Riding the Burnout Wave with Jonathan Frappier (2/2)

Welcome to episode 132 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we share Jonathan Frappier’s story of being part of the vBrownBag crew, recognizing he was headed toward burnout, and the methodology for stepping back to focus on what was important.

Original Recording Date: 06-16-2021

Jonathan Frappier has been in technology for about 20 years and at present is focused on supporting applications that are customer facing and for internal teams running on AWS. Check out part 1 of the interview with him in Episode 131.

Topics – Joining vBrownBag, A Step Back, Burnout, Giving Something Up, Learning and Applying Scrum

3:07 – Joining vBrownBag

  • Jonathan got involved in vBrownBag at one point.
    • It is somewhere between a webinar and an informal learning platform.
    • Participating was partially for learning something new but also for increasing exposure gaining the skills to get that next job.
    • The vBrownBag really started as an informal study group. Each person would take a topic and present back to the group.
    • The content from vBrownBag was extremely helpful to Jonathan when studying for his VCP-DCV.
    • Cody Bunch (a founder of vBrownBag) sent out a call for help, and with Jonathan using the content to study already, he decided to participate, starting with video editing and posting vBrownBag content to YouTube.
      • This kind of experience could be made to whatever Jonathan wanted it to be and allowed him to gain speaking experience.
    • After they finished the VCP series of broadcasts, the vBrownBag team had to figure out what to do next, so they polled their audience and co-workers for some ideas. DevOps was top of mind as one example of the next thing people needed to learn.
    • Now the breadth of the vBrownBag topics is massive.
  • Nick thought maybe vBrownBag propelled Jonathan into the role at EMC, but that is not quite right.
    • When Jonathan first started at EMC, he was still in the background at vBrowBag and had not hosted a show or done a presentation.
    • One of the things Jonathan did not plan on at EMC and did not come up in interviews is that he and his teammates had to teach the courseware and labs they put together.
    • Jonathan was nervous after finding this out, but getting through the first couple of classes and being able to answer questions from highly technical people helped him get gain confidence.
      • As a result he was more willing to participate in the public facing aspects of vBrownBag (hosting shows, presenting, asking questions).
      • This led Jonathan to presenting at VMworld and other user group meetings.
      • Nick mentioned this is building career capital and part of that body of work.
  • Jonathan’s manager at EMC was supportive of the team and helped them through their inexperience, iterating through different courses and labs to build the right content.
    • Some courses had to be rushed out and were built only on product videos because the team could not get their hands on the software / hardware to tinker in time.
    • In some cases the courses were for customers (paid training) and in others it was training internal teams.

11:32 – A Step Back

  • Jonathan was wrapping up his work with vBrownBag around the time he was leaving Dell EMC in 2017 – 2018.
  • Jonathan knew he was burned out but did not know why, so he started peeling things back.
    • Blogging was fun for a while until he accidentally turned it into a business and stopped enjoying it.
    • vBrownBag was fun and helped him meet a lot of people, helping what he was doing at EMC as well.
      • Being so similar to what he was doing at work made it feel like work.
    • He was not sure where he was losing his passion for technology.
    • The blog was backed up and archived on GitHub.
    • After not feeling any better, he chose not to go to any conferences one year.
    • Even after stopping participation in vBrownBag, he didn’t feel better.
  • Burnout is a tricky thing to overcome, so he kept peeling things back until there were very few extracurricular tech things left.
    • The home lab was powered off and kept in the closet.
    • At that point it was just work left, and he needed to find some other activities.
    • Some people get to the point of having to relocate to try and help, but that wasn’t quite the case for Jonathan.
  • Jonathan’s daughter came to the rescue. She came home one day stating she wanted to learn how to snowboard. After some lessons, she wanted her parents to do it with her.
    • Over the next couple of years Jonathan and his wife learned how to snowboard, and Jonathan has found he is happier in the winter when he has time to hit the slopes.
    • It’s great to find something outside work that recharges you. The snowboarding was good timing.
    • Especially in the last year, many have been stuck at home in front of a screen to do everything. It’s important now to find something that helps you maintain balance.
  • How do you decide when to add something back?
    • It comes in waves for Jonathan. He shares the exchanges with Nick about being on the show which caught him on the way up.
    • Jonathan is figuring out, like surfing, how to see the wave coming without having it knock him over. Using some natural energy so that the body / brain / emotions can help you ride the wave is important.
      • You need to be able to look out for how you’re feeling at a given moment.
      • If you’re beaten down, know to look up because there is going to be a wave coming through that will pick you up and give you energy to do something new or something you once enjoyed.
      • We don’t need to try to ride every wave. Some waves you can let pass you by. The skill of catching the wave and riding it is one thing, but we don’t want a wave crashing on it.
      • Having awareness of going through the waves allows you to pick yourself up and come out of it.
  • Jonathan thinks his wife might have noticed he was headed toward burnout.
    • It became a constant dread of not wanting to do whatever he had to do (scheduling the next month of vBrownBag, getting on a plane to travel, presenting at a VMUG etc.).
    • Everything didn’t feel great at that point. It tipped Jonathan off to the fact that burnout was here or coming.

21:49 – Giving up Something You Once Enjoyed

  • There was a TedX talk called "The Magic of not Giving a ****" and a book on it by Sarah Knight.
    • Search for it on a non-work computer if you want to find it (contents are explicit).
    • Emotionally there is only so much we have to give, kind of like a budget.
    • With technology allowing us to be connected and reachable just about any time, we seem to have forgotten it is perfectly ok to say "no thanks, I don’t want to do that." You’re not being mean by saying no thank you; you can be polite and say it. You may not want to go to that extracurricular work activity. You may want to spend time with your kids.
    • Jonathan thinks back to this talk as a way to decide where his daily "budget" gets spent.
  • John has heard something similar as it relates to task management with the brain being powered by blood sugar to get us through the day.
    • We need to make sure there is enough blood sugar left (especially toward the end of the day) to spend time on the things we find important (i.e. family).
    • John previously thought about this in terms of arranging important work tasks but never really past that into the stuff that is "the real world."
    • Likely this is going to align with burn out…not leaving enough time and energy to deal with the world past work, running out of energy early in the day.
    • When you run out of energy too early in the day and need to do it again the next day, you end up tapping into reserves to the point where you may not even be able to get out of bed.
  • Jonathan picked up project management skills at EMC and doing work for vBrownBag which seemed to align with the budgeting of energy and time.
    • If you’re spent too early in the week it may result in an unplanned day off and a deadline being pushed. Perhaps that is better than lesser quality work being delivered.
    • Nick mentioned a story he heard about someone who had a reminder to "leave some for home" each day.
  • Jonathan and his wife put everything into a shared Google calendar.
    • There are days where he will get 20 invites from his wife because she is planning something and creates an invite for each item.
    • The family makes a habit of regularly checking in on the calendar.
    • Jonathan knows people who have to-do list apps or use a whiteboard for reminders on the important stuff to do after work. Find a system that works for you.
    • Recognize you may have to pull something back and not work the all-nighter in order to be present the next day for important personal events.
  • We manage our work calendars to ensure we avoid the conflicts, but then we will turn around and not do the same for home (the "meetings" we have with other members of the family).
    • We walk out of work thinking, "I’m going to remember everything." That probably isn’t the case.

31:22 – Learning and Applying Scrum

  • Jonathan shares the story of taking part in a "nerd herd" at local Dunkin’ Donuts locations from time to time.
    • Matt Broberg brought up the idea of Kanban and tracking what you’re doing in a simple format.
    • Humans are truly wired to only do one thing at a time (i.e. can’t write a script while you work in SQL Server Management Studio).
    • Lay out the things you need to do in the order they need to be done. Am I waiting on anything to get one of these accomplished?
    • This led Jonathan into Agile and Scrum, but at first everything about Scrum seemed to be focused on software development. As he continued reading and thinking about the point of it, he thought of using this in his role as a Systems Administrator (applying the same concepts and methodology).
    • It seemed to fit into training at EMC. How do you put enough content out into the field, get feedback, make changes, and get the polished version to the field later.
    • Jonathan fails to see where Scrum wouldn’t fit. It’s about identifying the work that needs to be done and how much you can reasonably do in the time frame you’re given.
      • This is in line with the idea of deliberate practice, which we know leads to mastery.
      • Jonathan has been in roles where he was the only IT person and spread really thin. Whether you are using this to plan your day or as a way to stay focused, this is a super helpful tool.
    • You can use Scrum anywhere if you are diligent about it. There’s this misconception that it means you can do more work when in reality it is about prioritizing the right work to complete at the right time.
      • Recognize you will spend a decent amount of time planning (a vacation, an app upgrade at work). The outcome of the plan is knowing what you can achieve realistically.
      • At EMC when the team was piloting how to apply Scrum, another time came and asked Jonathan about it. He showed them how they were using it to get feedback to deliver things quickly.
        • The team looked at it and said they didn’t have enough time to do the planning and just needed to get work complete. But they didn’t produce meaningful output because they didn’t take the time to plan.
      • Jonathan makes the point that the planning process helps us eliminate steps that are not required.
      • This is the idea of giving yourself everything full kit in the manufacturing world.
  • Listen to Jonathan’s story of presenting on Scrum and asking the audience how long it would take to replace the faucet.
    • Most people thought they could do it in 30 minutes but didn’t take into account they had no spare faucet at the house.
  • With Jonathan’s current role as a Cloud Engineer, there are a ton of moving pieces and lots of teams to involve.
    • He may require output from another team before he can complete something but can at least document what is needed.
  • John says you have to approach the conversation a certain way if you’re planning to tell someone a target is unreasonable.
    • Jonathan never thought of a fixed date as a requirement, but listed to his story from EMC about knowing the output of your team and using it to negotiate what the output looks like for fixed delivery dates.
    • "If that date can’t move, then we just work backward." – Jonathan Frappier
    • This is dependency mapping for an entire project.
  • One of the interesting tools is the Kanban Board (visualization of the tasks and the flows a task needs to go through – called a swim lane).
    • Maybe there are security reviews needed before something goes to production. Add a swim lane in for that, and factor in the timelines.
    • Deliver step 1 for review and then work on step 2 rather than delivering an entire project only to find out you misinterpreted a step along the way.
  • This makes John want to investigate Scrum a bit deeper on his own.

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