A summer in the wilderness; on not working; volunteering; taking clients

A summer in the wilderness; on not working; volunteering; taking clients

8/6/2014 3:14:57 PM

There’s been a little bit of radio silence here this summer – though it’s probably been my busiest one in memory.

This summer in technology for me has been unusual. Burn-out is real, regardless of project type, and I’m always conscious of avoiding it after some particularly nasty experiences in the past – so I thought I’d make summer this year a little different.

At the end of May I finished up consulting for the awesome tech team over at JUST EAT to take a bit of a break. The team there are brilliant and on a big push for community engagement and participation in open source software. This was one of the core initiatives I was working with them on – to help them grow and scale with a first class software development culture central to the way they work. It was a fun and interesting challenge, but as I approached 7-8 months on site, it started to feel to me like they’d really got in nailed – they didn’t need me. I love it when that happens – it’s probably the best bit of the consultancy gig – when the guys on the floor have the skills to take everything forward without you.

Around about the same as I started feeling like “I’d given what I have” a friend of mine was coming up to a sabbatical at his job, and was scheming to drive across America. Really, when an opportunity like that presents itself, you’d be a fool not to, so through June, I spent a month on the road – hotel to motel to resort – from LA, down to NOLA, then back up to New York. It’s hard to describe a month long experience of an entire continent and do it sufficient justice – so let me just say “I’d recommend you try it if you ever get the chance”.

I got home from the states on June 18th – almost two months ago now – and decided to NOT push myself back into prolonged client work straight away, to take some time out and see if I could do something more useful with my time for a few months. So for the last couple of months, I’ve been trying to give a little back, and I want to tell you about a few of the highlights, and hopefully encourage people to get themselves out of the zone a little more often.

In these last 8 weeks:

  • I’ve contributed to three different open source projects
  • Worked on some free extensions to ReallySimpleEventing to use Azure message bus as a backplane
  • Spent time porting ASP.NET MVC’s HtmlHelpers to #NancyFx
  • Started volunteering some IT consulting to an amazing charity called StreetDoctors (check then out!) via an awesome project called SocialCoder
  • Helped hook up sponsorship for the first OpenSpaceBeers in years, a favourite event of mine
  • Spent a week mentoring children ages 11-15 learn to code at the incredible Young Rewired State Festival of Code – meeting some brilliant and highly capable future technologists in the process
  • Been involved in advising a handful of early stage start-ups (no links yet! ;) )
  • Cut some code on my own little start-up.
  • Worked with the one client I can’t avoid – my mother!
  • Been to just about every London dev meet I could physically make
  • Went to a load of music festivals

To put it bluntly, my little holiday of “less work” turned into a more eclectic, fun, exciting and interesting kind of experience than I expected “quietly working on my own start-up idea” would when I decided to take time out.

Why am I writing this?

It’s easy to see this type of time out as unproductive or unfocused. It’s not. It’s enriching. When you’re really deep in the pit, toiling at the day-job, it’s so very easy to loose perspective, and to be oblivious to other kinds of work or experiences you could be having that are both personally enriching, and intellectually stimulating. I’ve written a tonne of code, had lots of new experiences, and got involved with helping people that I wouldn’t normally interact with.

I spent a lot of time explaining that in technology, there can be a better way – so what I want to say here, is that there are plenty of stimulating experiences away from working for “Mega Corp” – and I want to encourage you to take them and get involved.

I’ll probably be taking on some more time-intensive clients in October, but up until then, if you’d like to work with me on something small, or see how we can make your technology teams work better in London – do give me a shout – right now I’m flexible and can likely fit you in – there are outlines of some of the services I provide on my company website.

Forget about that day-job for a while – especially if you have the ability to.