New Engineer

Beware of burnout whilst teaching yourself how to code

Yesterday I had my first very public break-down during a coding workshop. In this article I want to discuss why I broke down and what you and I dear reader can both learn from this.

As a background, 6 months ago I started teaching myself how to code and yesterday, experienced my first break down 🙂

Why I broke down

There are physical reasons why I broke down and a number of emotional ones too.

First, I had not slept well in many nights and I hadn’t even taken a sip of water the morning it happened, even though I had prepared breakfast for my family. I completely forgot to do the same for myself. Lack of sleep and depression are best friends in my world. This compared with no food and water is simply a recipe for disaster.

Generally I have been pushing myself very hard to do my day job whilst coding most evenings and at least a half day on the weekends. This coupled with lack of sleep proved dangerous, although I did not realise it at the time.

Finally, I also suffer from perfectionism. The workshop environment was my perfect nightmare. A small room, packed with people typing away, solving a problem I felt I could not.

Very quickly into the workshop I realised I wasn’t able to do the task without support and that I wouldn’t be able to get very far with the work given it was above my level.

I started crying. At first silently and I hoped that no one could see. Unfortunately I was right at the front of the room, so I was pretty much in full view of everyone. The tears just kept rolling down my cheeks. I could not stop them. And then I just started full on crying. I had tissues surrounding me. I was just broken.

My sheer physical and mental exhaustion coupled with my nightmare scenario of being unable to complete a problem, surrounded by people who can, led to me crying uncontrollably.

I didn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed, I was simply shocked and scared. At the time, I didn’t know why it was happening and I could not stop it. I ended up leaving the workshop.

What can we learn?

Teaching yourself how to code is not easy, but it’s the path I have chosen and likely also you too if you are reading this.

An old rowing coach told me that I could only get as strong as the time I spent resting.

This is so counter-intuitive, but it totally makes sense. He told me that when I was training my muscles were adapting and then at rest, they would heal and re-form stronger. This is not scientifically correct I’m sure, but it’s just a high level summary!

Therefore, rest is important. But, it’s not easy to know how much is too much work. We don’t have a battery icon telling us when we need to take a break. But we can use our self awareness to create boundaries and be aware of certain burn out triggers to watch out for.

Practical tips

The lovely Jo Franchetti advised me to schedule rest time or have a slow day after attending a workshop or event. I think this is really important and I’m going to implement this immediately.

I’m only going to code one evening per week and half a day on the weekends from now on. I want to try and accomplish my learning during working hours.

I’m also going to make an effort to schedule rest time. This is really counter-intuitive for me, but I think it will be worthwhile.

If you have any other tips or ideas, please reach out to me @a_adewusi, I would love to receive them ❤️