My last job, a breakdown

I wanted to get down at some point on this trip what I think went wrong with my at least my last permanent positions and how I have begun to feel about it. The last two permanent jobs I have had have been quite destructive at times for me, mostly because I get so involved with the project I am working on and care about them. With this comes frustration when I can’t change something that I see needs changing to make things more efficient/understandable. As I have mentioned I have been seeking counselling on and off for about two years to try and deal with my self destruction but most of what is written below happened while I was not in counselling. It is a direct example of how the situation I found myself in was a catalyst that pushed me to a point that I have not experienced since those bullies in school pushed me too far. I know that I am in danger of being too honest here but isn’t that what this blog is all about? This is certainly one time I have learnt a lot from what happened. Forgive me if this post get’s a bit tech heavy but I will try to tell you this story without diving too much into the nitty gritty.

When I got the job spec through for my last position it sounded like the kind of thing I wanted to do, Technical Lead. I have never (officially) lead a team of tech people before and I believed that it was the next natural step for me, having been a senior developer for several years and lead a few projects, taught a few juniors it felt like I was going that way. I was contracting at the time and doing so happily, in fact I had no real need or personal goal to take another permanent job, I was happy to contract until something really juicy came my way. At the time it sounded like an opportunity I should not pass up and so I put myself forward and went to the interview and got the job (not entirely sure how but hey). My predecessor warned me that there were problems to be solved and to be honest I was not sure I could solve them but I was going to try damn hard to do so. The technology itself left a lot to be desired, it was a self made Content Management System (CMS) not assisted by any framework (a set of building blocks that programmers use to build other things), hardly any of the code documented and an MD who liked to ‘dabble’. Those of you who have experienced this are right now probably thinking “Argh.. don’t do it”, with all due respect to the person I am talking about even he said he is not a coder. He had some great ideas but his implementation was often sloppy, undocumented and done without talking to the rest of the team first which for me is a recipe for a problem. First things first I thought, let’s talk to the other coders, they will tell me what’s wrong and what I can try to fix for them. The coders were and still are great people, they all had really good ideas as to how to streamline the process but all of them pretty much told me the same thing the code is a mess to try and keep the MD away from it.

Over the next eight months I tried to implement as much as I could and I will spare you the geeky details. Here is where I am a bit unsure still of what went wrong, I know that I personally took on too much, I found myself running at 100mph just to feel like I was standing still. Taking the small jobs that nobody else had time to do but still needed to be done, whilst tutoring and helping the other developers but having no real time to progress anything major. I found myself working longer hours just to try and catch up. If I see a problem that I can help out on I will but the work I was supposed to be doing will suffer. I needed to (and started to) write lists and go through with the MD (my boss) as to what to prioritise. Now maybe this is something that a Tech Lead should be able to do and maybe it’s something I will be better at next time but I am sure that in any job you get that moment when everybody seems to want you to do something for them and you really physically can’t do it all but you really have no idea which task is more important (if you have any tips on this I would love to hear them). In hindsight I realise I took on the role of about four people doing Systems Admin, Team Lead (tutoring/management/scheduling), Senior Developer and Code Architect so no wonder I was stressed and could not put myself above all the small jobs that nobody else had the skill or knowledge to take care of.

A few things from here happened as I see them, because my task list seemed to grow and things I wanted to do got pushed back I started to feel swamped, like I would never get the things I wanted to change done. The company began to tell me I was failing, for them I was not filling the role they wanted me to fill, I was not standing above the small tasks and dealing with the bigger things as they wanted me to, of course I could not do this because of the amount I was trying to do. I began to believe I was failing, it only took a small amount to sow that seed in my head and for it to bear fruit, my brain is a very fertile place for feeling like I am not doing enough, there is a nasty voice that I have carried with me that says “Must try harder Chris” and I’ll blog on that another time. I began to feel incredibly down as I felt like no matter what I did it was not enough and after a chat with the MD one evening they gave me a bit of an ultimatum. Either I go through an official performance review of my job detailing where they were not satisfied with what I was doing which could lead to me being ‘let go’ or I take a step back from Tech Lead and just take on a Senior developer job. It’s this moment, this very moment that broke me. I cycled home that night and had to consciously tell myself to take time and not go fast put myself in serious danger. An amalgamation of all these emotions made my need for self harm raise it’s ugly head and all I wanted to do was cycle fast down the road and I felt like I might not care if I smacked into a car. When I got home I hid in my bedroom and cried long and hard, screaming into a pillow just to vent some of the frustration and I won’t go into just exactly what happened that night but I had a few self inflicted bruises in hidden places.

I only ever told one person about this moment until now, and even now as I remember and slightly re-live that moment it’s painful realising I got that low because of a job. That person was my girlfriend at the time and was someone I trusted more than anyone. That weekend I told her what happened and broke down again. I was frustrated that I let them (the job) do this to me, I was frustrated that I felt this way and I was frustrated that I had resorted back to self harm. I felt low, inadequate and like a failure. Their reaction was perfect, they hugged me, made me feel slightly more human and told me to seek counselling and thats when I went back to it (near enough). The next week at work I put on a brave face and took the easy way out which is the one thing I regret. I told them that it would make sense for me to take the less responsibility as I believed that going through that performance review was futile and all it would do was make my life more difficult; I felt like I didn’t stand a chance. I regret not giving myself a chance to prove it and accept my fate, I regret taking the easy way but what’s done is done. A few months passed and the company employed another senior developer who had dealt more with the scheduling side of things. It only took a few months for him to become involved in conversations I believe I should of been involved in and for me to start to feel I was being left out like I was some sort of liability. I dropped hints that maybe it would be better to have both of us, me on the tech design side and him on the tech scheduling side but this never happened and it was at this point I gave up. I was frustrated, angry and every time something would just land on my desk without my prior knowledge I made sure that my displeasure was heard, I was no longer hinting. I was telling them that I find it ridiculous that I get asked to do something on a project i know nothing about. It was a mixture of what happened and previous dreams of making a trip around the world and one years worth of counselling helped put things into perspective and put me on the journey I am on today.

I know a lot more now about the person I am and what I need from a company and I hope that I can apply that with whatever position I take on next. I will say that, I never want a company or person ever make me feel that useless ever again, I want to never feel that useless again. I still have a lot to work through personally but life is about learning and I can always learn more and I know I must learn not to be afraid of the voice and opinion I have. The junior coders I worked with have told me that they enjoyed working with me and I believe them, I have always been honest with them and I have no reason to distrust them so I have to believe that they were happy working underneath/with me. Was I a good manager? I don’t know, thats not for me to judge. Would I take on another job like this? Probably. I know I need more support if I do so and I need to ask for this.

Well there you have it, from the heart and honest as ever.
– Chris