Well, my friends. This has been a very, very difficult week. Beginnings are never easy. Endings are also never easy. Everything, frankly, is very difficult, and I propose we all give it up and retire immediately to our slippers.
rewiring the brain
Software engineering is characterised for me by quick feedback loops. We set up things like agile working and test-driven development to make our feedback loops as quick and tight as possible. Unfortunately, it conditions my brain to expect quick feedback, and my new role is not like that at all.
That’s part and parcel of the role – a feature, not a bug. I’m working on a timescale that’s comparatively enormous. I’ve gone from my little corner of a codebase to affecting thousands of people across the breadth of my organisation. Change at this level probably should be measured in months rather than hours.
That doesn’t change the fact that I feel sometimes that I’m going through withdrawal. I found myself volunteering to help people in other parts of the organisation with their spreadsheets just to have a problem that could be solved quickly and with pseudo-code. I’m getting quite emotionally invested in my mentees’ code.
I just need my fix, guys.
On the flip side I am now getting stuck into the work. I feel more aligned with my senior managers than I did when I started and I’m starting to feel the edges of how I work in a more hierarchical structure again. There are a lot of invisible boundaries, but I’m working to make them visible – at least to me – so that I can work inside/around them.
There’s also a lot of work to do. None of it yet seems threateningly difficult, but with any luck at all it will that will change soon.
how do you experience me?
It’s an interesting question, this one. I’ve asked a couple of friends and got very straight answers, which is a mark of what lovely friends I have. I’m grateful for their answers, but I want to focus on the negative ones rather than the positive ones because I think they’re more interesting. These are smug, superior, and with a continuous air of knowing something they don’t.
This is not ideal, because I don’t think these characteristics are endearing to anyone. There are sometimes occasions when I know something people don’t, but that’s because I have hyper-focused attention and a better-than-average memory. It’s not continuous: frankly, most of the time I’ve not the first clue what’s going on. People say things with serious faces that you’re actually supposed to interpret as a joke and, friends, this is a massive struggle for me.1Particularly when people double down on it and say “Oh, assume everything I say is sarcastic.” Wait, including that? In which case not everything you say is sarcastic? Tell you what, you never have this problem with computers
I do wonder a little whether the superiority is a weird defence mechanism, a way of dissuading people from asking me things so that my lack of knowledge can remain hidden. Anyone else have this? Imposter syndrome so hard they try to make other people feel like the imposter?
In any case. If you’re reading this and you’ve experienced me like this, please mention it to me. I’m going to try to be better at this, and that includes being honest about what I don’t know.
fighting with my friends
This week I’ve had two fights with close friends. The reason I bring this up is because both had, as a factor, the way my brain fetishises rules. This in turn helps me reflect on how I’m interacting with people and try explaining, rather than getting angry, when it screams at me.
I struggle when people deviate from the ‘right’ way of doing things. Sometimes this is fun, because people learn that they’ve been playing Monopoly the wrong way their entire lives and they never realised until I rocked up, having digested the rule book, and show them how much quicker and more fun it can be.
Yeah, I said it. Monopoly is supposed to be quicker and more fun.
The flip side, mind you, is that at least one partner will attest to the fact that I hover, anxiously, as they wash dishes in (what my brain says is) the wrong way. And I can’t stop it. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so obviously upsetting to people around me as they wonder if there’s a romantic future with a guy who’s almost twitching out of his skin because they’re washing a bowl under running water.
The fights I’ve had with my friends this week are because they work in ways that are not aligned to rules. I can intellectually understand that plenty of rules aren’t real. I’ve never really seen gender roles as rules because luckily nobody ever instructed me in them clearly enough to make it stick. Other ways of being, of doing, have really just jammed in my head like a crowbar. And there they lie, in the dark, until a train of conversation rides over one and is completely derailed.
Working hours is a good example of this. I believe wholeheartedly that you ought to work as many hours as you’re paid for. I can rationalise this belief in many ways, but in truth it boils down to “It is a Rule that you should work as many hours as you are paid”. It’s completely calcified in my mind and I can’t shift it.
Writing software with this mindset is great, because I just need to be able to accurately estimate how much I can do in a two-week sprint. Having an outcome and a set number of hours to complete it means I can work out if I can achieve it. I’ve now moved to a team where the levers are much fuzzier, and so estimating how much I can do in a week is almost impossible. It’s like the difference between a lever and a knot. I can probably gauge the work needed to move a lever, but the knot just has to be untangled and it’ll take as long as it takes.
You can imagine how “It’ll take as long as it takes” fits with my brain’s concrete belief that “One works for 37 hours per week and then stops”.
I am still learning how to manage this, but more difficult still is to shake the moral certainty of these beliefs. I don’t just know they’re the right way of doing things: I’m also sure they’re the morally correct way of doing things.
Hey. Maybe that’s where that air of superiority comes from.