Tagged as vacation, career

Written on 2024-03-03 14:45:00

I'm in the mountains with Norma and Jurgen for the first time in I think 3 years. There's a little cabin in Rabun Gap about 2 hours north of Atlanta that we visit.

There isn't cell service at the cabin and the wifi is satellite based so it doesn't work at night and can be intermittent during the day, especially depending on weather. What amazes me is that what I'm able to imagine changes when I'm here. There is an unhurried wilderness to this place that throws the constant rush of my city life into stark constrast. It's easy to imagine moving out here for a season with nothing but a synthesizer, a thinkpad, a handful of books. What odd projects might emerge if I didn't feel I had to "get back to the office" soon?

Work has been very frustrating lately. I currently manage 3 teams and a dozen engineers. Despite great reviews from my manager, I don't feel that I am doing it well. It is difficult to track the work of a dozen people effectively, nevermind the fact that there are no product managers or TPMs on my squads so I'm trying to help figure out roadmap, run squad rituals, etc.

Ultimately, the work isn't the problem. I can continue to meet those demands but I'm not sure that I see how to develop my career in a way I'll find satisfying. A lot of the appeal of people management was putting my soft skills to work and being more relationship-oriented since the Full Remote status was something I accidentally fell backwards into rather than ever really wanted. But to continue advancing, it would seem that I need broader scope with shallower context and relationships. I could stay where I am rather than advance but there is a discomfort with that I find hard to express.

It doesn't help that the only thing I can remember myself running towards is a classroom. I remember the excitement that drove me to leave Showcase and teach at Flatiron School. It was the same excitement that convinced me to accept an offer teaching for The Iron Yard rather than on Data Science at Mailchimp.

I love the deep intentionality of teaching. I'm not trying to grow revenue, not trying to scale the hell out of something. I'm focused on deeply connecting with and enabling whatever students are under my care. In my experience, it is difficult to be intentional in the same way in a modern "growth at all costs" SaaS company. The focus on constant movement distracts from the reflection needed to chart a course efficiently. Or maybe we're just poor at data-driven product development.

Either way, I find it hard to get excited about doing engineering work as an IC again. I'm still curious about computers, I'm still excited by software development, but unless I'm pretty captivated by the domain I struggle to be motivated spending so much time in the gritty details of implementation.

I wish I was more confident about what makes a good Engineering Manager. I try to listen to my reports. I try to move information upwards when I sense communication gaps. I want to be deeply attentive to how the process of designing and delivering software goes well, or poorly, within an organization. I see many other EMs that are ... more quantitative, structured, and formal in their approach than I am. I want to build trust and have good conversations. But more and more I wonder if there is a place for that kind of approach in this industry.

I guess I've spent a lot of the last few years feeling kind of unsafe. First Covid, then 4 family deaths in 16 months, then industry upheaval from layoffs and AI. And our needs are so simple. A dog on a patio, a glass of water, gentle music, laughter and good conversation. I probably wasn't as intentional as I imagined in my youth. So I don't need to worry about a lack of confidence about career now. As Milosz wrote:

Do not die out, fire. Enter my dreams, love. Be young forever, seasons of the earth.

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