This post started years ago as a reflection of a year I had taken off from side projects, side hustles, and any project that wasn't my day job. I'm now writing this on a cruise ship after 9 months of a break from the day-job as well, with some side projects sprinkled in to fill the time.
In any other circumstance, I might expect to produce a deliverable or train a team on some new development after such a long time with a singular focus. This post will have to be that deliverable. A reflection on what I gained after such a long effort with no other product to show for it.
When I took time off the side projects in 2021, I had also switched gears into a faster paced and Infra Engineering focused role which used a lot of the same tools and toys I was using on my hobbies (Terraform/Ansible/AWS/etc) and quickly pivoted my fun-time into a double-up on work-time. As a result I needed to step away from the secondary job the hobby had turned into.
I spent a year at Chegg doing really fun work with really fun people, building out k8s cluster deployment automation to host GitLab runners and designing TF Modules to help developers build safe architecture to deploy their ideas. Following this I was lured to Coinbase with the promise of more of the same but harnessing my work experience in incident management to push the speed of innovation. This last role really pushed me, emotionally and physically. It was primarily an incident response team that was intended to grow but was kept very small during my tenure at the company, and then cut smaller with the first waves of the tech force layoffs in 2022. A small team on a 24/7 on-call cycle does not make for happy engineers.
One of the execs had this to say about the F.U.D. that was cropping up every week as a result of multiple layoffs and threats of pay-cuts to new-hires (paraphrased):
If you're not here for the mission statement, and you're just here for the paycheck... then why are you still here?
As cold as this was, it was a true statement. Many dozens of senior developers, architects, managers, and incredibly intelligent people that I had the opportunity to work with were all fervent advocates of the mission statement: Democratization of financial instruments across the world. And I was not.
So in April of 2023, I decided to step away for just 12 months and think hard about what I really wanted to be doing. Who did I really want to help, and how did I feel I was best equipped to do that? I've had a couple mentors before me that have done such a soul search and found respite and purpose as a result.
Here's some things I did to fill the time:
- Caught up on my video game backlog
- Grew my video game backlog playing way too much Baulder's Gate 3
- Caught up with friends and family
- Travelled to physically see them again after many years of being away
- Met new friends and joined a physical D&D group meetup or two
- Took our newly-adopted dog to a trainer
- Obtained more 3D Printers and a laser cutter
- Anything but think about work or projects
The sabbatical I had during this period was refreshing and insightful to the ways I could be spending time when not hustling to run to the next task. It was also telling that by the 3/4 mark of my planned long-vacation that I was itching to get back into a juicy technical project. At the very least, I could appreciate that I hadn't spent my career doing a job that I secretly hated every day. I was just doing a job that I couldn't really appreciate in a way that I wanted.
So what do I want to do in a job that I might appreciate more? How can I make a situation more fitting for myself to feel as though I'm accomplishing that goal? And who do I want to benefit from this work?
I don't think there's a real answer to this. I can infer that I enjoy the technical challenges of solving puzzles, and that when left to my own devices I gravitate towards things that empower other people, rather than go to build my own projects or tools. The projects I did spend time on, having given myself semi-unlimited time off, were as follows:
Helping a friend continue to build and supplement a growing POC project to build an all-FOSS powered retirement community infrastructure:
The first third of the Advent of Code, that I dropped after realizing that I was the only one in my friend group still working on it for the most part:
And the most telling, for myself, was the Advent of Cybersecurity by TryHackMe, where I found a group that helped to rekindle my love for helping people learn while I struggled alongside them:
The next focus will be to take the above projects and keep iterating on those ideas in collaboration with an educator to build vulnerable Kubernetes clusters for free use by THM platforms. If and when those come to be, I'll be posting official write-ups to compliment them.