Six Months in the Mountain Kingdom

in me

Today I ran the Madrisa T24 in Klosters, Switzerland, finishing 75/430 in 02:43:18. If past races have taught me anything, it’s that I get down. After Reykjavik I hit a deep low that lasted for weeks afterward.

So, yeah, this is the wrong day to write about the last six months. I talked about the context of how and why I came to Switzerland back in March, and I’ll try to pick up pieces from there.

Work has been soul-destroying. Every single person I’ve worked with at The Job has been anyhing less than professional, while my boss and my team support me (and me them) to the best of their ability. But as someone who comes from startups and itty-bitty companies, the restrictions and rules of the environment have turned every single day of work into a thing of frustration. X tool isn’t available because software restrictions. Y tool is available, but the latest version in the software repo is from 2016. Ideas wither on the vine as successive stakeholders find it easier to say no. For all the money that The Job pours into talent and consultants, it has proven remarkably difficult to get approval for any spend on software or services. Whatever tools you find to use, that’s what you’re stuck with forever more.

Despite that, I’m proud of what I’ve delivered in terms of reining in technical debt and improving processes. When I jumped in at the deep end by moving to Switzerland for a job at $big_name_enterprise, I didn’t expect to swim as well as I have.

I guess I’m deeply burned out though, at the end of things. This is the child of the burnout I felt at The Last Job. Then, the work environment was pretty great all around. Relaxed, progressive and with all the freedom I wanted over tools. At the same time though… At the same time, I worked on two every projects that ran on to take twelve and nine months respectively. Scope seemed to creep ever forward as we added this or that necessary feature, or I discovered that some other features had unexpected complexities.

And I was pigeonholed. Our stack of Ionic/Angular/NgRx was our stack. By the end of year two I had plumbed all the depths of Angular and learned all there was to know about building an Angular application. That pigeonhole is as much a problem in the new job, where the limits on tooling and knowledge lead to a necessary limit on the use of rich features.

And then and now I’ve been in a deep silo of isolation, in both cases effectively a sole developer in areas where my peers don’t have much overlap in domain knowledge with me. Like, every employer asks “What do you do to keep up with technology?” as though it’s my personal mandate to grind leetcode or courses online out of hours. What I say to that is that my workplace is where I have the greatest opportunity to be exposed to new ideas and interact with programming peers. Not having someone at work I can talk code to, bounce ideas off, or turn to for help… These have been difficult things to deal with.

I’m burned out. I do my job, log out and feel awful and depressed. Just the mere notion of looking for a new job after I go home fills me with such terrible anxiety. All I want to do is take a few months off on savings, pick up some new skills and otherwise do fuck-all else with my days.

Outside of work: foreign country, small town, global pandemic and little shared language. Friends and Instagram have gotten that sweet Swiss eye candy, the sweeping vistas of the Bernese Oberland, or lake views from Schwyz. My actual living schedule, though, has been twenty hours a day in the one room where I live and work and sleep. This is not a cell: my housemate and her cat are delightful and Affoltern am Albis is a gorgeous town at the crossroads of many trails.

Pandemic restrictions have kept me home and away from Z├╝rich. Although I have worked to pick up German (wie gehts?), language gets in the way of things, and if you know me, you know I have the social desires of a mossy rock. I miss Sarah something fierce. By itself, coming to Switzerland for six months just to sit in a room most of the time hasn’t been worth it. I haven’t set foot inside the door of the work office since February, or have met any of my team members in person. It’s lonely. I’m not at all a social person, and I’ll still call it lonely.

But look: Switzerland is gorgeous. The quality of living here is so high. Public transport can get me to almost any trail head, and I feel enabled in ways I never experienced in Ireland. If I could find a better balance of work and live, I would come back here in a heartbeat.

All this has put strain on Sarah and I. You build a relationship on those shared experiences which we haven’t had since I moved. The Sarah-shaped hole in my life gets a little larger every day, and honestly, I’m counting the days (18) until I see her again. While we talk every day, but if my kids have taught me anything at all, it’s that it’s difficult to build rapport with a face on a screen.

And while I’m on the topic of kids, that’s a whole other dumpster entirely. The ex-wife lurches from one drama to the next, hurting the kids as she goes. The very hard truth that’s come out of talking to solicitors is that there’s almost nothing I can do until they reach majority and decide (or not) that they want to come here. It’s a situation that’s crushed me, because everyone else in their lives have their own agenda, while people were happy to dump everything on me, they were less happy when I finally did something about it. Fuck it. Really, fuck it.

Meh. This has been a down post. I’m tired. I came into Switzerland stressed. I’ll be leaving with even more.


in me

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