Weeknotes 2023 W37:
Preferring problems

Week of September 11 to 17, 2023
What are these? These week­notes are a reflection on the past week. I write about anything from hobby projects and work to creativity and mental health. I publish my week­notes every Sunday morning. Consider subscribing via email or using the web feed!

Quick bits:

My burnout symptoms are worse this week, despite now being off sick for about two weeks. This might be the worst instance of burnout I’ve been in.

I know it takes a long time to recover from, and two and a half weeks of sick leave isn’t going to do much here. I’ll need to figure how to proceed still.

I need to take it easy on myself.

Let’s talk about tasks versus problems.

I’ve been reflecting on what has been going badly at work and I think one thing stands out: too often was I given ill-defined tasks to work on, rather than problems. I thrive on the latter. Here’s the difference:

I’m most happy when I tackle problems, but I don’t mind doing the occasional task. In the last year or so though, I’ve had primarily tasks, and ill-defined ones at that, thrown in my lap. A task is ill-defined if it doesn’t spell out a solution, or doesn’t have an associated problem.

The frustrating and fruitless eleven-month project I wrote about in previous week­notes was a task (“build a system that does X”) without associated problem. There are still no requirements defined (to the best of my knowledge, at least — I’ve not been at work for the last two weeks); the underlying problem is unclear. This task also had no solution, which I would’ve been fine with had the underlying problem been clear (though at that point, it would’ve no longer been a task).

Inevitably, I will ask the question “why?” for any task that is given to me. I need to ask that question to figure out what the underlying problem is, because that knowledge is crucial for doing any work properly.

I suspect that anyone who gives software engineers lists of tasks, rather than problems, sees software engineers as machines, automatons, rather than skilled human beings.

This distinction between task and problem illustrates why I had such an amazing time working on closecontact. There were no tasks, just problems that we worked on together. There was nobody who told me what to do: I figured that out either by myself or in collaboration with others. (Kat, when are we going to work together again?)

Not all problems are created equally, either. Good problems are rooted in human needs and wants, not KPIs and growth targets. A problem such as “increase sales by 10%” has no human needs or wants underneath; it’s just the profit motive all over again. So many problems are a rephrasing of “we want more profit,” and I’m not interested in solving this sort of problem.

The problems that closecontact gave me were genuinely interesting, and rooted in human needs and wants. We talked about how people want their data to be treated. We talked about what people do when they are standing in the queue to a club. We talked about all the ways we foresaw data breaches could happen, and what we’d do to mitigate all the risks. We talked about how to deal with door operators potentially misbehaving, and we talked about police abuse and how to mitigate that. We tackled real problems, and that is how we ended up building an exceptionally good product.

I’ve said before that I’ve become disillusioned with tech, but I really mean the tech industry. Software development is fine, and can absolutely be used to do good — but the problems it solves need to be rooted in human needs and wants.

The acting classes that I’ve taken feel like they’re all going a little too slow. So, I’m considering signing up for an eight-week intensive Meisner course, three times per week. This course has been recommended to me by three people already, and is legit.

This Meisner course also has the option to extend it from 8 weeks to 10 months. That would put me in quite a good spot with my acting skills, but requires some careful thinking about allocating time and money.

But there’s one problem: More than usual, my brain tells me that this acting endeavor of mine is just odd. I have a skillset (software engineering) that is perfectly serviceable and in high demand, yet I’ve become interested in something entirely different where the chance of success are quite low — the cards are stacked against me. It would be so much easier to make a living with software development… but I just don’t want to anymore.

Here is short story 2 of 26: Buried.

I might have overexerted myself with this story. I’m very much not clear whether I will be physically and mentally able (I blame burnout) to continue this 26-stories project.

Behold, one of the more surreal photos I’ve taken:



Week­notes for September 11 to 17, 2023. Browse the weeknotes archive, get these week­notes via email or subscribe to the web feed.