Been thinking about the advice we give folks, esp jr and intermediate engineers.
I love telling people to go home, have life/work balance, take a vacation etc, but also feel uncomfortably hypocritical. Why am I urging them *not* to do the things that got me to where i am today?
— Charity Majors (@mipsytipsy) May 17, 2018
I read an interesting thread this morning that really resonated with me. I am continually ensuring that my team have a great work-life balance, encouraging them not to work too hard and ensuring that they have time with their families. There are occasions when things go wrong and everyone needs to pull together but this should always be the exception. I’ve written before about the expectations of some tech companies in excessive hours as the only way. However, I have got to where I am by working as hard as I could, being determined in what I wanted to achieve, using my evening to improve and learn new things so I have the knowledge and experience for each new step. I pushed myself really hard, because I knew I could always do more, do better. I still do.
Yet along side this, when I speak to early career individuals, I emphasise the need for not overworking, while at the same time being passionate about encouraging life-long learning. It’s exceedingly difficult to find the balance and give advice. Companies want to hire the best, so you need the experience and/or qualifications to show this. To stand out, you need the open source contributions, the books, the talks. This doesn’t come easily and takes a lot of work. Sometimes, the self-imposed pressure can get too much and can leave you feeling lost. Yesterday Markiplier posted a video about his own commitment to work and how he has set himself goals1. What was interesting to me was his thoughts on feeling lost himself when he wasn’t achieving what he wanted, despite being incredibly successful. It’s easy to judge yourself harshly, much harder to be fair to yourself.
At the same time, I have seen individuals2, just like Charity is seeing3, that coast along in their jobs, and just expect raises and promotions to be given to them when they’re not increasing their skills or value. A follow up thread to my retweet of Charity’s thread was a fantastic conversation indicating that not only does time need to be given in working hours rather than expecting people to skill up on unpaid overtime, but also people needed to manage their own workloads better and not be afraid of saying “No” when asked to take on more than they can reasonably manage. Similarly, managers should know when their team are at capacity and when parachuting in new work items expect something to slip. This isn’t just in IT, I’ve seen receptionists, HR, office managers, accountants etc all take on more than they can handle and my advice is always to say “Of course I can do this new task, since it’s urgent, but that will mean something will be late, can you let me know what I should not do to make room for this?” Suddenly, critical tasks can become nice to haves when the reality hits.
I completely agree with the need to “level up” – it’s fundamental to me that you should always try to stretch yourself and improve. What is critical is assessing that balance in your life and ensuring that you keep this at a healthy level. Where the balance lies will change as you age and your jobs and relationships also change so make sure you can recognise your limits.