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- Philipp Ludewig

Let's take a break!

It was around a year ago, in the middle of the pandemic of 2020, that I heard about this unpaid leave month. The colleague from ThoughtWorks who introduced me to this magical most expensive holiday marketed it to me as a perfect opportunity to learn, travel, reconnect with yourself and whatever else could come to your mind. I was intrigued at that time, but wondered when I would find the time to make use of it? After a long time at a previous client, I finally switched to a new account and was happy to finally see and learn something new.

The change was well-timed and necessary. I was ready for new adventures with enough knowledge in my bag to overcome any challenge. What I was not anticipating was the decline of my mental health over the next months. Don't get me wrong, I learned new stuff, mostly how to work with the client's infrastructure and database sharding but next to these things I had to juggle a lot of responsibilities. The team I was part of had no dedicated Business Analyst, Quality Analyst or Product Owner. Everyone was rotating through these roles, making sure every aspect of the agile software engineering could be met. The people were fun to work with, and I liked all of them. In the end it came down to the fact that there was no opportunity for me to influence the client. Instead, I had the impression I needed to influence my team in areas I felt I shouldn't be needed to influence them. The certain mindset I was expecting the team to have, haven't been there, and I felt couldn't convince them of my proposals. I had the impression I was fighting windmills like Don Quixote.

The rotation of roles put another problem on my shoulders: The weight of what's project value and what not. I felt unhappy that the Epic I was managing wasn't getting the time I presumed it should get. Furthermore, I believed that the same pairs of developers worked on the same Epic, and it was hard to get a foot into the door when you are occupied with other topics. I failed at taking part in the development of the sharded database and couldn't catch up. The team built knowledge silos over time as the project proceeded. There was simply not enough time to share the information due to the rapid development. I would for several hours a day analyse and write user stories for an epic and then discuss its value with the team in meetings and switch after that between developing and doing quality assurance. This kind of rotation between the roles made me consider leaving the company, as a developer I felt relieved to have a business analyst in the next team. Don't get me wrong, juggling and working as these roles was fun for some time and I definitely learned a lot, but the stress of it was not sustainable over a long period of time.

I can't remember when I made my mind up and applied for unpaid leave, but I remember the certain feeling of overwhelming exhaustion and stressfulness of the situation. I became unable to do the day-to-day chores. The work became a burden and I remember telling my significant other I didn't want to return to work after lunch. She had to endure a lot in these weeks, as I was screaming about minor inconveniences and problems. I wasn't able any more to have a decent argument. My body often felt attacked by questions and feedback. On my last day at the team, I woke up to have a depressive episode. I had to call a doctor as I was crying uncontrollably. It was time for a break.

Good news after having seven weeks in total of some time to rest including some sick leave I feel much better. I am grateful to have this break as I believe I am able to work professionally again. Next time, I will go straight to a doctor and ask for sick leave, that's for sure. My actions are very generous towards the company, as I am healing and saving them money in the process. Let's talk a little about how I actually used my free-time and how I approached my unpaid-leave month.

Here is a short list of what I wanted to do:

  • learn about quantum computing, continuing the CERN course
  • code an app for YDS-150 so that training becomes easier and learn python in the process
  • learn about python testing and apply it
  • learn more about Software Architecture
  • learn more about Microservices
  • do the refactoring course
  • relax and recover some mental health

Here is a short tip to accomplish your goals:

Research what you're interested in, buy what you need, then turn off the TV and internet and do something every day until you're able to perform “noticeably well”.

I am surprised of how much I have accomplished over the couple of weeks as I am collecting the details for this blog post. I made good use of the O'Reilly subscription I paid for at the start of this year. The website was waiting to be explored by me. I was completely unaware of the books and sessions the service offered to its customers. The hours on my balcony couch listening to Sam Newman talking about Microservices were super relaxing. Furthermore, my Bose headsets came in handy. I found my love for audiobooks and was able to consume the books on my reading list even faster. I even restarted my training on the saxophone again. In my unpaid-leave month, I tried to find a healthy balance of learning, working and relaxing. It was a conscious decision not to travel, as I felt this would put me in a stressful situation outside my comfort zone. My tip for you out there: "Listen to your body and try to start with small exercises. Increasing the load over time till you manage to do all of your tasks".

Books I read for my career:

  • Domain Driven Design Distilled
  • The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything...Fast
  • Testing In Python Robust Testing For Professionals
  • Get Your Hands Dirty on Clean Architecture

Books I read for my entertainment:

  • Horus Heresy: Legion Book 7 by Dan Abnett
  • Horus Heresy: Descent of Angels Book 6 by Mitchel Scanlon
  • Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan
  • BLAME! by Tsutomu Nikei
  • Horus Heresy: Fulgrim Book 5 by Graham McNeill
  • Gotrek and Felix: The Fourth Omnibus by Nathan Long
  • A Planet called Utopia by J.T. McIntosh
  • Horus Heresy: The Flight of the Eisenstein Book 4 by James Swallow
  • Horus Heresy: Galaxy in Flames Book 3 by Ben Counter
  • Horus Heresy: False Gods Book 2 by Graham McNeill
  • Horus Heresy: Horus Rising Book 1 by Dan Abnett
  • Gotrek and Felix: The Third Omnibus by William King and Nathan Long

I attended the following O'Reilly sessions:

  • Building a mind-set for professional development and growth, presented by Susanna Katsman
  • Refactoring to Java Streams and Lambdas presented by Heinz Kabutz
  • Microservice fundamentals by Sam Newman
  • Managing Stress by Rick Adams
  • Java 9 to 17: The New Feature Benefits by Henri Tremblay
  • Comparing Software Architectures by Neal Ford and Mark Richards
  • Radar Talks: Anne Currie on Cloud Native and Going Green by Anne Currie

Today is the last day of my first week working again. I believe my mental health is better in comparison with the state three months ago. I am currently not considering another unpaid-leave month next year but let's see how 2022 will turn out. Maybe I will take another unpaid-leave month under different circumstances.

That's it signing off.