Blurred days – Managing a Mind

As ever, the T44U conference is a great event. The staff and attendees are always friendly and chatty, and as a result you get a real community feel and an insight into how other universities (being the sector we are in) deal with various other problems and issues that normally you would feel alone in. It is great to say we are not, and in the HE sector I have found many a colleague who is happy for me (or anyone) to contact and offer help and advice where needed.

However, we are also in the ‘technology’ and in particular ‘developer’ community also.

And in this sector there is something going on a lot that is however not talked about – Mental Health issues.

You see, we work in an area that not only allows multiple pieces of work to land on your plate, when your plate is already very full; but we also work in a sector where the technology we use updates almost as quick as you can hear about it.

“Oh, have you seen this new way of doing X and Y?”

“Do you mean that old method, it has been replaced already with Z… oh and I think there is T coming along too”

So even before you begin, you are already out of date and having to up skill.

One of the guest speakers at the conference – Christopher Murphy @fehler – talked very frankly about how this got so much for him and the dark days that followed this period leading up to an attempted suicide. Thankfully he is still with us and using his experience to try and highlight this to other people.

During his talk in particular he explored ‘status anxiety’,‘ imposter syndrome’ and the ideas of Dr Steve Peters’ as outlined in the book ‘The Chimp Paradox’ – this is now #1 on my list of books to get.

He mentioned about the working days blurring around the edges. It used to be 9-5, then 9-6. Then moved to 8-6, 8-7, 8-8 etc etc. When you are home or during the weekends your phone will go with emails that you ‘have to deal with’ and then before you know it you have not actually stopped working for the day, you are just not ‘at’ work.

When I first started working in the web industry, I used to think this was not bad, kind of a reward for working on something ‘cool’ with other fun developers. Now after spending 10+ years in it I am not of that thinking. I try and make sure I stick as close to my hours as possible with the exception of anything urgent of course. If we can plan it in better where available this will be less also. This way I can keep my work/life balance as good as is possible.

If I can now go back briefly to the skills and technologies that the average developer has to learn and keep abreast of while still doing their day to day work you can see how these hours do become even more blurry as you are having to teach yourself new things constantly.

In the last few years alone, I am being over dramatic ever so slightly for effect (although, not as over dramatic on hindsight); I have had to look at and keep up with the below while having to fit in my day to day tasks.

  • Changes in the way our CMS (T4) works/versions
  • Frameworks to build a vast number of websites to sometimes individual needs
    Within these frameworks do we go:

    • Responsive, and if so which framework do we choose or do we build our own
    • Agile, as above
    • Liquid, as above
    • Separate mobile sites
    • Separate app sites
      • Which language to develop these in, which tools to use, which platforms…
  • CSS – how to manage
    Do we:

    • Go traditional CSS, CSS3
    • Future plan in a team that might not all be able to use yet with LESS, SASS etc
    • Analytics and campaigns – not just content reports anymore but tagging all this from the start with design through to live
    • Programming/scripting languages: PHP, .NET, PERL, HTML, xHTML, HTML5, Javascript, Javascript libraries, Ruby, Java …
    • Data stores: CMS, JSON, MYSQL, SQL, XML or any of the other that have popped up such as couchdb, mongodb, sql lite …

And countless more that I could list.

The point I think to all of this, and one that Christopher Murphy tried to get across, is that we sometimes need to take a step back. Assess the situation properly and not just react  using the ‘chimp’ part of our brain (that will make sense if you read the book or have heard him speak) and learn to say, wait for it, No.

We simply can’t learn everything, do everything even though we feel that we do. Sometimes we have to be honest and say no.

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