Stepping back from Distributed Proofreaders

After almost 14.5 years it’s time for me to step back from volunteering with Distributed Proofreaders. What was once an enjoyable activity has become a stressor that I simply don’t need 11 months into a pandemic.

In many ways DP has been a lifeline to me at various times in my life, giving me something constructive and meaningful I can do. This was true as I was going through my divorce a decade ago, during my sabbatical, and at the beginning of the pandemic. But the bitching and criticism that comes from virtually any change we make to the site recently has become unbearable. Complaints about changes aren’t new — humans are classically change-averse and our community seems to be doubly-so — but during the pandemic they’ve seemed to have increased in both frequency and volume.

Receiving verbal or written recognition of my work is important to me. Indeed, it’s the best, and easiest, way to keep me happy. While I have often received that type of feedback from Linda, the General Manager, and Sharon, a fellow admin and developer, I don’t usually get that from the rest of the community. Instead, I most often get the opposite. That’s very demoralizing after hours and hours of time spent.

Development Contributions

I’ve been a developer at DP for over a decade and the lead developer for the past 5+ years. Looking back I have to say we’ve collectively come a long way. I sat down and made a list of the most notable and memorable software changes that I was involved in and while there were some new features, almost all of the big changes were ensuring that the software could run on modern middleware.

My most enduring legacy at DP is likely to be that the site continues to function at all and that makes me incredibly happy.

New Features & Capabilities

Site Modernization

Middleware Support

Development Improvements

What’s Next

I’m not sure what stepping back means exactly or what’s next for me, but it’s time for a change. I’ve committed to finishing some of the planned maintenance work (assisting with the phpBB forum upgrade and eventual OS upgrade) and updating documentation. Beyond that, I’m not sure, but decidedly less of the forums and less dev work which results in all the despised changes.

I hope to find some other open source software I can contribute to. I thought perhaps I would work with other DP-adjacent open source projects like getting the Auth_phpBB MediaWiki extension updated to support the latest MediaWiki LTS, except that only took me about 12 hours.

Words of affirmation in a corporate setting

My primary Love Language is words of affirmation.1 In short, I feel most valued and affirmed when people communicate that to me verbally as compared to giving me gifts or spending quality time with me. This is an exceptionally good love language to have in a corporate setting compared to some others like physical touch (can you imagine? HR would have a conniption!).

What this means for my management team is simple: tell me and others when I’ve done a good job. That alone is a better retention device and incentive than most other tools at your disposal.2 And this isn’t a secret either. After a few months working at Isilon I explicitly told my manager about this.

Yesterday I got another good dose of verbal affirmation. Leah, one of the project managers, took me out to lunch to thank me for my assistance with the HDFS project at the end of last year. In particular she was most appreciative of a meeting we had with Greenplumb where I ended up doing a “this is how we do it” brain dump to the GP team. To me it was a simple exchange of information about our HDFS implementation. To GP this was a much needed peek into the HDFS black box which, according to Leah, helped assuage GP’s concerns about the integration effort. This apparently made project management very happy. Based on what Leah said, my involvement in the call got communicated up to Sujal, the Isilon President.

While I very much appreciated the lunch, knowing that my work was recognized and communicated upward was more valuable to me. I just hope she passed that onto my immediate management team, not just the President :)

1 The Love Languages book by Gary Chapman is focused on romantic relationships, although I find the concept generally applicable to other social situations and environments. This post is written with the wider applicability in mind.

2 That isn’t to say I don’t value financial recognition of my accomplishments and work. I’m capable of translating “here’s more money” into “here’s more money, we like you and think you do great work, please stay”.

IBM Thanks! awards

IBM has an internal employee appreciation program called Thanks! Awards. This program allows employees to show appreciation to a fellow coworker for going above-and-beyond the call of duty. The award is actually a placeholder. After being given the recipient goes to a specific website to redeem the placeholder for an IBM-branded item of their choice.

Each employee is allowed to give up to 12 Thanks! awards a year and can receive up to 3 of them (the limit on receiving only 3 is presumably linked to the IRS regulations that says employees can gift up to $75 to an employee tax-free and the items to choose from are all easily under $25 each). I’ve maxed out the number of Thanks! awards that I can receive every year that I can remember, and each year I race with myself to see how close to January 1st I can max out. Not that I solicit them or do anything different than I usually do in my day-to-day job ’cause that would be cheating. In 2008 I received my 3rd award on Feb 25. This year it was on Feb 16. We’ll see what happens in 2010. I’m not the only one who keeps track of this as a quick google says some people even mention the number they get on their resume.

After your limit is reached coworkers are suggested to send internal eCards instead – which are admittedly corny but in my mind have the same personal recognition impact. Because lets be honest, it isn’t the IBM-branded stuff that’s the big win from the Thanks! award program, but the recognition of a fellow coworker of a job well done.

And in that vein my work resolution for the new year is to be better about giving out Thanks! awards (and corny eCards if necessary) where appropriate.