Burnout. I wouldn’t say that I had the most extreme case, but having been continuously employed since 15, including during my computer science studies at CU Boulder, I was feeling the burn. Motivation has never been one of my issues, and yet I had become unproductive, moody, and uncooperative. I quit my last job in March and I’ve been on break since.
Some context: for 15 years I’ve worked for dozens of business as a consultant, held multiple positions at startups, and even did a brief stint at a defense contractor. I’ve worked in security, software development, system administration, and of course extensively with cloud, especially AWS. I’ve built CI/CD pipelines, designed observability/telemetry tooling, operated container orchestration frameworks, implemented secure network infrastructure, managed engineering teams, written and contributed to open source projects, authored books, given talks, and attended conferences. I’ve been given a lot of opportunities, and for that I’m grateful, but nonetheless, I was overdue for a break. Way overdue, particularly after a recent frustrating stint in startup la la land.
During my break, I considered the root cause of my career consternation. I narrowed down the sources of burnout to a couple of key areas:
- I’ve been missing a tight knit group of strong engineers to work with, learn from, and share with
- I’ve hopped around at different positions too often and haven’t been able to really dig in and have an impact
- Between management, architecture, policy/governance security work, and strategy, I haven’t been coding enough
- I haven’t been working on anything particularly interesting or innovative
- I haven’t worked for companies that care
I resolved to fix it. But first, I needed to have some fun.
The pinnacle of my time off was an epic six week summer road trip through the mountains. LOTS of mountains. Biking, hiking, camping, driving, friends, and family. An unreal experience and true privilege. And I do mean privilege; I recognize that many people have neither the resources nor the time to embark on such an extended trip. I’m mindful of and grateful for the opportunity I was presented. Highlights include:
- Riding 150+ miles of some of the best mountain bike trails in the country
- Hiking 100+ miles in remote wilderness areas
- 14 nights of dispersed camping
- Priceless time with lifelong friends and family
- 2500+ miles of driving
- Bonding with the doggo
You should really check out the album which I’ve been force feeding to anyone who will look. Yeah, I know, nobody wants to look at other people’s photos, but it was in fact the trip of a lifetime. I’m thankful for the kindness that so many people showed me along the way. Homes to stay in, delicious food, and good times. You know who you are.
With my adventure behind me, I’m happy to say that I feel refreshed and ready to get to work. I’m excited to be starting a new position as the newest Gruntling at Gruntwork.io.
Why Gruntwork? I didn’t make the decision in haste. Since I had the luxury of taking some time off, I considered about twenty different opportunities. I was committed to resolving all the career concerns I listed above. Gruntwork ticks all those boxes and more. It’s made quite clear on the web site: it’s a human-friendly company with values I aspire to. Everything is transparent, from the hiring policy to how the business operates to the monthly newsletter. Even my interview is transparent - you can review my trial project (part of the interview process) in this pull request. Have you ever experienced an interview via pull request? I haven’t. I think it’s pretty awesome.
I first spoke to Josh Padnick, co-founder of Gruntwork, a couple of years ago when he wanted to discuss my reference VPC architecture. (Side note: that design may see obvious now, but at the time it was fairly novel. I believe a similar architecture is now recommended in the AWS VPC guides.) Previously unbeknownst to me, Gruntwork had repeatedly credited my work, even though they didn’t need to. I think that’s also pretty awesome.
In conclusion, I’ve suffered a brief yet illuminating burnout crisis over the past 12-18 months. I’m pleased to report that with some introspection, some time off, and with the help and support of many others, I’m on to the next episode.
If you’re similarly experiencing burnout and need to talk things through, I’d be happy to lend an ear. I promise to do my best to help out. Don’t be afraid to lean on others. Life is too short to suffer in silence.