Bruce Byfield has published an article on burnout in community projects, to which I was happy to contribute some thoughts. Overall I believe the thoughts people shared in that article, while not surprising or radical, can help people avoid putting themselves in a burnout situation. Moreover, they can potentially help someone realize that a friend may need a helping hand before they run smack-dab into burnout themselves.
One of the striking (but again, not surprising) bits Bruce wrote in the article was this:
The stress may be increased because the first generations of community members are now well into middle-age, and some are starting to have trouble working the hours to which they are accustomed, either because of reduced stamina or family obligations.
This statement really hit home with me, because in a very time-compressed way I went through a seismic shift in my work/life balance twice in just the space of a couple years. I was feeling somewhat in a confessional mood today, so I figured I’d try and write about my brush with burnout in an honest and not overly edited way. Like Linus, I don’t think I ever really hit a wall. Whether by luck or conscious introspection, I was able to avoid that disaster. But I did see it approaching in the distance, and maybe an explanation of what I did about it will help someone else who sees a reflection in my story.
I started in FOSS long after the very early, pioneering days. I joined the Fedora Project in 2003, by which point my wife and I were already expecting our second child. Since I was more of a homebody by that point, I found it convenient to work in a community software project. I was already hanging around the house more than I used to, but now I could plop down with a laptop and do something extra for my fellow man at night or on the weekend. Meanwhile, my day job was fairly regular, and no remote work was possible, so my work ended when I left the office.
Taking a job with Red Hat made open source the focus for most of my waking hours starting in 2008. By then my son was 4, my daughter was almost 7, and there was plenty to get done every single day on both the home and work fronts. During the next two and a half years, my work schedule became radically different. 12-14 hour days were the norm, and still there was always more to do. I would say that working from home made it easy for me to focus too much on work, and not enough on other important things, like my family. My wife, thankfully and far beyond the call of duty, took up the slack at home.
I joke sometimes to others that one of my purposes in life is to be a cautionary tale, and that definitely applies to my work/life balance problems my first 18 months at Red Hat. I only saw my kids for a small amount of time daily, and to this day I worry that I don’t have enough memories of my daughter’s early grade school or my son as a preschooler. I made it to the obligatory stuff, of course, but it wasn’t real quality time. Mostly when I wasn’t working, I was thinking or worrying about work. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were rushed events after which I’d practically sprint back to the computer, fearing about all the things I wasn’t getting done. It was a very unhealthy approach to work.
At some point partway through my job as FPL, I came to a realization: One day I’d wake up and my kids would be going off to college, and I’d be thinking, “Wait, you can’t go yet, I’m not ready.” Something had to change, and that something was me. But it couldn’t be as simple as just working less. There were lots of people counting on me for different things in Fedora, and many of them were giving their precious spare time for our project. So I had to figure out not how to work less, but how to work smarter.
I ended up overhauling a lot of my tools, for one thing. I tried to find more efficient ways of getting things done, so I could maximize my output per hour. I changed physical and network setup of my office so I had more flexibility and fewer interruptions. I also tried to refocus my work on critical path topics — for instance, trying to spend the majority of my day working on problems that would allow volunteers to get things done. And I started hitting the gym almost every weekday so I could energize the rest of my day. (I’ve fallen off the wagon the last couple of months, but I’m heading back this fall, since I’ve definitely noticed the difference in my mental attitude and energy without it.)
But that’s all mechanical, and not really as difficult as the psychological aspects. I also had to confront my own focus on trying to get everything right, and learn to forgive myself for making mistakes. (Especially since I tend to make so many.) Rather than spend a lot of time each day trying to make everything 95% correct, I needed to spend far less time to get things 75% or 80% correct, and trust other people to help me figure out the rest. When you think about it, that’s part of the open source way, really. We often say “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good,” and I found that was equally applicable to several parts of my life, including my approach to working in an open source oriented job. Amber Graner talks about “letting go” in Bruce’s article, which I think accurately describes the conscious approach I had to take.
There’s an old saying that you’ll never hear someone on his deathbed say, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office.” I agree with that — in general, I don’t want to have regrets about how I live my life. After all, that’s why I came to Red Hat when the opportunity of chairing the Fedora Project arose. I didn’t want to look back and think, “If only….” Now I realize for me to be at my best for open source, I’ve got to be better at balancing my obligations. I have to let go of the things I can’t do, or can’t do well, and focus on the areas where I can make a difference.
Not all those areas are in work, either. I can make a big difference in my family’s quality of life by doing a better job focusing on the important parts of being a parent. Over the last couple of years, and especially this past year, I’ve started to take better advantage of opportunities to be off the keyboard and building experiences with my family. That might mean going to historical sites or museums, traveling to visit friends, or just doing fun things together, but I feel it’s made me better equipped to deal with job stress when I know I’m doing well by my family.
Of course, it’s not like I’m doing this perfectly. I still have problems with balance, but at least I feel like I have the experience now to identify them and hopefully deal with them. As I mentioned, this is somewhat a confessional article, but I’m not looking for pep talk (or, obviously, the opposite). Rather, I just wanted to share something I care deeply about, which is that I want you, Gentle Reader, to be happy in what you do and find a balance that suits you. I’d love to hear your story about how you’ve found balance, or the challenges you face in doing that. Feel free to write a comment, but I’d love to see trackback posts where you don’t feel constrained by a little comment box.
There hasn’t been a lot of music in my life lately, other than listening. Work has been very demanding lately, and between that and traveling to do fun things with the family, not much time has been left over for playing. Today I have a day of glorious playing ahead, though, with some good friends up the road in Reston, VA. It’s nice to have a hobby that gives out such a positive vibe and that you can share with other people.
You can also really connect with your tools as well when you play music. This morning I took out a couple of my basses to make sure they were ready to rock’n'roll, and I enjoyed getting reaccustomed to a couple of my favorites. One of the basses I’m bringing with me is a 1953 Fender Precision issue. I believe it’s the Sting signature model, but I can’t be completely sure. I bought it used for a little under $700, and it’s Japanese made as I would expect from that model. (Typically the Japanese made instruments these days are second only to American built Fenders, and only by a slim margin in my opinion.) The serial number seems to support it.
But unlike the mother of pearl signature marker at the octave fret which you see on the Sting model, this one has a black bar. On very close inspection it seems like the previous owner actually painted carefully over the inset, and then refinished the neck. He did a fine job, though, so I had no qualms about buying it. It did make me wonder why you would go to so much trouble to cover up the signature on a signature model bass. Maybe the guy played in a honky tonk band and the Sting signature gave the other band members the willies.
All I know is that one of the other mods he made was to add a Lindy Fraling hand-wound pickup that, when combined with the strings passing through the body at the bridge, gives this axe the sonic nuts. The neck is pretty round and kind of like playing a baseball bat compared to a couple of my other basses, so playing this bass for long stretches can be a little like a wrestling match — you have to muscle it into submission. But the reward is a big fat P-bass sound that’s shaded just differently enough from a stock 1960′s style Precision to give it a unique vibe. Definitely looking forward to playing it today!
My wife has been expressing some discontent with the fact that although we share Google calendars, we still have a standard paper calendar hanging on the kitchen wall. She dutifully replaces it every year, usually with an art nouveau themed version. But she’s been so happy with her new Droid X, her first smartphone which she got in the fall (a twin of mine), that she wants our kitchen calendar to share data with our cloud presence. You won’t find that in the 2012 art nouveau collection you pick up at the bookstore!
So today, a coworker at Red Hat pointed me at a $50 coupon for any tablet at Staples. I had been considering an Android tablet, with the intention of putting it on a removable mount in the kitchen right where our paper version lives today. Having seen the new Asus Eee Transformer, I felt like the price point was starting to get to the right point to try a tablet. So tonight I went over to Staples to pick one up.
So why not the Cadillac of tablets, the iPad? I know the iPad is a gorgeous interface and user experience; I had an iPhone for a couple years so I do respect that polish. However, with the amount of information I share with my wife via our Google accounts, my priority is the integration of services with the tablet platform, and I think the Android tablets really deliver in that respect. And of course it’s a huge benefit that Android tends to play extremely well with my Linux boxes, and we don’t run anything else in my house. Add to that the frustration and later contempt for Apple’s inability to do the same, and there’s no way I was going for an iPad.
At my local Staples store, unfortunately, you can only order the Asus, and it’s not carried on the floor of the store. It was imperative for me to be to put hands on this thing if I was going to pay hundreds of dollars for it, so I stopped by the local Best Buy store to see if they had it in stock. They did, and I really liked what I saw, so after giving Best Buy the chance to match the price, which they declined (surprise!), I went back over to Staples and ordered the Transformer for $349 for the 16GB version.
I also had an Amazon gift certificate hanging around, so I ordered the keyboard unit to go with it — which essentially turns the tablet into a really slick Android laptop with longer battery life, a ~1.2kg weight, and extra expansion capabilities with USB and SD slots. That works really well for my wife, because she can take the tablet off the wall and mount it in the keyboard, not far from the cooking portion of the kitchen where she can refer to recipes. She currently has an old Eee PC 701SD filling that role and the 10.1″ screen of the new tablet seems pretty luxurious by comparison!
I’m still considering replacing the display unit in my Dell XPS 1330M because the computer itself is in fine shape. I think I can get several more years of duty out of it, given the still-formidable CPU and memory in it. But the tablet seems so convenient and fun that I’m really looking forward to trying it. I’m hopeful that Google will also have ways to leverage the front and rear facing cameras for Hangouts on Google+ in the future, which should be great fun.
Over the course of the day, I:
So of course, my definition of hacking is not nearly what some of my colleagues manage daily. But I feel like attacking some of this stuff on weekends and working on my own GNOME-ish projects are starting to give me a better fundamental understanding of some of the plumbing at work in the desktop. And of course, it gives me a wh0le new appreciation for it as well. I’m now rocking GNOME 3.0 pre-releases on both my main systems here at home, my laptop and my big workstation, and loving it.
I’ve contributed a few bug reports and to a small portion of the GNOME 3.0 user documentation for this release. It was lots of fun and made me feel connected with the release process for something I use every day that will be an intrinsic part of Fedora 15 when it arrives. It’s a great feeling to be just cranking on some little bits to help others, and just as much as ever, I know that if everyone does the same, free software has a future that is even brighter than the (already well-lit) present.
In a previous post, I mentioned something I really feel strongly about — pet adoption. If you’re looking for a pet, adoption is absolutely your best bet.
Many of the animals in shelters are in perfect health, have sparkling personalities, and want nothing more than to be loved and cared for in a real home. There are an incredible variety of breeds, ages, and personality types (such as energetic, laid-back, or curious). Usually they’re in a shelter for reasons that have nothing to do with them
Believe it or not, I just saw a beautiful lab mix dog last weekend, “Blackie,” who was turned out by his family. They quite literally threw Blackie out of the house. This sweet dog, though older, is housebroken and in good health (though with diminished sight since he’s getting on a bit). Thankfully these people’s neighbors rescued him and brought him to the shelter where he’d have a chance at a good life with a new family.
That’s a pretty awful story in my book. I don’t know the family that threw out this lovely dog, but even if they were under a hardship, they could have simply brought him to a shelter themselves. Instead they basically abandoned him to the elements, which is even more terrible given how unusually cold it’s been here for the last month. I really hope Blackie can find a new family.
Our dog, Dixie, ended up in a shelter through terrible misfortune. Her owner died, and there was no one to take care of her so she ended up at the Orange County Humane Society (here’s their official web site). When I first met Dixie, she had been in the shelter for three months and I’m sure she was despondent, in her own doggie way about the way her quality of life had diminished. (I know the shelter volunteers are wonderful, caring people who do their best to provide for the dogs and cats that end up there, but there’s only so much they can do with a small budget and many unfortunate animals to care for.)
It was obvious that Dixie was a good match for us. She had a lot of spark and personality even though she was a little “down in the dumps” from being in the shelter so long. She was gentle and basked in attention, and when my family came to the shelter display to meet her, it was clear she was good with the kids too. We were definitely taken with this wonderful dog and wanted to give her a permanent home.
She was fully vaccinated, tested, spayed, and microchipped* when we got her, and she’s great with the kids, loves attention and play, is bubbly and effusive, and just an all-around fantastic dog.
I still can’t figure out how we lucked out with such a wonderful dog — and why Dixie had been in the shelter for so long, over three months, without being adopted! But I think a big part of it is there are so many people who don’t understand just how many beautiful, loving animals are in shelters waiting for a family to love and care for them. Seriously, there are a lot of them! And with so many wonderful animals in need of a “forever family,” it makes absolutely no sense to me to buy a “new” pet.
Sure, I’ll freely admit that Dixie’s and Blackie’s stories really touch a sympathetic nerve. But I’ve always thought that we as a society should not be encouraging the sales or breeding of “new” animals when there are so many abandoned or unfortunate pets out there who need homes. Personally, I think buying “new” animals supports a system that encourages the attitude that domestic animals are disposable. It makes it convenient for us to forget the hundreds of thousands of pets in need who want nothing more than someone to love and care for them.
Completely putting aside the emotional appeal of taking in an unfortunate pet, and just looking at a practical aspect like finances, it’s even more incredible that people will pay outrageous amounts of money for bred animals, when an equally wonderful or even superior pet from a shelter is so inexpensive. For example, Dixie cost us something like $200 to adopt from the Humane Society. She was already spayed, tested, and so on — all costs that we saved by adopting this loving girl into our home.
Of course, just because a pet is previously owned doesn’t mean they come to you with no work required on your part — you still have to be a good owner. But they do have memory and can re-adjust quickly, and a lot more easily than training a young animal from scratch. For instance, during her three month stay in the shelter, Dixie had forgotten a good deal of her housebreaking training. (If you were forced to stay in a tiny prison cell for a long time, and were only allowed use of a separate bathroom facility once a day or less, you’d probably be a little off-kilter in your toilet habits, too.) So there were a couple weeks after we got her where we had to make a special effort to re-housebreak her. But it was certainly no harder than what anyone would have to do with a “new” puppy; in fact, it was a lot easier because Dixie quickly adjusted, remembering that there are some behaviors a dog should save for outside.
OK, I know I’ve rattled on here a bit, but I really feel strongly about this subject. I hope if you’re considering buying a pet you’ll visit the shelters in your area. In fact, you don’t even have to go anywhere. You can use online search systems like Petfinder to find a compatible critter that’s waiting for someone just like you. It’s practically a guarantee that if you look, you’ll find a wonderful companion who will give you years of unconditional love.
By the way… if you look at the OCHS web page, you’ll find Dixie on their “Furry Tails” page, which features pets who’ve found their forever homes and families.
* A lot of pets have subcutaneous microchips, implanted relatively painlessly by a veterinarian. If a pet is lost and picked up by a shelter or animal control, they can be returned to their owners, or at least their records can be located to more effectively find them a new home.
Even though I’m on vacation, I had some fun catching up with some geeky Fedora work, like handling bugs and package maintenance over the last few days. It only took me a few minutes at a time to do something useful for (hopefully) many other users. Along the way I was helped by other contributors, like Kevin Fenzi, who did a package review for me, or bug reporters who tested a package update. Among the things I got done:
Some of these things had been on my “to-do” list for a few weeks, but I didn’t have time for them during busy workdays. Since my evenings and weekends have been pretty full this was a great opportunity to scratch some of these things off my list.
I also got to work more on my PulseCaster project, although I haven’t yet made the sweeping interface changes that I’d like for the next version. I also bought the pulsecaster.org domain for it, in the hopes that will spur me to work even more on it over the next few months. I fixed a couple workflow issues in the interface and was able to remove a little code with some “create on demand” dialogs rather than putting them in the Glade file.
I’m still hung up on needing some additional and more complicated Python pieces, like querying the volume level of a source or sink so I can introduce a VU-meter like control as part of the interface changes. But in the meantime, I’ve started to get much better and faster at implementing ideas in PyGTK. I’m not sure my coding style is as good as it should be, but my understanding of concepts has gotten fairly good, so I can translate PyGTK API docs into the ability to do something. I gave a couple conference speeches over the past year on PyGTK that I hoped would give other people in similar shoes — people who can write scripts but aren’t familiar with GUI programming — a primer that allows them to “cross the bridge” into exciting new territory.
Lest my family oriented friends think I’ve been shirking my domestic obligations, or failing to use my PTO to rest and rejuvenate, I also did a lot of relaxing personal and family things over the last few days. Some of these things were responsibilities even if they were fun, or a nice change from work or geeky stuff. The funny thing is, most days since I went on PTO I’ve been getting up at about 7:00 or 7:30am so as not to waste the whole morning. For me that’s at least somewhat a luxury, since I normally get up at 6:00am for work. Here’s some of the things that extra time allowed me to get done, even if I threw in an hour or two of work on geek stuff each day:
I also got to do some completely selfish leisure stuff, like trying the new Sam Adams Infinium (I give it a 90 on the beverage scale), playing our new piano and some guitar, and hanging out with our dog Dixie — the world’s greatest pound puppy!
Speaking of pound puppies, a quick step up onto the soapbox here: If you are looking for a pet this holiday season, or whenever, please adopt one from a local shelter. I’ll write more about this in another post later, but I wanted to throw that plug in here in case you’re one of the numerous people who might get a pet during or after the holidays.
We did a little share of unhappiness thrown into vacation, though. First, my ’00 Accord ended up needing a new transmission, which is going to be rather expensive. However, we’re very fortunate to be able to handle it without any real financial discomfort. Not everyone these days is as lucky, so I try not to take that for granted. My brilliant and dedicated colleagues and coworkers at Red Hat have made that sort of security possible, and I’m very thankful for all their hard work! This vacation time in part allows me to hit the ground running in 2011, so I can continue to do likewise by them.
The other disappointment is that my mom took ill yesterday, and is feeling really crummy today. That means she and her hubby won’t be coming to Christmas Eve dinner this year as they usually do. Eleya has put together a really scrumptious menu for us, and certainly we’ll still enjoy it, but it’s too bad it’ll just be us, with no company to share it with. But then again, we’re really fortunate to have each other and a bountiful meal to celebrate the holiday — and tomorrow we get to visit my sister where we’ll see the rest of the family.
Anyway, that’s a big update on all my doings of late. Wherever you are, and however you choose to celebrate the season, I hope you have a fantastic time and that you get to spend it with friends and loved ones.
Today I’m meeting a nice couple from up the road in Bristow to hand over our much loved minivan. I was never ashamed of being a minivan owner. We called it our “golden funk machine” because it was so often used in service of bringing asl the band gear to gigs.
In fact, I used to drive my parents’ when I was in high school. And even though my friends may not have admitted it, I think they liked it when I was the elected driver on a weekend out, because everyone would be comfortable for the ride.
We bought this van right after Evie was born, and it’s been a good car. It brought us on several happy family vacations and other adventures. I’m not feeling overly sentimental about letting it go, just appreciating that we got more than our money’s worth from that van. Hopefully we’ll be saying the same thing some day about Golden Funk Machine II!
As some Fedora Project folks already know, this coming Monday is a US holiday, and it's often celebrated with outings or travel, so you might not see some of your fellow Fedorans around that day. (Also, Red Hat is closed for that holiday, and I imagine many of the Red Hat staff will take that day to rest, relax, and recharge.)
I actually have family plans through the weekend starting tomorrow, and I wanted to give the community a heads-up. I hope no matter where you are, holiday or not, you have a wonderful weekend and are enjoying the new release of Fedora. (Go download a copy and pass it on!)
With both of the kids growing quickly, it was high time to get them bigger bikes. I broke a low-weight goal this past week, and although I'm still considerably overweight (that's putting it nicely) I now weigh less than I did four years ago. Perhaps in a euphoric fit, I decided to get myself a bike too.
I haven't had a bike since high school, when I used to use it to get to friends' houses, or the community pool, in the very large subdivision where I lived. It was a large community of a couple thousand lots over maybe a few dozen square miles, so biking to a friend's house might mean a 15-30 minute ride depending on where they lived, and how the roads and hills were laid out between point A and point B. As we got older and got our drivers licenses, bikes became passe and we would pick each other up to do things over a wider geographic area.
So 25 years later, here I was at the store considering getting back into the pedaling business. I didn't want to go drop $500 on a lark, though. First I wanted to find out whether I could still enjoy biking at all. I figured that in a year or two, if I really do enjoy biking, I should be able to look into a better bike at that point. I looked at road bikes and mountain bikes, and decided that given some of our uneven roads in this area, a mountain bike with a suspension would probably work better for me. Even though they're a bit heavier, I also felt — although this may be just psychological — that a mountain bike's sturdier frame and wheels would hold up better under my weight.
Ultimately I picked out a Schwinn S25. It's nowhere near the level of bikes some of my cyclist friends probably have, but thus far it seems pretty sturdy and fun to me. I took it out around the neighborhood yesterday with Evie, after checking that the shifters and brakes seemed fairly well adjusted. And it was a lot of fun returning to riding after 25 years away. For the first couple of minutes I was just the tiniest bit shaky on balance, but it all came back very quickly.
I bought a couple accessories to go with it, like a gel padded wrapper for the seat (which by itself looked hard enough to be a torture device for someone my size), a small accessory bag that anchors to the steering and top tubes, and some padded gloves. I also stupidly bought a bottle cage so I could carry some water with me, and it totally doesn't fit the big frame of this bike. OK, I got a little carried away there, so shoot me. I definitely need to figure that out, because having hydration with me will be necessary if I'm going to ride any appreciable distance, or take my bike out to some of hte battlefield trails in the area.
The only problem I found was that although the gel seat wrapper does fine at preventing pressure and numbness on those (ahem) sensitive areas, it didn't do a darn thing for my "sitting bones." And that sucks, because I really want to go riding again today, but I'm still sore from yesterday, and I feel like if I go riding again today, I won't be able to sit down to work tomorrow.
I'm hoping some of my biking friends can recommend more comfortable seating, but unfortunately a lot of them are skinny guys so they may not be that helpful. There's a bike shop in town, although I'm sure it's geared more toward serious cyclists. Is it worth the potential embarrassment for me to visit them and ask about making my posterior a little more comfortable?
Fedora’s very own John Rose is among the winners of the 2009 RHCE of the Year award bestowed by Red Hat. I wanted to extend a very hearty congratulations to John and the rest of the winners, and thank him for all the fine work he does in the Fedora Project.
Is it too early in the morning to raise a toast? Well, let’s stick with coffee or tea for now, Monday’s just begun!