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Getting Apps Done

Are You Burnt Out?

November 07, 2019

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Joshua and Kel talk about burnout, what it is, why it is and what to do about it!

Be sure to check out our new Slack community to meet others who are facing the same things you are and share your journeys!

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  • 00:00 Joshua

    Hi folks. Welcome to Getting Apps Done. A mostly non-technical podcast about building software. And I am your host Joshua.

  • 00:12 Kel

    And I'm Kel.

  • 00:13 Joshua

    And on the show, instead of talking about syntax and frameworks and algorithms and things like that, we like to talk about more practical things like getting a job as developer or learning how to be a developer in the first place, and becoming a really great software developer and all those things that are non-technical around it. And today we wanted to talk about burnout because that's non technical. We don't have to deal with syntax to deal with burnout. Um, but it is a real problem for software developers. It's a real problem for everybody in general. But obviously software development is about a lot of repetitive things and sometimes that can lead to burnout.

  • 00:48 Kel

    Syntax can lead to burnout.

  • 00:49 Joshua

    Syntax can absolutely lead to burnout.

  • 00:52 Kel

    I am tired of these curly braces. I do not want to see them anymore. I have seen enough curly brackets.

  • 00:58 Joshua

    Yeah. Yeah. The one thing that I've noticed about burnout is I always thought it was about working a lot, doing the same thing for 20 years. You know, you have this idea in your head about factory workers who've done the same thing over and over and over for 20 years or have worked really, really hard for 20 years or 30 years or 50 years or whatever, and that's where you're thinking about burnout being. But actually, I think burnout can hit at any stage because it has almost nothing to do with working. It's actually about doing something that you don't see the value in, that you don't see satisfaction from it all. A very good example is a factory worker because potentially they're just doing the job because they have to do the job to put food on the table because that's what they need to do, but they may not get any enjoyment out of that. No pleasure out of it at all, and if they can't find a way to get some pleasure out of it, that's a very quick way to get to burnout.

  • 01:55 Kel

    Exactly. We've talked about, you know, software as art and, you know, putting yourself into the projects you're making and making decisions and all these efforts and doing things that basically create value in your job. And your example of the factory worker, which may or may not be true depending on the factory, but often they can only do the things they have been told to do. You know, you can hit these buttons and these orders and anything else we don't pay you. And so yeah, that's going to lead to burnout. You have no control, you have no wants, you have no will in this situation, and eventually you're going to get tired of that if that's all you're doing. Like we really as people like creative outlets.

  • 02:34 Joshua

    Well not only that, but we need to see the value for us. So if that factory worker just sees it as they're working for some corporate entity that's going to make tons of money off this and they don't get anything out of it, then absolutely. If, on the other hand, I've known plenty people who went to work in factories, worked their butts off and never seem to burn out. And when you ask them why, one of the biggest things that I see come back basically just that they don't get the value from that work. They get the value from the results of that work. They get paid so they can go be with their families so they can feed their families and take care of their family or so they can go do a hobby. I knew somebody who worked really hard all the time so they could work on their motorcycle because that's what they loved. That was the thing that gave them passion and made them feel like what they were doing had value to them personally.

  • 03:24 Kel

    Yeah. We talk about work too, like that's actually a really good comment. I'm talking about you know, art and you're programming, but it is a job. You can just treat it as a job. That's also fine. You could do something. Somebody gives you money for it and then you go find value in other projects and other hobbies and other life. You know, your job is just one small aspect of your life. It doesn't have to be an important one beyond getting it done to get your money so you can go do something else. Um, and so yeah.

  • 03:51 Joshua

    Yeah, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Now that said, a lot of developers I know are developers because they enjoyed developing software for whatever reason, whether it is because they like to solve problems or they like the creativity that allows them or whatever it might be. There's a lot of things to like about software development, but there's also a lot of things that kind of traditionally have just become almost like a factory with software development because companies are trying to get as much money out of it as they can out of software or, and in fact, in quite a few of the jobs that I've had, software development was not the core function of the business. It was just a necessary evil as far as they were concerned, it was an expense. So the remit we had for being flexible and creative was actually quite small. And in those cases, a lot of the time what I found joy in was actually not my job. I used my job to get paid and maybe to learn some new things. But then in my side time I did software element because I do actually enjoy building software. I enjoy building solutions. So I would go do my own thing if that's what I needed to do to find enjoyment out of it and to really get something there.

  • 05:02 Kel

    Exactly. I used to do. So for me it's a bit like being forced to practice. I go to work and they make me practice the boring notes over and over and over and over again. And then when I go home I can play, like, Oh, I'm, I'm a lot better at playing this instrument and I can make my own music and create my own projects and do things with that. And it stinks that I can't go to work and actually, you know, use any of these skills and arts. Um, well that's kind of a discussion all by itself. A lot of that has to do with predictability. Your bosses, the, the people that are paying you want this to be a predictable outcome and the more you are yourself in that, the less predictable you're going to be for them. But that's kind of how that always ended up working out for me was that I go, went to work, I practice these things and then when I went home I got to actually do whatever I wanted. And sometimes that got to come back into work too, where like my own authority raised and I actually got to choose how I wanted, you know, what music I wanted to play. Um, but that wasn't always the case.

  • 05:57 Joshua

    Yeah, absolutely. I, there will be times that it will go one way or the other. There have certainly been times that I have hit the point where I was feeling burnt out and I just... The choice came to me, okay, do I change this and find a way to enjoy this or do I go elsewhere? And quite often that was enough to drive me to say, you know what, I'm going to change this whether they want me to or not. And in some cases that worked out and in some cases it didn't. I think in general it always worked out for me because it either told me that, okay, it's time to move on. Or it helped me change things and shift things in the position I was in to a point that actually I really enjoyed it again. That's really what a lot of it is.

  • 06:37 Joshua

    There is no cure for burnout. It's kind of always lurking there because if you, uh, I've said this before, but human beings are just this huge bag of contradictions. We are naturally creatures of habit. We want to do the same thing over and over again because it's safe. But we also want something different as well. So we kind of want bold and we want to do the same thing, but we always want it to be different and the two don't really work together. They conflict constantly. And burnout is kind of the same thing. You want that safe job that pays you and you know, you're gonna get your paycheck at the end of the month and it's going to take care of you and your family. But at the same time you want to also have that creative outlet to do what you want to do and to have some fun and to not just go to a job where you are just clicking buttons because you've been told to to get your money and you have to kind of balance that constantly. It's never just a, you do one thing and suddenly burnout goes away. You never had to worry about, okay, fair enough. If you win the lottery it might happen, but even then you're still going to be constantly looking for something that is adding value to your life and you feel like you're getting something out of. Otherwise you still going to be in the same rut.

  • 07:46 Kel

    Predictability is safe and that's, you know, why employers like it and change is fun, but change can also bring danger and bring an erosion of that safety. And so that's the balance that you're fighting constantly and it doesn't have to be that complicated, really. Like safety. We don't require a lot of safety. I mean you look around the world. You you have food, shelter, water, kind of the main ones. Um, but once you've kind of achieved one part of the safety, the rest is do what you want. Be creative, you know, go into those spaces. And like you said, sometimes you can push your employers to let you grow into that. And that's usually a win for everybody. If you can kind of grow into a space, you can be more efficient, you can be more interesting and more creatively handle more problem sets in your domain that is just kind of like a role built for you and the things you are good at.

  • 08:39 Kel

    And that's like the best case scenario of a job where they utilize all your skills kind of to their max. But while you have control of it, because you're the one making those decisions and making, you know, figuring out how to solve all of these problems, that's usually the best way of going about it. But that's also a job. You know if you're getting paid for it. That's also a way to lead to burnout where you've had too much of that and you would like to actually go pick your own problems now rather than just having them like funneled into you.

  • 09:05 Joshua

    We've talked to a couple of weeks ago about niching down and specializing and that's kind of what we're talking about here is at the time we actually recommend it. The best way to niche down is to inject you into these things, find out where you want to go and what makes you special and unique and burnout is kind of the same thing. You're trying to find a way to that position where you're doing what makes you special and unique and you enjoy and you think you are contributing and doing things that are of value to you, not just because some corporation is going to make a lot of money out of it, not just because you've been told to do it, but because that's what you think you should be doing. You think you are contributing to something that is greater than you or is important to you or any other way that you feel like you are getting something out of this as well? Because you know we're going to be working for a long time. Most of us are going to be working for a long time and if we're not getting any pleasure out of that, that just seems like a really sad situation.

  • 10:04 Kel

    You really should be able to choose both what you're producing and consuming. So the, what you choose to create is a choice for you. Like that's the kind of the end goal, what we want. We want you to be able to do whatever it is and create whatever it is that you want and then you want to get paid for that. And so we talked about the niching and that's just finding a space that wants what you create and in terms of employers and in terms of those things, they're going to have some pretty set expectations of what they want. But you can make that a pretty complex thing. You can make that useful configurations of multiple skills and you can sell yourself as that and that has its own value.

  • 10:41 Joshua

    And I think we've often said that constraints are one of the greatest forces for creativity. If your company or your boss or whoever it is that's dictating things is saying you can't do X, well find a fun way to get around doing that.

  • 10:58 Kel

    Exactly. It's no fun like being and if ever played a video game and you turn on all the cheats, it's no fun anymore and the constraints were would made it fun. Like those were the challenges and that's kind of like why we like to do things. And burnout definitely is a problem. Even even if you manage that, you achieve that goal, you're in a space where you're worthwhile, you're doing great things, you can still have burnout. And that's something I think it's worth mentioning is that burnout can be just effort. Like you've done all of these things over and over and over again and you're good at them and you're, you're trying. But we like change. Change is fun. Sometimes we do want a video games, sometimes we want the next level. Sometimes we want a new toy. Um, you know, we, we want a constant stream of change and that's probably not what your boss wants.

  • 11:39 Joshua

    And that kind of comes back to the same thing. We are creatures of habit. Once we find something comfortable that we're really good at and everybody else knows we're really good at it, we kind of keep doing the same thing because everybody else wants us to do it. And that's the one thing we know we're good at, so we'll just keep doing that. But actually human beings don't do that one with that permanently for certain, certainly for a short period of time, we're really great at focusing on one thing, and I know I, when I come up with a new hobby, I am really focused on that new hobby for a while, but after a while, if I don't back off a little bit, it's going to become no fun anymore. It's not going to be, it becomes a chore. It's a job again. And you kind of have to balance that out a little bit. Find those things that are fun but not do them too much. And it's the same with jobs. I absolutely work hard and try hard and do your best. But also, you know, don't push yourself too hard, don't force yourself into a hole. Try to find ways to make it fun and creative as much as you possibly can within the constraints you've got because that's the best way to avoid getting burnt out and not having a paycheck.

  • 12:46 Kel

    And don't be afraid of change. And you will find, especially like I'm a pretty good example of this. I'm a pretty decent programmer. People will pay me money to just hack out and produce code and I hate doing that. And so I do all of these other things instead or I'm doing process. Are we talking about podcasts or are we talking about architecture? We do all of these things that are adjacent to just hacking out code, because it's gotten really boring and I'm bored of doing those things. And I would like to do things that are more interesting and entertaining. And if all I had to do is the boring stuff, I would totally be burned out. And so change and learning these new skills is how you kind of move forward and you can kind of bring your value with you in that I know I can get paid to do to make code and if I can combine that with another skill, I can continue to get paid, but you know, use the new skill more and the old school a little bit less and it somehow evens out where I'm still, you know, paying for food and shelter and water and all that good stuff.

  • 13:41 Joshua

    Absolutely. And sometimes those combinations can be really powerful. I was really good at infrastructure. I could have spent my entire career working in infrastructure. I'd probably be making more money if I had done that because I was very, very good at it. And companies were more than thrilled to pay me to do that. But I wanted to build software. So I started to build software and do infrastructure. And you know what? It made me even better and companies willing to pay me even more to do infrastructure. Exactly. I was bored out of doing infrastructure, so that wasn't something that was going to, that I knew for a fact I was going to burn out very quickly. The money didn't matter at that point because again, as Kel said, yes, we have to get to the point where we feel safe and comfortable and we can pay for the roof over our head and food on the table.

  • 14:26 Joshua

    But anything beyond that you have to start to ask yourself, okay, is that new iPhone really worth being unhappy at my job where you know I'm going to be working at least 40 hours a week. If you were working that much time, is an iPhone really going to be that great? At one stage I bought a kayak because I was making a ton of money. I probably made it into that kayak four over several years.

  • 14:52 Kel

    Pretty sure you almost drowned on every single one of those times...

  • 14:56 Joshua

    But those were awesome times anyway. But the key was I was working so much that I didn't have time to enjoy the thing that I bought with the money I was making because I was just focused on working and it was a job that I didn't get any value out of. So I was spending all that time at a job I didn't get value out of so I could buy something that I did value but never got to enjoy. You have to balance that out and figure out where, where's that line? Where is it that you feel like you're getting what you need out of your job, but you're also having time to enjoy that.

  • 15:29 Kel

    I wanna kinda like roll it back to a game analogy again, really quick of imagining grinding. If you, you know, if you're played video games and you know what grinding is, that's where you are forced to walk through the same level over and over again, smashing the same critters over and over again to get gold. And then you use that gold to go buy new stuff. And the new stuff that you value the most are the interesting combinations, the one where you take the one cool thing and you combine it with the other cool thing and now you can go to the next level and the next level, well you're probably going to get your butt kicked cause you just got there and you have no skills and you're barely surviving. But it's fun and that's the point. And so like the analogy kind of works with real life.

  • 16:06 Kel

    It's a lot about balancing safety. In video games. You die and you reload and real life. You need a little bit more of a safety buffer. And that's what we talk about. Like we've mentioned this in past podcasts of, you know, having a savings account and making sure you have backup plans and doing as much as you can to build safety, because that allows you to be more creative in your real life. But you have to do both. Because if you only do one of these things, if all you're doing is building up money for more and more safety without knowing what you want to create and do, you're gonna burn out. You're going to get bored of grinding the same level year after year.

  • 16:39 Joshua

    Now you've said that and all I'm thinking is you're wearing a skullcap and my shirt kind of looks like a fancy shirt and I'm just thinking of Ultima Online building, how many millions of skull caps and fancy shirts. They make good money, but Oh my goodness.

  • 16:57 Kel

    Ultima online. MMO. RPG. Yeah. MMO. RPG. Yeah. It kinda like dates us right there.

  • 17:06 Joshua

    Yeah, we made a lot of skullcaps though. And while it was good money making skullcaps. It was boring. Don't do boring things. Or only when you have to.

  • 17:19 Kel

    Yeah, exactly. If that's the path to the next level, then you do the boring thing and you go to the next level and then you'd joined the next level and you have fun and that's really what we pushing here for is you know, make sure that you're safe. Make sure that you can, you know, maintain that safety, but also make sure that you can go to the next level. Be creative, choose where you want to go, like, yeah, your choices is the important part here, that's where the actual value is, is where you say that value is. Nothing else has value unless you say it is.

  • 17:44 Joshua

    Absolutely and feel free to make the wrong decisions sometimes have decided, you know what, that looks really cool. I want to do that, I want to do that, and then I get there. I'm like, Whoa, no, no. And that's, that's okay too. Sometimes we make those mistakes. That's how we figure out while we enjoy,

  • 18:00 Kel

    And any gamer will tell you that like min/maxing where you choose only the best possible option each time. Always the best weapon is really boring. Sometimes you want to play with the weird wobbly tool that does unpredictable things cause you have no idea what's going to happen. And that's fun.

  • 18:17 Joshua

    I absolutely love the explosion potions. Never knew what was going to happen.

  • 18:23 Kel

    We love that chaotic energy but we are like limited by our safety. And so balancing those two things is a challenge, but you get to pick where that balance is and that's really what we're trying to push here as part of this podcast.

  • 18:36 Joshua

    Balance, have fun, do some boring things if you need to. But otherwise try to avoid burning out by just doing all the boring stuff and none of the good stuff.

  • 18:45 Kel

    Stay safe, be happy.

  • 18:48 Joshua

    I think that pretty much covers it.

  • 18:50 Joshua

    All right. I will put some transcripts up at Please be sure to check out my website at and Kel's website at If you have experienced burnout, which I can almost guarantee you at some stage in life, you probably have, we enjoy to hear some particularly entertaining stories because sometimes burnout can be funny, not when you're in it, but after. As well as any success stories of how you've gotten out of it. We in our community have a lot of second career devs or even third career devs who experienced burnout in their previous career and have shifted and discovered that they loved Python or they love Java or they just love being a software developers who those stories are always really great. We really appreciate those because that helps fuel the next generation of developers. That's what really gets everybody going.

  • 19:39 Kel

    The Java. The Java love still surprises me as someone who has been burned out on Java before,

  • 19:44 Joshua

    You know, I've gone back and forth. I love Java. Then I was burnt out. Then I love Java, and then I was burnt out and I currently, I'm kind of in, I'm headed to,

  • 19:53 Kel

    Sometimes the old levels are fun.

  • 19:55 Joshua

    Yeah, absolutely. Uh, anyway, if you want to tell us about those things, you can join us on our Slack channel at We post every Thursday. We'll see you next week.

  • 20:09 Kel