Tech burnout is real, and a lot of my friends working in tech are currently experiencing burnout in a major way. Friends of all personality dispositions, ages, technical skill sets, titles, and disciplines are all simultaneously burning out. Top caliber people and totally burned out.
I think there’s something particular with tech burnout. The tech field constantly evolves, and the steamroller of technology moves ever on. As Stewart Brand said, “Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road.” This applies to companies being eaten by tech, as well as the tech workers who have to fuel the steamroller while simultaneously running in front of it, lest they become part of the road.
My friend just wrote a blog post describing her experiences with burnout. You can read it over at her blog, Tech Lady. It’s sad to read, but tragically not uncommon.
Some reasons for tech burnout
Tech can be an extremely stressful field. Here are some reasons (not exhaustive) I’ve seen for tech burnout.
- Long hours
- Death march
- Lack of respect
- Growing too fast. Hyper growth = burnout
- Lack of control. On the receiving end of decisions
- Mastering technology and Keeping up with new trends and technologies
- Talented tech workers are a scarce, highly paid resource. Therefore, companies put a lot of pressure on these workers
- Shouldering a lot of responsibility
These bullet points all warrant their own blog posts, which I may write about. It sucks because some really good people who start a career with a new company will inevitably succumb to these failure points. It not only affects their work, but also affects their health, social, and family life.
Burned out tech workers are collateral damage in the never ending quest to “make the world a better place”.
My own experiences with burnout
I’ve burned out several times in my career. I think a lot of it involved lack of control over my destiny. Sometimes I felt guilty or weak for experiencing burnout. A couple of years ago, I listened to a Reboot podcast episode with Bryce Roberts, a local SLC tech investor. Some quotes from his interview really captured my attention, and tangibly changed my impressions about burnout.
“In a lot of ways, I was playing somebody else’s game.” – Bryce Roberts
“I wasn’t sure I was making the biggest contribution I could make while trying to wear someone else’s blue shirt and khakis.” – Bryce Roberts
I think these two quotes encapsulate why I felt burned out – I was trying to (unsuccessfully) play someone else’s game in which I had little control over the outcome. The notion of wearing someone else’s blue shirt and khakis resonated with me. For too long, I had spent my limited time and energy on an ill fitting path that neither motivated me nor gave me purpose. I decided to finally do something for myself.
My solution to my burnout
When I was in college, I lived with some roommates who never took out the trash. The stench in our flat was truly next level; I imagine sewers smelled better. To top it off, they would cover up the smell by spraying Glade Floral Scent on the garbage. Our place smelled pleasant for a few minutes before the horrid stench returned.
After a noticing this pattern of behavior for a couple of days – and my roommates’ near allergy to taking out the trash – I did something truly remarkable. I took out the trash. Miraculously, our place didn’t smell like shit anymore. When I showed them the nifty trick of taking out the garbage, I felt like I showed fire to cavemen for the first time. Thankfully they took the hint and started taking out the trash on their own.
Similar to taking out smelly trash – and using air freshener to cover up the source of the stench – I find that it’s usually better to just leave the source of the burnout. Most situations will not improve. Companies have too many moving parts. More than enough moving parts for you to actionabley change things. The only things you can change are your attitude and your environment.
Changing your attitude can definitely help. It’s the first place you should start. But sometimes the environment is so toxic that changing your attitude is the equivalent of spraying air freshener on a hot pile of garbage, hoping it gets rid of the smell. At that point, you simply need to leave the toxic environment.
I’ve left environments that I didn’t feel were healthy for my at that time. It’s not a disparagement against the companies, but simply a recognition that I wasn’t going to be effective as an employee, nor honest with myself. That doesn’t help anyone.
Quitters sometimes win
If you’re experiencing burnout, my suggestion is to take an inventory of your goals and what you truly want to accomplish. Does this current career path help you get there? If so, change your attitude. If that doesn’t work, then you need to consider some alternatives to your situation and get yourself back on track.
Quitting a job due to burnout isn’t giving up on your dreams or the team. Ultimately, quitting is about reorienting your life so you can be the most effective person you can be. The only way you quit is when you waste your time pursuing things that are clearly a dead end for your passion and goals. So, I encourage you to quit early and often if you’re burned out. And figure out what the hell you want.