Wellness in the software industry, as widespread as Fortran in your codebase.Posted by Dave on Feb 24, 2012 in Blog | 1 comment
It’s been on my mind for some time to write about a worry I have that some engineers, ok maybe the majority of engineers, even <gasp!> some recruiters, may not be living the most balanced lifestyles. Yeah I am talking to you with the donut in one hand and microbrew in the other.
But diet and drink is only a part of what I’m talking about-an important part-but not the core issue. The core issue is working at a frenetic pace in a highly dynamic industry on tight deadlines way more than 40 hours a week on hugely important projects that will just be so amazingly cool! If your heart doesn’t explode at your desk thereby not allowing you to ever finish it. And oh yeah their are also the priorities of family, church, hobbies, actually going to the grocery store, getting exercise, etc.
I’ve been doing software recruiting long enough that I have seen a few friends reach the end of their ropes. One guy we placed in a development job with a client ended up hospitalized a couple years later. He says it was mainly work stress. I believe it.
I have my own struggles fighting burnout. The life of an independent recruiter is exhilarating to a point, then you reach a plateau where things can crater fast and hard. Especially when you live on commissions and you hit a slump where they go away for a while. Commission checks are our friends. We want them to stick around. When they go away we get REALLY sad. And the ex wives, current wives, bill collectors, etc. get REALLY mad. You have to stay focused everyday in a very real way or things go wrong fast and spectacularly. Like in your software development job.
The key for all of us to keep our productivity high and maintain a healthy emotional attitude about work is to consciously live our lives for maximum emotional, spiritual, and physical wellness. I really have to recommend a book here, Getting Results the Agile Way, by JD Meier, which you can read online for free here. You can also order a physical copy there and I recommend it. His book is about adopting the Agile software development methodology to how you run your life. I have worked with it for over a year now and can tell you his system works.
The key seems to be having a framework, setting limits, setting and achieving goals, letting go of a lot of things (like your seething hatred of that other software language/platform/company/database/methodology/whatever, you know, the STUPID one,) and expecting and quickly adapting to massive chaos.
If your life is a bunch of buckets-work, family, hobbies, church, video games, whatever, you can only put so many hours into each. Letting each of those hours be very focused and thoroughly enjoying them is the way to wellness. You only have a few hours a day during the week with family. Turn off the smartphone and engage. When you are at church focus on the moment and the people around you and put all of your energy there. Allow yourself to turn off your work brain when you are not at work. Have the courage to be more than just a software developer who can only talk about software. Connect in other ways with people. Although you may think the subject of what Oracle is doing to Java is CRIMINAL and really important, most other people just don’t care. I am talking about myself here.
How is your life working for you? On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being perfection, how is work for you? How is your marriage or other romantic relationship? How is your relationship with your kids or extended family? How is your health? How is your financial situation? Ok now you know what to focus your energy on improving.
How is your relationship with yourself? Do you walk around thinking negative thoughts? Do you beat yourself up for not being perfect? Do you focus on people’s flaws or on their strengths? All these things you think, or not, are a choice which means you can change them. Do it for yourself and your family.
I’m going to try making it a priority to talk about some of this stuff with the engineers I work with who seem a little one-dimensional about their work. We work in a stressful business but you see people who live healthily anyway. Watch what they do and how they process things. Those are the keys to achieving a life of happiness and prosperity. I’m always amazed at the vastly different attitudes different people have about certain companies, cities, languages, whatever. “New York City, that’s the worst place ever, I would never live there.” And yet a lot of people do and love it.
Personal disclosure here: my father died of a massive heart attack. At work. It hit him at his desk, he hit the floor, and he never regained consciousness. He was only 54. He had depression as a risk factor, plus family history, plus smoking, plus not eating right or exercising. Those are poor odds. Now that I have hit 40 it accelerates the efforts I already had underway to take better care of myself emotionally and physically to avoid the same fate.
This post is for you Dad! And for all the good folks we come into contact with. May your code compile the first time.