thoughtwisps One commit at a time

please don't unplug your machine while we update your life

Months have passed since I last wrote anything worth publishing here or elsewhere. My waking hours have been consumed by work, the eternal hellscape of trying to find somewhere to live in this new and unwelcoming, cold city and battling ridiculous amounts of paperwork and other bureaucratic joys. After the to do-list for each day is done, I have little energy for anything else except gorging my brain cells on the high-cal-low-info-content diet of Twitter and the occasional watch-me-get-ready video which always features someone who is both overly beautiful and most likely overly affluent and has a morning skin care routine that involves more product placement than a Michael Bay movie, but I digress.

Although I haven’t had the brainspace to formulate anything coherent here, I have been thinking about things here and there in between the paperwork and watching the Brexit tire-trash-dumpster-fire teeter at the edge. Mostly they’re just a jumble of random thoughts, but I thought I’d lay them on paper here.

Work and careers

This has been on my mind a lot. Something or other reminded me of a tweet I had once read (and which I, of course, can’t find anymore, because Twitter search is always a joy to work with), which (I paraphrase) said something in the vein of “your career is not the list of jobs you’ve had” and this sentence kind of hit me square in the face with the “yeah of course, but hold on, wait a second, that’s exactly how I’ve been defining a career in my mind all along”. When we read about famous and successful people in the media, the sentences right before or right after their names always contain a string of accolades, pearls on the string of their successful life. When people speak of someone having had a distinguished career, they always make sure to include a list of places worked, the number of open source projects started, number of company IPOs or acquisitons and so forth. It’s not easy to miss why the term “successful career” is closely linked to “jobs you had and how well you did in them”. The tweet sneakily never tells you what a career is, if not exactly that: a list of jobs you’ve had.

So as I’ve been mulling these things in my mind, I’ve started thinking about “the life after tech”. What’s going to happen to me when I reach the expiration date for your average woman in tech (and by all accounts, I am very average at what I do, so why would I expect to last longer)? Very early on in my career, I read that famous Sue Gardner google doc that succintly outlines why making endless tutorials of how to assemble your very own pink hairdryer or pouring PR dollars into “if we could just get girls interested in coding early enough we could solve this pesky diversity problem” won’t solve the leaky pipeline that, like Julie Pagano writes, leads into an wasteland (paraphrasing again - the exact quote escapes me at this hour). At one time or another, I’ve kind of hit all of the things mentioned in that google doc and some days I’m no longer sure all of those things are worth it. At first the days when I was sure this was the path, outnumbered those when I doubted, but that, too, is slowly changing for a variety of reasons.

I keep thinking about the kinds of problems I am helping to solve and the kinds of problems my solutions are helping to create. I wonder about the people who use the technology I make and the blind trust they place my profession for processing their information in such a way that won’t harm them now or in the potentially precarious future. I ask myself who benefits from this thing I’m building and who pays the price for it.

Questions, questions, but not many answers.

I guess in some ways, I’ve already started the process of unplugging myself. In what feels like a split second and a damn stupid decision (career-wise and life-wise), I’ve exiled myself from a city where a large chunk of the population can smoothly transition from kubernetes to five o’clock tea to terraform and back to a rather remote corner in the north. The streets are quiet here at night and in the mornings. It’s April. It is still snowing and I am more homesick for my previous life than I have ever been in my life. A friend from a previous life in the big city, who moved across the pond, wrote to me about her recent visit to our previous home. The streets were filled with the hum of people and I felt like home, her message said and I felt a kind of visceral pain in my chest. I remembered that hum, that feeling of being alone together in this place that was both magical and terrifying. I started streaming a movie in the background to distract myself and then of course, the heroine has to visit the big city and I, I have to start crying.

I suppose the only good part about this voluntary exile with a tinge of Brexodus thrown in is that I have slowly and painfully started to decouple my internal feeling of self-worth from my job and the associated metrics: the number of PRs I’ve made, how many times I’ve been promoted, compensation, number of conference talks given and side-projects finished. Although it will probably be good in the long term, it feels like erasure. I’ve taken an eraser and rubbed out the parts of myself that were the most interesting and relevant. It’s going to be a painful process, this decoupling.