Personal insights on finance and digital privacy

A couple of weeks back, I was getting my ass kicked at chess. It was a blast, even as I blundered into defeat.

Here's the thing: in some games, like life, the right focus at the right time can flip the board. It's about spotting chances and seizing them. Remark : If interested in the "perfect timing" topic, do read about the power of when.

Being focused on specific goals can help make the difference in the long term. Also being aware of the opportunities and reality.

Last year? A financial nightmare. But I hustled, optimizing my budget. Running my own company, I could shuffle some expenses around – a neat trick.

I axed unnecessary subscriptions – online courses, publishing platforms, various IT tools. Sometimes, the best alternative isn't a new provider; it's you. Betting on my skills, I cut costs and upped my privacy game. That's a win in my book.

Now, this blog and my digital life sit on a fresh, cost-effective infrastructure. More privacy, less cash bleed.

My new obsession? Privacy and open source. Ditching GAFAM and seeing where that road takes me. It's about discipline and the right tools.

Next year's mission: maintain this focus and help others grab back control of their budgets and privacy.

Catch you in 2024.

Reflections on Change: The Constant Shuffle

Change is a constant.

I passed 37 years recently.

In 2022 I was going freelance after 12 years of employment. Why ? Because I had been so disappointed by many years of employment, bad managers or politics, I needed to feel like I gave the credit myself deserves. I now feel after one year I would like to help and mentor other people to go freelance.

My toddler (2.5 years old) is going to school and I drive him at school by bike. The more I invest time with him that I don't spend at other crap, the deeper we connect. But crap is everywhere and trying to steal time from us. Seeing him growing so much reminds me of the time passing and the need for me to lead by example.

I learned from hundred of hours spent crafting my LinkedIn profile, sending/receiving tens of thousands of LinkedIn messages, crafting my resume, interviewing for hundred of jobs. No matter how long we play this game of finding the ideal job and finding the exact rates, conditions, etc we deserve and want, those variables keep changing a lot and are difficult to correlate with ideal job. In the end it's not about the job but about who we are, what we need from life, what we really want to do on a day to day, what kind of problems we like to solve, what kind of people we want to work with, what kind of team we want to shape. The ideal job is a rare combination of hidden variables and is a constantly changing problem that requires gut feeling and experience, like finding the perfect taste in coffee / espresso / beer is a never ending game.

As part of this I've removed a lot of my previous job criteria at to recruiters to keep things simple.

Outside of work, I also made a lot of sacrifices, at least choices that I regretted. For the sake of trying to please or do the right thing, I got in trouble a few times. In the future I have to stand for what is worth to me, and trust my gut feeling. I'm always willing to make compromises as I'm a Belgian and we excel in this ! but I also have to set boundaries and speak the truth and take distance at need. Before this post, I struggled to start writing. Speaking of which, I even thought of using ChatGPT to help with the task. ChatGPT has clearly influenced radically the way I interact with the web and the universe of problems, including code but not only. It drastically revived my interest into technology. But it also obvious there is a long way before AI can supersed us. A good tool is nothing without a creative mind and some persistence. And a good mind needs to express, otherwise it's best to just play sudoku alone.

And that motivates me to write. And I make no promises, but to write for myself 🙂 and share things.

When working from home is toxic

Before the pandemic, one would regularly question whether working remotely could replace working in the office, and the lockdown helped to discover the pros and cons of each in the long term. The pandemic happened and suddenly legions of influencers advocates for work-from-home, trying to convince you that to get any work done, you should stay at home. As companies praise workers to return to the office, many employees have joined the great resignation. I'm happy that numerous workers have resigned from unsatisfying jobs and are looking for better work cultures, but I don't believe working in the office is the problem.

Recently, artist Irina Blok authored a few charts about working from home and the pandemic. And the one below really caught my attention as a parent and as someone subject to heavy mental load.

Irina Blok tweeted about remote working benefits during the pandemic. Someone else fixed it.

My concern with such a chart is that not everyone has a home office that looks as good as a traditional workplace. In addition, interruptions happen at home too and chatting with coworkers is not a problem per se. Hopefully, someone else in the internet partially fixed the chart for me. Working from home can have as much negatives as working in the office, and those can include things like :

  • Inconvenient office setup
  • Noise
  • Lack of private office
  • Mental load
  • Interruptions and distractions
  • Home office costs
  • Lack of socializing
  • Insufficient face time
  • Overworking
  • Increased sedentary lifestyle
  • Lack of room for self

Inconvenient office setup

At the office, you have your dual screen, a large desk, a comfortable chair, meeting and relaxation rooms, places for isolating yourself from your coworkers. On top of that, the internet connection is awesome and there are free snacks, drinks, fruits, and a top-notch coffee machine. If I want to mimic the benefits of working in a professional office, I'll need to invest in a bigger place and better material, or move to a co-working space.

Noise

In the last few months, our rental contract ended. It happened before the building of our future apartment could be achieved, as unfortunately the pandemic affected the whole construction sector. Our temporary solution was to rent a place via Airbnb. We are happy with the spot, however we ignored that the neighbors were renovating their place for the past 12 months. We have gotten used to it, but as hypersensitive persons, my partner and myself struggled a lot with this. We learned patience the hard way by being subject to intense noise any time of the day, any day of the week. Welcoming our new-born in this stressful environment was the last thing we wished, and often baby naps turn out to be impossible. When you need to work, it's the worst type of nuisance as you cannot focus. I simply prefer to stay muted in most Zoom meetings.

Lack of private office

In this Airbnb, I don't have any private space. I'm often working in the laundry/storage room, or at other times in the living room. It means that when the little one is sleeping in the living room, which is the next room, I have to stay silent and I'll stay muted in meetings or just skip them.

Mental load

Working at home means I'm even more aware of the household chores, and I'm thinking constantly about them from the beginning until the end of the work day, so it's harder to focus on anything else. In addition, as a new parent, I'm even more focused on others needs, i.e the constant well-being of my toddler. But while I'm trying to be 100% available as a parent and partner, I'm also very committed to my career. As a highly sensitive person (HSP), I do experience sensory overload and emotional flooding, and the home office is just too distracting for me. When I have to interrupt some work related task, I feel stressed as I tend to think that my colleagues spend 100% of their time working, which is unlikely of course, and I fear to be unproductive. And when I'm working, I feel it's unfair for the other parent to do parenting alone without any break or rest.

Interruptions and distractions

The mental load has consequences. When I leave my home office room, I become prone to be distracted by jobs to be done. While constantly switching between work and home tasks, it's harder to focus 100% on work. If I take a break and start taking care of the toddler or handling household chores, I might easily forget about the next meeting. As I'm at home, it's also easier to reach out to me for my partner, the family and other visitors. On the long run, those factors prevent any type of deep work, which is endangering productivity and motivation.

Home office costs

Who is paying the bill when you consume twice more energy for all your work devices, monitors, the light and the heating ? Who is paying for the internet connection, the coffee, extra drinks and meals, printing, writing material ? Since I've started to work 100% remotely, those costs have increased while remaining at my expense.

Lack of socializing

Among my Facebook network, 70% of my contact (excluding family) are people I've met in the office or during my studies. I'm not an extrovert, but I do enjoy social interactions. I'll likely start a discussion around the coffee machine or in the office corridor, or with a colleague in my field of view, and this creates opportunities that I'll miss while working remotely. In addition, if your company culture is not encouraging remote social interactions, you might feel as isolated as I was during the lockdown. In my last employment, the pre-lockdown era was 1 year and 2 months long, and it felt way richer and interesting than the following 1 year and 4 months period of remote working. I couldn't have the chance to meet my colleagues in person, and when you're the investigative and social type of person, you build way more energy, inspiration, satisfaction and motivation when interacting with people in person.

This period of 1 year and 4 months was a long time without any team building. It was also poor of opportunities to connect with the new joiners, the new boss and the team buddies. With a few exceptions, most of the meetings and discussions rotate only around work which is adding to the general stress of working remotely and contributed, among other factors, to ruin my motivation.

Insufficient face time

Even if face time still occurs, it's happening less often or at least with less than ideal conditions. Some tips can make it better, but video calls are a trade-off and not the solution. Zoom/Meet/Team calls will never replace the in-person interactions, especially if we take bad habits such as enabling blur effects or virtual backgrounds which give the feeling of talking to a floating face.

Overworking

The lack of work-life balance and suggested breaks are the point here. There is no emergency to close your laptop and start commute back home when you are already in your place. The temptation is great to keep working a bit more. Everyone can simply reach out to you more easily to get some work done. Of course you can find arrangements to keep yourself away from the work pressure, but it's just harder than when the physical separation was in action. It has never been easier than nowadays to connect to work from anywhere, and now you have to constantly remind yourself to resist the temptation. Reminding yourself that you are at home and not at work ? Easier said than done when both places are the same.

Increased sedentary lifestyle

It's up to me to fight this, anyway the daily commute in addition to the regular travels in and out of the office, to grab a lunch for instance, helped people like me to move way more often.

Lack of room for self

Sharing the same living and working space than your loved one is a gift but can be exhausting. In the long run, regular separation can be beneficial to having something like a reunion. Spending all your time in the same space as your life companion can be challenging as it means you have never time alone and you depend constantly on the other noises and moves. It is clearly not for everyone, especially when you are independent. The pandemic forced us to deal with this situation and we are flexible enough to survive. We even manage to give each other some time alone. However, staying at home all the time is not compatible with our need for autonomy in the long term.

Is it that bad to prefer working from home ?

Not at all. Wearing the hats of a parent and an employee, I am fully aware of the pros of working remotely, especially when it comes to productivity, flexibility, and parenting, and this will be the topic of a future post.

That being said, I'm advocating for working in the office, as I consider it has long term benefits for my career, professional network, work-life balance, socialization, productivity, teamwork and motivation. And I believe that working from home cannot beat those perks in the long run.

If you want to discuss, please comment 🙂

Updates

When it’s time to quit your job

As cool as it could have been for a while, the moment comes when your steady job frustrates you. It can be because of a work culture and politics or because the pandemic made you reconsider if your job cost/benefit balance was positive and you might have joined the great resignation. Or the reason sits somewhere else.

For what it's worth, here is a quick tip I've been using to help me decide whether it's really time for me to change.

All you have to do is to answer the three following questions :

  • Do I enjoy my work assignments ?
  • Do I enjoy the company of my direct colleagues and my manager ?
  • Do I feel satisfied with my current salary package and benefits ?

If the answer is no for at least 2 out of the 3, then you have to seriously start interviewing for job opportunities.

Things that kill motivation at work.

In some past jobs, my commitment was strongly damaged by a few events that happened as the company was rapidly growing.

  • I noticed silos between Dev an Ops, and I've automated the process for delivering software to Ops. But the Ops people decided to not use it.
  • We engineers were regularly asking to do something about the silos between IT department and the rest of the organization. I reported them via Slack, lot of colleagues supported my initiative but it was backfired to me by management, because some things have to stay the way they are and transparency was not a priority, even if this contradicts the company values.
  • Our team was overloaded with shit tasks. We were executing the same manual instructions every day for helping the same group of people and after a few months, we had executed hundred of such requests manually without adding any value. I automated the process by allowing this group to solve this kind of task without the need to ask our team. It was applauded by those people, my manager and my direct colleagues, but the initiative was backfired to me by top management as they had decided in the past to never automate this, and killing this initiative was an opportunity to remind us of who is in charge. The automation was retired.
  • I got a warning that the new boss was in a mood to fire people so we had to keep a low profile and stop taking any initiative. Any new initiative should be validated via our managers.
  • We had no backup of our codebase (hosted on SaaS) thus in case one administrator would accidentally click on some delete button, everything would be lost. After fixing this with automation, I was asked to test if the backup could be restored, and I tested this on a test environment. Unfortunately, access to the test environment was not restricted, and a few secrets were found in the codebase. I was blamed for that initiative.
  • We had daily stand-ups, I was requested in private to rather shut up than speaking for more than one minute.
  • During those daily stand-ups, I was requesting help for our team as we were overloaded with work for a long time and we were in despair to get new people in our team. The manager and the rest of the people didn't react, only a fresh colleague helped.
  • My colleagues and ex-manager were praising my kindness, but new management was blaming me for being rude in public. What they really mean is that I was too honest (assertive), something that was not totally aligned with the new politics.
  • We had to keep management informed with a weekly report listing our planned activity, blocking issues, decisions to be taken etc. Despite I've sent a few of those reports, I never had feedback on the decisions nor blocking issues, so it seems it was just management covering their back with this.
  • The same discussions occurred over and over again with managers, it would be very common from them to ask us to explain everything again about our current infrastructure/architecture, without them showing any progress in the understanding of the system.
  • A lot of things were promised by the manager during the Sprint retro but those would never be done.

I ended up resigning, because I don't need micro management nor to be managed by fear, and I wanted to avoid burnout.

I expect the freedom and I need to be supported when speaking of problems, acting on them, taking initiatives, help other people and get helped. And I don't need managers in my way for that, especially managers abusing their power to kill initiatives and fire people.

Managers, please let us do our work. And if you notice the organization malfunctions, please blame yourself for bad leadership, don't threaten your employees and learn how to keep your best programmers.