Last year was, in many ways, a rather difficult year for me.
There were certainly a lot of good things — we moved into our house, we adopted a puppy, and I switched to an interesting new team at work. But there was also a lot of unpleasantness and stress, and I frequently felt like I couldn’t manage to take a breath for fear of letting some urgent thing go undone.
Some of that is unavoidable, of course. We’re entering the third year of a global pandemic, our political situation in the United States is infuriating and dangerous, and family and work will often pick the worst possible time to spring crises on us.
But in my case at least, a lot of the stress I felt came from how I reacted to things. I felt like I couldn’t slow down, couldn’t sit and think, even though doing so was often exactly what I needed to do. The urgency was often something I imposed on myself, not something that came from the situation.
So, to the extent I have a new year’s resolution, it’s to slow down. To spend more time thinking, and planning, and reading, and less time reacting to whatever I find most stressful in the moment. Overall, to reduce urgency.
We’ll see how it goes, of course. Some things are difficult to control.
It’s been about two years since I joined NVIDIA as a Solutions Architect, which was a pretty big job change for me! Most of my previous work was in jobs that could fall under the heading of “site reliability engineering”, where I was actively responsible for the operations of computing systems, but my new job mostly has me helping customers design and build their own systems.
I’m finally starting to feel like I know what I’m doing at least 25% of the time ? so I thought this would be a good time to reflect on the differences between these roles and what my past experience brings to the table for my (sort of) new job.
A few weeks ago I watched Hillel Wayne’s recent talk “Are we really engineers?”, where he looked at the idea of whether software engineers get to call themselves “engineers” or not. (Spoiler: the answer is yes!)
During the Q&A, Wayne mentioned that while he had seen a lot of “philosophy of science”, there didn’t seem to be much “philosophy of engineering” out there. I remembered noticing the same thing, and on Twitter I asked for book recommendations on the topic. The always-reliable Lorin Hochstein obliged, and a week later I had some reading to do!
Just as a disclaimer: this post is very much in theme of “thinking out loud”, and got a little long. 🙂 This is mostly me discussing my experience of reading the book and some thoughts on software engineering I had after reading it. Very likely nothing here is at all original, and I am not an expert, but I wanted to get my ideas down in text after finishing the read. And having done so, I thought it might be worthwhile to share.
Ok, let’s dive in.
I have a lot of friends who are struggling with focus at work given our current shelter-in-place conditions. I’m running into a little bit of this myself — I think my productivity is a little bit lower than usual, even though I’m used to working at home. But for the most part I’m doing ok getting work done.
Instead, what I’m failing at is relaxing. I’m finding it increasingly hard to focus, or enjoy myself at all, when I don’t have a clear “to-do” item in front of me.
- I’m having trouble with any kind of fiction reading, which is usually not a problem at all.
- I’ve been taking more walks, but I spend them either thinking about work or worrying about the state of the world in general.
- I can occasionally fool myself into baking, but only if I think of it as “I need this loaf of bread” instead of “it’s fun to bake!”
- While Leigh and I are slowly working our way through Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, I’ve watched it enough times that it’s as much background noise as media for me.
Instead, when I have any kind of downtime I just feel anxious. I stare at Twitter or the news, or just sit there and worry.
Needless to say this is not any good for work-life balance! I’ve been doing okay at not over-working, mostly thanks to Leigh and the cats, but I’m not sure hours of free-floating anxiety is all that much better.
Anyway. Not sure there’s a point to this, but that’s my current quarantine experience. If this sounds familiar, feel free to shoot me an email and happy to chat! (Apparently I could use the distraction…)