S07E09: Slow time

Something I rediscover every week is that policy works in slower time. I am finding it a real struggle to wean myself off the instant serotonin hit you get from releasing things minute-by-minute. Luckily, I know this isn’t unique to me: Camille Fournier’s book The Manager’s Path prepared me for this realisation.

It doesn’t make it less frustrating, but it does make it easier to manage.

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One year on

The last 12 months have been weird. I met my best friend and she moved in with me. I started a new job and felt supported even as I struggled with things. I went mostly vegetarian. I moved house.

The year was mostly the same as it would have been otherwise, except where it wasn’t.

I think I’ve discovered a lot about myself. I’ve discovered that I don’t really like work, but I do like to be busy. I’ve discovered a growing cynicism about most structures and systems, and my own place in them. I’ve discovered that I love labouring for a mission, and that this last year has felt aimless. I know that we’re not going anywhere, really, and that all direction is pointless. And yet I still desire the direction, I still feel the urge to travel with. I am still lacking purpose.

The joy of rapid delivery work is that the purpose is right there in front of you: you do the thing and then you move on to the next thing. Private Office meant I worked 10 hour days and it was not at all good for me, but I also knew what I was doing, knew why I was doing it. I had a mission. More and more I’m reflecting on the limits of my creativity. I’m not afraid of forging a path, but I want to know what the constraints are, what the vision is. Everything at the moment is very up in the air. I think for the most part that’s our situation – lines of communication are not as good as they used to be, and we’re still adapting to how we get our meaning across at such distance. I’m sure that, before very long, everything will settle down again.

I found I did not get the role I applied for on promotion but I did meet the standard, so I might be randomly offered a role in the near future. That’s…exciting, I suppose. I think what I’m struggling with is that I don’t feel like I’m doing a great job at the moment. I can’t tell if I’m not doing a great job because we’re living in a crisis and I’ve hit a wall, or because this is not something I want to do, or because it’s just not something I’m very good at. And all of this feeds the imposter syndrome, because how can I be considered ready for a promotion and also not be doing very well in my role?

I also wrote last week about my cynicism. I’m cynical because, as far as I can see, a lot of the structure and systems are bad. But worse than that, they don’t require bad people to reproduce. Good, well-intentioned people can propagate bad systems through the terrible crime of doing nothing. How can you deconstruct something when the choice you’re offering people is “hard work” and “do nothing”? And I see this happening all the time: I see it primarily in a world not designed for me, a world where I was recently given an hour-long presentation by a clinician telling me what autism is through stock photos and metaphor. If you were wondering whether metaphor and the implied narratives of stock photos are a good learning tool for autistic people, I would say:

  • generally no

and in my specific case:

  • also no.

And I see it in the burnout of colleagues who go beyond their limits; and in the friends doing the double duty of emotional labour for their partners; and all of this is not committed by cartoonish villains with moustaches and queer-coding so we can tell who to root against. I am cynical about the world, and frankly sometimes that cynicism is the only thing between myself and deep depression.

The challenge – the rightful challenge – from my friend was why on earth I wanted to get into the senior ranks of my organisation when this is my view of it. I don’t know. I honestly don’t. I have an idea that I could, in my small space, in my small way, change things for the better. But maybe I can’t. Maybe these things are just too big to change. Maybe I have to accept that organisations don’t really exist; all that exists is people and society, and organisations change at the same pace – but not the same time – as their context.

This isn’t really a coherent or manageable scope of problem. I can’t change society and I can’t change institutions. I can’t make time run faster or make people believe what I want them to believe. All I can do is change myself, and influence a small group of people. And perhaps they’ll influence more people. Perhaps all we’re doing here is planting acorns to shelter people who haven’t even been born yet.

I’m not happy about this. I’m pissed that the oaks that should be sheltering me were cut down, or never planted in the first place.

I’m also pretty sure I’m in a bit of a depressive funk, because this isn’t my normal state of mind. I know, or at least I’m pretty sure, that there will be sunshine tomorrow. But right now I’m having an off day, and I’m publishing it because I want you – yes, you – to know that other people feel like this sometimes. I’ve been pretty much locked inside for a year, and I’ve had it better than most because – see paragraph one – I met my best friend and she basically moved in with me. If I’d been totally alone I’d have had a lot more days like this.

This year has been weird, and reflecting on how rough it’s been has resulted in this mess. It’s a bad time, and what happens next probably won’t be as easy or simple as we hope. But things are getting better, and we are making things better, and the world that will be exists as potential in us so let’s wake up tomorrow and try again.

I can’t wait to see you all again.

S07E07: Performance review

Yes, that’s right. It’s time to ask for feedback, trying to phrase a request that starts out like this:

“I’m looking for your opinion on my strengths and, perhaps more importantly, my weaknesses areas for growth”

…and is iterated to

“Hurt me. Tell me you hate me. Tell me I’m terrible at my job. Please just give me some critical feedback, anything, because this parade of nothing but lovely compliments must be what Hell is like…

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Weeknotes: Advent of Code edition

Oh, hi

First thing: yes, you may have seen me hanging out with local celebrity and genuinely nice guy Dan:

Dan and I played chess! In real life! In public! It was bloody marvellous fun and if anyone else would like to play chess in public then I say let’s do it (in spring, because the seats are made of concrete and the wind cuts through you like a prison shank and warfare, even a simulacrum of it, should be conducted in the sunshine).

Work continues apace, though not for me this week as I’ve spent it on leave. I’m going to sneak a peek at my emails on Sunday and delete almost all of them, which is an unalloyed joy everyone should try once a year.

Onto the meat of what I’ve been doing this week: solving totally meaningless code puzzles that are extremely satisfying. I’ve learned a lot, even from this week, including the beginnings of how to cache results to speed up processing. The problem are set against a very silly story, but nonetheless have given me an opportunity to practise recursive methods, overriding the methods of the parent class, and methods as storable objects. All of this is making me better at solving problems. I don’t think it’s necessarily making me a better software engineer, and is reminding me that most of the things I love best about being a software engineer are a tiny proportion of what’s actually involved in being an engineer.

An image of my code
This code (https://github.com/jonodrew/2020-advent-of-code/blob/main/twelve/twelve.py) took me about four hours or so. It took my boss about an hour, I would say, to achieve the same outcome.

My current role ends in March, at the moment, though everything points to it being extended. It’s the dead of winter and we’re in weird pandemic times, so I’m not going to make any rash decisions, but more and more I’m trying to work out how I can move down to four days a week. At the moment I teach in return for a donation to a malaria charity and I love it: it’s not a career, I know, but I’m having a moment where I wonder what the need for a career is. I don’t plan to have kids; I don’t have any desire to continue acquiring more material wealth. There’s not much point. There’s not much time left. There’s a climate emergency happening, literally right now, every second you are reading this is a second closer to the end of the world as we know it so I implore you not to stop reading because that realisation will absolutely ruin your day.

This is almost certainly my biannual moment of panic: when everything is complex and challenging, I yearn for the significantly easier task of just teaching people that the differential of e raised to the power of x is e, raised to the power of x. Or solving code problems that have almost no real-world application. Getting together the brain to think about things five years from now seems like getting into training to be the principal male ballerina of English ballet: there’s no way it’s going to happen so why put in the effort?

Ugh. This pandemic feels like the way Bilbo talked about the longevity granted to him: β€œI feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” That’s where I am. I’ve had a year of days and no life.

Things will probably change, though hoping they’ll change for the better might be too great an ask at the moment. Any change at all will, at this point, be preferable.