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Author's profile photo Matt Fraser

Banishing Basis Burnout

A couple of years ago I thought I might be having a heart attack.


Mind you, I didn’t think this at first, and the symptoms were very minor. Even when the thought did occur to me, I was doubtful. I had never had one before. No one I know had ever had one. I had read all the usual stuff to know what the warning signs are supposed to be, but I had no direct personal experience of what one would look or feel like. Plus, I was just too young for that, right? All I knew was that something felt a little funny.


So I ignored it. I wasn’t collapsing or in pain, after all, and I just didn’t have time for this kind of nonsense. I had a lot of work to do. If it was a real heart attack, it would be unmistakeable, right?


As time went on, these episodes, as I started to call them, where my heart seemed to pound and my pulse was erratic, began to occur more frequently and with greater intensity. Still, I wondered if it might just all be in my head, so I used a heart rate monitor (an app on my smartphone), and I could actually see graphical evidence of missed beats (if there’s one thing with ERP professionals, we’re all about graphing and measuring data and ferreting out unambiguous facts).


That was it. I wasn’t imagining this. Time to call my doctor and get this checked out.


There followed all kinds of tests: blood tests, echocardiogram, stress test, a 24-hour monitor (way more sophisticated than putting my finger over the smartphone camera), an x-ray, and a CT scan. Thank God for insurance, is all I have to say about that.


The result? Not a heart attack. Not heart disease. In the absence of other issues, palpitations and missed beats are a sign of… you guessed it.




Stressful Careers

Now I know a thing or two about work-related stress. Twenty-plus years ago I worked as a maintenance electrician. What’s that, you say? Not very stressful? Well, normally you would be right. However, I was something of a trained expert… well, trained, anyway… in heat trace systems, otherwise known as pipeline freeze protection. Where do pipelines need freeze protection? That’s right. Cold places.


Very cold places.


My job — well, part of my job — was to keep the pipelines that supplied fresh water and supported the fire sprinkler system for living spaces from freezing. In Antarctica. In winter. Mildly mission-critical, one could say. Now, most of the time the heat trace in these pipelines worked just fine, but periodically one would trigger a low-temperature alarm and I would have to go and check it out. Outside. In the dark and cold, because these alarms just didn’t occur in summer (when it was daylight all the time), nor did they occur on a calm winter day (even though it was dark all the time).


They occurred during winter storms.


Have you ever tried to tighten a set screw while fitting an 18-gauge wire into a terminal block inside a small box while wearing mittens, while it’s blowing 40 mph and the wind chill is about -60º F? Not to mention snow whipping around you, getting into every little crevice in your parka and generally coating everything you’re working on. How about when the wind chill approaches -100º F and the blowing snow reduces visibility to mere yards?


Now that’s some stress, baby.


But I was young and thrived on this stuff. Heck, I sought out even more stress. I volunteered as a firefighter. I actually volunteered to run into burning buildings, and to stand by on crash crew during airplane landings, all the time worrying about water freezing in our hoses before we could spray it on anything. Fortunately, nothing more than a work shack burned during my time as a firefighter, and no planes crashed, but we drilled for these things all the time. We’re going to talk more about firefighters in just a bit.


What About Stress in IT Careers?

Needless to say, most IT professionals do not find themselves working outdoors in subzero temperatures and snowstorms (but it could happen!). Yet, still some subsets of the IT field seem to experience a relatively high burnout rate, which can manifest as frequently changing jobs or choosing to leave the profession entirely. IT in general does not even make the top ten list for high-burnout professions; the list is dominated by the medical field, teachers, police officers, social workers, and retail. Oh, and public accountants. You know, tax season and all.


Yet still, IT does seem to have a reputation for stress and burnout, and the frequent job changes are legendary. At times, you are called upon to work hours that, frankly, the accountants in the firm just don’t. System administration is a profession of unsung heroes: if you do your job perfectly, no one else will ever know your name. The moment the system goes down, however, suddenly management is all over you. If you don’t work for a software development firm, your entire department is likely to be seen as overhead by the rest of the organization, no matter that the analysts on your team have probably had a more positive effect on the company’s bottom line through process efficiencies than an entire generation of sales and marketing pros, and the only reason they were able to do that is because you enabled them and everyone else with a highly-tuned, stable, well-working system which, if we’re being honest here, no one could do without these days (that statement a moment ago about systems going down? Yeah, that doesn’t happen to our systems, does it?).


The All-Nighter

All-nighters and even all-weekenders are famous in the Basis world. At some point you are going to be called upon (or, more likely, be the one to make the call) to apply a patch to a production system, and that’s not going to happen during business hours, is it? No, it’s going to happen in the middle of the night, on a weekend, as part of a planned release. If it’s just a simple patch, it may be a matter of only an hour or two, or perhaps even only a few minutes, but it’s still a disruption of the normal circadian rhythm of sleep.


But, perhaps it’s a huge stack of support packs, or a full upgrade, perhaps even an upgrade of multiple inter-connected systems. It’s going to take all night. In fact, it may take all weekend. Perhaps even a holiday weekend. How many times have you had to work over New Year’s Eve, or Independence Day, Christmas, or Thanksgiving? All part of the job.


When you’re 30 years old, working a normal day on Friday, chilling out a few hours Friday evening, then starting the big upgrade at Midnight and working straight through for another 24, 36, or more hours is not that hard. You slam a few Red Bulls (or back in the day some No-Doz and coffee), and keep going. You’re a bit strung out at the end of it, but no worries, and Monday morning you’re still fine to show up at the office and be present for the inevitable support calls. Perhaps you’re not doing much more than be present for those calls, but that’s ok. Easy-peasy.


Somewhere around 40 you realize that you don’t quite bounce back from those all-weekenders as quickly as you once did, that you’re really pretty wasted for a day or two afterwards, but it’s still ok. You can pull these off every few months, if need be, and keep going. You do start to think about coping strategies, though.


At 50, it really dawns on you thatyour body just doesn’t take this kind of abuse like it used to. You’re a pro, and you get the job done, but the next day is brutal. In fact, you don’t really feel rested and firing on all cylinders again until you’ve had several nights of full sleep after a weekend like this. At this stage, if you haven’t figured out a better way to manage these events, then your time is going to become limited. You’re going to burn out.


The Firefighter Myth

Remember we talked about firefighters earlier? What do you think of firefighters? They’re heroes, right? Of course they are. And in the IT world, it’s not uncommon to talk about solving urgent problems as fighting fires, and some days it feels like that’s all we do. We put out fires, but we don’t really advance the program much. There’s always another cinder smouldering beyond the steaming pile of ash we just doused, so we rush over there to put the hose on it, not really taking time to think about what is causing all these sparks to ignite.


Some IT pros thrive on firefighting. For a while they may have heaps of praise piled upon them for saving the day, until eventually it dawns on someone to wonder why the day keeps needing to be saved. That spotlight of glory when you’ve recovered the system from a crash is a bit of an adrenaline rush, though, and it feels good for a little bit. After all, no one knows your name if nothing ever happens, remember?


This cycle of putting out fires only to sprint to the next one, however, is a cycle of burnout, both personally and professionally. It usually results from a confusion of what is urgent with what is important (as Dwight D Eisenhower once said).


Do you know how I spent most of my time as a volunteer firefighter? Basically two activities: training, and sleeping (in a “ready-to-go” on-call state). This is the case for firefighters almost everywhere. It has been said that firefighting is 99% sheer boredom interspersed with brief moments of sheer terror (I think the same has been said for soldiers at war), but more accurately, firefighters spend most of their time on prevention activities to ensure fires don’t start in the first place, and then training for those occasions when they do.


The world of Basis and system administration is very much the same. If you are truly outstanding at your job, then you don’t have many fires to put out, because you spend your time ensuring there is no fuel to start them. When they do start, they don’t get very large, because you know right away (automated alerts) and have procedures in place to deal with them effectively. Once again, you’ll be an unsung hero, no one will know your name*, and this is how it should be.


* In a perfect world, your boss will recognize how your professionalism has kept emergencies from happening, and will go on to ensure that his/her boss knows too. So, most people won’t know your name, but the right people will. Unfortunately, we don’t always live in a perfect world.


Pre-Burnout Stress Symptoms

The Texas Medical Association recognizes three stages of burnout, with any combination of two or more symptoms indicating you’ve reached a certain stage:


  1. Stage 1: Stress Arousal
    1. Persistent irritability
    2. Persistent anxiety
    3. Periods of high blood pressure
    4. Grinding your teeth at night
    5. Insomnia
    6. Forgetfulness
    7. Heart palpitations
    8. Unusual heart rhythms (skipped beats)
    9. Inability to concentrate
    10. Headaches
  2. Stage 2: Energy Conservation
    1. Lateness for work
    2. Procrastination
    3. Needed three-day weekends
    4. Decreased sexual desire
    5. Persistent tiredness in the mornings
    6. Turning work in late
    7. Social withdrawal
    8. Cynical attitudes
    9. Resentfulness
    10. Increased coffee/tea/cola consumption
    11. Increased alcohol consumption
    12. Apathy
  3. Stage 3: Exhaustion
    1. Chronic sadness or depression
    2. Chronic stomach or bowel problems
    3. Chronic mental fatigue
    4. Chronic physical fatigue
    5. Chronic headaches
    6. The desire to “drop out” of society
    7. The desire to move away from friends, work, and perhaps even family
    8. Perhaps the desire to commit suicide


Obviously, reaching stage 3 in this progression is very serious, even life-threatening, and stage 2, if left unchecked, can have lasting impacts upon your health and career. Even stage 1 isn’t a lot of fun, so what are some warning signs we can heed to let us know if we’re starting down this path?


If your diet consists primarily of pizza and energy drinks because you don’t have time or desire to prepare something healthier; if you’re skipping the gym and not getting any exercise because you don’t have time or you’re simply too tired; if you aren’t getting enough sleep, either lying awake at night, or because you’re consistently working late… if these things are persistently true for you, then you may be in “Stage 0: Pre-Burnout Stress.”


All of us go through periods where the demands of work seem to get in the way of what we know we should be doing for ourselves, but even the busiest uber-successful CEOs make time for personal health. They see it as a priority, without which they cannot be effective at their jobs. If, however, you chronically and persistently aren’t making time for your own health, then you may be on the sliding path toward the first stage of burnout, even if it takes a while to get there.


You Know What You Need To Do

Find Time For Health

There’s a famous cartoon by Randy Glasbergen in which a doctor addresses his patient and says “What fits your busy schedule better, exercising one hour a day or being dead 24 hours a day?”


Here’s the bottom line:

  • You can afford a gym.
  • But, you don’t need a gym.
    • There’s the great outdoors: go for a run, a walk, a hike, or a bike ride.
    • There’s the floor! Lots of exercises don’t need any special equipment at all.
  • If you haven’t exercised in a year or more:
    • See your doctor for a checkup.
    • Schedule a session with your gym’s personal trainer to get started.
    • If you have creaky joints like me, get a referral from your doctor and go see a physical therapist. With the right insurance copay plan, this might just be the least expensive form of personal trainer!


Eat Right For Health

When you need a pick-me-up snack, reach for an apple instead of a candy bar. Get over your aversion to green things and add some veges to your diet. Cut back on the sugary, caffeinated drinks (way back), and reach for a water, or tea, or juice instead. Drink more water. You know you aren’t drinking enough water.


Manage Your All-Nighters

As we said earlier, all-nighters are an inevitable part of the Basis life, but they don’t have to be grueling slogs. Here’s a strategy to make these events less stressful for your mind and body:

  • Automation and alerts. You’re the SysAdmin pro; you should be all over this. Write scripts to automate as many of the tasks as you reasonably can, and set up alerts to ping you when your attention is needed. That way you can go take a nap and just wait for a text on your phone to wake you.
  • Take catnaps instead of drinking more coffee. Feeling the fatigue set in and know that perhaps you aren’t making the best decisions? Take a break. Research by NASA has shown that a 20-40 minute nap can restore alertness to 100%, so instead of reaching for more caffeine, put things on hold for half an hour. You’ve got all weekend; if a half-hour is going to make that much difference, you have a bigger problem.
  • Share the workload. Yes, you are the hero, the one who takes these things on and gets things done, but isn’t there someone on your team who really wants to learn and have a chance to show their chops? Document your process, show them the ropes, and then trust them to do it on their own. I know, I have a hard time with this one myself, and it’s not uncommon to feel that if we don’t do it, it won’t be done right. Maybe that’s true, but you don’t know until you give someone else a shot, and now guess what? You’ve just found you can take that holiday vacation after all.
  • Negotiate flex-time. This depends on your workplace policies, of course, but talk to your boss about flexing some time the week after. You just put in 24 hours straight, after all — that’s three days of work. Surely you can get one of those back?


Back to the Firefighters

So, are you always fighting fires? Now you know that this isn’t the best way to run a system, nor is it the best way to run a career. So, take a step back and make sure you are fighting the right fires, ones that are both urgent AND important. Let some of the others go, or pass them to others to handle, so you can create some time to put in prevention, automation, and alerting measures and stabilize your system.


Emergencies are inevitable, though. Sometimes things are caused externally, you have little or no control over them, and you have to respond. Now is the time to get your boss to work for you and not against you. You need to focus, not provide constant status reports to the CIO. That’s what your manager is for. Tell him or her that you will advise of any significant change in status, but that you need to be free of distractions to solve this problem quickly and effectively, and you need everyone else to be out of the room (or cubicle, more likely). When things have stabilized again, you’ll provide a full report. A good manager understands this and will run interference for you, letting the executives and customer business units know what they need to know and keeping them out of your hair.


Afterwards, though, you are going to need to provide that report. It’s not just so the CIO/CEO/whoever can point fingers, but so you know why this happened and what you can do to prevent it from happening again. Recover quickly from a system crash once, and everyone will think you’re awesome. Recover from system crashes regularly, and everyone will wonder why there are so many crashes.


In for the Long Haul

All those tests, and the doctors never did find anything seriously wrong, but pretty clearly I was in at least Stage 1 of the burnout cycle, and maybe even Stage 2. I got back to the gym routine I had abandoned, I bought a juicer (you don’t have to go that far), and I got back out on the trails. After a while, the irregular heart rhythms went away and never came back. Not long ago I had my “age 50” physical, and my doctor said I was a rock star with my health stats, so there’s a happy ending to this story. Of course, perhaps he meant I had the health profile of an aging rock star, which might not be too good, but you know what they say about Keith Richards: he outlived Elvis, Michael Jackson, and Whitney Houston; bet you didn’t see that coming.


Still working on those creaky knees, though.

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      Author's profile photo Luís Pérez Grau
      Luís Pérez Grau

      I have so many things to say about this topic that I will never end, so just to simplify, I expcected to be paid for my knowledge and skills, my healt is not in the pack.

      Good article by the way, very important topic.

      Author's profile photo Colleen Hebbert
      Colleen Hebbert

      Hi Matt

      You are a blog ahead of me on this one!!! What a great piece to start and discuss. I had been thinking of writing this for a while now - mine was "Let the train smash happen"

      Stress is such a big issue in the workplace. People try to talk about it and mention work/life balance. But in reality, on IT projects long hours of long-intensity work is norm.

      In working in the mining industry, there is a big piece on fatigue management. A large part of it sending people home or making them stop work once they exceed the hours in a period (cap on a day and also over a week/month). It's a strange shock - at first you judge someone refusing to work more than 8-10 hours in a day (toughen up attitude or this is what you signed up for) but it can be one of the best policies to protect your people and also your system.

      I was going to title my blog 'let the train smash happen' as it was one of the best worst lessons I could learn in my professional career when it comes to burn out and stress. I worked some pretty intense hours quite a few years back. There was no down time, multiple time zones, crazy escalations and so on. Not as bad a security but mistakes could be measured in $$$. In my area I escalated a few issues and kept jumping in and patching them - keep things moving. I had a manager tell me to let the train smash happen. I couldn't do that as I saw it as my responsibility to clean it up so why clean a mess when you can prevent it. Problem was, the issues never got escalated to the right level of management to properly appreciate and recognise the problems - see what I was doing was not sustainable. What an inflated opinion I had of myself - they survived without me.

      Eventually I did let the train smash happen and it was in my own life and health. It resulted in me resigning from my role due to exhaustion and taking 3 months off to focus on physical and mental health as well as eating properly again and exercising. It was a very personal & expensive lesson to learn.

      Now, I have quite a few rules and checks & balances in place to ensure if I ramp my hours up and take on the stress that I don't burn out and never sacrifice my health. I have sayings with my partner - choose what time you arrive in the office as sometimes you're stuck back late. So if I've had a late night in the office, I make myself get sleep the next day before I'm back on site. In some cases, I will now ask 'will the world fall apart if it's not done' and reprioritise. In others, I'll accept it's a lost cause and find a way to let the train smash happen at a controlled point so I can recover it with least impact.

      The lesson I learned from this is you are have to look after your health and you are responsible for it. Management may not force/tell you to work long hours in unsustainable high pressure but many do not tell you to stop either (especially when you keep performing a miracle and fixing stuff). And many of us are drawn to this type of work.

      Again, thanks for this piece!



      Author's profile photo Matt Fraser
      Matt Fraser
      Blog Post Author


      Ahead of you? Never! Actually this topic had been brewing in my mind for a while, and I started writing the blog as far back as March, but then I got super-busy, starting working most of my weekends, and....

      I like your title, "Let the Train Smash Happen." I've actually thought about this a few times from a slightly different angle. So frequently it seems my team is called upon to save the day because other departments fail to do their jobs properly, or fail to do them at all, and the result could end up being a very public and nasty audit finding. We can't let that happen, so we step in and do the job that should have been done by that other department. Pretty soon there becomes an expectation that HR, or Accounting, or whomever, doesn't need to pay that close attention because the business analysts in IT will take care of it. At some point it even starts to be seen as our job, which it very clearly isn't (having an IT analyst's name stamped on a financial change record could be an audit finding in itself). I have argued that we should let things fail once, as a wake up call; we should let the train smash happen. But, we haven't quite been able to do that yet.

      I think you should write that article. You, Luis, and Ekaterina all brought up an important point, which is that eventually not working crazy hours can start to be seen as laziness, or even thought of as laziness by ourselves, and that's the start of a dangerous path.



      Author's profile photo Luís Pérez Grau
      Luís Pérez Grau

      I believe "We can't let that happen" is the most dangerous sentence in all this stress thing... all of us like to fit in the super man/woman outfit (woman in my case, skirt makes my legs looks sooooo much better 😉 ),

      We are saving lifes! for this small piece of acknowledge we just put our healt in the line and in most of the times, we just show the path for situations like this or worse happens again as bad decisions etc. "I didn't think about this enough, but who cares, It allways be super Matt to save my a**"

      "Let the Train smash happen" not nice but some times necessary. It should be some difference between be compromise with your company/collegues and cover the others mess, right? 🙂

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Good article.

      Sound strange only stages 1 and 2 in this order; people can easier suppose that stress in the office causes health problems and find the way out rather than they call procrastination or willingness to have 3 (better 4, no, 5) weekends - burnout, not laziness. From my point of view one can have already symptoms from the stage 2 without any (big) impact on his/her health and this is a sign that something goes wrong.

      Really, doctors send you to all the possible tests, do not find anything crucial, try to explain your migraine as something in genes and "oh, you have to live with pills, but they are very good!". Finally I do not (it was not burnout but it was not also very funny). 🙂

      Author's profile photo Jelena Perfiljeva
      Jelena Perfiljeva

      Well, personally I hate exercise and in the end stressing out about not exercising enough can be more damaging than lack of exercise itself. 🙂 There are, however, as you've pointed out, many informal opportunities, such as simply walking.

      I had to quit a high-demand job several years ago and have not realized until about a year later how terrible it was for my health. Several unexplained symptoms from the list above just disappeared.

      Even the cushiest IT position is never 9 to 5 all the time, but I feel that many stress situations are inflicted by the poor management. It is OK to be called to work at odd hours and for the whole weekend, but then when you ask for a day off as a compensation - oh noes, "company policy" does not allow such thing, so stop whining and get back to the trenches. Not to mention a lot of burnout is caused not by the legitimate emergencies but by useless status meetings and "TPS reports". It can easily turn into an abusive relationship.

      Author's profile photo Matt Fraser
      Matt Fraser
      Blog Post Author


      TPS reports! No kidding. Right now I have to give weekly status reports on a project that isn't even scheduled to start until January. I've been questioned why my status reports don't include detailed milestones for the project, and it didn't go over well when I said the first milestone is "start planning the project," and that one isn't scheduled until November. 🙁

      The "three stages of burnout" document from UCLA / Texas Medical Association that I discussed and linked above mentioned "that research studies suggest that two of the major causes of burnout are bureaucratic atmospheres and overwork" (emphasis my own).

      That same document quoted a 1996 study that defined burnout as "a state of mental and/or physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress." The key here is excessive and prolonged. Short-term stress is normal and natural and maybe even healthy, as it stimulates our systems to boost positive stress responses (like a small, controlled exposure to a viral agent can boost the immune system, and just like stressing the lungs, heart, and muscles through exercise can strengthen them).



      Author's profile photo Jelena Perfiljeva
      Jelena Perfiljeva

      I guess the problem is that management doesn't read such reports. They are too busy researching how to attract those fresh and juicy Millennials to replace the burned-out genX-ers. 🙂

      Author's profile photo Alfredo Murguia
      Alfredo Murguia

      Very good article, I think im in Stage 2.  Going to start following advice...  Thanks!

      Author's profile photo Matt Fraser
      Matt Fraser
      Blog Post Author

      Alfredo, thanks, and I hope this helps!

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      I guess it happens to many people. We have to pay attention in ourselves.

      Thanks for the article!

      Author's profile photo Chris Kernaghan
      Chris Kernaghan


      Great article need to read it in more depth but reminded me of this article Karōjisatsu - IT Revolution IT Revolution . This is a conversation which has been going on in the DevOps community for a while now following the suicide which touched a number of people in the ecosystem.



      Author's profile photo Matt Fraser
      Matt Fraser
      Blog Post Author

      Chris, thanks for linking the Karojisatsu article. That was an insightful read, as were many of the comments on it. New term for me, too.

      I only barely touched on the suicide angle in my piece, mainly as a pointer to just how far this can go if left unchecked, but the comments to John Willis' article brought up something that I had been thinking about a while back, which is how hard it can be for someone who finds themselves approaching that brink to seek help, even if they want the help and perhaps know that they need it. The comments made clear that there remains a lot of social stigma to the entire concept of suicide and depression, and so I suspect the fear can be quite real that if one reaches out for help, one will forever be "marked" in some way that could be damaging to future prospects, both for career and personal life. One woman even talked about how she was ridiculed as an attention-seeker when she sought help. That's a problem.

      Author's profile photo Jarret Pazahanick
      Jarret Pazahanick

      Great article Matt!

      Author's profile photo Matt Fraser
      Matt Fraser
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks, Jarret!

      Author's profile photo Martin English
      Martin English

      There's multiple pressures (and this is by no means exclusive)....

      1. By not spending the time to fix the effect of a mistake you made, and letting someone else do it - whether it was poor planning, a wrong diagnosis or just not saying no when you should have - you feel like you're letting yourself down
      2. For the same reasons (plus that they may appear to be working harder than you), by not spending the time to fix the effects of a decision or a mistake someone else made, you feel you're letting your co workers down (a slightly healthier attitude than..
      3. You feel you're letting your company / manager down (for the reasons given above, plus the fact that they have expectations - realistic or not, and they control your pay, and ultimately whether your family have a roof and food ....)
      4. You need to work to define yourself - I'm a BASIS guy, not an Oracle dweeb (a bit more complex, because it is so much of how we let society validate ourselves)

      Notice how none of those reasons include the reason you're in IT instead of, say, Accounting ? Joy. Fun.

      You need to get to a place where you enjoy what you're doing, both at "work" (because humans are made to do stuff) and away from "work". I put "work" in quotes, because for many of us, it is something we do because we enjoy (and getting a decent reward is incidental). But an obsession with anything we enjoy can remove us from the other sources of joy in our lives (like friends and family), and just as importantly, it can take the joy we used to get from choosing to do that "work" and turn it into drudgery..

      Someone mentioned EQ ...  I've worked in places that have been a drudgery, for what i thought were the right reasons, and I've worked in places where it was a joy to work. The one common denominator of the joyful places was that the people I worked with and for, cared about each other and I felt included. From a results point of view, sometimes we worked harder, sometimes not, compared to the drudgery places, but we were always more effective. More importantly, people stood up for each other and were willing to say s/he's working too long, send them home, that schedule requires too much.


      Author's profile photo Matt Fraser
      Matt Fraser
      Blog Post Author


      Absolutely correct. We got into IT (presumably) because we enjoy this kind of work, and hopefully our eyes were open about the fact that many IT jobs are not purely 9-to-5.

      I'm reminded of an occasion, before I started working with SAP, when I was a young network administrator working in a small IT shop of 3 people for a manufacturing and engineering company. I was in the "PC/server lab" tinkering away at something -- probably trying to make a new network card work with a Novell protocol, or something -- and my boss stepped in and casually asked what I was working on. I said "Well, I'm just playing with this..."

      He stopped me right there. He said "Uh uh. You're here to work, not play." (He was grinning when he said it). I responded with something about how I enjoyed my job so much, it was a lot like play. He winked and said "Don't tell anyone else in management that."

      Author's profile photo Matt Fraser
      Matt Fraser
      Blog Post Author

      By now most of you have probably seen this weekend's New York Times article about the work environment at Amazon ( I swear I didn't know when I was writing this blog post! Nevertheless, interesting timing.

      Author's profile photo Jelena Perfiljeva
      Jelena Perfiljeva

      Matt, thanks so much for sharing! It's a long article but worth reading (NYT writing is superb, as usual). The details in the article are truly, as one commenter put it, "sickening". I've already curtailed my Amazon spending in the last years - their prices are no longer competitive, search is useless and customer service non-existent - not sure why they think so highly of themselves. But after reading this I'll make sure to avoid them altogether.

      There is no denying Mr. Bezos's talents, but it makes one think - what is the actual importance of his achievements for our society? Getting a doll right here, right now, no matter whether someone has to abandon their family and work in 100 degree warehouse - is this really what we came to? And who will be picking up the long term cost of the damaged health of Amazon ex-workers and their kids being raised without parents? Truly disturbing...

      Author's profile photo Matt Fraser
      Matt Fraser
      Blog Post Author

      To be fair, Bezos came out the next day with a refutation, but the NYT did an interview on NPR to discuss the various data they collected to back up their stories, and it sounded pretty convincing. I know or have known several people who either work for Amazon now or have done so in the past. I would guess there are a number who read these forums. I will say that personally I know more ex-Amazonians than current Amazonians, and their tales of a cutthroat highly competitive environment are pretty consistent.

      On the other hand, my neighbor works there as a manager and has done so for many years, and I see him across the street playing with his kids on weekends and in evenings, and I remember when he took paternity leave (presumably unpaid) while his wife went to work. A few times I carpooled with him, dropping him off at their SLU office on my way to work. He's a pretty mellow, relaxed guy, at least outside of work, and doesn't seem to me to embody the "amhole" character one would expect of a multi-year survivor of the environment described in the article.