Several matches, one starting to catch fire, two smoking, one burnt to cinders, two unlit

4/6/2022: Diary of a Burnout, Part II

Yesterday, I began a discussion about what feels like career burnout to me. Below I continue about the experiences that have led me to my current state. Trigger warning: I talk about code. And allude to sexual harassment. No, I wasn’t harassed or do any harassing. Just read the thing.

To summarize yesterday, I didn’t graduate from college because I couldn’t motivate myself to program, worked in a factory for a year, hated it, went back to school for a final semester, graduated, and got a job as a programmer. I was still playing video games pretty regularly and had a better idea of what the industry was like, or so I thought. There was a particular game that I was playing a lot back then called Galactic Civilizations II. Stardock, based in Plymouth, MI, made that game. It blew me away to realize the company that made the game I loved was basically down the street from me. It felt like kismet.

When I say “down the street,” I mean that I literally had to leave my apartment complex, turn onto the main road, take the next left, and drive for 7 miles south on that road to reach the office. Back then you had to be a C++ programmer to make games. I knew basic C++ from high school and college of course, but I’d been working in C#, a very different programming platform. It’s much more common to find game development jobs in C# today, thanks primarily to Unity, but back then it didn’t exist yet. However, they also made Windows utilities and used the technology I’d been working with to develop them. So I applied for one of those jobs, hoping I could use it as a foot in the door and transition to the games team. And I got the job.

I either missed or dismissed some red flags during the interview process (the CEO for instance said he just recently learned he can’t ask a woman if she’s pregnant after he asked me how much credit card debt I had), and I made a rookie mistake in negotiations to say I’d be willing to take a lower salary than I was currently making. Don’t ever do that. Just don’t. Value yourself. Anyway, I took the job and was really kind of shocked by what I saw.

Now, a former employee made some legal complaints against officers at the company a few years back. I never saw anything so egregious because I didn’t work directly with the plaintiff, but I heard things. So what I’m referring to was the chaos that was their app development process back then.

My first job was with a well-organized and managed team with 7 other developers and almost as much QA support. There was an analyst who knew the business and wrote very detailed requirements. At Stardock, the company ran “leaner,” and I worked on small utilities by myself with only a little oversight and no requirements quite as detailed as I had before. There was one dedicated QA person for the whole company, and most of his time was spent on gaming products or other large initiatives. I was not ready for the autonomy I was given.

“Follow your passion” proved to be a fallacy for me in this case. Did I ever get a chance to try out for the “big dance?” Well, kind of. Before our Christmas break, my boss asked me to try and come up with some dynamic “Dreams” for the animated wallpaper product. The software had two modes: play a video file and run a DLL that was essentially a DirectX (the technology used to render graphics in Windows) application. That would mean writing something that was vaguely game-like using C++ and DirectX. I vaguely tried and gave up after a cursory effort. Don’t recall my boss asking about it after the break either. I think he was just trying to make me happy. He knew the game team was where I really wanted to go.

They fired me a few months later anyhow, so it didn’t matter much. I also took one and half semesters of game design courses at this shitty place. I realized that it was a racket and a waste of time and money for me. As you can imagine, that confluence of events put me into a bit of a tailspin as far as my career was concerned. I was already working on finding a new job before I was fired. Like, I literally would have tendered my resignation a week after they let me go. I collected unemployment for all of two weeks.

This is a little long, and this covers just years 1-3 of my over 15-year career. I would say it’s definitely an important part of it. The disillusionment ate at me. I went back to my first employer but on a different team. It was fucking terrible, so that didn’t help. But, I’ll save that for another time.

If you like what you’ve read, please let me know, and I would also appreciate you sharing it with your people (or very smart pets). Also, let me know how you handle burnout. I could use the help. If you want to make sure you don’t miss these, subscribe to my newsletter below or subscribe to my social networks. Thanks for reading!

6 thoughts on “4/6/2022: Diary of a Burnout, Part II

  1. I think we all experience burnout in our jobs. It can be really terrible because in America, you ARE whatever your job is. So if you have burnout at work, then it flows over into the rest of your world

    1. I’ve been working on trying to separate my sense of self from my job, but it takes a long time to deprogram.

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