Tuesday, October 9, 2012

work work worky work

I had a bit of burnout at work last week, and I'm currently trying to recover, which I've never done before. The crux is that over the past couple of months I've ended up being a manager instead of a technical lead. It's a fine-grained distinction, which at my company gets explained more by example than by principle, but managers generally don't make technical contributions, and spend their time herding cats and coordinating and organizing things. That's important, don't get me wrong, and I'm also good at it; but I don't like it at all, and it turns out that my technical contribution is really important to both me and the company.

My higher-ups have been really helpful, and I'm working on two antidotes:
  • No meetings in the afternoons. Ever. 1:30 PM onwards is my time.
  • Have people email the whole team to get implementation details or up-to-the-hour status updates on projects.
The latter is the most interesting to me, as I realized I was becoming a sort of documentation repository, with people expecting me to know the technical details of the dozens of bugfixes and projects we might have going on at any given time. That's becoming impossible, with the team's size and scope: I've been spending all my energy studying and tracking what everyone's been doing, which is already difficult when I haven't been part of the implementation.

People also expect a certain unreasonable level of omniscience: if you ask me about something's status at 4 PM, I'll have no idea. The team does status updates every morning at 11 AM, and I don't bother people after that. (Partly that's projection on my part, because I despise when managers ask me for status updates every couple hours; but whether an engineer finds it annoying or not, it is an objectively disruptive thing to do.) Don't get me started on trying to keep track customer issues. I could literally spend eight hours a day doing nothing but reading and understanding what my team is doing. In fact, that's not far from what I've been doing. I hate it.

I'm feeling better, certainly. I've been a bit at a loss, in that having clawed back some time for coding, I'm not entirely sure what to write code on. It's starting to come into focus, though.

I gave a short talk today at the company meeting, about my team's (pretty amazing) reduction in costs this year. The funny thing is that we didn't start out trying to reduce costs: we were trying to make things work, having faith that once we had stability and consistency, we could tweak it for efficiency. We were right, our costs are down 83% since July 2011 and about 60% so far in 2012, and we're not done yet.

I like giving talks. I'm good at it, people tell me they learn things and have fun, and it's not super hard. I'm comfortable enough in front of a crowd, and my brain is soaked with enough knowledge and experience that I can give myself a basic outline to speak on and I can just extemporize in a relatively engaging way. I can do it in Spanish, too: I spoke for 15-20 minutes to a group of teachers in Valparaíso about my experience of their (very bad) school system. The next level up in speaking, where I actually rehearse a more detailed and less hand-wavey version of what I'm going to say, is pretty easily achievable, and I've already done it once or twice.

Being a grown-up is weird.

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