I’ve hinted this concept a few times in the past.
Being a software engineer can be extremely lonely sometimes.
This time I’m not trying to be funny, I’m willing to share something important that may be helpful to you to mitigate this feeling.
There are quite common scenarios.
The most typical and less severe one is when you get an assignment you still cannot fully grasp. You already asked clarifications a few times, your source of information is now irritated because of it, and you are jumping from an obscure item to another. You feel stupid and lost.
Good news is this is often temporary!
There’s a bunch of good reasons why you’re not grasping it, and some of them might be easily solvable. For example, I’m totally not receptive when I surpass a certain level of stress. Next day? Totally get it.
Another problem is developers’ urge to receive highly detailed information. We strive to understand most people don’t think exactly like us. Relax, you haven’t written a single line of code, there’s time for details, grasp the concept for now.
But the thing that works extremely well for me is letting the information sediment. You’re now overwhelmed by new data, but dinner out and a good sleep will bring order to that chaos.
The second one is scarier.
It happens when you’re the man in charge of taking certain decisions, you’re asked to take a bold one, and you think you have no one to confront with.
You know how your decision will impact the company, but most of all the work of your mates. You can’t forget how you will be held responsible for it, and if there may or may not be a remedial action.
This situation is common to all people in command, but in software it seems even worse because people will build stuff that will need to work for years on top of your decisions.
The good news is you are in charge. It’s way worse when someone takes shitty decisions for you. Of course being “The Man” comes with a price, but no one will yell “not guilty!” pointing at you when you’re not in charge, yet followed wrong directions from the man in charge.
Also, sometimes you may be lead to think that’s super important you to decide super quickly. If you don’t feel sure, ignore everything and take your time to collect more info. Information collection is one of the most fundamental skills when you’re in command.
Finally, you’re not so alone. Of course you’ve the last word, however you are probably surrounded by geeks. If you built a healthy relationship with them, they will volunteer to help you out. And by doing so, you might discover talents you overlooked.
The third one is shattering.
You just realized you’ve done something horribly wrong and that’s impacting customers and users right now, but the problem is so intricate you have no idea on how to fix it and certainly no one but you is supposed to know. That’s complete desolation. Heart rate sky rocketing, tunnel vision, shaking hands. You will rarely feel so lonely in your whole life; the problem is so scary and you’re so freaked out your mates stay away from you or even flee.
The good news is unless you’re in medical, military or aviation, no lives will be lost because of your fault. If no one dies, everything is going to be fine.
Panicking will not solve the problem, it’ll just make it tougher, and since the issue is already rampaging, spending 5 minutes or 30 minutes to solve it won’t be that huge of a difference.
And even if everybody seems to be fleeing, no one will refuse to help you out if you explicitly ask for it. Often times just explaining the problem to a human being brings you closer to the solution.
The last one is a real problem.
You get to the office, sit in front of your computer and you feel as lonely as you can feel. Nothing makes sense. The work, the office, the keyboard, the colleagues. Literally nothing has a meaning to you. The reasons may vary and may come from inside or outside the workplace, but if you recognize it’s the workplace to cause you such distress, then it’s time to leave and never come back.
We are social animals for a good reason: we are more than the sum of the parts.
Feeling lonely because at times you don’t think you can rely on your pals is one thing, but feeling segregated and helpless is a whole different story.
Regressing to what broke the idyll can be important to avoid it to happen again, but my most sincere advice is: leave.
This kind of toxic situation can lead you to depression and that’s a passage you want to avoid at all costs.
Don’t ask yourself what’s going to happen next if you leave, because I can tell you what will happen next if you don’t: decay.
Remember that if you’re in such situation you’re one step away from an actual mental illness and ANY forecast on your future will look dark, so just accept as a dogma the fact that ANYTHING is better than what awaits you if you stay.
So you might have noticed that the three key things in all these scenarios are: time, communication and desperation.
Time. This is not a hymn to laziness or procrastination, all I want to say is something you might not realize:
We do a job that pushes our brain to work FASTER
Coding is solving complex problems by formalizing all the concepts and wiring them together. It becomes easier and easier when you do it for long time, and your ability to always have control on your overall view becomes stronger. As it grows stronger, you push faster without even knowing it.
When you’re in danger, your adrenaline pumps, it’s our ancestral biology. You become more reactive but less clear headed. You perception of time compresses, you’re moving as fast as light, and everything else is still.
In such conditions, you would be able to run from a lion hunting you, but definitely not solve a jigsaw.
Advice: accept this fact and learn to control it, at least in part. Action sports may help a lot in the process.
Understand that the unknown is not one of your daily challenges, it requires time. If you look at the problem solving approaches of people in other roles, like a project manager or a sales engineer, they don’t try to speed as much as you do. Not because they don’t care, but they tackle it in another way.
Welcome the idea that too little information or too much are equally inadequate to commence your task. You first have to integrate or skim.
Communication. Of course not being supported is a problem, but sometimes you are the one not communicating at all. Frantically yelling at your screen is not communicating and scares people. Moreover, when you’re drowning in shit and the world is in time lapse, they all look like lazy asses doing nothing and not caring at all. Trust me, it is you. You can’t expect them to be emotionally dragged into your madness, and if they did, they would become completely useless.
Be humble and generous when things are OK, and people will try to help you when things are KO, whether you want their help or not.
Desperation. When you’re desperate no decision is good. But between a desperation cycle and another, there’s a time you feel less miserable, therefore you’re more clear headed. If you’re really down, postpone any critical decision that can be postponed to a better time, but don’t forget about them. When you feel you can handle them lucidly, do so, be logical, brave and definitive.
You should never let the desperation be an inevitable part of your week, because the lucid times will get shorter and shorter down to depression.
Finally, listen to this advice very carefully, it’s the most important one.
Never let a workplace that makes you feel lonely poison you to the point you hate what you used to love most.