I recently started writing an abstract for a conference later this year and realised that I’m not even sure if I want to do it. Not the conference—it’s a great one—but just the whole up on stage doing a talk thing. I can’t work out if this is just nerves from the amount of time off the stage, or something more fundamental to deal with.
I know many Developer Advocates have been chomping at the bit to get back to proper conference speaking since COVID hit, so perhaps I’m on my own going through this kind of thought process?
The weird thing is that when I get the time-hop photos of past conferences pop up on my phone, I get a proper kick of nostalgia and feel like I’ve missed it like crazy - but now I come to think about actually doing it again, I’m just not quite sure. Do I actually want to go back to what I was doing before?
And then the scary thing about acknowledging that I would be doing something different is that I realise that being a Developer Advocate on stage, online, gave me an inherent sense of self-worth. I was being helpful; people liked my talks, and I was helping them. Quantifying if you’re succeeding in other roles isn’t always so easy.
This post has been in my drafts folder for several months now, and it’s time to get it into shape and publish it. It’s a mixture of a navel-gazing diary entry and a blog about life as a developer advocate.
Some serious self-reflection
COVID was a bastard. It still is, albeit less so in terms of the number of people that it’s killing. But what it did give me was space to reflect on my job as a Developer Advocate, and specifically its impact on my home life. I wrote about it in depth previously and sixteen months later stand by everything I wrote, if not more so.
If I had to tl;dr my thoughts back then into one paragraph, it would be this one. And of that, the most crucial point then—and now—was this assertion:
The kids are used to me travelling; it’s fine.
As I noted when I wrote this, my kids were used to it, but that is not to say it was fine, at all.
I am truly thankful for the opportunity that not travelling afforded me to appreciate what it would mean to my relationship with my family to be at home all the time.
I try to avoid having regrets, but I am somewhat sad to think of the years that I was around less and missed out, particularly on time with my children. "You don’t get that time with them again" is an oft-repeated phrase, but it is true in every sense. The nuance that’s often missed from that expression is that it’s easy to convince oneself that since one is spending some time then that counts as "that time". But it doesn’t. Being around 70% of the time is a world of difference from being around 100% of the time.
I made this point before, but if you’re away 30% of the time, that doesn’t mean you simply step back in to the same remaining 70% of home life that you would do were you around all the time. Being away fundamentally alters your standing and relationship in the family. I’m not saying it changes it negatively per se - but just that it alters it. You’re not the person who comes home from the office (or emerges from the home study) every evening for tea, to chat about the day, how was school, what funny toilet joke did your kids hear. You’re the person who might be there, who might be around to share a story with or who might instead be on the end of a FaceTime call, probably running through an airport or on a weird timezone.
All families are different. All relationships are different. But I have found being off the road truly wonderful. My relationship with my children is much closer. Life is more stable. More solid.
So what now?
I’m not going to be travelling again as part of my job. To be precise: I’ll travel now and then, but not as a central part of my role. I’m still going to be a Developer Advocate at Confluent. I’m just going to be doing it from home.
Honestly? That’s a little bit scary. Getting on an aeroplane or train to go to a conference was what I did for my job. Everything else fitted in around that. But the fundamental truth is that I want to be at home to be an integral part of my kids' lives growing up.
I do recognise that some people would love to be at home but have to be on the road, and I acknowledge the privilege of my situation of being able to choose not to travel. I also appreciate the willingness of my employer to support me in that choice.
So what now? Can I even call myself a Developer Advocate once my airline status has dropped from platinum, my conference swag wardrobe has faded into threads in the wash, and I occassionally join the gibbering masses flailing around at security whilst the practised professionals tut quietly behind me?
Read my next post to see what I think that it means to be a Developer Advocate and not travel.