When I first dug into the data for my Year One analysis of DevRel Weekly back in January, I looked for obvious trends in the tags that I use to sort through the content every week. Which tags were no longer as popular? Which ones had plateaued? And which ones were spiking at particular times throughout the year?
It was no surprise to see that the "burnout" tag spiked in April and then again in October, carrying on through December. Given that the two heaviest conference seasons are mid-January through April and September through November, it makes perfect sense that burnout would rear its head during these times. There's nothing quite like being on the road for 2-3 months straight while also being expected to produce content, maintain relationships, assist other departments, and sustain lively social media accounts.
After getting hit hard with a bad case of burnout in 2015 and feeling like I was largely alone in my struggle, I'm grateful that more people are willing to talk about burnout these days, choosing to be vulnerable rather than struggling alone. But the fact that burnout is not only a common, but accepted part of Developer Relations is a huge concern to me, so much so that I dedicated a large part of a chapter of my book to the topic.
When I began thinking about these "Best Of" issues for the newsletter, burnout was one of the topics on the top of my list, but it's taken some extra care and thought in order to produce this issue. As you'll hear in Brandon West's video on burnout, burnout and depression are pathologically indistinguishable, which means for me, as a journalist, former DevRel professional, and business owner, to offer any sort of clinical suggestions on how to treat burnout, can be incredibly dangerous. I am not a medical professional in any sense of the word, and I'd strongly encourage you to seek professional help if you feel burned out or depressed in any way.
However, I do feel it's important for those of us who have experienced burnout ourselves and also attempted to build healthy and resilient teams to speak out about ways to prevent burnout and promote sustainable work in Developer Relations and across the tech industry in general.
So here's what I'm attempting to do in this issue:
* Give you tools to help both you and your teammates recognize burnout in yourselves and in those around you.
* Show examples of Developer Relations teams who have figured out how to make their day-to-day work more sustainable.
* Encourage conversations around burnout before it's a problem that we're running into at the end of conference season.
First, we'll walk through a few practical tips that can help you get through the day-to-day grind and prevent burnout from becoming an issue. Then, I'll highlight a few resources that give hands-on suggestions specific to individual contributors (ICs) before moving on to resources for managers who are looking to make their teams more resilient. I'll close out with two more comprehensive videos which will walk you through the clinical definitions of burnout as well as give you frameworks to understand burnout better.
As always, I'm happy to chat if you have any questions or concerns, or just need an empathetic ear. I'm not a doctor and will always encourage you to also see a trained professional for advice, but I've been in your shoes and will offer as many internet hugs as my network connection will allow. 🤗
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3 Ways Community Managers Can Combat Occupational Burnout
If you've heard one of my talks about Developer Relations, you're familiar with my favorite mantra:
To the community, I represent the company.
To the company, I represent the community.
I must have both of their interests in mind at all times.
But when we apply that to our day-to-day lives, it can become overwhelming as we attempt to please both our community members as well as the internal stakeholders. This piece from Higher Logic addresses the underlying question head-on:
How do you juggle your responsibilities and prevent the seemingly inevitable burnout?
Remember Why You Love What You Do
I couldn't agree more with this tweet from Randall Hunt:
Pro tip: If you're in developer relations or product management:
🙌 Save all the "Thank you"s you get in a folder and go through it whenever you're feeling down to remember why you do what you do.
I've long been a proponent of keeping an "Awesome Quotes" channel in Slack for both personal and professional wins. It's amazing the difference reading through some encouraging tweets or thank you notes can make.
Dealing with the Developer Relations Lifestyle
When we're describing our job to friends and family, it can often sound like a rockstar lifestyle: interacting with people on social media, giving talks at conferences, and traveling around the world to meet up with various tech thought leaders. But in reality, these activities can often lead to exhaustion, which, when left unchecked, can result in burnout.
Patrick O'Shaughnessy talked about 3 specific downsides of the Developer Relations lifestyle in this blogpost, ending with a concise summary:
- Remember not to overdo the events and get enough rest in between.
- Ensure that you get regular downtime and that your colleagues can cover you when you need time out.
- Don’t treat it as a competition, focus less on your likes and focus more on helping developers.
Separate your Identity from your Job
April Wensel's company, Compassionate Coding, works with companies to create inclusive, collaborative development environments, which results in more effective teams.
But even when you work in a healthy work environment, it's important to separate your identity from your job. This is particularly true for DevRel professionals, whose teams are often reorg'd, priorities shifted, and goals changed without their input.
April quotes Paul Rosenfield to remind us of this important separation:
A common problem in Silicon Valley (my past self included):
"Establishing your identity through work alone can restrict your sense of self, and make you vulnerable to depression, loss of self-worth, and loss of purpose when the work is threatened."
Balancing Exposure in a Public Role
Stepping into a Developer Relations career can sometimes feel like stepping into a spotlight, a feeling that Bryan Soltis knows well. As someone who has given dozens of talks over the years, Bryan understands the difficulty of separating your public persona from your personal life.
While he never mentions burnout in this blogpost, the principles that he lays out -- dividing your focus and defining boundaries -- can apply beyond the realm of social media.
Gaps in Strategy Contribute to Community Professionals’ Burnout
Every year, The Community Roundtable digs into the latest trends, issues, and habits in the Community Management industry. In their 2018 report, they spent some time investigating the cause of burnout among Community Managers, given that 45% of those surveyed said that they had struggled with burnout in the last year alone.
Community Roundtable co-founder Rachel Happe had this to say about the results:
Burnout, to me, is an indication of poor strategy.
If you are burnt out as a #cmgr the best thing you can do is update and get agreement on your strategy and associated roadmap.
You cannot do everything.
I agree with her assessment that strategy (or rather, a lack thereof) is at the root of the problem. This is where managers come in. It's their job to protect, support, and advise the DevRel team to the best of their ability (or bring in someone who can) so that the team is able to provide value back to the community as well as the company.
Your Employer is Paying for Some, Not All, of Your Time.
Figuring out how (and when) to take time off can be difficult sometimes, especially during conference season when we're traveling to back-to-back events while also maintaining relationships and keeping up with to-do lists. But I'd posit that taking time off to recover is more important than ever when things are busy.
Jim Bennett put out this PSA:
If you are salaried then your employer is essentially paying you for a certain amount of your time. Not all of it.
From taking flex days to giving ourselves grace when it's been a long week, there are a lot of great tips in this thread for anyone working in a community-centric role.
Developer Evangelists and Burnout
When I first saw the listing for the Twilio developer evangelist job, I said, “That looks like a job I would enjoy. Unfortunately, I also enjoy being married and I don’t think I can do both at the same time.”
This statement from Greg Baugues isn't a unique one. It's not all that uncommon for Developer Relations professionals to be nomadic for a time, or refer to their apartments as I once did: an expensive storage unit.
But as Greg points out, it doesn't have to be this way. He's now a Developer Evangelist for Twilio (spoiler alert) and is not only still married, but has a young daughter. In this blogpost he talks about how he and the rest of his team have managed to beat burnout by keeping things flexible as well as seasonal, rotating through periods of desk work and periods of travel.
It takes a good amount of self-awareness to know how to balance the chaos that can be a DevRel professional's to-do list and travel schedule, and a good manager who supports you during the downtimes as well as the chaotic times is key to beating burnout.
Make the Investment
You'll want to carve out more time for these last two resources as they're not a quick skim.
I mentioned Brandon West's talk, Understanding Burnout, in the intro to this issue. It's a fantastic look at what burnout actually is, clinically speaking. He covers some of the most common causes of burnout and how they relate to DevRel, as well as a few frameworks that help us understand burnout better.
I started speaking about burnout a few years ago and have given several iterations of the talk since then, but this one, geared specifically toward DevRel professionals, was my favorite by far. We as DevRel professionals have a much higher tendency to burn out, given that we tend to be energetic, highly motivated individuals who are already community builders in our personal lives. This excitement can easily mask the burnout resulting from overwork, lack of personal community, and a mismatch of goals within the company. (Note: Want a summary of my talk to pass along? I wrote a blogpost version as well.)
Developer Relations Events
DevRel professionals often get burned out from traveling too much and attending too many events, so remember to take care of yourself and find the right work-life balance for you. However, attending the right event can be reinvigorating! If you need some inspiration, take a look at our list of upcoming events to see if there’s one that will help re-energize while not taking too much out of you.
Developer Relations Engineer
Developer Relations at PubNub is all about teaching every software developer in the world how and when to use PubNub. You'll write and promote open source software to educate the masses on building real-time experiences into apps! You'll advocate on behalf of PubNub at meetups, hackathons, developer conferences, webinars, and be the developer voice to the rest of the company.
Head of Developer Relations
Camunda is an open source platform for workflow and decision automation that is reinventing workflow automation for customers around the world. While we are currently carrying out a number of activities to support open source adoption, we are lacking a systematic approach as well as the necessary talent and bandwidth to scale beyond the work that’s been done and fully execute on this goal. We are looking to hire a passionate and experienced Developer Relations leader who understands how open source workflow empowers developers to build amazing applications and can assemble a team of equally passionate individuals to inspire developers to build great things.
Developer Relations Jobs
Battling burnout at your current job? Maybe it’s time to look for something new. Our collection of open positions is always growing so if you don’t find the perfect position this week keep checking back! But remember to take care of yourself. If possible, take some time off between jobs so you can relax, recenter, and return to work with a refreshed mind eager to get out there again.