After 7 years in the IT industry as a programmer and team leader I felt really burnt out and couldn't explain why. This post will be a self reflection about that topic. It will also cover my early time in the industry.
Since I remember I always was a self taught person. I used to love the music, extreme sports and anything related to improving your personal skills. I didn't find competition and team sports much fun. The self growth part drove me though. I loved freedom of such activities, the fact that there was no training plan or a single path to follow. You had to pick your own.
Back in 2015 I studied management engineering which was a weird mix of classes that supposed to prepare students to manage companies, design products, prepare patent documents, do marketing research all the way to project management, production and optimization of logistics. I found these studies quite interesting but due to lack of understanding on the Polish job market, it was quite difficult to find a company who wanted someone just like that. You were responsible to take something out of it, pick a field of interests and craft your way based on the knowledge you gathered.
I really wanted to find some internship in project management and failed for over a year so I had to change my plans. At first, I tried to get myself exposed on local NGOs, one of them was Project ManagementInstitute who did their charity activity such as English Camp using agile methodologies and act as asynchronous teams of volunteers. It was great to help others and learn at the same time and a pleasure to work and learn from experienced people. Unfortunately, in my case it didn't help me much on finding my dream job.
My adventure with programming started thanks to one of my friends in the music band I was playing at the time. I found him a job at the place I used to work. In the meantime he was looking for something else and found a position at Intel Technology Poland. We talked about his new role and from one word to another he gave me rough estimates of how much he earns. We drank a lot that night. I got frustrated a bit and started rambling about how hard it is to find something good in my field, and then he shared me with a book about C# programming language he learned at his computer science classes. And almost forced me to try to learn it saying it's not as hard as it seems. As hesitant as I was about my capabilities back then (after all I had nothing to do with IT apart from gaming and using MS Office suite) I gave it a try.
My general plan about learning programming was to find a job as developer, work there for a few months, a year max and trample my path towards project management in that company. I dreamed about a role such as Product Owner of Scrum Master as so much PMI members were into it.
So tell me, what's your experience?
I started as many other young software developers, by applying to any company I could find on local job fairs. I tried to learn what they expected in the requirements. The little I knew, my application was refused mostly by lack of any experience, both commercial and open source. All I did was learn from few books and try to do some simple projects along the way. That is it. I needed something better than that. I stumbled upon some Microsoft certificates for C# developers and I decided to go with it. I think it was 98-361 Software DevelopmentFundamentals . I found some certification company in Warsaw, traveled there and passed it the first try. It was relatively affordable and gave me some proof I am competent to work at that field. I do recommend newcomers in the industry to invest in cheap certificates rather than expensive bootcamps. You will either learn a lot or make your potential employer more willing to hire you.
My first job was UST Global Poland around 2015, a company that delivers it solutions and outsources their developers to big corporations such as Intel Technology. Our local Intel Technology Poland, located in Gdansk refused my application so did many other companies, so I tried my luck there. They had a small team of 2-3 developers who worked for Intel Deutschland in Munich and I was the third employee in the Gdansk branch.
As you might imagine there was no internship program nor any idea what I could do so I was paid to just learn ASP.NET and Entity Framework based on online courses. It blew my mind at first. "You want to pay me for my self improvement? Awesome!". I can surely tell that was WAY better than my previous jobs and once they got me into my first project for Intel it was quite rewarding for my needs. For someone who had to take a loan to pay out anything above $1000 (I literally took a loan to pay out my bass guitar once), that was huge.
I loved the idea that your job as a developer is to solve problems. The serotonin rush after figuring out solution was great. Even when the problems were big and frustrating, that last part of delivering solution felt truly awesome. It took me some time to realize that my project management future plans are much less tempting than I thought of them at start. I sunk in.
At 2015 I got sick and I had issues with virtually every part of my life other than work. I bet my time and energy into it entirely as the single thing I felt improvement over time. For the next few years I spend every free hour to learn and expand my competences. It was awesome years and I meet so many great people along the way.
Over time I started have a dejavu more and more often. Every web related project had similar issues, similar job to be done. Add a new table, write an API endpoint, add some front-end part, upgrade framework or a tool you need, improve database performance, or modify simple SQL stored procedure. At first I was bombarded with issues I felt challenging but the longer I did that, the less challenges I experienced. And so I switched some technologies, frameworks, exposed myself into new ideas. Satisfaction was stabily decreasing though.
Culture is important more than you think
In 2021 I decided I am tired of the industry as I saw it. Huge corporation suck the blood out of young, energetic, ambitious people and try to shape them to fit their needs. For many it works great, to me it was always difficult to leave my autonomy behind to fit into code of conducts, rules, political correctness of these places. I wanted something fresh, something new. I rejected raise I waited for at Luxoft where I was team leader of small project in AMD Technology and decided to start my own consultancy business.
I found awesome customer at the south of Poland, Emphie based on Silesia region at beatiful city of Gliwice where I spend next year or so. The way they operated was so refreshing to me. Marlena Chlost, CEO of that small software house was able to combine charity , working on own chess platform along with commercial activity of a software house for smaller companies and startups. Now THAT is a mission. Don't get me wrong, it's not as if big companies don't have a mission from time to time. Its just another level when whole company is aware of what it is because you act on it personaly and you as a leader feel responsible for your crew, team and every single employer.
Emphie opened me onto the world of startups and young companies with very little of legacy code. I could really spread my wings and help with architecture, infrastructure, sometimes even mentoring of our customer's interns or give some presentation. It felt truly awesome at times. I figured it was not the projects nor technologies I had problems with but a corporate culture. Also, the fact that startups need an external help as a kickup start at the beginning meant that the projects were quite short or we ended up delivering first proof of concept or iteration and leave it to internal employees hired along the way. Usually I had to help our customer for 4-5 months and move on to another project in different industry, culture and/or business requirements. That constant change was so refreshing compared to my previous projects where I usually spend 2-3 years maintenance it kept me interested for the whole project period.
Although I had great fun in Emphie everything that's good comes to an end. As much as I loved working with startups, I think my burnout got me regardless of that. Almost 2 full years of COVID restrictions and remote work at home made me adventurous, with strong desire to meet new people and just live my life without a computer for a moment. I also feel it gets more and more difficult to me to take some time and learn something new after 8 hours at work so I hope I will use that time to learn new things as well.
Mental health is way more important than money. Keep that in mind while being stuck in your project or employer forever. If you feel no satisfaction today it is very likely that you will regret you haven't changed things you wanted sooner.
I decided to give myself few months off and see how it goes. I also developed huge interest in Linux community, which made me realize that new challenges awaits right behind the corner. Maybe web is not for me after all? Maybe I should learn Go, C or Rust and see whether that's for me? I guess I will revisit that blog at some point to give you follow up on that.
By Mateusz Reszka