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Karōjisatsu

About 7 years ago, I moved back to Atlanta. The cloud thing was just getting started and I decided to start a local cloud meetup group.  One of the earlier attendees was a gentleman named Walter.  Walter was one of the more passionate participants in the early days of the meetup.  It turns out that Walter was a hardworking independent consultant that had worked in the Atlanta area for some time.  He was trying to build a consulting company with an interesting idea where he would recruit graduates from rural universities that had strong CS departments. One of the universities he was working with was Valdosta State University (VSU).  Walter had invited me to give a talk about Cloud Computing to the faculty and graduating seniors at VSU.  Walter volunteered to pick me up in downtown Atlanta and drive us to Valdosta.  The total driving time from Atlanta to Valdosta and back was around six hours.  On the way there he gave me the gory details of his business plan.  Valdosta was the first of about 4 cities he and his business partner had identified for his new consulting business opportunity.  During the ride down to VSU, I asked him a lot of tough questions, as one does.  He had strong answers and it was clear he had a great idea that he was extremely passionate about it.

On the way back we drifted the conversations into things like Roman history, family and just life in general.  It was one of those rare conversations you have with a person were you feel like you could or should have been friends with this person all your life.  After the trip, a few months went by and I hadn’t heard from Walter.  Then out of the blue on a family road trip to Disney, in fact not far from Valdosta, I received this strange message in a voice mail.  It said “Please call me back.  It’s about Walter.”  I called the number and it was Walter’s business partner.  He asked me if my name was John Willis and I confirmed.  He said my name was on Walter’s cell phone and that he had recently passed.  I told him how sorry I was, then he proceeded to tell me that Walter had committed suicide.  This was the first person I had ever known that had committed suicide.  At the time I was around 49 years old, and by the time you are 49, you have seen a lot of death.  Both my parents had died, a few very close friends and a ton of aunts and uncles had died as well.  I’m not going to tell you that the death of a loved one is not hard; however, I can tell you that at some point in your life, unfortunately, you get kind of use to it.  However, even though I barely knew Walter, this really, really bothered me.  I’ve lost loved ones from heart attacks to drug overdoses and car wrecks, but the idea that someone could seem so full of life and then take that life by their own choice … well it still bothers me to this day, actually as much or more than the lose of life long friends. When someone involuntarily (takes their own life) passes, you typically say things like “I wish there was something I could have done.”  However, in almost all cases, the rational mind tells yourself that you know there was nothing you really could have done.  In the case of a voluntary death, like Walter’s, you wind up playing the “what-if” game over and over again.  However, even here it takes a higher order of rational to convince yourself that the answer is … “There is nothing I could have done.”  You still wish that you could have just received one phone call from that person so you could have literally helped talk that person off the ledge.  Years later my “what-if’s” for Walter have wained off, but I do try and remember to say a prayer for Walter whenever I can.

Two years ago another friend of mine gave a presentation at the Devopsdays Tel Aviv event called “How not to do Devops. Confessions of a Thought Leader.”  The speaker was  Stephen Nelson Smith (@lordcope).  Stephen is one of the early pioneers of the Devops movement and I was really looking forward to this presentation as he always gives a great show.  This time, about 8 minutes into his presentation, Stephen admitted that his previous year had been so stressful from industry burnout, that he seriously contemplated suicide.  Everyone in the room was shocked.  Here is a very successful consultant and industry leader saying to the audience that he almost called it quits due to burnout. It was an incredibly moving presentation.  In our industry a lot of young IT professionals use the term “burnout” as a badge of honor.  I often hear things things like “I put in a few 100 hour weeks over the past month” while others respond in kind with things like “I know, you’re a bad ass.”  After the presentation I hugged him and told him in very strict words, thinking about Walter, “Please, my friend, if you ever get close to thinking like that, you HAVE TO CALL ME…NO EXCEPTIONS.”  I talk to Stephen on chat quite often and I think he has his life well under control.  He has a beautiful and lovely wife and although I have never met his kids, I am sure they are wonderful.

Stephen’s catharsis made me think about Walter again.  I wondered if Walter had those same industry burnout feelings.  I also, for the first time, started thinking about the term burnout as something other than bravado and bragging rights. I started thinking this term burnout might be used more as a warning sign or maybe a way to be better at the “what-if’s” game.  Stephen, in his presentation, described a Japanese term called Karoshi –  literally as “death from overwork.”  I have seen this hundreds of times in our industry and I also have come close enough to understand the brink of Karoshi myself.  Fortunately, my wife being my rock…she never let’s me even come close to becoming lethal, and in most cases walks me through the tight rope back to sanity.  Since Stephen seemed fine over the years, I kind of forgot about his presentation; however, never forgetting a little place in my memory for ongoing prayers for Walter.  All and all, I was not on the lookout for any other friends, even though I knew of this thing Stephen and the Japanese call “Karoshi” loomed large in our industry.  In the 1980s there was such a concern about Karoshi in Japan that the Japanese Ministry of Labour began to publish statistics on it.  While most of the discussion around Karoshi deals with older workers dying from heart attaches and strokes, the Japanse have also identified “Karōjisatsu” as someone who commits suicide due to this kind of mental stress.

This takes me to last weekend at SCALE13x.  SCALE is a one of the largest regional US based Linux conferences and it is held in early February every year in LA.  This was my sixth year at this event.  In fact a little bit of trivia, my first event was after I had only been at Opscode (Chef) for only about 3 weeks.  I gave my first Chef presentation at SCALE then, and I am pretty sure the first Chef presentation ever at SCALE.  Last Friday morning, I was having breakfast at the Marriott LAX restaurant and I ran into another good friend of mine, Chris Webber (@cwebber).  We were catching up all things Devops and Chef, and he asked me if I had heard that Carlo Flores had committed suicide.  I told him that the name sounded familiar, but I wasn’t sure who he was.  At 55, faces and names don’t seem to work as well as they use to; however, I’m not sure they ever worked that well for me.  I told him that sounded horrible but because I didn’t “think” I knew him, I wasn’t that moved.  I just went into my jaded thoughts regarding death.  In all honestly, I forgot completely about it by the time the opening session started.

During the opening session of  “SCALE13x Devops Day” Lars Lehtonen (@alrs) gave a tribute to Carlo Flores, and then it hit me….my heart dropped.  I felt a terrible sinking feeling. Did I actually know Carlo Flores?  Oh, don’t let it be that young man that I have been talking to the past three years here at SCALE.  Not that young man who has always been so awesome to talk to.  I realized that Carlo might be that young man who in fact the previous year was asking for a bunch of advice about doing a startup. I remember specifically telling him if he does a startup to please call me because I have a lot of tips and I like helping people I like.  And I really did like this young man.  He was technically awesome, personally friendly and unbelievably respectful to me.  I scrambled to look for his picture on LinkedIn; however he didn’t have a picture on his LinkedIn profile.  With my heart racing I then did an image search with his name with Devops and SCALE. I kept saying to myself “Please God, don’t let it be the same young man.”  Before I even rendered his picture, there were tears in my eyes, thinking that he would have been in the room that morning if it wasn’t him. Then his picture rendered and it was confirmed … it was the young man that had become one of many SCALE friends. I literally started crying in the back of the room.  I had to step out to call my wife.  This was the second time I had known someone who had done this, and it was way worse this time.  I kept thinking “Oh my God, I wish there was a way he could have called me.”  I literally would have flown out to LA to sit with him for a week or whatever it took.  I know this sounds silly, but that’s the way I felt and it’s the way I still feel now.  I am not saying that Carlo and I were great friends but I really liked this kid.  He had made a strong impression on me.  Even now as I am writing this story, I wish there was some way to turn back the clock.  I know that suicide is a very complicated disease and it’s not as simple as all that, but damn…I wish something…

Later I took a look at Carlo’s twitter stream, and to me it was pretty clear Karōjisatsu had reared it’s ugly head in the case of my friend.

pix1

The International Labour Organization has listed (from Wikipedia) some causes of overwork or occupational stress that could lead to Karoshi and Karōjisatsu:

  • All-night, late-night or holiday work, both long and excessive hours. During the long-term economic recession after the collapse of the bubble economy in the 1980s and 1990s, many companies reduced the number of employees. The total amount of work, however, did not decrease, forcing each employee to work harder.
  • Stress accumulated due to frustration at not being able to achieve the goals set by the company. Even in economic recession, companies tended to demand excessive sales efforts from their employees and require them to achieve better results. This increased the psychological burden placed on the employees at work.
  • Forced resignation, dismissal, and bullying. For example, employees who worked for a company for many years and saw themselves as loyal to the company were suddenly asked to resign because of the need for staff cutbacks.
  • Suffering of middle management. They were often in a position to lay off workers and torn between implementing a corporate restructuring policy and protecting their staff.

Sound familiar?  All-night, holiday work, excessive hours, excessive sales efforts, bullying, fear of losing one’s job, and of course screwed up management.  Most of the modern day startups have all kinds of tales of employees and ex-employees telling stories related to these stresses.  A quick Google search on Julie Ann Horvath tells a of a horrific gender bullying story.  As I am writing this story, I am now starting to think about some of my newer Devops friends who are women and their camaraderie about gender issues in IT.  Another form of fierce bullying that needs to stop.

A few years ago I joined team Gene Kim (a wonderful friend).  Gene has this vision of improving the lives of millions of IT professionals and he has been doing incredible job starting with his novel “The Phoenix Project.”  Gene is a leader in this industry and in fact I reached out to Gene just the other night to tell him about Carlo’s passing and sent him this picture.

pix2

(Brandon Burton, Gene Kim, Lars Lehtonen, Carlo Flores, Chris Webber)

Here is what Gene tweet’ed back to me…

picx1

The last 10 years of my career have been extremely fulfilling mainly because I have been able to meet some some incredible young men and women in the IT industry.  This family called Devops has given me wonderful access to all facets of culture and technology. I’m not trying to pull the hero card here and say that I am going to be an advocate for all things Karōjisatsu, but I will say, if you are someone I really like (and there are a lot of you out there), I might be watching you.

I’ll also go out on a limb here and say that anyone who is in arms length of this story who happens to feel overwhelmed, I beg of you to please CALL ME.  I’m only a tweet away (@botchagalupe).  Again, I know that it’s not simple and there is no way anyone can be a beacon for this horrible disease called suicide.  However, I would really like to figure out a way to beat this dang Karōjisatsu thing at least for all the awesome young people I have gotten to know over the past 7 years in this wonderful family we call Devops.

  • http://stevepereira.ca Steve Pereira

    Well said bud.

  • http://flugel.it Diego Woitasen

    Very interesting post. I was talking to a colleague about Carlos and Lars today, in a conversation related to toxic clients. I’m an entrepreneur, focused on DevOps. It sounds like a contradiction like a new culture that helps people to have healthy business and healthy people, is having community members that end in burnout.

    In the last days I had a lot of stress related to a toxic client and how that affected my life and my business. It’s very import to quit at the right time and be supported by other people. A couple of years ago I started a project that because I didn’t quiet at the right time, I ended with anxiety disorder that I’m still trying to fight with it. Of course, there are reason in the background that helps you to be affected in these ways, but the working environment force you to extreme situations sometimes.

    May be a coincidence, may be not. But this article and the conversation in the same day left my thinking about a lot of things.

    It’s about life and work balance, and about being happy with what are you doing.

    I’d like to talk about how to handle toxic client if there is a way, but I don’t want to focus on it now :)

    Thanks for your post.

  • http://flugel.it Diego Woitasen

    And just curious, are you the same John Willis of the DevOps Cafe?

    • John Willis

      Yes I am… :)

  • Boyd Hemphill

    Diego, if you have not read “The No Asshole Rule,” then take a few hours with it. The idea of toxic clients and toxic work environments is explored from one lens. Maybe there are other great reads out there from others like burnout? Anyone have a suggestion?

    • Gene Kim

      John, thank you for posting this. As I was reading your post, it hit me why something Nathen Shimek told me moved me so much:

      He said: “As a lifelong Ops practitioner, I know we need DevOps to make our work humane. In the past, I’ve worked every holiday, on my birthday, my spouse’s birthday, and even on the day my son was born.”

      When you hold that up against the light with your list of underlying causes of karojisatsu, it’s quite chilling to realize how devastating the way we manage technology organizations.

      You and I wrote this together together… “When people are trapped in this downward spiral for years, especially those who are helplessly downstream of Development, they often feel trapped in a system that pre-ordains failure, or feeling like they are trapped in an ever-repeating horror movie, completely powerless to change the results. These feelings are often accompanied by burnout, with the associated feelings of fatigue, cynicism, or even hopelessness and despair

      Corman, et. al., found that the rates of burnout in information security practitioners (and most certainly the same in Ops, had they expanded their study) were “off the charts,” scoring higher than first responders (i.e., firefighters, police, etc.), physicians in the emergency room, and people doing multiple tours of duty in military service during wartime.

      The top three signs of burnout are fatigue, cynicism (jokingly referred to as the “core competency of Infosec) and over-estimation of self-efficacy (ability to complete one’s tasks and projects, “hero complex”).

      For those wanting to learn more: my friend Josh Corman and colleagues ran a panel at Black Hat about burnout and infosec: http://www.slideshare.net/secburnout/burnout-in-information-security

      Thanks for everything you do, John, as always.

      • Gene Kim

        Link to @lordcope DevOpsDays Tel Aviv video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfK-roNLj9E

      • Helena

        Fantastic article, John, and not just because you were so nice about me 😉 . This subject is the main reason I’m now studying to qualify as a clinical psychologist. I want to specialise in helping people in our industry overcome and, better still, avoid, burnout. Gene, do you have a link to the work by Corman (et al.)?

        • Gene Kim

          Yes, here’s a link to Corman et al slides: http://www.slideshare.net/secburnout/burnout-in-information-security

          Email me at GeneK at realgenekim dot me, and I can do introduction to the study authors. Josh Corman is a longtime friend of mine, and one of the smartest people I know.

        • botchagalupe

          Thank you Helena.. I am sure you will be great at helping people.

    • http://flugel.it Diego Woitasen

      Thanks Boyd, I’ll get it.

  • http://byronm.wordpress.net Byron Miller

    John, You rock! Thanks for sharing this and reminding us we’re human and the best thing we have is each other!

  • Frank Hinek

    Very moving. Makes me take a step back and evaluate whether priorities are in order. Least can do is try to make a difference, even if a small one, and share this with those we think might be close to burnout. Thanks John.

  • Brent Smithurst

    Thank you for posting this, John. I only knew Carlos through Twitter, but the news hit me like a ton of bricks and almost made me throw up. I had seen several very concerning Tweets of his in the days prior and wanted to DM someone I knew knew him in real life, to ask him to check on Carlos. I never got around to it. I don’t know if it would have made a difference or not, but I can’t help but feel guilty.

    My real reason for writing this comment is to join you in offering a person to talk to. If anyone out there ever feels overwhelmed or like it’s all over, please feel free to hit me on Twitter (@brentsmi) or phone (778-558-9321). Whether you know me or not, please take me up on this. Hell, maybe it would be easier to talk with someone you don’t know in real life? What have you got to lose?

  • Josh

    I come from the land of auto mechanics, and burnout over there is not worn as a badge. Its a point when you’re physiologically unable to navigate the correct course of action. You break things. You make bad decisions. You drink. I also write a lot of code, and I’ve pulled 80-90 hour weeks. The feeling is similar. This drunken haze, almost autopilot. I rather like Mathias Meyer’s ideas on mandatory vacation time (http://www.paperplanes.de/2014/12/10/from-open-to-minimum-vacation-policy.html), but I think the acute sources of the problem stem too quickly and often to be fixed purely from a vacation standpoint. Though this post is definitely sad, it brings something important to the table.

  • Guest

    John,

    Thanks so much for this post and for
    putting this out there. IT and industry burnout in prevalent in many
    areas. I left banking compliance (IT and Business) after having
    emergency by-pass surgery and then going through an exercise where I
    wrote my own obituary. Writing down what my daughters and wife might
    say and struggling to have them say something, anything nice about me
    made the difference. I joined Higher Education IT 8 plus years ago
    and it has made a world of difference in my life. You see, in Higher
    Education IT we complain when we hit 40hr weeks. Yes I love my job
    and I can leave it at work.

    I don’t make the money I used and I
    don’t care. I now know my family, and we have so much fun together.
    I have friends and a life. I still work hard at my hobbies but I
    allow myself to take what ever time off from obligations when I feel
    my energy stores going down. I also learned to meditate and I take a
    lot of naps. Funny how when you pass sixty years old, naps start to
    seem like a great idea again.

    Burnout should not be something we are
    proud of. It was for me in banking but it almost killed me.

    And yes, listen to others, offer
    support. Spread your care and love around generously. You never
    know who you will be pulling back from the brink of suicide.

    Thanks again

  • http://daddyoh.us Eric

    John,

    Thanks so much for this post and for putting this out there. IT and industry burnout in prevalent in many areas. I left banking compliance (IT and Business) after having emergency by-pass surgery and then going through an exercise where I wrote my own obituary. Writing down what my daughters and wife might say and struggling to have them say something, anything nice about me made the difference. I joined Higher Education IT 8 plus years ago and it has made a world of difference in my life. You see, in Higher Education IT we complain when we hit 40hr weeks. Yes I love my job and I can leave it at work.

    I don’t make the money I used and I don’t care. I now know my family, and we have so much fun together. I have friends and a life. I still work hard at my hobbies but I allow myself to take what ever time off from obligations when I feel my energy stores going down. I also learned to meditate and I take a lot of naps. Funny how when you pass sixty years old, naps start to seem like a great idea again.

    Burnout should not be something we are proud of. It was for me in banking but it almost killed me.

    And yes, listen to others, offer support. Spread your care and love around generously. You never know who you will be pulling back from the brink of suicide.

    Thanks again!

  • Nir Cohen

    I’ve experienced this at my previous job (fring) and am thankful for having let myself leave for a calmer place (Gigaspaces). I strongly suggest finding a place that puts your health and personal life before its production system.

  • David Kavanagh

    John, we met at Scale10x at the Eucalyptus booth. Thanks for the post! It’s so easy to forget we’re all people with thoughts and feelings, not machines. So glad you had the courage to write about this!

  • Matt

    I know that I’m completely burned out and there is no place for me to turn for help. It really sucks.

    • nir0s

      Would you care to elaborate? What’s the situation you’re in?

      • Matt

        No family. No hope of a family. I can’t lose myself in my work, my career is over. All the wisdom I have gathered is unusable since I will never be allowed to be more than a keyboard monkey. And I have realized I am spectacularly bad at choosing jobs. No modern IT manager will hire me now because my work environment is so out of date.

        • botchagalupe

          Honestly .. let’s talk… send me an email at botchagalupe at gmail…

          I am also very good at talking to people about re-skilling. In fact just the other week I was talking to a lady who was 57 years old and said she could not find any jobs in IT because her skills were out dated. She had told be she was a fortran and ADA programmer for 30 years at Northrup. We corresponded over email and now she is learning Pyhton and Erlang.

          John

          • Matt

            It’s not the skills, it’s the lack of opportunity. And the burnout.

          • Gene Kim

            Love it. If you don’t mind me asking: If you could wave a magic wand, what kind of opportunities would be offered to you that would make you jump up and down for joy?

          • Matt

            Opportunity to advance in my career. Being technically proficient is a barrier to advancement in the modern business world.

            Mentoring. Help and support in improving myself.

            A team to work with instead of a bunch of folks who don’t really play well with each other.

            And frankly, something to live for, such as a family.

            The lack of these is a sign of what Western society is becoming in terms of r/K strategies

          • Gene Kim

            I’ve got some ideas. Can you email me at Realgenekim at g—- dot com. And cc botchagalupe at g—- dot com, too. Looking forward to hearing from you.

          • Gene Kim

            In the case that you don’t mind disclosing in public, how many years have you been in the technology space, and what technologies have you worked in? (To help think of good mentors)

            And if you had magic wand, what proficiencies would you like to gain?

          • Matt

            About 40 years. I’ve worked with more technologies than I care to type in via an on screen keyboard. Mostly Unix & Linux for the past 20 years.

            Any product I learn today will be mostly obsolete in24 months. Most processes and procedures will be obsolete in 5 to 10 years.

            What I would like is to be proficient in effecting significant change.

          • http://www.solarce.org Brandon Burton

            I think you may be underestimate both your experience and how quickly things go obsolete. Unfortunately the VC funded world has a lot of ageism baked into its culture and this shines through in social media and a lot of people’s behavior, but judging the skills you think you need based on what is in job postings or Hacker News can do that to you. However, having real conversations with folks in the industry will be more grounding.

            I’m here if you want to talk http://www.solarce.org/about/ and I’d encourage you to reach out to Gene and John, they are amazing folks and top notch. John is an inspiration to me, he’s been around the industry as long as I’ve been alive (just turned 30 but have been working in IT since 18) and yet he’s more on top of things than I am in so many ways.

          • Matt

            Yeah, send email to people who don’t respond. I’m almost cynical enough to think some folks enjoy giving people false hope and then crushing it. This sort of thing just makes severe depression a lot worse and reenforces that I’m totally on my own.

          • http://www.paulgraydon.co.uk Twirrim

            Speaking from the perspective of someone working for one of the most prominent tech companies around, and someone involved in interviewing candidates, there are two things that stands out most about the hiring process and the expectations from candidates, and that’s aptitude and intuition. Yes there is a need for linux/posix fundamentals, but those concepts barely change.

            What you’re doing at your current environment is only an interesting data point to your general capabilities. The more experience someone has, the better their intuition is and the quicker and more consistently it seems they’re likely to spot root causes.

            The company I work for tends to be more concerned that you’re going to be capable of learning about and getting up to speed on any new some software or systems we might be introducing you to. At the end of the day that’s all that really matters. (developers are hired more on the basis of being good at *a* language, even if it’s not necessarily the one used by the team, because it’s not necessarily that hard to go from C# to Java, but it is hard to teach fundamentals, algorithmic approaches etc)

            Speaking of which, if you look at languages, 10 years ago Ruby was ‘the hot thing’. A few years ago nodejs was key for server side.
            These days it looks like everyone is jumping on the Golang or Rust band-wagons.
            Yet I’ve spent more of my career writing perl than I have anything else. Since a couple of years ago I’ve largely been writing Python as the team I’m currently on has more Python scripts for automation than anything else, and recently I’ve been giving golang a shot for certain use cases where its strengths help.
            This week I still went back to perl for some tasks I needed to complete. My manager and co-workers don’t care that I’m not using the latest greatest, they just care that I got the job done (I did, though I’d forgotten how much fun and confusion the concepts of hashes and hashrefs cause me and the insistence perl has in them being accessed in different fashions!)

            In all seriousness, with your level of experience behind you it’s a fairly safe bet that you’ve got intuition by the bucket load, and probably plenty of aptitude too.

            I just want to emphasise that I know it might not seem it, but the market isn’t dead for people without specific skills that are ‘currently hot’. This wasn’t intended as a long recruitment drive, but that said, we are hiring and I’d love to hear from you if you think you’d be interested to work with some innovative tech and help solve some of the really interesting problems that happens when you scale up services on a world wide size. Almost nothing I’m dealing with has roots in my past, and yet all the experience I’ve earned over the years feeds my intuition and it’s that that pays the dividends. If you want to talk about it (or even if you just want to talk and not about the job), drop me an email: paulgraydon at gmail dot com.

          • http://opusmagnus.wordpress.com Magnus Hedemark

            I’ve been in the industry for 21 years, mostly as a SysAdmin. Sometimes in management. But I wear many hats.

            I’ve been burning out on the industry because of a few things that have all happened sort of at once. The workplace is waaay more social than it used to be, but in a forced way (agile ritual meetings, for example). The bullpen office layout has sort of been my bane lately. Why is this a problem for me? It’s because I’m autistic. The industry is moving in a direction that leaves people like me scrambling. This industry used to be the place where people like me could thrive.

            But it’s not just me, or other autistic people; part of my role these last few years has been as a process coach (agile & lean) and I’m finding more and more that the social rituals are propping up the extroverts and heroes, while the introverts give up on innovating because decisions are made in a way that is too confrontational and competitive for them. I have to wonder if there’s a link here, also, to the gender problem we’ve got.

        • Gene Kim

          Matt — thanks for sharing. I pulled over in my car, because I wanted to make sure that you knew we care. I think you’ll find that you’re surrounded by people who will likely resonate with elements of your story but really do care.

          Want to ask for advice? I suspect you’ll find many people hear with potentially relevant experiences.

          If you don’t want advice, tell us that too. We’ll respect your wishes.

          Want to complain about things outside of your control? Go for it. I suspect you’ll find you’re not alone there either. :)

          But keep talking. We’re listening.

          Thanks
          Gene

          • Matt

            Advice? Yeah, how do I move far enough of the chain to be able to effect change? The biggest lesson I took from both “The Goal” and “The Phoenix Project” is that it requires someone at least three layers of management up to be able to implement ANY change.

          • Boyd Hemphill

            Matt, have you considered a smaller company where people wired like yourself are recognized and valued? I have worked in a couple such places though I am not on the spectrum. While social gifts did help, logic and data almost always won the day. Maybe the right recruiter can help you identify these opportunities. If you happen to be in Austin, please contact me through Austin DevOps. I will help you make a selection.

            On the family note, I cannot address that directly. However an Aspberger’s guy I worked with was driven to host “Game Night” at a previous company. He defined the social parameters and media (Rune Wars for example) we would gather over. For me it was a stunning reminder of how much I enjoyed games. When he learned of my son’s reading issues, he immediately invited him to the dungeon crawls. My son’s difficulties are melting away and this is in large part to this autistic guy reaching out in his own way with his own rules. Don’t buy the “autistic = anti-social” crap. Autisic = different-social and different can be better.

            I hope you can find your channel for social outlet.

          • Matt

            I haven’t had any success at getting small companies interested in hiring me. Without exception, they want somebody to do things immediately instead of building a reliable and stable operations environment. I even remember a Director of DevOps who was only looking to hire Chef gurus…

          • Gene Kim

            If you’re open to feedback, I’d be happy to volunteer doing a mock interview with you, and see whether there’s ways to making your pitch for a more resilient and stable operations environment more compelling.

            It definitely does sound like a different work environment would be a great change for you. Now the trick is to increase your success rates at landing those positions. :)

            No one bats 100% in getting hired, and often some honest and direct feedback is required to change outcomes.

            Lemme know, Matt.

          • sdmouton

            Have you considered looking into government IT positions? The pay is not up to par with the private sector for the most part, but there are other benefits that can make up for that. If you want to chat about some specifics at greater length, I’m sdmouton at gmail, or @sdmouton on twitter if at shorter length =)

    • botchagalupe

      Matt,

      There are more people out here willing to talk/help than you think. The line starts with me. Botchagalupe on twitter or gmail.

  • botchagalupe

    The response to this blog post has been overwhelming. At the time of this reply there are over 150 tweet responses regarding this post. I was chatting with Gene and he said we hit a nerve and I told him we hit a gusher. When I woke up Friday morning I wasn’t thinking about saving the world, (still don’t think I am); however, It’s clear this issue is more pervasive than we ever imagined.

    A few years ago Damon Edwards (@damonedwards) and I coined the acronym CAMS (Culture, Automation, Measurement and Sharing) as a loose Devops taxonomy. Based on the response from our community in the past 24 hours I think the “C” should be defined as “Caring”.

    I have received a handful of emails and a couple of calls in the past 24 hours. Most of the emails talk about how someone battled burnout and suicide thoughts. To me some of the most rewarding responses, on twitter and email, are from people who have thrown their name in the I want to help category. I have had a few replies from managers who have said they didn’t realize burnout could be lethal and that they will be on the lookout for their employees. A couple of people I have corresponded with are actually in a dark place. I told them although I have no training I want to listen and in at least one case I believe it has helped. Overall I think if we can force multiple this we might actually be saving (little s) the world or at least our IT professional world.

    • bitemediscus

      Obviously you have said something that really needed to be said. Thank you.

  • Mark Imbriaco

    We, in this industry, have a tendency to feel like we’re not entitled to complain because we have it “easy” compared to people who also do difficult jobs and are not compensated as well as we are. That way of thinking is incredibly harmful, and we need to stop it.

    This work and industry are challenging, and you don’t need to feel guilty for being burned out, stressed, or depressed just because you sit behind a computer and get paid well. What you need to do is be open to talk to someone about it, because I guarantee you there are plenty of people who can relate. And don’t think that you’re imposing, either. Talking to someone about these issues is very likely to help them at least as much as it helps you.

    Putting my money where my mouth is, if there’s ever anyone who wants to talk, please reach out. My email address is my first name @ my last name dot com.

  • http://christophermahan.com/ Christopher Mahan

    “As I am writing this story, I am now starting to think about some of my newer Devops friends who are females and their camaraderie about gender issues in IT. Another form of fierce bullying that needs to stop.”

    This!

    IT is still in the Dark Ages (think 950 AD Western Europe) concerning gender diversity issues.

    That’s one of the reasons I left. I could not stand to see my peers disrespected thus.

    • bitemediscus

      Yeah, and the flip side of that story is that as a man I don’t deserve any sort of help. Be very careful where that takes you.

      • http://christophermahan.com/ Christopher Mahan

        I did not mean that though. I am very aware this is not a single-gender issue. I just wanted to draw attention to what John had written.
        Also, hum, gender is ill-defined and fluid, so there’s another caveat.

    • nir0s

      You should really bring this up with @bridgetkromhout.
      At DevOpsDays Ghent last year, we had a very interesting conversation about females in the IT world. She has some good insights.

      • http://christophermahan.com/ Christopher Mahan

        I’ll reach out to her, thanks!

      • TY

        This is great, but please consider not calling women “females.” Just call them women.

        • nir0s

          I didn’t. This was literally the topic. or “Females in Ops”, or something of that sort.

  • http://www.opsbs.com/ Aaron Nichols

    John, thanks for posting this. Reading the comments & twitter action around this was definitely eye opening – I was really happy to see so many people touched by this post. I sent it out to my company, I hope others connect with this. I’ve absolutely been touched by burnout – enough to pack up my family and move states hoping to find better balance. 6 years after doing that and a few personal battles later I feel like I’m getting there – and if others need someone to talk to I’m all ears. Finding others who share your difficulties, a fellowship if you will, is really powerful. Don’t be held back by your present surroundings – reach out – there are many folks willing to listen & help including myself http://www.opsbs.com/about/

  • Maggie

    I work for a very successful tech company and asked everyone around me for help with my suicidal thoughts – including HR, management, friends and my coworker boyfriend ad well as his best friend and wife, I was treated like an attention seeker and annoyance – by every last one of them. I highly doubt the “call me anytime” after death was REAL before the suicide. I pulled out of it myself by stopping talking to all of those who refused to help me and barely survived. I’m an engineer with ongoing depression.

    • bitemediscus

      Yep, fuck off and die is the universal response I have gotten. You are not alone in that.

    • http://christophermahan.com/ Christopher Mahan

      *hugs*

    • OlivierJ

      (((Hugs))) Maggie. I don’t know you, but we are all there. Listening in, because you matter… (from France in this case)…

    • Elliot

      The main problem is we are all dealing with our own problems in this industry and in life, and it’s hard to be invested in another persons baggage when you’re dealing with your own as well. Ultimately you have to look for help where people are already offering it and you *know* you can get it in person, like therapy. Don’t be afraid to seek out help from a therapist, who you can at least be reasonably sure is in the business of helping people.

    • Helena Nelson-Smith

      I know what you mean, Maggie. Sadly it’s a popular view that suicide is selfish and/or pathetic, and that expressing suicidal ideation is just attention-seeking. It makes it very hard to reach out for help. For the record, I don’t think that way and I know a lot of other people who don’t. I know it’s hard to trust people when you’ve been let down as badly as you have by people who should’ve cared, but I hope you don’t give up. I hope you find someone supportive, kind, understanding so you know you’re not alone, and you’re not annoying. Meanwhile, we need to build company cultures that take human suffering seriously and treat it compassionately.

  • ThisIsNotMeSV

    I have been through this more than once. There is a harsh reality in corporate work that it doesn’t matter how well you do your job, someone has to take the hit and it’s not always the right people. I know enough people who have hit the bottom and only survive because of their antidepressants. And when you lose a job, sometimes you can’t afford to pay for the necessary medicine (which can cost hundreds of dollars a month without insurance).

    People will tell you that it is easy to find a new job in the Silicon Valley, and that can be true, but it’s terribly hard to get a job when you are so utterly destroyed by what has happened in the past.

    Abusive bosses, making jokes about disabilities, knowing that if you complain, it will end up going through them (startups with no HR). Bosses cheerfully telling you it’s “D-day!” as if it’s a happy thing.

    Higher level employees being asked to work for little or free who are then fired for refusing to. And adding insult to injury, having their boss remind them that the valley is small, so they should “be professional”, essentially be quiet, sign, leave or be destroyed.

    It doesn’t matter how smart you are, in fact it can be part of the
    issues.. Over thinking (ruminating) leads to anxiety. You begin to doubt your ability to provide, for yourself, your family, you tumble into a downward spiral that only worsens things. People are pushed away, your SO may leave because they fear that you cannot provide for them, or your children..

    It’s a terrible life at times and sometimes you just have to get out..

  • paulpeissner

    @botchagalupe – John – thank you for writing this and reminding me of the painful extremes that I might be contributing to (or displaying indifference to) without realizing how it might impact others, like Carlo and Walter. And thank you for being my friend and extend the offer of friendship to those in the DevOps community that may need one. Once again you lead by fearless example…

    On the topic of Karojisatsu it brings back a lot of emotion and concern for 3 areas…
    1) the DevOps community that we are privileged to be surrounded by,
    2) those that work in cultures, careers and mind-sets defined in a technology different era, and
    3) the transitions to new models and “future state visions” where the journey can be painful and pro-longed.

    1) The brilliance in the DevOps community is amazing. The DevOps artists that can inspire and innovate while sitting in the same historic IT chaos, that generally embraced restrictive control as the only/best historic response. Many “honest” visionaries dare to see and drive to new options without fear and they question the “presuppositions” that have defined our organizations, policies and the roles for 2 or 3 decades. And like any visionary artist, the innovative work of these DevOps pioneers will only be truly appreciated by the “next” generation and if they are lucky enough by a few industry peers who see, support and encourage them.

    2) For many of us we work in organizations that pay lip-service to change and transformation. But under those high-level statements they are really terrified by the…
    a) amount of work, re-work and re-education it may require,
    b) the impact it may have on organizational structures, reward systems, the amount of trust it may require with others that have historically been competitive and not cooperative to achieve their success, and
    c) the tolerance-levels that are magnified by industry, financial, organizational or technology pressures (good or bad) that can open and close doors without warning on our early and vulnerable efforts.

    3) The biggest concern I have are the extremes of both grand failures and successes. The types of changes we are proposing and making are truly game-changing. And that means people “playing the game” today (our corporate or cubical neighbors) my find our DevOps vision a threat to
    a) their current goals, skills, and hard-earned positions; and
    b) the organizations where “fragile” IT is good-enough and “fire-fighting” is the norm.

    The journey, for DevOps visionaries in these environments are filled with painful personal failures that can lead folks down a dark and lonely path. But DevOps needs to value, consider and include “winning over” (non-DevOps) co-workers impacted by new models, processes and innovative changes. We need to “make room” for their expertise and political histories with the organization. The benefits are two-fold.
    A) We can pro-actively “defuse their fear” of change (and career obsolescence)…and the illogical and emotional reactions they may display without realizing it (they may see it as an unexpected change and potential entry into a dark place for their own career).
    b) We need to systematically include efforts to creat a supportive technology community, where we “make plans” to build out shared ownership along with the introduction of new technologies, processes and organizational changes.

    Remembering that this is a long DevOps journey and winning over the current tech neighborhood that we are surrounded by (and live in), should give us a growing network of insightful friends and different perspectives to keep our whole tech community from the threat of entering into dark places alone.

  • http://blog.beckitrue.com/ Becki True

    I just saw this come through my DevOps weekly newsletter and am so glad that I did. Thank you for writing this article and for being so open with your feelings and time.

    We need more humanity, civility and a bit of thought and empathy for the other person. It’s so easy to hide behind our physical, organizational, and technical barriers as we become more and more disconnected and dehumanized. Cutthroat competition for jobs and money makes this feeling worse.

    We can all choose to be more human and influence those around us be more human too. If you’re building a start-up, build one that’s human.

    You have more choices than you may think. Don’t play into the hero culture that exists so many places. You might need to work someplace else, but that’s a lot better than being miserable. I’ve had to make that decision a few times in my career, and I’m much happier and healthier for it.

    I’m here to help in whatever why I can too. I’m @true62 on Twitter and am happy to help.

  • Alex Falkowski

    Very moving. Thank you for sharing :)

  • Brian

    John, Thanks for the article on such an important subject. The human side of the story and the sacrifices made as well as the stresses endured are often overlooked or ignored. My heart goes out to all those suffering. Take care Sir and thank you! Brian Fourr

  • shar1z

    John, beautiful, sad, touching, heartfelt, powerful and genuine. Brought tears to my eyes. The culture starts with a movement’s “thought leaders” – so the outpouring is really a reflection of the movement and community you have driven and invested every last effort in building. Thank you for this – the post and the culture/ideology.

  • http://www.twitter.com/mrry550 Jen Krieger

    John – Likely this blog post will go down as a reference for me for the rest of my career. Not only for the hundreds of software development folks I speak with on a near daily basis, but also for my own personal use… to keep me focused, believing and not giving up on something I generally believe to be The Right Thing to do. Thanks for the focus, for every word that you wrote above. It means the world to me … and I know many others who have shared the same.

  • http://blog.itsmemattchung.com/ Matt Chung

    Beautiful post. I hope that this will motivate managers and their organization to emphasize work life balance.

  • RunningOps

    For the last year, since I took a new job I’m eating a lot, drinking a lot, stopped excercising, stopped playing with my kids, don’t notice my wife anymore. Working day, night, weekend, holidays. The upper management recognize the company-wide problem but is helpless and going with the flow. I think they are burned out too… I’ve been trying to resolve the situation for a long time now, but ended up going with the flow myself. I’m also managing an Ops team and I’ve noticed that lately I’m lighting the carpet under my guys. This is a dead spiral of working more, asking for more, demanding more. I’ve read all the books, all the blogs and videos … everything and still feel helpless to turn this around.

    • Rob Nelson

      RunningOps, have you made any progress on this since you originally posted? There are lots of techniques and most of the books will have limited impact as they don’t give you actual methods you can implement today. However, I would strongly recommend the Visible Ops Handbook. It breaks the troubles and resolutions down into four steps that you iterate through in a loop. Very simple, very approachable, and applies to almost every Ops scenarios. I hope that helps.

      • RunningOps

        Thank you for the answer. I havent read the book but it’s in my wish list right now. I resigned my position two days ago in hope to get my life back ti order

        • Rob Nelson

          Wow, good for you! That takes some courage. I’m sure you’ll pull through and come out stronger on the other side. Let us know if we can help. If you’re in central Indiana, I may know some companies hiring depending on skills.

          • RunningOps

            Well I hope it’s not too late for my marage :) Thanks for support! I truly believe a revolution should happen in our industry

  • Stephen Fishman

    John – Thanks so much for providing a reminder to the real reasons of why DevOps exists. It is to give hope to the IT professionals who are suffering without a clear idea of why they are suffering. Despite what many people believe, individuals don’t necessarily mind suffering. What they can’t tolerate and what drives them to despair is “suffering without reason”. Suffering without reason creates hopelessness because people feel powerless to end the source of suffering

  • DyslexicAtheist

    there is currently a big discussion on hackernews whether DevOps is bullshit. It seems a lot of the engineers these days are being confused about marketing hype (recruiters are not helping either) surrounding the movement. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/devops-bullshit-joachim-bauernberger

  • http://rickmanelius.com Rick Manelius

    Our current educational paradigm places a significant amount of emphasis on intelligence (IQ) and not on communication skills, emotional maturity, vision, purpose, etc. Therefore as engineers and problem solvers, we rely on our strongest muscles (intelligence) to address the challenges we face. When that doesn’t work, we double down and try harder and harder in the face of the ever increasing complexity of the problems in the technology space.

    I really appreciate this article because your focus is on the the human element (the caring), which is just as important as our collective intelligence in addressing the challenges we face as a community. I know you may not feel suited to be the leader in this space, but standing up as you did makes you a leader in my book… and we need more people to speak out, join in, etc.

    Finally, at a personal level… thank you. I’ve battled with burnout several times in my career: during my undergraduate years at college, working at a startup and putting in years of long hours, etc. I hit another bout of it recently and I’ve been re-balancing my life to ensure I don’t go any further down that path. You’re article was another important reminder to keep on this path of recovery/sustainability.

  • http://t.co/6J8SVdNtt9 Simon L.

    I know little about DevOps and I’m not an IT professional. In fact I was reading this post as research for an article I’m writing about DevOps influencers. I do know first-hand about burnout though and I have to say, your post has touched me.

    I was a senior logistics manager, aged about 46 when I had my burnout experience, and it happened during a 20-plus-year career with one company, during which I can count the number of sick days I took on one hand–until I burned out.

    I don’t wish to go into the details, but my burnout cost me my career, my home and my savings. It left me a drug addict and while I didn’t feel suicidal at the time, I have spent time in those dark places a number of times since.

    In many ways I’m glad it happened. Today I’m doing OK, living in a whole new country, free from any vices other than too much coffee and the occasional well-chilled beer (alcohol never became a problem), and working for myself as a freelance writer.

    The point is, if I hadn’t moved away from my home country, I would probably not be alive now, or at best, would be hopelessly lost in drugs (which in one’s late 40s would probably be a short downward spiral).

    My message to those who wear the overworking “badge of honor” with pride, is get over it, quickly. Burning out is not funny, you don’t see it coming until you’re really in the grip of it, it can take you to very bad places, mess with your head and yes, it can kill you, even if you aren’t suicidal.

  • http://t.co/6J8SVdNtt9 Simon L.

    I know little about DevOps and I’m not an IT professional. In fact I was reading this post as research for an article I’m writing about DevOps influencers. I do know first-hand about burnout though and I have to say, your post has touched me.

    I was a senior logistics manager, aged about 46 when I had my burnout experience, and it happened during a 20-plus-year career with one company, during which I can count the number of sick days I took on one hand–until I burned out.

    I don’t wish to go into the details, but my burnout cost me my career, my home and my savings. It left me a drug addict and while I didn’t feel suicidal at the time, I have spent time in those dark places a number of times since.

    In many ways I’m glad it happened. Today I’m doing OK, living in a whole new country, free from any vices other than too much coffee and the occasional well-chilled beer (alcohol never became a problem), and working for myself as a freelance writer.

    The point is, if I hadn’t moved away from my home country, I would probably not be alive now, or at best, would be hopelessly lost in drugs (which in one’s late 40s would probably mean a short downward spiral).

    My message to those who wear the overworking “badge of honor” with pride, is get over it, quickly. Burning out is not funny, you don’t see it coming until you’re really in the grip of it. Burnout can take you to bad places, mess with your head, and yes, it can kill you, even if you aren’t suicidal. No career is worth your health and your life–none.

  • AlexK

    Great article. I never got as bad as some of the people who posted here, but for me it was pretty devastating

    Back in 2013 I enjoyed developing code but wanted to move up the chain to a first management role. I had 15 years developer experience as a contractor and a lot of confidence.

    Then I got a permanent job as a technical lead which involved planning features. It required coding as well. I got off to a great start.

    Two years later I was out. It looks like I burned out and suffered from fatigue which changed great performance to lousy. My memory started going, along with my judgement. In response I worked harder. Then I started slowing down and getting brief mental blackouts where my brain just halted in mid sentence.

    Looking back I was in a team with a self confessed control freak manager (read every Jira change email ) and a bunch of (very talented ) people with attention to detail that took them over the edge of OCD and very strong opinions on how something should be done.

    After I raised concerns about my performance to my manager his attitude changed for the worse and again when I mentioned possible health issues. From then on it went downhill.

    In the end I was stressing about going to work on Monday- on Saturday morning!! I realised the job was killing me but was reluctant to resign and lacked time to hunt for a new job properly.

    Now, two months after leaving I am something like 80% of where I was in 2013, but with a way to go. But I no longer enjoy coding. I wrote a K-Means clustering algorithm in Pyspark as I cannot face Java any more at present and wrote up the result on my blog and this hijacked my mind for a while. But I still dread the prospect of going back to coding for a living. And my confidence is shot.

    I am unlikely to get a PM, management or other hands off role and would love to change career and looking to go back to University but I can see few prospects if I study Philosophy, Psychology or History ( at postgraduate level) either as an employee or freelance. But I am reading a Mathematical Physics Textbook and understanding a lot ( plus solving the exercises) and also reading philosophy books and understanding more than I would have done a couple of years ago.

    And my family kept me from going over the edge and I am being encouraged to retrain so all is not lost

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