Burnout and Ops


Infrastructure engineering is a craft learned outside of classrooms. The discipline is ever-changing. Our value is not in credentials or the recall of accumulated facts, but instead by our capacity to tackle the unknown.

The genesis of Freudenburger and North's burnout model is a "compulsion to prove oneself." This need not be from an internal personality quirk: Ours is a field that is still building itself. We judge ourselves and our teammates by what we observe. We are measured by our ability to tame new technologies that may, in reality, not work at all as advertised. Tenures are short, and the field is small enough that we know that a failure today will be noted by a colleague who may well be making a hiring decision in some other situation months or years from now.

Failures of management, product, development, and QA hit us first, usually in the dead of night. Established industries have begrudigingly accepted the need to pay for 24/7 staffing, but our teams are so small that we can find ourselves permanently on-call. Some organizations delay hiring ops talent for so long that it is impossible for the new hire to improve the infrastructure. Instead the engineer is sacrificed to an all-hours cycle of quick-fixes and looming crises.

The first bout of burnout is inevitable. How are we to know our limits until we run in to them?

Burnout, sufficiently advanced, is permanent damage. I've recovered from bad situations in both startups and a huge corporation. I am going to share some war-stories and describe the fixes that I implemented to protect my long-term livelihood.

La Jolla
Friday, February 21, 2014 - 14:00 to 14:30