 responsibility there, even if it’s rarely exercised. I once spent an afternoon and evening in an Internet Cafe in Vienna diagnosing and fixing a database problem, vacation on pause. Losing a day off seemed like a reasonable price for the rewards running my own shop provided.

I’ve done this in six different roles. Eight years being the longest stretch. By year seven I was Burned. The. Fuck. Out. I had to make a change, so I did: I booked a six month sabbatical. (Aside: This turned into a month sabbatical, five months getting a new venture I was excited about off the ground, and a lesson for myself in how I will struggle if I ever try to retire)

Today I work at a mid-sized org that’s part of a very large enterprise. Redundancy exists… nothing I do can’t be done by anyone else. I hold very few if any tribal secrets that nobody else knows. Even if my entire team were to disappear, we write enough documentation and develop apps and services in such common patterns that someone else could eventually be found to debug almost any problem.

And yet, I find myself having to remind myself to show some discipline. To not check Slack on a sunny Sunday morning, or Saturday night after coming home from the bar. 

I try to be aware of myself as model. If I’m doing the _inspire_ part of my job, others are going to emulate my behavior. Nobody can tell when I’m monitoring a weekend incident response or catching up on interesting posts, but at least by modeling not posting, I can avoid setting the example that hey, Engineering Leaders here work on weekends and thereby maybe, just maybe, make a tiny contribution to alleviating burnout in the industry.