What Precious Things Does The Corporate World Steal From Us?

It has been about a year and a half of working three days a week in response to burnout. It took me six months to regain the ability to do anything beyond resting the moment I was done working, and in the past year I have recovered much of my ability to function, though not necessarily in the sense of spending eight hours in an office - that is forever gone. Instead, I find myself producing all sorts of things that I never had the time, energy, or spark for when I was spending thirty minutes commuting to the city, crammed shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of the populace, a further eight hours in the hideous lighting of an open-plan office, and closing out with a final thirty minutes commuting back home. This is the life lived by most knowledge workers, and it was one where people sometimes openly envied me for, after a few months of acclimatizing, having the energy to go to the gym consistently after work. And, just between the internet and me, I was leaving the office a half-hour early without permission, three times a week, so that the squat rack wouldn't be totally occupied or I wouldn't have even been getting that done.

I was living for the weekend, watching the clock 'till closing time, and otherwise embodying "Happy Friday!" energy, a phrase that still absolutely rocks me with the juxtaposition of good-natured cheerfulness and the dystopian acknowledgement we'd all rather be doing something else. This was a period of my life where I was earning more money than I knew what to do with, being both single and without dependents, but once the rush of wealth wore off, it stopped meaning a whole lot to me. Not imagining anything better was possible, I was actually quite happy about it for a while after leaving university - putting aside the time it took to realize that most people were just pretending to work for five of the eight hours of the day, and to become numb to all that vacant-eyed screen-staring.

Now that I'm (mostly) out, I'm starting to realize, with some intense dismay, exactly how much I was giving up.

I. Meaning From Work

Since largely escaping the office, my "work" has been very different. In that time, I've created a (barely non-zero revenue) business with some of my closest friends1, de-anonymized myself despite using language that will stress my very conservative father out when he finally reads this blog, caused a stir on Hackernews a few times, and started a podcast. Some of this is a real accomplishment, some of this isn't2, and the jury is still out on a fair whack of it.

But the character of the work itself is very, very different. For one thing, I am earning A$90K less per year (i.e, losing that money in opportunity cost) because I refused to take a five-day-a-week gig last year, and currently receive only about A$1.7K a year for my writing, but I value that little bit of money so much more. It just about pays for all my music classes being forty-five minutes instead of thirty minutes, and I savour every second of them because I feel like I've earned them producing something that brings people joy.

In fact, there are all sorts of stark differences. When I went to an office, I'd have days where I'd drag myself out of bed and wish I could get just a little more sleep in, but the neighbor's dog woke me up at 5AM. Now I wake up and think, "Well, I'd love to sleep a bit more, but I get to make a cup of tea and enjoy working in that beautiful moment before the world is fully awake." I frequently force myself not to roll out of bed and start writing within a minute of waking up in a desperate bid to maintain some semblance of not being a Ritalin-addled Silicon Valley "thought leader". This is a relationship with labour that I never expected to experience, and it really is wonderful. I make some exceptions for the painful parts of the business (read: grinding out leads) which frankly still aren't nearly as bad parsing yet another spreadsheet while wishing that you had one of the desks next to a window.

People talk a lot about the joy they get from stakeholders and customers telling them their product was useful. Not only have I rarely experienced this in a believable way, a fair few of the people who espouse happiness about this strike me as having brainwashed themselves into valuing very strange things. A great deal of small work has real value and I don't wish to denigrate that, but there are clearly flavours of work that are more meaningful to most people than others. I always think of HR - I didn't have a single peer at university whose fondest wish was to spend eight hours a day harassing strangers to complete useless mandatory training, but we find ourselves here anyway. More concretely, many people in my specialty (data) end up talking about how appreciative their internal users are with visual upgrades to a dashboard which is opened a few times a month. Sure, I'm glad someone feels good about that. But surely that's inferior to someone in data entry saying that the new UI reduces their toil, and that's inferior to optimization algorithms increasing patient flow at a hospital. The mania in the eyes of the corporate-bred when they discuss "prettier dashboard" with the same zeal as "literally saved lives" scares me.

I read a book called Radical Focus a few weeks ago, which was fine. I learned some useful things. But it has this bizarre tendency for the protagonists, who have a company working on the supply chain of tea to retailers, keep saying the company is changing the world, something that is technically true and might resonate for some true tea aficionados (and Godspeed to them). But if we're being honest, if this was said in real-life, probably by someone that calls themselves an entrepreneur, it would usually indicate that your interlocutor has been captured by an ideology best described as "wanting more VC money"... which as I say, I realize is their main concern in the book.

We can just admit that some stuff is meaningful, but, with all things being equal, most of us can trivially imagine something that would be more meaningful to us, were it not for the pesky problem of earning a living and corporations being pathological.

In my first job, I had to get used to the awkward energy of having people lie to me about my work being useful because they didn't know I could see they never opened it, and most data initiatives are useless to customers because they're managed so badly. Someone, somewhere, had to write that LinkedIn feature that tries to automatically generate spam responses to posts on their own platform, a feature that I desperately wish that I could have been in the discussions for just to see what on earth is happening over there, and I can assure you with total certainty that a fucking moron tried to tell the engineers involved that the work was meaningful.


What are we fucking doing as a society? I am also reminded of Netflix chad Primagen telling the story of how he spent a year of his life getting Black Mirror to display S4:E1 to users on their homepages instead of S1:E1, a "feature" that was mostly perceived as a bug to the best of my knowledge.

I must contrast that with opening my inbox and seeing:

Long time reader, first time writer. Thank you for writing!
Thanks for all the fish Europe Trip and free lunch Love your work
Hello from Atlanta
Trip to Europe and Lunch?
If you're in Amsterdam
Thank you from a delighted reader in Barcelona!
Just a hello and some thanks from the other side of the planet
Europe Coffee / Beers
Thank you for your writing! Norway has coffee and hikes.

I've even committed some of the business' time (as have my co-founders) to assisting Tina Lam's research into combating alcoholism, whose team can't possibly afford the rates that professional software engineers charge but Tina sent me this gorgeous watercolor painting of my pet rabbit apropos of nothing.


In the face of these gestures of appreciation, it is difficult to contemplate what I might have given up had I worked in slightly-less-toxic-but-still-toxic workplaces. Like a frog being boiled I would have just kept slogging away, never quite experiencing enough discomfort to arrange something better for myself. I may have my own doubts, like most people, about the value of what I put out, but I won't be so rude as to deny that other people value it or that it brings me happiness to see it valued. What a terrible deal it all was in retrospect. For A$90K, give up an international network of friends, a chance at owning your own business, your health, and your energy!

II. Intellectual Growth

Over the past few months, I've found myself reasoning a little bit more deftly with each passing week. That's the only way I can think of to describe it - I've been connecting thoughts in disparate fields that have surprised myself, been speaking more fluently, and otherwise felt switched-on in a way that I haven't for a long, long time. A friend of many years stopped me to ask if I'm okay, and when I asked why, he said I sounded smarter. Despite this, as someone chronically arrogant in my late teens, I was concerned that I was getting high on my own supply.

Then, on a whim, I popped open my old Master's thesis code. It's a deeply flawed piece of work for various reasons, ranging from my own inadequacies as a young engineer to my truly accursed university-bred workflow, but it looks astonishingly complex to me, to the degree that both the code and the actual text of the thesis look like they were written by someone ten times smarter than me. I dimly recall checking out a physical copy of Mardia and Jupp's Directional Statistics which does appear in the citations of the paper, but was there really a point in 2019 where, instead of blearily reading over the pandas documentation to deliver a report no one is going to read, I was so concerned with how to write an expectation-maximization algorithm from scratch to estimate the parameters of mixed von Mises distributions that I checked out a physical book? That sounds like some fucking nonsense they'd say in Star Trek right before explaining why the warp core is about to overload for the tenth time that season.

Then it clicked. The feeling of suddenly feeling smart was just reclaiming the intellectual life that the corporate world demanded I sacrifice. I used to spend huge numbers of hours reading, to the point that my poor, despairing parents used to tell me off for developing a strange left-handed claw-grip that I would use to manipulate books during meals, and I kept reading all the way through university. The fact that I was giving this up never occurred to me because "you'll be too tired to read something complex" isn't in the contract I signed with my first employer, it's just sort of baked into the fabric of the universe at all but the greatest workplaces. Reading slowly dropped off until it wasn't happening at all, not even for something useful! Just to stare at a screen then go home.

I couldn't glance over at a book during office hours, because non-engineers (and bad engineers) think it looks bad when I stopped staring at my computer screen while I was in the office, and even audiobooks prevented me from readily pausing and pondering whatever I was listening to. The train was too packed at 8:30 AM in Melbourne to have enough space to turn pages without borderline fondling my fellow passengers. I had to stop engaging with a wide range of topics that were too nuanced or controversial to be suitable for office discussion, such as whether the institution should come out in support of same-sex marriage or whether the green crayons taste better. I was lucky enough to get home by 5:30 PM, which left me just enough time to be done with the gym, showered, and fed by 7PM if I really hustled.

Unfortunately, there are scarcely any other arrangements available within the normal social script, especially due to my visa situation at the time. But even excluding that constraint, the industry has congregated on some strange norms where they default to a 9AM to 5PM workday, and can't tell which engineers are productive so we mostly have a few productive people subsidizing others that are scared of version control.

I am university education's greatest nemesis - I think having a degree that wasn't obtained for visa reasons makes many candidates less appealing. What was good is that I had sixteen hours a day free to indulge my curiosity (because I was studying psychology which, even as someone who is deeply invested in the field, I must concede is basically a pseudoscience at the level it is taught in undergraduate courses). I did not spend this time very wisely - I am always reminded of Scott Galloway repeatedly admitting that he spent his time at university smoking pot and watching Planet of the Apes over and over. I wasted about 80% of my time, but the remaining 20% ended up being incredibly formative simply because I had so much of it.

Starting from my first year, I drilled hundreds of hours of sabre fencing, which is a simple but fascinating exercise in game theory, complete with rock-paper-scissors style tactical wheels. In fencing, I watched and participated in my own rivalries that drove people to the absolute peaks of their personal performance - mine wasn't that high but it was higher than I thought - and watched other people wash out because they didn't have the discipline for training. I even watched my old club fall apart as one or two of the strongest veterans left, which tells you a lot about how excellence works in most places.

After one of my philosophical units, I read Practical Ethics in its entirety simply because the university insisted I buy the whole book to read a few chapters. Around this time, I came across Taleb's The Black Swan and as many other books as I could stomach. I had enough time to watch probably every talk from Christopher Hitchens that's available on YouTube (what a fucking champion) multiple times, and regardless of what you think of him, the man could talk and the man could write. I did so many things that I probably can't even remember 95% of them, ranging from getting far too invested in running a good tabletop game to trying out 5AM Muay Thai classes3.

Eventually, I moved on to my Masters in Data Science (also a borderline fraudulent degree - they cancelled Data Structures & Algorithms because none of the students were taking it) and fumbled around with some Python, before finally writing what felt like the insurmountable challenge of my thesis.

Occasionally, my education distracted me from my learning4 but I persevered.

Then I graduated, got my first A$100,000 salary and... did... nothing. I mean, I worked, whatever that means, but it's strange what we teach students what the world is going to be like. You get through primary school, where they tell you to get your act together because high school will be the real deal. Then you go through high school, where they tell you to get your act together because university is the real deal. Then you go to university, where you're told to get your act together because the workplace will be the real deal.

Then you go to the workplace where, at the overwhelming majority of workplaces, it takes weeks to make a firewall change, and the three most important skills are how busy you can look, how close you are to being a confident-tall-white-cis-dude (only one of which you can change), and how good you are at telling the boss that they're awesome without being so clumsy as to sound like a sycophant. Other skills become more important as you defect from the system and play smarter games, but those are clearly the most important things for advancement in a large corporation, and I'm brown, outspoken, and of average height. A bit of a heads up that society, broadly speaking, doesn't want me advancing too far or rocking the boat would have been awesome.

My problems turned from the sophisticated, mind-broadening concerns that my supervisors encouraged me to think about, such as how conceptualizing model fit in terms of information theory is a parsimonious framework for penalizing overly-complex theories, to the utterly dull, where dimwits asked me to use Excel to plot linear regressions because it's what they were familiar with, even if it made no sense. I no longer opened books, I read out-of-date Confluence pages to learn about acronyms for bespoke enterprise systems that I didn't care about. Soon, it had been over a year since I had truly had a complex insight into any topic, and I was instead having all my energy deflected into meaningless issues such as "Why does the I.T department keep telling me I can have that VM I need, then scheduling another meeting saying it needs further review?" or "How do I convince people that say they do their learning on LinkedIn to give two fucks about my work?".

Amidst this all was a barrage of people repeating platitudes that sound people oriented but boil down to something toxic. "Complaining about these things shows that you aren't a mature engineer", which is really "You aren't a good software engineer if you think it's possible to drive value by writing good code instead of dealing with organizational dysfunction", or "This is just the reality of the industry" which translates to "Thinking that better work is possible is naive and immature", which does nothing other than drive people from the field or away from taking care of themselves, and isn't even true. Yes, sometimes a person saying this stuff is guilty of all charges, but sometimes they're totally right that everyone should shut up and let them fix the problem. Only a Sith deals in absolutes, you scumbags.

She reached down and picked a crab out of a bucket. As it came up it turned out that three more were hanging on to it. "A crab necklace?" giggled Juliet.

"Oh, that's crabs for you," said Verity, disentangling the ones who had hitched a ride. "thick as planks, the lot of them. That's why you can keep them in a bucket without a lid. Any that tries to get out gets pulled back. yes, as thick as planks.”

At the very core of this is the simple observation that life trends towards whatever you spend your time on, and I was being paid what was, in retrospect, not enough to spend almost all my time structuring my life around things that, if they didn't impoverish me, enriched me at a tiny fraction of what I could have been doing. I thought I was being paid to turn up at an office, but I was actually being paid to no longer have the time or energy to seriously better myself. The deal makes sense until I have enough money to comfortably avoid homelessness, then each dollar gets less and less valuable, but society only has a default template to buy most of us in five-day-a-week batches whether you like it or not.

III. Corporate Topics Are Largely Dead-Ends

At the core of this is the simple fact that the topics at most (not all) workplaces are an endless labyrinth of growth-related dead-ends, almost all oriented at somehow convincing people to better themselves against their incentives. This seemed to me like a necessary ingredient to work, until I directly experienced that there is an endless chasm between what this is in the best case and the average case. The best case is a collaboration where everyone learns a lot and leaves feeling respected, and once you've tasted it you can't go back. The average case is trying to incentivize someone to care when they've worked out that they don't need to learn anything new to continue drawing a salary. The way to personal development is fraught with diversions into trying to fix these fundamental issues that feel like they are going to lead you to a great deepening, but in practice are simply shallow nonsense for unserious people.

For one of the most extreme and somewhat sympathetic examples, consider the industry around Agile and Scrum, even though we all know this is something I hate doing. Whatever you think about the broad ideas around Agile originally, the thing that we actually have has become some putrid, shambling mound replete with a thousand salivating mouths, all asking why you haven't cleared more tickets this week.

The shambling mound is an object which deserves hatred, but consider the individuals that constitute that mound. Most of us have direct experience with the fact that there are people that sincerely will spend the rest of their careers shuffling Jira cards around a board, never realizing that a Story point is not supposed to be a unit of time, and they will nonetheless spend most of their professional lives thinking and stressing about this. They will lose sleep, they'll have their mental health atrophy, they will cheer when they accidentally load up a sprint with easy tasks and mistake the velocity for something they did right, and otherwise engage in a career that consists of nothing more than Agile-flavoured astrology.

In other words, they think they're being paid to help a product ship features, but are in fact committing themselves to decades of an impoverished intellectual life. It is all, fundamentally, nonsense, and I find it profoundly sad when I see this. Half of me wants to shake people and say "My God! You don't have to live like this!", and the other half wants to gently reassure them that scoping tasks down to the hour, as pointless an activity as exists, was worth all the misery they endured. Most of us end up being deflected from the things that are most authentic to us into matters that merely sound like they aligned with our goals, though perhaps less visibly than the people who have never read the literal four lines of the Agile manifesto.

One of the first flavours of this that I fell for was the trite adage of trying to "educate my stakeholders" into making more reasonable requests from data teams. Is it possible to help a non-specialist understand how to best make use of your talents? Yes, and it's a huge part of the job description, even now as a consultant. Can you educate everyone that has no interest in learning and no general competence? Of course not, that's why everyone says the hardest part of consulting is finding good clients. The fact that people will happily say that you can and acknowledge that the hardest part of consulting is finding good clients shows that they aren't thinking clearly, because those are more-or-less mutually exclusive lines of thought. The fiction that you're somehow going to accomplish a harmonious working environment without the ability to tell someone to fuck off is only propagated in corporate environments. The moment you have to earn money yourself and surround yourself with people on the same journey, it evaporates in its entirety. There are many, many people that I don't want to work with, that I don't want to "educate", whose narcissism, short-sightedness, and all-around disrespect are someone else's problem because I value my health. But when I was spending all my time at a normal corporate gig, it was my problem, and most teams are one bad hire away from entering such a dynamic.

The first client that approached my consultancy had a website outage which was costing them approximately A$1.4K per day, at a rough estimate. When I cited a bill of A$5K to fix the (simple) issue and then ensure that it never happens again, they immediately came back with some fairly insulting questions about how the work could possibly be worth that much for "changing a few lines" (at which point I declined the work), similarly insulted the cheaper overseas contractor I forwarded them on to, and eventually spent two weeks finding someone to fix the issue on Fiverr. Then they went back to that contractor to tell them how they got the problem solved for A$50 after losing two weeks of revenue. They took the time to reach out just to insult someone that was trying to help. That all sounds comical except that fucker still runs a company and some poor bastard is out there having to deal with that sort of treatment.

I also once watched a woman working in data science, at the request of someone that gets on stages in Melbourne as a thought leader and executive, produce a ten page document explaining the concept of artificial intelligence and what it was capable of doing. She worked on it for several days, delighted that someone had finally demonstrated an interest in actually doing the whole machine learning thing correctly, instead of just asking for more spreadsheets. The executive, who asked for it, said that the ten minutes it would take to read was "too long" then asked her to produce a spreadsheet.

The idea that it's always the ground staff's fault for failing to play psychotherapist to the disrespectful people is something you can waste years on. You can, of course, develop as a person at a company by the simple virtue of living your life and talking to people, but it is hardly an effective way to do so, at least in typical engineering roles. I've still only seen one (small) business that wasn't subject to this sort of borderline-psychologically-violent personality, and it happens to be our main client.

Working with them is such a Zen experience that I can feel my blood pressure dropping just thinking about it. The last time I visited, we talked at length about what would serve the business best strategically, got diverted into a conversation about how mermaid.js-driven documentation is delightful, hammered out an action plan, then got lunch with the whole team. Then they paid me my highest hourly rate ever voluntarily because they didn't need us to do the work ourselves but wanted us to feel valued. And for the purposes of this article, neither of us wasted any time trying to handle the other party like toddlers.

IV. Touching Grass

There are many, many downsides to not working a comfortable office job. I mentioned to a recruiter that I sometimes contemplated whether it was healthy for me to spend so many hours in an office. He replied that he used to be a plumber, and that he would regale me with tales of working at 5:30AM in the freezing mud if I ever wanted to bail. I believed him.

But the first day I had off from work was a Thursday. I went down into the Melbourne city center with a book, and ended up lying down in a park with a book, in beautiful weather. Glancing over, I realized I could see the office that I would have been working from a few weeks ago, where I wouldn't even have been able to see the park because I didn't have a window seat.

Whenever a company tells me they have more than one mandated day in the office (even I'll concede that socializing a little bit might make sense), I tell them to piss off.

V. Dedicating The Mind To Ugly Topics

Rich Hickey has a wonderful talk titled Hammock Driven Development, on what it takes to do high-quality work. The man, to the best of my understanding, more-or-less made Clojure, which means we take his talks very seriously here. It is a ponderous piece on how really deep work is produced by some strange interaction between loading your mind with important information and then basically lounging in peace. I've had my own experience with this, having solved most of the hardest problems I've ever worked on in the shower the next morning, and sometimes I've seen the negative side of this. During the Covid lockdowns, I had to stop playing chess because I would wake up exhausted from trying to solve unsolvable tactical puzzles in my sleep. I'm not saying this was making me better at chess, I'm just saying the unconscious mind is doing some truly weird stuff and we'd be foolish to pretend we know exactly what, and I'd rather not load it with garbage.

It took me about thirty seconds to punch 'Hammock Driven Development' into Kagi5, knowing with absolute certainty that I'd find something to illustrate my point. I immediately landed on the following quote on Hackernews from a delightful fellow named Felix Dahlke:

Reminds me of how I solved some of the hardest problems I've ever worked on (all in side projects) while being on parental leave, pushing around strollers. During that time I had something of 1-2 hours at the keyboard each day, but endless hours to think. It was quite the enlightening experience, I was literally shocked how much I got done as opposed to exploring problems while writing code.

But I've never managed to find that kind of focus at work, neither as developer nor CTO, neither remote nor on site. I feel I've always spent a large chunk of my time trying to get people to explain the problem they're trying to solve, to stop rushing, or to reduce scope. Tragic, really.

I suspect that I am a lot more productive, even in crude, capitalist, give-shareholders-a-return-on-investment terms, when I am free to idly work at a sensible pace. In fact, this is why I am a software engineer instead of doing brutal manual labour - because working on a domain where a leisurely stroll can translate into immense value is a great way to live in a system that is focused on value extraction. When I fill my days with meetings around whether the Change Approval Board (CAB) is going to give us the go-ahead for a project where they literally don't know what we're talking about, my thoughts are now filled with the CAB. Is this necessary for the functioning of a large organization? I have my doubts, but I'm willing to accept that for now. Is this what I want my subconscious to be working on? Fuck no, and I don't get control over this if I have to sit through four hours of meetings on it. Even when I did my best to embrace the old "work-life balance" schtick, clocking out at 5PM sharp, my subconscious was still worrying away at soulless, uninteresting problems.

Something I spend a lot of time reiterating is that one of the key things that you pay a large class of professionals for is their judgement. You can pay for other things, such as their muscles if you're moving to a new house and want movers, but even in that case you're paying for experienced-driven judgements such as:

  1. Judging what orientation would be the most effective in getting that couch through this door
  2. Working out how many people it would take to semi-safely move this cupboard

In the case of software engineers, you're paying a lot for design intuition, and that is only partially solved by paying someone to sit in front of a screen and demand they think about a particular topic. I currently have extremely clear career savings of A$500K and ambiguous savings6 of A$1.2M, with literally everything else I've worked on for an employer having been a total and complete waste of everyone's time. I really, really think, removing that first year or so where I made my most egregious blunders, that I could have been producing something like A$200K in surplus per year measured in nothing other than mistake-avoidance and workflow improvements (excluding the non-repeatable events of finding lots of "save hundreds of thousands of dollars" buttons), had I been free to actually both think without constantly having to justify that the job will take as long as it'll take. God knows what that number could actually be if I actually shipped products instead of slapping people's hands every time they reach for Lambda functions because they heard serverless is good.

(But that's another dead-end: wasting endless time trying to convince people at larger businesses that one's role should be fundamentally different, or that the organization can be made competent. Not a single person out of the hundreds of emails I've gotten have provided an example of someone transforming their job this way, but it is also a myth that persists. Every success story involved either starting one's own business or going somewhere good that someone else started. A reader recently ran into the legendary Kent Beck at a book signing. On the topic of improving the median organization, Beck said that all he ever got out of it was stress-driven eczema. I am neither smarter nor more experienced than Kent Beck.)

This is a somewhat painful topic to think about for me, because while there are many things that I'm happy to sacrifice, my intellectual development isn't one of them, though I may sing a different tune if I find myself feeding kids. I'd be a homeowner now if I had been okay continuing to put full-time hours into an office environment, and knowing that might never happen as the market grows beyond my savings is not easy. This is the reverse problem, where I'd almost prefer it if having endless hours free to think deeply didn't change me as a person for the better... but how could it not be thus? Should we be surprised that studying mathematics makes one better at maths? Then I wouldn't have to answer hard questions about what this means for everyone in the workforce in general. Do we really have to choose growth or home ownership? Is it crazy to think we could have both?

I had some job interviews which I really didn't enjoy recently, and I declined to proceed to the next stage despite receiving another decent offer. After the second interview, I caught Iain McLaren for lunch, the mysterious lawyer than nonetheless is a formidable programmer that I mentioned here, and said something to the effect of:

"I'm a bit worried that my standards are too high."

To which Iain replied, very quickly and in a manner which suggested he hears this a lot and never approves of it:

"Go on, but I don't think there's such a thing."

There are much worse starting points than that for taking care of yourself.

VI. Taking Time With People I Love Away

From Jeremy Jone's beautiful essay about his grandfather's life:

The best time of his life was when his girls were little, Ray said as he neared the end.

Many things are less-than-ideal about working from home in a tiny, tiny apartment, but I got to watch The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, and Voyager with my brother over the last three years with the extra time. One day, when we're no longer so close or one of us is gone, I can't imagine trading those moments away for any amount of money.


We're trying this new thing where I attempt to strike a hopeful note. It was not hard to make the trades necessary to be where I am today (not wealthy but very free), and I'm certain that a more talented engineer than myself can pass the "take care of a family" threshold while still maintaining control over their time, with a little bit of daring and cunning, with cunning being the ultimate virtue.

Some weeks ago, I was talking to a psychologist about the painful conditions that practicing clinicians undergo when they enter a poorly-run practice, which as per Sturgeon's Law which all the high-performance professionals I meet endorse and the peanut gallery insists is a sign of immense arrogance (we might both make valid points), is most clinics. It is not unusual to have many extremely distressed clients back-to-back, and the only way out is typically to start a private practice after grinding out a few years of experience7. I remarked that it seemed very scary to have to do such a thing, and even I, a probably-overconfident person, was only able to take a stab at it because I know my three days in the office effectively protects me from serious threats such as homelessness. The psychologist, a much wiser person than myself due to both age and exposure to suffering, said:

"Of course, but in life you have to go and get the things that you want, and that takes vision and courage."

There's a lot to mull over, and a lot of it is best reserved for individuals, preferably with a lot more life experience than me. I'm just going to focus on enjoying the comfort that my tiny, rented apartment and lots of free time brings me. But I wish everyone lots of vision and courage.

  1. One of the reasons that I always say we're not earning much money, to the distress of people that wisely want me to project staying power to clients, is that I really don't want to underhandedly jockey for clout. A low-revenue consultancy is about as impressive as running an unprofitable business on VC money - it's literally as failed as a business can get and should be embarrassing, despite the glamour society throws at such people. 

  2. Funnily enough, since my first post ever was #1, I still genuinely have absolutely no idea if this hard or not, but I don't know who does know the answer to this question or if asking it would make me sound like a jerk. 

  3. During my second class, someone demonstrated what a knee to the stomach at extremely low intensity feels like as part of a conditioning exercise, and I decided that I'm a lover, not a fighter. 

  4. "This group presentation teaches communication skills!", or more accurately, "We couldn't think of another assignment and this way we can pay someone to mark your work during class which is already paid for, and the tutor can do four students at once!" 

  5. You've left the horror of Google for the blessed peace of Kagi already, right? 

  6. The project still hasn't shipped, but it would certainly be 100% dead without my intervention. 

  7. In the same vein, I certainly find myself wishing that I had gotten jaded around the age of 35, after a reasonable stint at Google, whereupon I could probably just make bank doing Kubernetes correctly for people. Alas, I was in the spreadsheet mines.