Work, Business, Travel and Family

Financially the last 12 months has been pretty good for DHC. What financial crisis? This has come at quite a cost.

Once again I have ended up having an extended period of time away from home for business. Today is day 37, country number 5. I am sitting in a hotel room on the evening of my only day off this week wondering why am I doing this. I have a family, friends, clients and a life back in Australia.

Others have blogged about hitting the travel wall - for me it kicks in after about 2 weeks and I keep fighting it until I get home. This year I have been away for 103 of 311 days - that doesn’t include the days spent in Melbourne or visiting family. I really understand what Dries meant in a recent tweet.

I am starting to realise humans aren’t designed to work like this.

Sure there is a lot of stuff that can be done via email, IRC, chat or on the phone. All of the technology in the world can’t replace face to face meetings. Just as technology can’t provide the opportunity to exchange a funny story or joke in the corridor, it certainly can’t make up for just wanting to be at home.

I know a few developers like myself who have ideas kicking around in the back of their mind most of the time, then it clicks - bang solution! This background noise is a blessing and curse. It never goes down too well when I am suppose to be spending time with the family, but while pushing one of the kids on the swing the answer to a problem from yesterday comes to me, ring the client to discuss the solution and make sure they are happy with it - damn junior has fallen over while I was distracted.

The background noise also has another significant downside, it is very hard to shut off. I find alcohol works pretty well at giving me some “mental space”, while also being legal and readily available. The downside is the harder I work the more I need that mental space and so drink more. Earlier today, I found a site which claims to guestimate how much alcohol you would have to consume in 3 hours before you were dead, I tweeted my results, I thought it was amusing. The other thing I came across was a blog post from Stephan Hermann (aka @ubuntuworker) on his fight with alcohol. Stephan’s post was a timely reminder of how things can slide.

Most of us in IT want to see the system delivered, the product shipped, the customer happy, and most of us will put 120% into making that happen. When it is all done, we go for a beer or 10. Just about every IT shop I have worked for had beers on a Friday night, after a project was delivered or sometimes just when we came up with a lame excuse.

I don’t think many people outside of the IT industry understand how stressful it can be and drinking, or other substance (ab)use, is considered an acceptable way of dealing with that stress.

Earlier this year I was in Beijing and some client data was lost due to a mix up (mostly caused by me not being able to read Chinese and someone else’s lack of English). I felt awful. Around the same time a guy working for Foxconn a new iPhone prototype threw himself out of the office after being accused of stealing one of the units. This was an extreme case but I so felt for the guy, he was just doing his job, something stuffs up and he feels powerless.

There are many more stories I could link to and discuss, but I won’t.

In Australia and other places there is a lot of talk about making work environments more family friendly. Sadly I don’t see that happening in our industry. I see the opposite. The global financial crisis is used by some to make their staff work harder and longer for less money. As a contractor I get to set a price and run the meter, but I find myself saying yes to projects or demands that I should not be accepting.

When I return to Australia I plan to give my liver a break, spend more time with my family and develop strategies for “switching off” more often. Life is too short to be a slave to work. I can’t continue to work like this claiming I am building a future for my children when I am undermining my own future, and so theirs. Time to deal with my issues, make a plan and be successful, like another Dave.

Sorry for the rant but I felt that this all needed to be said.

Update 2020: For me August marked 5 years of not drinking.