Trying To Make Work Work

For over a week now, I am working on a slightly modified schedule when I start working between 7 and 7 -30 AM and sign off at 4 PM. Such a schedule gives me about 1.5 hours of uninterrupted problem-solving in the morning. It can be some complicated coding or thinking about some global questions, like how to modify the access groups or what should be done to enhance the system scalability.

I am not saying that I am not working in the evenings. Unfortunately, it happens most of the nights, but I have time in between, and also, late in the evening, it is somewhat quiet as well.

Unfortunately, this week was very frustrating. There were unplanned emergencies; also, I was trying to do one thing the right way, and it didn’t work, and I had to back up after spending almost twelve hours unproductively.

Finally, we are hiring one person for my team. Unfortunately, it means that I will need to spend time on candidates screening and interviewing, and most likely not finding anybody:(. The job posting was published today, and I had a storm of recruiters calls and no organic traffic… If it weren’t for happy things happening in my life, I would be miserable…

Work- Life Balance, And What’s Not

Last week, our CTO asked the tech leadership team to estimate the percentage of all work time we spend on the following categories: the actual management, routine work and processes, and project work. 

I was in Helsinki at that moment, and since I had some extra time< and Boris was there, I decided to approach this task creatively. 

We had different views on what should be considered the project work and whatnot, but in the end, I decided to count as project work only the code writing and coming up with ideas on how to do certain things. I classified all the project planning, discussions with businesses, etc. as management. 

To calculate the percentage of each activity, I needed to calculate the number of hours I spent on each of them. Since I had time, I didn’t just estimate, but I looked at the three previous weeks and calculated the average numbers. 

It turned out that I work 55 hours a week, and I could not believe that number when I saw it. I always thought that if I worked during the after-hours, that’s because I spent some time during the workday for some non-work things. No wonder I felt so tired in the past weeks, and no wonder I felt that I need some vacation, And no wonder I did pretty much nothing in Helsinki. 

All of the above might explain my reaction to the “Laziness Does Not Exist” book. These past three weeks were the weeks when we finished working on the book, and immediately all the extra time I had was taken by work, and that was not right. A side note: when I calculated the total number of hours I work, I included the “natural time waste,” which totals to about an hour a day: sort intervals between meeting, coffee, and bathroom breaks, stretches, and other small distractions. They are essential for your normal functioning, and thereby should not be subtracted from the work time. 

It’s not that I never knew all that. I knew, and I was encouraging other people to not overwork. But for some reason, I always thought that “this does not apply to me.” Because I am passionate about my work, because this is not hard for me, because I am a superhuman, and for whatever other reasons. 

I am trying to change it now, and I realized that I need to advocate for myself the same way I advocate for others. 

Multiple Reasons To Be Upset

Over the past seven months, I was praising Metra commuters for wearing masks and keeping the distance. 

However, tonight, on my ride back home, two middle-aged guys in the car were sitting in front of each other with no masks talking and drinking beer. I didn’t realize they were mask-less until I got up to exit. When I saw it, I told them: guys, you should wear masks on the train! It’s a requirement! They ignored, and the next passenger leaving the car said something about assholes, referring to them. Again, they didn’t care, and it was really upsetting. 

Yesterday, when I talked to Mom, I found out that she forgot that I gave her Kindle for her birthday, and she even forgot what the Kindle is. Fortunately, she found it, and I took it home to copy a book she wanted to read. After work, I stopped by her place to return her Kindle and make sure she knows how to use it. We practiced several times, and she just emailed me, “thank you for your gift.” I am very tired and upset each time I talk to her, and I do not understand why. It does not take a lot to listen to her for half an hour, and I do not understand why it.

Also, it’s a lot of work at work! And I mean just urgent work, which needs to be done, I am very sorry that people need to wait for days for me to do small things, but I can’t squizz more in my days than I do now.

And a vaccine. The disorganization is above and beyond anything I saw before. With Mom being eligible, I still can’t sign her up. I know that I need to start taking her to places because otherwise, her brain will die. But now, that vaccine is so close; you do not want to expose her till she is vaccinated… 

Also, one of the very important Postgres people emailed me about our “not enough” licenses on our data sources in the postgres_air database, and I spent the rest of the evening (after mom) putting these licenses together. 

Why is it that objectively, I am on the peak of everything, but subjectively I feel really exhausted? 

Stress, Chocolate And Me

I hoped that this weekend would be a “return to normal,” but it ended up being anything like that. On Friday evening, after I already spent two days trying to resolve upgrade issues, I realized that I would have to work on Saturday. At that point, I thought it would be just a couple of hours (it ended up being eight).

I had a million things to do in the morning, so I told my co-worker that I want to start the next upgrade at one. That still put me on a tight schedule since I also planned to talk to Boris before work started.

I was trying to lay out all my morning moves in the best possible way, including the fact that I had to go shopping with mom.

The point is that I was trying very hard to keep my schedule and be home at noon to talk to Boris, and I had ten stops to make.

As a result, I forgot two things. One is that I forgot to apply my birthday coupon at IKEA (it was valid for the whole month of January, but I am not planning to go there one more time). And the second is that I forgot to pick up my Brazilian chocolates at the w=Winter market. They are only there for two hours every other Saturday, and they only deliver pre-orders. Not like I do not have enough chocolate at home, but I thought it would be nice to support them, and my birthday is a good reason to do so.

So I ordered a box of brigadeiros and two packages of alfajores and figure out that between mom, post office, and IKEA, I will be able to stop by the Winter market. And I forgot!
Moreover, it turned out they texted me fifteen minutes before the market was over, and I didn’t see this message because I was already late for my online date:).
I only saw this message two hours later, when I was already deep in work and texted then a million apologies.

Their reply was: we are glad you are OK! I realized that, knowing me for a while, they could not imagine anything stopping me from picking up chocolates! And then they texted me that they will deliver, and they did.

ANd it was so good to have all this chocolate at the end of exceptionally stressful day!

A Week From Hell

That was quite a week! Tuesday and Wednesday, I was trying to participate in the conference held in the GMT timezone. For Thursday morning, I was invited to participate in the Roundtable for Women Influencers of Chicago (yea, apparently, I am an influencer – who would have known!) It was a virtual business breakfast, so my personal time in the morning was gone for one more day.

Work was all meetings, which meant that I had to spend at least two more hours after work to do some work :). Next is a virtual pile of professional – not work-related messages, which I have to respond to because when people reach out to you, you have to reply with words of support and encouragement.

And only after that – any personal emails, trying to shop for Christmas gifts, trying to put up just one decoration…

And it was all good and important, I didn’t have any meetings, which were useless, it’s just – too much! I need another me!

I took a day off today to catch up with life and to clear a weekend. I hope I can still write a couple of pages for the book because I am behind the way I do not want to be…

My Very Rare Family Time

I am on my way back to Chicago. It was a strange trip, for sure. After being on that overbooked UA flight, I regretted my decision to go and thought that Boris is right that we should not make too many moves during a pandemic.

In Helsinki, the situation was not the same as when I was there in October. They have way more cases than previously. Although it’s still way less than in Illinois, and the number of deaths, hospitalized patients, and patients in ICU is microscopic compared to our number, more restrictions are still instilled.

That meant that we didn’t go to any concerts, and in general did less outside home. Although this time we were biking together again.

Another factor that influenced how I felt was my panic about the speed with which our book is going and that we are behind all possible deadlines. And finally, the fact that I needed to record my presentation for the conference!

At some point, I asked Boris whether he thought it was the right idea for me to travel. He said that he hoped that I was able to relax. And the surprising thing is that it was true!

When I decided to go, I joked that it was the most expensive way to avoid holiday cooking and cleaning. But the fact is that for the whole week, I didn’t cook a single meal, didn’t wash a single plate, and didn’t do laundry. And I did only fun shopping if anything.

Although Boris had to teach a class this week and had some work meetings and some work in general, he allowed me to concentrate on writing 100%. And I am really thankful for that!
Also, I completely forgot that I wanted to print our logo on a t-shirt. And that Boris also wanted a t-shirt with this logo, and even bought a white t-shirt for that. We did it on Sunday – and that’s what I just posted:) (I wrote it yesterday but forgot to publish)

My First Job In The USA

In the posts that described my everyday life in 1995/96, I tried to convey that it was pretty much unstructured.

I could repeat a million times that I supported my family all by myself, and that I conducted some scientific researches, and that I took kids to many cultural activities, and that I was such a superwoman. I could, but the truth is that I still had a lot of leisure time. 

In some sense, it was a good thing. Vlad and Anna didn’t spend eleven hours a day in the daycare; I could always stay home when somebody was sick. I could do chores on weekdays, and weekends were for all sorts of cultural activities. We would go to see a play every Sunday and to some museum every Saturday. Somehow, my personal life would also fit in the schedule. We did quite a bit of stuff with Boris without the kids. 

It was all good, but that meant that I never worked more than four hours a day.

I took pride in being able to complete the eight-hour workload in four hours or less. But that only meant that the expectations were pretty low. 

Now imagine how I felt when I started my first US job at VIN.net International. I had to be at work every day, and I had to spend nine hours there, no matter what, for the simple reason that I could not leave work on my own. 

Our workday was technically speaking from eight to five with a one-hour lunch break, but most people arrived earlier than eight. For the first several weeks, we lived in Des Planes, and I took a commuter train from Deer Road to Barrington, so I was abiding by the train schedule both ways. Most people didn’t go out for lunch but had lunch at their desks, and I did the same. The last time I had to be at work by a specific time was in 1988 when I worked at the Construction Bureau for the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. Even then, there were shifts. 

Now, imagine me coming to work by 7-30 AM, having lunch at my desk, leaving at 5 PM, coming home – and that’s it! On weekends, somebody would take me to the grocery store – and that was it!  

Remember, that was the time before the internet, so you could not surf the web at home, let alone work. And you could not sit at your desk reading a book, as it was in the time of the Soviet Union. No random trips to the city center. No theaters or museums. No window shopping or “looking what is out there.” Home-work-home. 

One of my school friends who by that time was lived in the US for a while wrote to me in her letter: it’s tough to get adjusted, but soon you will feel much better than at home – you have so much freedom here! Freedom?! Are you kidding me?! That felt more like a prison! 

Later, Boris told me that if back in Russia, I would ever spend nine hours each day, five days a week for several months, I could also increase my skills level dramatically. Maybe he is right:). However, I feel that the most critical factor at that time was the fact that I had to work a lot, that there was a lot to do, and that I had nobody to follow. For years, I knew that if I do not know something, if I do not know how complete a certain task, and simply if I do not have my own opinion on some technical topic, I could ask Boris. And he always knew everything.

On the one hand, I liked it. On the other hand, it made me wonder whether I could do anything on my own. Sometimes I felt that people would offer me a job or suggest a gig for the only reason that I was bringing Boris’s expertise with me.

I did not work with Sybase before, and I had to figure out everything by myself. And not just to figure out, but to support a production database. Again, no internet and almost no documentation. It was extremely rewarding after I figured out how things worked. I still remember the chills of seeing a SQL statement being executed, being needed, being meaningful. And at the same time, I remember the gloom of seeing the same twelve people for weeks and wondering whether it will be the same for two years. I knew that I was not seeing America and was not living in America yet. 

We didn’t know anything about Halloween, and although other explained the idea to me, I decided that we will do it next year. Elections passed, and people barely mentioned it. 

However, some events were about to happen and change my life dramatically. I didn’t know back then that the changes will be positive in the end. 

To be continued:)

My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.

New Product Launched, But Life Is Still Crazy

I’ve already mentioned that for the past several weeks, the workload was ginormous. All the efforts were geared towards launching a new product and then making sure everything works as expected.
Launching a new product was a big deal, and in the pre-pandemic times, we would have a big celebration.

Since we are effectively remote these days, with only a very sporadic appearance f people in the office, our leadership team came up with a very special way of celebrating our success. Each of us received a FedEx delivery of a limited edition champaign bottle, and on Friday after work, we had an online event. Our CEO talked about our plans for the rest of the year and the next year, and then people with different business functions talked about their challenges during these weeks.

And after that, we had a remote toast:

Continue reading “New Product Launched, But Life Is Still Crazy”