In response to a post about burnout, commenter Isaac Yonemoto, who once dated a neuroscientist -- which totally makes him an expert -- argues that burnout is caused by making large amounts of effort for something that fails.
No. Burnout is caused when you repeatedly make large amounts of sacrifice and or effort into high-risk problems that fail. It's the result of a negative prediction error in the nucleus accumbens. You effectively condition your brain to associate work with failure.
Subconsciously, then eventually, consciously, you wonder if it's worth it. The best way to prevent burnout is to follow up a serious failure with doing small things that you know are going to work. As a biologist, I frequently put in 50-70 and sometimes 100 hour workweeks. The very nature of experimental science (lots of unkowns) means that failure happens. The nature of the culture means that grad students are "groomed" by sticking them on low-probability of success, high reward fishing expeditions (gotta get those nature, science papers) I used to burn out for months after accumulating many many hours of work on high-risk projects. I saw other grad students get it really bad, and burn out for years.
During my first postdoc, I dated a neuroscientist and reprogrammed my work habits. On the heels of the failure of a project where I have spent weeks building up for, I will quickly force myself to do routine molecular biology, or general lab tasks, or a repeat of an experiment that I have gotten to work in the past. These all have an immediate reward. Now I don't burn out anymore, and find it easier to re-attempt very difficult things, with a clearer mindset.
For coders, I would posit that most burnout comes on the heels of failure that is not in the hands of the coder (management decisions, market realities, etc). My suggested remedy would be to reassociate work with success by doing routine things such as debugging or code testing that will restore the act of working with the little "pops" of endorphins.
That is not to say that having a healthy life schedule makes burnout less likely (I think it does; and one should have a healthy lifestyle for its own sake) but I don't think it addresses the main issue.
Speaking at RailsConf 2013: Front-end testing for Skeptics
On Monday, I'll be speaking at RailsConf 2013 in Portland. I'm excited about this because I'll be able to share some of the cool stuff I've learned at Swiftype. Also, I've never gotten a chance to speak at RailsConf before, so that is exciting in itself.
My talk abstract is below. I speak at 2:50 on Monday, April 29. After I give the talk, I will most some material from it. Also, if you're going to be at RailsConf, check out the bike ride I'm organizing.
Front-end Testing for Skeptics
Obama Blend: A blend of Kenyan, Indonesian, and Hawaiian coffee. Amazing.
This is a great story about creative thinking and launching smart phones into orbit:
"It was sort of a whimsical notion," Cockrell says. But it also made sense. Modern satellites are used for communication and navigation, and so are smartphones. And the phones have things that satellites have, too, like accelerometers, gyroscopes and cameras.
How Hipmunk saved me from an agonizing day of travel
The night before we flew home, everything was in order. Our taxi was arranged, our bags were packed, and our bording passes printed. We set our alarm and went to sleep.
The next morning, we calmly wheeled our bags into the airport, ready to go through the security checkpoint. There weren't many people around, but that didn't worry us. My mom lives in State College, Pennsylvania and the airport there is really small. But when the TSA agent checked our boarding passes, there was a problem: we'd arrived an hour late.
The reason for that is another story: my wife had entered the flight details in her phone in Central time, and when we arrived in the Eastern time zone, all her details were shifted up one hour. Check your event time zones, folks!
University Park Airport is not the kind of place where you can just hop on the next flight. It's serviced by only three airlines with a few flights per day. The gate agent was helpful but it took him a long time to find us a new option, and the new itinerary he put us on was terrible. Instead of flying from State College to Philadelphia to Minneapolis, we'd have to fly from State College to Philadelphia to Charlottle to Minneapolis with long lay overs at Philadelphia and Charlottle. We'd be traveling all day.
At this point, I'd like to say I whipped out my phone and showed him a better itinerary on Hipmunk and asked him to book us on that, but I didn't. We took our tickets and sat down to wait for the next flight. In the meanwhile, I looked on Hipmunk to see what it would suggest for a trip to Minneapolis.
I quickly found a flight from State College to Philadelphia to Minneapolis. I was too anxious to try to get the gate agent to re-book us, but resolved to see if we could get our flight changed in Philadelphia.
Once we arrived in Philadelphia, we went to the customer service desk and I showed the itinerary to one of the agents. He was skeptical about why we should be allowed to change flights (In retrospect, the gate agents were much friendlier in State College. I should have just talked to them.). Finally, we convinced him he could change our itinerary because we'd missed our flight and were being rebooked. He went away for a while, then came back out and booked us on the direct flight to Minneapolis. Victory!
Hipmunk saved us from an unnecessary flight to Charlotte and hours of waiting around in airports. The incredible thing about this is that the itinerary was there the entire time, but with the terrible green screen terminal interface, the gate agent working for the airline wasn't able to find it. Whereas, I, just a guy with a web browser on his phone was able to locate a superior alternative. Now that demonstrates the transformative power of user experience.
This took a long time to get working, but it was worth it.
I just noticed this today. What an amazing little touch in the UI.
Harvard's quiz bowl team has been stripped of four titles, which have been given to the runners up. The 2009 and 2011 titles go to the University of Minnesota.
I love the Minnesotan sense of humor:
“Nobody can take this away from us now,” Hart said. He paused, laughed, then joked: “Unless they subsequently catch us cheating.”
Webhooks for paychecks
Since I became a wage slave with a steady paycheck I've been making some adjustments in how I manage my money. I no longer have chaotic income patterns or need to reserve 40% of my income for paying taxes.
As part of that, I've been trying to follow conscious spending practices. I've set up goal savings accounts for larger spending, which I contribute to on a schedule.
Well, I try to. I have Google Calendar reminders set up to remind me to move money around and pay our bills, but I wish I could automate it. I would like "IFTTT for money" or "webhooks for paychecks". It would be awesome if I could set up a system that got a notification that I've received income, and take action on that.
A trigger-based system would enable really advanced automatic money management. For example, when you got a deposit larger than a certain size, you could have the system email you, transfer 50% into your joint checking account, transfer 5% into your rainy day fund, transfer $200 into your vacation goal savings account, and schedule a deposit into your retirement account and HSA. Whatever was left-over would be "guilt-free" spending money. Lose your job? The paychecks stop so the trigger never fires -- unlike an automatic transfer.
Is there anything out there like this? I haven't found it. It would be hard to build because you'd need access to your customers' bank accounts. A banking startup like Simple could do it -- they have something called Goals which automatically deduct from your "safe to spend" balance, but I think triggers would still be more powerful.
Among Others is Jo Walton's mash-note to science fiction fandom. It was a decent read but to understand why it won basically every science fiction and fantasy award out there, I think you need look no further than a story about nerdy teenager who name checks every classic SF novel written before 1980.
In a cool use of Pintrest, Molly Templeton has created a board with all the books mentioned in Among Others. I've probably read about half of them...so I have some books to add to my list.