We all possess some unique qualities that make us who we are. Often our behaviors help to embolden our unique strengths and sometimes those behaviors block us or bring us down. Being in this industry for a while now I have come across four behaviors that seem to be common across time and tech space. There are, of course, more destructive behaviors that I could list here but these seem to be the most fundamental and most likely ones we can all relate to.
Behavior: The more I work the more I win
I have never found an instance in my career where being away from my family, friends or hobbies has ever made anyone fonder of me or me of them. The absurdity of either spending more time physically or mentally at a place called “work” is really deceiving. From the outside, it looks like a developer is killing “it” during those late nights and weekends. I get some of my best software ideas just chatting with my kids about things completely unrelated to software or technology. Being around those I love helps me be more creative.
The type of thinking about the need to work long hours is dangerous because it is deceiving and can end up killing you. I tend to use Judge Dredd, the movie as an example when I bring this bad behavior up. In the movie, there was a family named the Angel Gang and one of the “gang” was named “Mean Machine” Angel who was a cyborg who had an adjustable dial on his head ranging from 1, where he is like an ill tempered sea bass, up to 4, where he goes berserk. As the movie progresses, this family capture Dredd and the “Mean Machine’s” dial is turned all the way up. Eventually, the cyborg’s head explodes because he was pushing an “extreme” level far too long – that’s what could happen to us; we will burn out and it could be far worse than simply being tired.
Secondly, this behavior deceives your team and establishes the unrealistic expectation that your projects will always be done in an accelerated timeframe, which will eventually become the expected norm.
Third, it deceives you. I know first hand that burnout will occur and your ability to perform will diminish. We cannot always run as Red Bull-infused developers if we want to continue to deliver great software.
Finally, overworked people often end up changing crafts. There is an economic law, the law diminishing marginal utility, which states that if you increase the consumption of something (keeping all other things constant) you will eventually lose interest in the thing you consume. Consider a food buffet: the first plate of food is awesome but each subsequent plate drives you deeper into misery and begins to look more like regret than food.
Behavior: Gold plating
This was a fairly common one for me and, frankly, still is. The drive for perfection is unfortunately a journey to insanity. Plain and simple, constantly tweaking something without delivering is a developer’s pit of despair.
Ironically, we do this to ourselves because we love our perfect lines, application richness and the mental game of crafting fake criticism.
I’ve been down this road far too many times – I have even gold plated specifications and documents! The part in every maker, developer, craft person that makes what we do so amazing is that we love to dream. We need to learn how to stop trying to “live the dream” and start iterating on it.
Behavior: I need to compartmentalize
I have found that attempting to turn off life at work and work at life is often frustrating. Most developers are probably continually mentally working to resolve questions about how their environment works or how to transform a slow process into a faster one.
Being at “work” does not throw a life switch nor does being home involve throwing a “work” switch. Think of this as more of a circuit without a switch: your passion is the power source and work and life are the wires that are attached to what you want to accomplish or do. Instead of having your work ideas compartmentalized why not try talking about them with your friends and family – you might be surprised what happens. Talk to someone at work about things going on in your life. I always wondered when having a personality that you wanted to share at work became taboo; share it, you might find that you might have more in common than just code.
This idea is often misunderstood as: “you’re saying think about work all the time” or “I should bring work home and push other stuff to the side?” Not at all! I’m simply pointing out that your inner nerd components, whether it’s code, bikes, writing, weight lifting or whatever, are part of you, should be expressed and shared. It will inherently be part of what you love to do and talk about.
Just like a coin has two functional sides in order to be valid currency, we also have these sides as “nerds” that we need to validate as our life currency – find out what your currencies are, share them and watch the excitement spread like wildfire.
Behavior: Being an impostor
When I first arrived at New Relic I felt, like most do (at least that’s what I tell myself to help me sleep at night), that I was drinking from a fire-hose. I was intimidated by all of the amazing talent that is here, surrounded by experts in their fields, polyglots and so on.
Scott Hanselman has written about this as well as others. The impostor syndrome is tough to swallow but once you stop worrying about who you think you are and learn to love what you do, you’ll realize it’s about your entire life journey, not the crazy notion of what you think people think about you.
We all work on teams where everyone complements each other’s skills. Whether you’re new to the team or not, your place will shake out if you make an effort.
For More Nerd Life Balance Wisdom
- Read Nick’s first post (Part 1)
- Read Nick’s latest post (Part 3)
- Watch Nick’s FutureStack13 presentation here