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Presentation: Dropping The Work-Life Balancing Act

Track: Optimizing You: Human Skills for Individuals

Location: Pacific DEKJ

Duration: 4:10pm - 5:00pm

Day of week: Monday

Level: Intermediate - Advanced

Persona: Architect, Backend Developer, Chaos/Resiliency/SRE, CTO/CIO/Leadership, Data Engineering, Data Scientist, Developer, Developer, .NET, Developer, JVM, DevOps Engineer, Front-end Developer, General Software, ML Engineer, Mobile Developer, Security Professional, Technical Engineering Manager, UX Designer

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What You’ll Learn

  • Hear a different perspective on work-life balance that could inspire you to rethink your own definition of work-life balance.

  • Learn about some strategies for recharging.

  • Learn to have more empathy for your coworkers.

Abstract

I've struggled with work-life balance for years, and if there's anything I've learned, it's that my work and my personal life are not separate forces, but instead are highly intertwined. In this talk, I'll describe a time when pouring my whole self into work gave me excitement, energy, and a sense of purpose that far outweighed the cost of the hours I was putting in. I'll also talk about a time when my personal life was so heavy that it took all the energy I had to contribute the bare minimum at work. In the midst of those extremes, I tried more routines, hobbies, and life-hacks than I care to admit, all in an effort to keep up the work-life balancing act.

If you've ever felt like you were doing the work-life-balance thing wrong, this talk is for you. I'm here to tell you that it's normal to feel imbalanced. I'm also here to tell you how I dropped the balancing act and replaced it with a framework for figuring out what works for me, and more importantly, what doesn't, to allow me to do my job well and enjoy my life outside work. I can't tell you how to achieve work-life balance -- there's no runbook or one-size-fits-all advice -- but I can tell you how I've tried and what I've learned along the way.

Question: 

QCon: You say you struggled with work-life balance for years. Can you tell us a little bit more?

Answer: 

Cameron: Work has always been a huge part of my personal identity. A little over four years ago, I did a coding bootcamp, which is how I learned to code. I didn't study engineering in college; I found my love for coding afterwards. I’ve spent most of my engineering career working on expert-use software. I’ve always felt passionate about building internal tools that make people’s jobs easier. That often manifested in me working a lot of hours beyond the typical 9-to-5.

Especially early on in my career, I felt pressure to tone down how much I worked. I often read blog posts and heard conference talks describing the importance of work-life balance, but they never resonated with me. I thought work-life balance was something I should focus on, but I didn’t know how it applied to my life, which is what I’ll address in the first part of the talk.

In the next part of the talk, I’ll describe a very difficult experience I went through in my personal life. I’ll share how that experience affected me at work and how it was the extreme opposite of the way I had poured my whole self into work in the past. I went from a place of being so passionate about work and wanting to work all the time to being completely drained from my personal life and not even being able to bring half of myself to work.

I was inspired to give this talk, because I want to add another perspective to the conversation around work-life balance. There are these far ends of the spectrum -- sometimes work gives you a lot of energy and joy, and sometimes your personal life drains your energy, and you're not able to dedicate much to work at all. I’ll talk about how I tried to find my way during all these extremes and how that shaped my perspective on work-life balance.

Question: 

QCon: What are the recommendations you are going to make?

Answer: 

Cameron: The main point I want to get across is that you may never feel balanced. That’s not necessarily a recommendation for people in terms of what they should do, but an acknowledgment that it’s normal to experience feelings of imbalance between our work and our personal lives.

On a more concrete note, I’m going to share how my definition of work-life balance has changed over time. My hope is that people who hear the talk will feel empowered to figure out their own definitions of work-life balance and how to apply it to their lives.

I’ll also talk about the concept of recharging, which I think is a little different that work-life balance. I’ll share some of the strategies I’ve come up with to make sure I have the energy to focus on work and enjoy my life outside work.

Question: 

QCon: So you talk about tips and how you found your balance. What do you want the takeaway to be?

Answer: 

Cameron: I want the audience to leave knowing that if work-life balance is something they struggle with, they're not the only ones. Others struggle with it too. Figuring out your own definition of work-life balance is an ongoing process. Your definition will look different than someone else’s, and vice versa.

Additionally, there’s a takeaway around empathy. You don’t always know what’s going on in someone’s life when you interact with them at work or what their definition of work-life balance may be, depending on their goals and values.

Working on being empathetic helps me have more meaningful conversations with coworkers and friends about work-life balance. It allows me to come from a place of, “this is what works for me”, rather than, “you should do X, and then your problem will be totally fixed.” The latter approach always made me feel worse when someone else’s advice didn’t work for me, so I try to keep that in mind when giving advice to others.

Speaker: Cameron Jacoby

Senior Software Engineer @stitchfix

Cameron lives and works in San Francisco, where she builds expert-use software for Stitch Fix in Ruby on Rails. Her favorite part of writing code is handling the non-happy paths, and she believes that the back-end affects the user experience just as much as the front-end. When her laptop is closed, Cameron can be found on her bike, in a coffee shop, or playing with other people’s dogs.

Find Cameron Jacoby at

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