This is the view from my window at this second.
There are two significant things about this picture.
The first is if that you squint very hard at the very center, you can just about make out a chair lying on the adjacent rooftop. Despite living in one of the fancier areas of Melbourne, someone threw that out there four years ago, and there it has lain through the entirety of my working life. I'm quite fond of that chair for reasons that are beyond my reckoning - it has watched me rise for approximately 1,533 days, through every job and relationship I've had since leaving university, through one bout of (blessedly resolved) depression, and that time I somehow stubbed my right little toe five times on the same bedpost in one day.
The second thing is that I am writing at 6AM. This is because I went to bed simply furious, slept fitfully for a few hours, then awoke furious and calculating which is much, much worse.
I was directed to a very thoughtful person writing the following yesterday.
i ❤️ lucidity, glad to see they are happier
This is a heartwarming sentiment and it is true! I was actually quite happy last year, but I am indeed happier this year. I'm a director at a company with my best friends, I'm going to be in a resort in Fiji for my birthday, then exploring Europe with interesting and ensouled people. I just played a great session of Burning Wheel last night (with two of my co-directors), have board games lined up for the weekend, three days of improv shows, so on, so forth.
It is also true that this is perfectly compatible with every molecule of my being charged with an incandescent rage so potent that I glow white-hot in the dark.
Yesterday, two minor events initiated a chain reaction that turned me into a fury elemental after a very calm January, leading to the current moonlit staccato of keyboard fire.
The first one is that I was asked to examine an error in something happening in our CI/CD pipelines. We use an excellent tool called dbt, which for the non-data nerds out there only does one thing relevant for this story - it lets you write Python that emits SQL. We had a script that was supposed to write to a database called
governance, but in practice was executing
use governance and then for an unknown reason was immediately running
use test, so everything executed against the wrong database.
Okay, simple enough. If no one knows why this is happening, the logical conclusion is that we've written some Python that has an unexpected side effect which keeps switching us to
test. I'll just go check the source code.
A scrumlord (TM), the very one that raised this issue, says:
Please don't spend too much time on this.
Every day, the New York Times carries a motto in a box on its front page. "All the News That's Fit to Print," it says. It's been saying it for decades, day in and day out. I imagine most readers of the canonical sheet have long ceased to notice this bannered and flaunted symbol of its mental furniture. I myself check every day to make sure that the bright, smug, pompous, idiotic claim is still there. Then I check to make sure that it still irritates me. If I can still exclaim, under my breath, why do they insult me and what do they take me for and what the hell is it supposed to mean unless it's as obviously complacent and conceited and censorious as it seems to be, then at least I know I still have a pulse. You may wish to choose a more rigorous mental workout but I credit this daily infusion of annoyance with extending my lifespan.
I actually really like this person outside of work, but Jesus Christ, I am a grown man. Do you know what that means? It means that I pay taxes, and that I can take responsibility for things. Instead of flailing my arms in the air helplessly whenever someone has a problem and emitting platitudes like "I'm sorry to hear that", I've spent years cultivating the financial reserves as a brown immigrant in Australia to fucking wave my debit card and disappear those problems like the world's most helpful magician. At some point my parents are going to get sick, and I am going to disappear as much of that problem as possible and I'm not going to whine about it, and let me check my notes, I knocked half a million dollars off our cloud bill last year. I think that I might know how much time the various bits of engineering in our purview require. That's why my title says engineer and yours say something about project management. Can you imagine me telling my electrician how to allocate their time to fucking anything? No? Crazy, right? I am the electrician in this situation.
Presumably you have decided to staff this entire department with functioning adults, as evidenced by the many people here raising healthy and happy children, which makes it all the more bewildering that it seemed worthwhile to muster up your ailing neuronal reserves, open your mouth, and incant the dread syllables of Power Word: Moron.
"Don't spend too much time on this."
Then why did you bring this up?
Phew. I'm glad I got that out of my system. It probably isn't healthy to be that angry over something so minor. Oh, I see someone has left a note on this Jira card. It's the same person. I left this card for two days while our lead data engineer was on leave, as they've spent months thinking about how this particular package should be configured before it gets deployed to our environment. What does that note say?
Please try to control the scope on this card.
In 2014, a year after starting fencing, I went up against my first left-handed opponent in a competition. They were considerably younger than me, but trained with the women's national sabre champion, and absolutely demolished me. I was so distraught at the ease with which my technique had been dissected that dropping to my knees and yelling their name furiously into the sky like a thwarted villain became an in-joke.
Chastised, I thought for about thirty minutes, then invited the only other left-handed fencer at that competition to start training at my university club. At the time he wasn't very good (and despite being so tall that we all thought he was 17, was actually 14).
I fenced him obsessively for six months, and when I rematched my left-handed nemesis (who didn't even remember my name), it was one of the most surgical victories I've ever scored - enough so that their famously grumpy coach looked like they had some harsh words as they stepped off the piste. I then proceeded to lose to every right-hander, but you know what? That doesn't matter. Contrary to what people say, vengeance is the best vengeance. And that 14 year old, now a grown man that trains 14 year olds I can't beat, won the national championship a few years later. I don't even know what the lesson in that development is, but let's pretend the vengeance was good for him.
What's the point of that story, you may ask? It's that if you piss me off enough, I will literally study the blade while you talk about Agile all day.
This all might seem like a gross overreaction to two messages, but this is simply the final manifestation of disrespect that I'm willing to tolerate. The thing I am the proudest of in my life is the quality of the company I keep. Every single person in my life is absolutely awesome, and this is largely because I have a zero-tolerance policy for toxicity. I'm asked about where I find so many great people and the advice I give everyone is the same. Don't tolerate bad behavior.
Since I've started working:
- The CEO of my first employer in Southeast Asia, Joel Sng (now being sued for embezzlement), would routinely illegally salary Malaysian employees below the minimum wage. When I raised this with management, it was one of the two times someone has dared to raise their voice at me in the last 11 years.
- At my first job in Australia, the director of our organization allowed my contract to lapse for two weeks, then only re-employed me after I promised to take on a project way too intense for a fresh grad.
- At my second job, an executive at that organization only agreed to extend my work visa after getting me to promise that I had no intention of ever leaving the company (very cool and not exploitative at all!), and had the nerve to scream at me over the phone when I left the second I got my permanent residency.
- I saved my current employer AUD 500K and received an AUD 60 gift voucher in return, but was denied a raise.
And to set a positive example for those in similar positions, I always left within three months of each insult into a better environment for more money.
But this absolute son of a bitch has the gall to talk to me like I'm a twelve year old that's watching too much TV. The issue isn't that what he said is particularly terrible - he's a lovely and compassionate person when his brain isn't Scrumbled eggs - it's that I realized I need to do something or I'm a hypocrite. And it's all part of a broader social dynamic that I have best seen illustrated in this excellent bit of writing by friend of the blog, Matt Mitchell.
My sense of this is that what developers can bring to the modern world is the closest humanity has got to magic. And this dependency is resented. And this resentment leads to workplaces in which this resentment is externalised in the form of debasement (e.g. caricatures and other forms of ego compensation - "they're just the boffins, they don't have people skills!"), control ("the boffins can't really be trusted - better add some process and oversight, and given they don't have the people skills better make sure they aren't anywhere near management/clients!"), and dependency inversion ("sure the boffins can do their coding stuff, but they'd be nothing without us to help babysit and organise things, they don't get the way the world works, clearly it's they who actually need us!"). And this environment in turn leads developers to internalise this systemic resentment as a resentment of themselves, their capability, and their work, aka burnout.
There's a fine line to walk when it comes to being anger-fueled. When it's done with bitterness, you lose your edge and simply do things that are emotionally satisfying but tactically unsound. I could have simply gotten angry during my bout with my left-handed opponent, and I would have still lost. And this is always the immediate reaction. This is every employee who says "I'm going to quit if you don't give me that raise" and then gets absolutely blown out of the water. Success comes from a model of the world sufficiently accurate to produce good strategy, and the effective execution of precise tactics.
My first thought upon receiving the second message was: "Fuck this. I'm going to de-anonymize myself, deal with management being furious, then storm out the door and tear things up."
My second thought was: "Calm down."
I had a good evening, woke up, noticed I was still angry, and started constructing tactics.
Firstly, what was I going to get out of storming out the door? A fleeting moment of satisfaction followed by... what, another garbage employer? That's nothing.
Secondly, what was anyone else going to get out of that? A funny, angry blog post? Don't get me wrong, that'd be a great post, but that doesn't seem worth the tradeoff.
Thirdly, what's the future of this whole writing thing? It's fun ranting sometimes, but I'd estimate that this blog is voluntarily received by about 700 - 800 people, most of whom are professionals rather than Reddit midwits, and then an unknown number of people who it gets shared with. And from my emails, I know that I've somehow attracted extremely intelligent and compassionate people despite half my content being immature at best.
And to top it all off, some people at my workplace know about this blog already, and I reckon I'm one or two more HN frontpage events from being drawn and quartered.
So I can either control the detonation, or I can get a sudden email from HR without any preparation. The former sounds better to me, but I'll have to be careful. Here are the two things I want to talk about:
- Networking and this platform
The upcoming sections are filled with requests for support (of the non-financial variety) and a shared vision for what I'd like to do since I guess I somehow have a platform.
VI. Upskilling & Pettiness
I'm in my shed putting spikes On the rims of my car for the upcoming death race You best to spectate, please do not get in My way, you just stay in that left lane I push the pedal, it sound like a jet plane I hit your rental as hard as my pen game
The only thing required to be a grifter, inadvertently or not, is to have your presentation skills outstrip your technical skill. Because I'm not willing to subject myself to audience capture, I have no choice but to continue selling my programming ability and not my writing. I'm no slouch, but I have so much to learn after working with mediocre organizations for so long. And, unfortunately in this case, my presentation skills are quite good, so I'm going to need to get much better at technical work to ethically protect my livelihood in the event that big employers no longer wish to associate with me.
On this note, I spend a lot of time talking to Healthscope's Dave Coulter. It is entirely plausible that he is one of Australia's foremost data leaders from a technical, strategic, and human perspective. Despite his strong corporate energy, I have seen him emit a muffled scream into a sandwich while staring dead-eyed at an Oracle database, so he is the real deal, unlike the ten-thousand "thought leaders" who aren't quite charismatic enough for the TED talks they so desperately crave.
Something fascinating about Dave is that he's a literature major who now earns the big bucks. He fell into a senior data science role with no experience in the space, then was moved to a lead data engineer role with no experience in that space either, and now he's some sort of VIP. He knocked it out of the park every time, and when I made the jump to data engineering myself, he'd call me at 10 PM on weekdays (while raising kids!) to teach me. I can identify all of Dave's work at my current employer instantly because it's the only stuff that doesn't burn my fucking eyes out of my goddamn skull.
I once asked him why he pushed himself this hard. I've never seen someone study that hard while balancing adult life and I grew up in Asia. And we worked at the same dysfunctional organizations, so it wasn't like he was running on some wholesome motivation I had yet to tap. His was a career filled with doing the word, saying the right things, then being overruled by mediocre consultants. He looked very thoughtful and then said only: "Mostly pettiness."
So, step one. Get really good, because that makes it a lot harder to be blackballed. Even if no one wants to ever give me a permanent contract again, the market always needs wizards with social skills.
This is why sunlight is now streaming through my window, and I have a copy of Star Schema: The Complete Reference open. By the end of 2024, I am going to be able to deallocate people in real life with the merest glance. With God as my witness, I have been fucked with for the absolute last time, and the first step to ensuring this never happens again is a tyrant's grasp of the machine spirit's whims.
To this effect, if you consider yourself good at anything tech related, including leadership, product management, and actual engineering and are willing to share resources or wisdom, please reach out to me (email@example.com). This is no time for modesty. As always, anything very useful will probably get written about as a public service.
Step two, get networked. Knowing people is how you protect yourself, and how you help other people.
I didn't expect to every have anything approximating a platform when I punched out a frustrated article in February last year, but nonetheless this has somehow happened. I made an offhand Mastodon post about an equally furious writer in the security space at CrankySec a few days ago, and that somehow directed enough traffic there for a Discord server with 250 professionals in it a few days later, which is not at all what I intended - that isn't even a platform I have good reach on.
I will be a lot safer when I'm visibly associated with something so large - but I also think it's a huge wasted opportunity to just rant. I've found a job for one person through here, and received emails saying I've helped a lot of people find confidence or process their situation - but I can't shake the feeling that winning the reach lottery comes with a lot of responsibility. If I want to stay authentic and help others do the same, without any of us being crushed by The System, I'll need to ensure that people can actually mobilize in mutual support. Once I have the vague feeling that I'm connected enough to not be utterly vulnerable to C-suite psychos and an Australian lawyer has confirmed that I can't get in legal trouble for my writing, I'm just going to drop the anonymity entirely and undergo a controlled detonation at my day job.
To that effect, I'd like to ask anyone that's willing to associate with me in public, as professionals, on the Field Of Eternal Bullshit known as LinkedIn to reach out to me via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we'll connect - even if the body is nothing but a link to your profile, I'll add you. I hate LinkedIn, but there is a huge difference between shouting about soulful treatment of tech workers into the void versus being able to shout it under my real name, and it's the only platform that has something approximating a professional avatar of me. I'd like to think of a more convenient way for people to add me (logging in and emailing me is extremely annoying for you, I know) but I still think it would be a terrible idea to link directly to my profile. I'd be one click away from the wrong person sending me to the HR gulag.
It will also be very funny if I start saying honest things on my currently empty LinkedIn feed to an audience that'll boost it further than the current trough of fucking inane swill that comprises that Godforsaken land of blasted sand and sociopaths. And, as some readers will attest, I am always one email away from trying to find you work if it all goes sideways, which is much easier to do when I can boost someone on corporate platforms.
Finally, if you have experience with producing a podcast, guidance on how to do it right would be great - I'm willing to pay for time to get advice on this. Yes, I'm going to kick one off as I've been talking to a reader a week for a year, and tons of amazing discussions are being wasted entirely on my three brain cells. I've spoken to people that have done forensic work with the U.S Marshals, ex-CERN superbrains, and people that have kept satellites in orbit. And I'm just like, some dude.
It's going to consist entirely of interesting discussion on all things related to technology and flourishing in the modern workplace - it'll be under my real name, but I'll find some way to leak it to everyone here, even if it's just dropping a post here and deleting it 24 hours later. It will never run an ad or corporate sponsorship, and I will shut it down rather than allow this to happen - I have no idea what my stance is on Patreon and the like, but the reason I don't have one here is that I think it's still ethically compromising, so that's probably off the table too. This unfortunately means it will publish very infrequently as I must perform labor in exchange for food, but I'll try to make every episode a banger.
I also swear not to host self-help dorks trying to sell their latest book, or invite any sentient LinkedIn posts. If someone starts talking about their NFT, I will fucking murder them on air to preserve the listening experience.
I think that's about it. I'm going on a demented study-and-build-a-platform arc because one person told me not to waste too much time on something. Behold a rationality so cold that it has wrapped around and burns like fire. This will quite possibly mark the beginning of substantial professional and financial difficulty for me because of one Jira card but I guarantee the remainder of 2024 won't be boring.