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how to say “I’ll quit over this”

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A reader writes:

Two coworkers and I are outspoken and willing to quit or get fired over some changes to our jobs that are happening due to a new (and terrible) director. An additional two will also quit, but their personal situations prevent them from taking it to our extreme. (I understand, I’m not judging.) I have numerous reasons to expect that after we quit, more people in different positions will follow (that work will fall on their shoulders, and there are other changes they are dealing with too), and this turnover will cause some serious problems for the company all the way up to the shareholders. The company has had a massive turnover event once before, over a year before I started here.

I don’t intend for this to sound like I am full of myself or my importance at the company. No one would miss me if I quit today. However, I strongly feel it is accurate to say that losing the majority of the people in this position will cause significant hardship.

Our jobs are in high demand and we are all experienced employees. Being fired is a consequence we’ve discussed together and accepted. We’re fighting the fight because up until this, our company was a wonderful place to work with a lot of hard-to-find benefits and culture.

We’ve repeatedly brought up these issues with the appropriate people as individuals and as a group. We’ve proposed many solutions, we’ve pointed out the benefits to the company, we’ve pointed out the problems with these changes, we’ve talked to bosses of bosses, etc. I’ve been reading this blog for years, and we’ve done everything I’ve seen you suggest in the past.

I think we’ve done everything we can up to the point of blatantly saying that we refuse these changes (and that we will do what were hired to do and not what we’re being told to do), or we will quit if forced to do them, or you can fire us, and the latter two will domino the company into a lot of familiar long-term pain. And while I would prefer to find another job before I leave, if things were to take a bad turn (like the director started yelling at us, which is a possibility I see coming), quitting on the spot is on the table.

The question is, what is the right way to do something like this? It seems to be inappropriate and counterproductive to walk in and say “Not my job, fire me if you want.”

Excellent question!

One option is to meet with your manager and say something like this: “As you know, I feel strongly that this is the wrong approach. I will happily continue doing the work I’ve been doing for the last X years, but I’m not open to doing (new changes) because (reasons). Given that, how should we proceed?”

Or, instead of asking “How should we proceed?” end with, “I understand if we need to part ways over this” or “Given that, does it makes sense to end my employment?” or “It sounds like we should set an end date for my work here.” (Which of these to choose depends on whether you’d rather quit or wait to see if they fire you.)

These situations tend to get infused with a lot of emotion, but ultimately the question that matters here — and the one you need to pose — is, “Knowing that it’s not an option for me to do X, does it still make sense for us to work together?”

Sometimes people prefer a more dramatic option — like standing up in a meeting and announcing “This is reprehensible and I quit” or spelling out their resignation in cod or so forth — but really, taking a calm, firm stand of “this is what I will and won’t do, so how shall we proceed?” is in many ways more powerful. The dramatic approach is easier for employers to brush off as someone being self-indulgent and short-sighted, and even to roll their eyes at it. Not so with the calmer approach.

That said, sometimes you might want the more dramatic approach and that’s your prerogative. Just choose it deliberately and with full knowledge of the potential consequences … including that it will burn the bridge more thoroughly and it may look overblown to people who see it and don’t know the full story, or even to those who do. (And that can have consequences you don’t expect, like making people who weren’t part of the problem here hesitate to recommend you to jobs in their network, because they worry you have a penchant for drama or acting on impulse.)

On the other hand, if you’re ready to quit anyway and you’re okay with it being today and someone starts yelling at you or otherwise treating you abusively, there’s nothing wrong with firmly saying, “I won’t be spoken to that way and so today will be last day.” (Or if you want to give notice: “I won’t be spoken to that way, and so I’m formally giving you notice of my resignation. Let’s plan on my last day being two weeks from today.”)

One last note: In some cases, it makes sense to have the “how should we proceed?” conversation with someone above your boss. Not in all cases, but if your sense is that someone above your boss would try much harder than she would to salvage things with you, it can make sense to go to that person and say, “I’m at the point where I don’t think this can be resolved. Given that I’m not willing to do (new changes), does it make sense to set an end date for my work?” Sometimes that person might step in upon hearing you’re ready to leave over it — but of course they might not, so you can’t do this as a bluff. You’ve got to be planning to follow through on it.

Good luck.

how to say “I’ll quit over this” was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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2 days ago
Worth it for the link to the quitting in cod photo
Melbourne, Australia
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#1168 and #1169: Friendship, Conversation, and TAKING TURNS

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Here is #1168: “Is it unreasonable to want your friend to feign polite interest in your interests?”

Hey Captain,

I (she/her) have a close friend (he/they) who I’ve known for going on six years now. We originally met through real life things and bonded over having similar fandom-adjacent interests, although over the last few years our interests have diverged a bit.

Here’s the thing. When we hang out, they talk a lot about whatever they’re interested in at the moment – currently, it’s a bunch of bands. They’re really dedicated to these bands – like, to the point of going to multiple of their gigs all over the state, getting tattoos in the bassist’s handwriting, etc. – and while I personally have no active interest in these bands, I’m glad they’ve found something they like. I listen to my friend talking about them a lot whenever we hang out (which isn’t very often – maybe once every two months) and ask polite questions. They are aware that these bands are not in my wheelhouse, but even though it’s not my passion, I think part of being a good friend is showing polite interest in things your friends like.

However, when it comes to things I’m interested in – currently a Kpop group, a podcast, and my almost-finished medical degree – my friend changes the subject ASAP and doesn’t bother to ask a single question. I understand not wanting to hear hours and hours of talk about Korean awards shows or C-sections or whatever, because I know my interests are quite niche, and I do try to pick stories or topics which have more mainstream appeal and not ramble on too much, but I feel like I can only talk for a minute or two about things I like before the conversation swings back to my friend’s bands again. I’m not asking for them to be fascinated by my obsessions in the same way I am, just for them to return the same courtesy I extend to them – i.e. feigning polite interest for five minutes.

Also, when they don’t just hate my interests for no particularly good reason, they have some excuse about why they hate the thing I like so much they can’t bear to politely make conversation about it for five minutes – like, “someone I hate likes that podcast, so even though I haven’t listened to it I refuse to hear anything about it because now I associate it with this person”.

It’s hard for me to find other topics for me to talk about with them, since I don’t have much time for anything in my life at the moment other than my degree and my interests, and my friend won’t talk about politics or anything else that’s not, like, related to their life or interests.

This is a relatively small problem, but I’m not sure if I’m overreacting/have unreasonable expectations, or if this is genuinely something rude. I know it’s edging into Geek Social Fallacy territory, but I’m not asking for my friend to also be obsessed with my obsessions, just to be polite about them in the same way that I’m polite about their obsessions (which again, don’t interest me)! I like my friend a lot, and I don’t mind hearing them talk about their stuff because it’s nice to hear someone be passionate about something, but this (perceived?) lack of reciprocation is beginning to make me feel very neglected and unappreciated. We both have plenty of other friends, so it’s not like either of us desperately Needs the other person, but I would be sad to lose this friendship.

Should I say something about this to my friend? Should I just suck it up and accept that all our conversations will be primarily about their interests? Should I begin fading out of this friendship?


I Just Want To Be Asked One Polite Question

We’ll call this #1169: “My friend could replace me with a chatbot.” 


Long-time reader, thank you so much for the good work you do!

I have a non-neurotypical friend, who I became more close to after he had a falling out with one of his friends. We have a lot in common, including intersectional stuff. He has mentioned being non-neurotypical, and has problems gauging social cues. I have a lot of friends in the same boat. I only mention because it means I try to be more patient with him.

Months back, I noticed that he never asked me anything about myself, and when I’d try to talk he would go off on (only semi-related) ranty, negative monologues. It’s exhausting, and hard to get him to stop, to the point where I have to be careful what I talk about. I was second-guessing the energy I was investing into the relationship, so I carefully used my words about monologue-ing. He apologized, and improved.

Still though, he never says anything positive. We could be having the best time, in the coolest place, and he’d still find something that offends him. I’d be ok if we were discussing genuine hurts, but it’s usually things that don’t affect him at all. Or things that affect me, but not him, but I have to manage his reaction. I’m open to listen to venting (especially important things), but it’s like venting is all he does.

He rarely asks how I am. When he does (twice a month?), I mostly get grunts, or distant/neutral ‘huh.’ Not once, not ever, has he asked follow-up questions. Captain, I’m not boring! He just seems to stop listening. I probably know every detail of his life but I’d be surprised if he knows anything about me, but he’s usually the one to seek me out.

Lately I’ve been avoiding my favourite online videogame because he jumps online as soon as I do, and I don’t always have the energy to hear (negative thing) about (abstract thing). This week, I politely, light-heartedly disagreed with him on a neutral topic, and he stopped talking to me for about 20+ minutes, while playing the game in such a way that guaranteed we’d lose.

So – my experience is that he has improved when I’ve asked him to. But, I’m so drained. My question is: should I have brought up the negativity & the seeming lack of interest in my thoughts on things when I asked him to stop monologuing? Do I bother mentioning that it’s really not cool to ruin someone else’s game? Should I tackle this all bit by bit? Should I throw in the towel?

Thank you for any insight!
From, An Increasingly Tired Human

Hello, “One Polite Question” and” Increasingly Tired,”

I put your letters together because they have different roots but (in my mind) very similar solutions. Also, you both represent a common recurring question in my inbox. Thank you both.

I think that there is unlikely to be a single “let’s approach this problem straightforwardly” conversation you can have with either of these friends that will resolve this.

LW #1169, you tried being direct with your friend.“Please stop monologuing, it wears me out” and you got an apology and some effort, but not sustainable change and you’re still feeling drained by the friendship.

General Community Notice: I’m always very wary of running “This person is treating me badly, could it be because of their disability?” questions and I plan to do it a lot less, maybe zero more times, in 2019 because there is so much stigma around this and topic and the more we associate bad behavior with neurodivergences or mental illness the more we reinforce the stigmas, even when the actual discussions are meant to refute that very thing. I realize that the more neurotypical/more mental health-advantaged folks are asking because they WANT to stay engaged with the people they’re asking about, they want to give them a lot of benefit of the doubt, and they want to double-check with us because they don’t want to be ableist or make things worse, but I think the accumulation of questions and the consistent framing really bum out the excellent, wonderful majority of neurodivergent readers who are good caring friends to their friends and who do try to take turns talking and who don’t need to read another version of “Is this person behaving like a jerk or is it just that they have (common diagnoses) which, I am wondering, might be a kind of Jerk Disease?”

So, I’d like to dam that question river a bit. Going forward, if a person in your life is making your life really difficult, and they aren’t responding to your kind and reasonable attempts at resolution and direct communication, instead of asking me “Is this because of their diagnosis?,” try going with “They have x diagnosis” AND “They are behaving badly/not meeting my needs” AND “I need this behavior to change so I can be okay/safe/happy in their company, so I’m going to ask them to fix it/tell them to knock whatever it is off/keep the conversation very focused on behaviors and what I need without trying to link any of it to their brain functions” and see what you get from there. Does it get better? If it doesn’t get better, do you want to keep trying or do you need to bail?

P.S. I made a post and a Venn diagram back in 2013 that should help with the romantic breakup subset of this question. Good talk, everyone, thank you. [/End of Notice]

In the case of the friend in #1169, we could talk about “can’t” vs. “don’t want to”, but while certain neurodivergences make picking up on social cues harder and a tendency toward monologuing more likely, direct requests are wonderful things. Most people who struggle a bit socially do not want to exhaust and drain their friends, even accidentally. They like being told what their friends need so they don’t have to guess and possibly screw it up. They might not be naturally smooth and amazing at all of it out of the gate, they might benefit from some patience and some gentle reminders, like, “Hey bud, you’re doing the thing again” (and my enthusiastic #ADHD ass sorely appreciates these reminders at times!), they might find it harder in times of stress, but if everybody does their best it’s usually fine. Also, EVERYBODY need to reminded about what their friends need sometimes, EVERYBODY needs to work on taking turns sometimes or being more patient and kind and thoughtful or whatever, it’s not like neurotypical people are all awesome at everything to do with human interaction and everyone else is second best – NOT EVEN CLOSE. EVERYBODY needs to be able to ask for what they need and honor those needs with the important people in their lives. Monologuing isn’t inherently bad, and trading monologues can be fun. Nobody has to be perfect or be the friendship tutor when the overall vibe is trusting and pleasant and respectful and caring.

Constantly steamrolling a friend, dumping all your negative thoughts on them after they’ve asked you not to, giving them the silent treatment and tanking a joint game session (a nonverbal social cue…that communicates displeasure) because your friend disagrees with you or sets a boundary, never making an effort to see how your friend is doing or learn anything about them isn’t because of a disability, it’s because of selfishness, maybe intentional, maybe a bad habit, definitely sucky. Letter Writer #1169, maybe your friend isn’t that interested in anything about your life. He doesn’t like being told no. He doesn’t like not having you totally available as his sounding board on demand. He doesn’t like having to think about whether you’re enjoying yourself. He’s willing to sulk and tank your whole time together if he doesn’t get what he wants. If you want to engage with him about this further, maybe try this:

“Friend, I know we talked about monologuing before, and I really appreciate your attempts to do better. But some stuff is still really bumming me out, and I need to tell you that my bandwidth for hearing rants and complaints is very small right now. Going forward, I’d appreciate it if you’d ask if I’m up for hearing about [problemzzzz] before you start the download. And it’s not cool to give me the silent treatment or try to tank our game play if I say no or disagree with you. What’s that all about?” 

If. Let’s hold onto that word while I talk to #1168.

LW #1168, you’re still wondering whether to even try having this conversation, but when I think about how dismissive your friend is – changing the subject ASAP and finding reasons to avoid even hearing about a thing you’re interested in every time you bring it up – it doesn’t bode well. I suggest trying to be very direct at least once: “Friend, did you realize you’re monologuing about xyz, but you haven’t asked me a single question? When we talk only about your interests but not any of mine, it really bums me out sometimes. Can you make more of an effort?” See what happens, at least you can tell yourself you tried. But keep your expectations very low.

You mention the Geek Social Fallacies, which remain useful to our general work at Captain Awkward Dot Com Enterprises, but I don’t think they are at play here, though there is principle at work here that could give you an interesting way to push back on your friend’s behavior and see what remains, if anything, to talk about.

Your understanding of reciprocity and conversation and friendship is that, by listening to a bunch of stuff you’re not really interested in, you’ve made a tacit bargain with your friend that they will also do some listening about subjects that they are not interested in, because your interest in each other overrides all. You’re not interested in their favorite band, but you’re interested in them, so you want to hear their take on things. And you think the reverse applies to you (and I also generally subscribe to this theory of reciprocity in friendship, you’re not silly for assuming or wanting this), but your friend is not acting as if that is true. They don’t think there is a bargain, whether by design or obliviousness, and they have no trouble saying “I’m not interested in that!” when they aren’t actually interested in what you’re talking about.

If you decide to keep engaging with this person (and we’ll pin your if next to #1169’s If on the If board), what if you tried paying more attention to your own interest levels and less to what you think of as polite? Not to be snarky or get back at them, but a neutral, “Hey, you’ve talked about that band for a while, and you know, I’m not really interested in thatfollowed by a subject change to something you are interested in? Do they follow you gracefully to the new subject?

(Based on what you describe in your letter, I predict either a fauxpology that ends with you comforting them for how bad they make you feel OR a weird huff where the person doubles down on why your interests are “objectively” Less Interesting, but you never know, you might get a “Oh, no worries!” and then an enjoyable subject change, and realize, hey, I could have tried this all along. It’s worth a try before you blow everything up?)

Back to those “If” questions:

  1. Letter Writers, do either of you think your friends think about this problem even 10% as much as you do or try even 10% as hard as you do to be good friends to you? (25%? 50%? 5%? 0%? Other?)
  2. What do you think would happen to the friendships if you stopped trying so hard to manage your friends’ feelings, listen to their interests, get them to pull their weight?
  3. How much effort, if any, do you want to spend on fixing or managing this?

Ultimately, this is why I put these two questions together. My recommended solution in both situations is the same, mentioned in another post:

…if there is a friendship or other relationship that makes you feel like a pair of mismatched socks, what if you stopped trying so hard to make it work or fix it? Stop coaxing, stop auditioning, stop trying to convince people of your awesomeness, do other things with your time, see where you are. 2019 is a good time for trying new stuff. ❤

You don’t have to make a tough or dramatic decision to end the friendship forever, or have a big friendship summit and renegotiate things. If there are still things you enjoy about interacting with these people sometimes, see them sometimes And, overall, do much less work:

  • You don’t have to argue, or persuade, or call everyone to account.
  • You don’t have to fix it.
  • Engage when you want to, in small doses.
  • Enjoy what there is to be enjoyed, be pleasant, don’t start conflicts.
  • Disengage when it’s not enjoyable.
  • Listen to and respect your own enjoyment/energy levels. You’re feeling drained? This is not a day to even try engaging with Possibly Draining Friend. You feel drained every time you interact with this person? Maybe they’re not a good fit for you and it’s time to just stop.
  • If you stop doing all the work, and the friendship ends due to inertia, oops, oh well!
  • If you stop doing all the work, and the friendship ends b/c the other person is mad at you (and unwilling to do any work), oops, oh well!
  • Keep your expectations low – you know what these people are like, they are unlikely to change, so don’t be surprised when they behave like themselves. You chose to engage for a bit, so keep your sense of humor and choose to enjoy it. When you stop enjoying it, time to be done with Skype/video games, etc. for the day. Maybe some other time.
  • If people cross your boundaries, tell them, as directly and neutrally as possible. “We said no monologuing, right?” “Oh, I’m not interested in that band.” 
  • Resist the urge to be someone’s “pity friend” or make endless excuses or search for reasons it’s not their fault when someone doesn’t treat you well. Being a jerk, crossing boundaries, never showing interest in your friends and their lives, reacting badly when friends give you feedback about what they need are all actions with predictable consequences (people will want you to be around you less). If these folks have a hard time holding onto friendships, it’s not a mystery why, you don’t have to solve it or make up for a cruel world at your own expense!
  • Instead, put your energy into friendships and activities that nurture and feed you in return, with people who understand what a gift they are getting. 

Happy 2019. Do less work on being friends with people who are doing zero work on being good to you.





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3 days ago
Melbourne, Australia
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#1167: “Tips for staying positive when your body hates you.”

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Dear Captain Awkward,

Thanks so much for this blog! I read most of the archives during a recent overnight hospital stay and it really helped keep me entertained. I (she/her pronouns are fine) was a year away from completing my dissertation when my body rebelled. I have two very large liver adenomas, larger than the doctors have seen before. Thankfully my parents live in a city renowned for its hospitals and took me to consults. I had to immediately go on medical leave in September but was hoping to return in the spring. Unfortunately the adenomas are extra stubborn. I’ve had two embolization procedures and I’m in for another two before the surgeon can operate (one of them is in a really risky place and she could hurt me if she tried). With the extra hospital time, she recommended that I extend my leave, so I did.

Everyone congratulated me on how well I’m handling things, but I don’t feel that way. I feel constantly fatigued, I’ve been in a lot of pain, I feel like I’m losing my identity as a scholar and I’ve been living with my parents during the week in case one of these stupid things ruptured. I’ve had to spend a lot of time away from my wife, which has killed both of us. Luckily the surgeon says I should be safe to go home for longer periods now. I’m just wondering how I stay afloat. With a massive surgery looming in May, applying for summer jobs is now unlikely. My father has been helping me financially and I am so grateful. I’m just depressed. I’m done with hospitals, needles and the whole mess. I’m even getting depressed over stupid things like getting denied for a credit card. I feel like I’m a drain on everyone around me and I can’t even contribute academically anymore. I’m writing a 3500 word paper for a big conference in April and even that is a struggle.

My advisor has told me not to worry about the dissertation unless I feel completely up to it, but I would feel better if I could bang out a chapter draft. Therapy would probably help and I was seeing someone before this went down but she wasn’t very effective and then I’ve had to spend so much time in my parents’ city that I haven’t been able to go to appointments anyway. I am also on medication and have been since I was 16. I know that what I need to do is be nice to myself and for the first few months I could do that, but now I’m having trouble. Thanks for everything you do.

Eeyore’s got a bum liver

Hi Eeyore,

What if I told you that you don’t have to feel positive or stay positive or be positive. Stay alive. Positive can wait. It sucks to be in the hospital, keep getting jabbed with needles, be unable to schedule or plan anything in your life, be unable to do work you love, be unable see your wife, be unable to stay on track with finishing your degree. Let’s just sit with how much all that sucks right now, how awful and scary it is, how much this is not what you planned. You had a great life and then your liver decided to make a bunch of bullshit tumors. Who feels positive about that? Not you! Grieve for the plans you made. Give yourself permission to feel your feelings, even if they are crappy. Feeling less than positive and then beating yourself up for not being positive enough helps nobody.

Yes, put some additional support in place. Revisiting therapy sounds like a good idea, maybe you can ask your medical team for recommendations for therapists who work with people around illness and recovery. You might be able to find someone near your parents’ place, or someone who can work with you online or hybrid between online and in-person visits. Need to talk to some peers who know how much everything sucks and who are unlikely to sugar-coat anything for you? Look into support groups (here’s a link for support groups for people with liver diseases in the United States specifically). You might also want to peek at ChronicBabe, a community targeted toward women with chronic illnesses. Here’s a community for and by academics with disabilities and chronic health conditions. Maybe you build a secret/private Facebook group or Slack channel (or other social media platform, up to you!) for yourself and some friends to make it easy to stay in touch when you’re bouncing between home and hospital.

Fight the idea that being sick is something you’re inflicting on others. You say: “I feel like I’m a drain on everyone around me and I can’t even contribute academically anymore.” This ableist framing is hurting you and other people.

Your worth is not based on how much money you earn, it is not based on how much research or scholarship you do. Academia (and other industries) will tell you this is not true, private health care concerns will generate spreadsheets to tell you that this is not true, cruel politicians run on and vote on platforms that argue that this is not true, but they are wrong. You have been fed messages all your life that tell you that you are only worth what you produce and that to allow yourself to need help and to be helped is a weakness. You were told all your life that people who could not work were burdens on “the rest of us,” you were told all your life that optimizing your health was something you owed not only yourself but your workplace and your whole nation, you were told that disability and illness and poverty were the result of poor personal choices that could have been optimized somewhere along the way and if they weren’t, too bad for those people, those people who are now worth less, those who are now making it harder for everyone because they have imperfect, expensive bodies and it’s Just Too Expensive to take care of everybody.

You probably rejected most of these messages as silly and unfair along the way, but it doesn’t mean that they didn’t affect you, that they didn’t crawl inside and wait for you to be sick, and sad, and un-moored from your achievements and no longer earning a steady income, to crawl back out and whisper powerlessness in your ear, to accuse you of being undeserving of care. Tell those messages to fuck off. You, me, all of us need to counter those messages wherever and whenever we find them. It’s expensive to be a human being. We must invest in each other without counting the cost. We must stop acting like it’s possible to un-deserve financial help or medical care when we’re sick, we must build communities and political entities that are not based on rote acceptance of scarcity when it comes to human needs and well-being. Start building that place in yourself.

One step in that direction: Accept the gifts that come your way. Good medical care, financial support from your family, an advisor who wants you to take your time to heal, the ability to take some leave, a supportive wife, interesting studies and projects to go back to. Accept the gifts, you’re not a drain on anybody, you’re not failing at anything, you’re just sick right now, there are people who love you and value you who are rooting for you to get better and who will gladly take up the work of helping you do that if it means they get more “you” in the world, not just You, The Great Scholar, With So Much Potential but the present Januaryish you who is in a shitty mood, feeling pessimistic about credit scores and summer jobs. Let the people in your life give you what they can, stop telling yourself you don’t deserve it. When you can, you will pay it forward. Right now, eat the love sandwich.

Another step: Practice turning “I’m sorry” into “Thank you” as much as you can. “I’m so sorry I’m behind on this conference paper draft” => “Thank you for reading my draft.” “I’m so sorry this is costing you a fortune” => “Thank you for the help.” “I’m so sorry I’m falling behind in my dissertation” => “Thank you for giving me permission to take the time to heal.”

I know I said you don’t have to be productive, and I still think that. You don’t. But if you are like me, that won’t really penetrate all the way, because you like your work and you want to be working on stuff, so let’s make a plan for sustainable engagement with your studies while you’re laid low.

As for the April conference, it’s only January 13. If you need to back out of the conference and the paper, do it. Annual conferences happen every year, this isn’t the only one. If you want to stay involved, I believe in your ability to crank out 3500 words about your topic before April. Your rebellious liver did not destroy your subject matter expertise, and nobody makes it this far in graduate school without having had to crank out a few pages of well-crafted bullshit for a deadline. Plus, lots of academic conference talks, panels, etc. come together pretty last minute. I do not know your field, of course, but please do not think that everyone else at these things is some kind of badass unstoppable work robot. Others are not often going to be able to tell the difference between your half-assed effort and someone’s whole-assed effort.

As for your dissertation? Maybe you don’t write a single page right now. You’re not going to stop being interested in your subject area and collecting knowledge like a magpie, so what if you called this The Year Of Reading Widely instead of The Year I Fell Tragically Behind. Can we find a middle ground between “You’re way too sick to do any work on your dissertation” and “If you stop working on this now maybe you won’t ever be able to again”? I don’t know about you, but I do better the more I convert anxiety into action. A possible process:

Make two lists.


Put some things on the lists.

Evaluate and categorize the things you put on the lists and assign time and focus estimates to them. Group items on the lists according to how interesting you find whatever it is as well as the time/focus investments required to engage. Fun counts on both lists, for example, if you were studying your research topic strictly for pleasure and not as a job or as a method to fashion and insert your particular arguments about it into the Great Discourse, what would you want to read or know about?

When you start feeling anxious about your dissertation and like you’re falling behind, pick one of the dissertation-adjacent readings with a low-focus and low-time commitment and knock it out, 30 minutes here, 1 hour there, one more entry in your bibliography. When you need a break, but still want distraction, grab something from the fun list. You’ll know you’re onto something interesting when you want to engage more. You’ll know you’re feeling better when you dig for longer/more complicated things. You’ll know you need to slow down when nothing on the list seems interesting or possible.

The brain needs breaks, and I really do think that if you can let your interests and your capacity to engage guide you for the next little while while you heal, you will end 2019 with more progress on your dissertation than if you went at it full-force while your health is still so fragile or neglected it entirely and let it grow like a giant guilt-Balrog, flaming at you from the darkness and telling you where you can and can’t go.

If you start using these lists as more reasons to beat yourself up, burn the lists. 

Down the road: When you do get through this crisis and back to your full strength, be an advocate for others. If you teach, be aware of how disability and illness affects your students, be a professor who thinks about accommodations and lets students know you are here to help them do their work and succeed. Push back on the pressure for constant productivity in your grad cohort and your department when you find it, and thank/raise the profile for your advisor for supporting you when you were sick (not everyone’s advisor would do this). I linked this at the top of the post, just want to remind people again that there are a ton of disabled and ill scholars doing amazing and important work inside the academy. You can amplify their work as you move forward in your career and be one of the people who changes things.

Wishing you a speedy resolution and recovery and a return to the things that make you happy very soon.



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3 days ago
Melbourne, Australia
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the weird world of writing an advice column

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Over at Buzzfeed today, I joined Daniel Ortberg of Dear Prudence, Jolie Kerr of Ask a Clean Person, Jennifer Peepas of Captain Awkward, Nicole Cliffe of Care and Feeding, and Harris O’Malley of Dr. Nerdlove in a roundtable about writing advice columns.

We talked about weird letters, whether we give advice to family/friends, how to get your letter answered, the letters that stay with us, and more. You can read it here. (Be warned that it contains adult language and topics.)

the weird world of writing an advice column was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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9 days ago
Melbourne, Australia
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Some delightful developer experiences in 2019.


I once worked at a company that built most of their functionality on top of Facebook's advertising APIs. GraphQL was not publically a thing at that point, but the API design was more or less equivalent to GraphQL. Properties would appear and disappear without warning, and reacting to changes required frequent fire drills.

One conclusion might be that they didn't care much about the experience of integrating with their APIs, but I'm pretty sure another guess is closer to the truth: it's extremely difficult to support integrations into complex and evolving systems, and Facebook Ads very much met those criteria.

This past year has in many ways been the debut party for GraphqQL. While many of its ideas represent a generational improvement from HATEOAS, they're not particularly new.

So what is new?

I wanted to know what developer experiences had been the most rewarding or for folks over the past year, and tweeted for folks more interesting developer experiences. From those responses, plus some browsing through Product Hunt and my own memory, here are some reflections on delightful developer experiences in 2019.


An increasingly common paradigm is allowing folks to write code that runs directly on the platform. This provides a powerful, dynamic interface, and surprisingly reduces complexity in many cases.

Platforms can abstract away the complexity of deployment, managing operating systems, etc, and let their users focus exclusively on the control logic. All particulars, no glue. This is especially prominent for scenarios where decision-making is relatively stateless, although stateful examples are becoming less rare.

Some good examples of code as interface are:

  • "Serverless computing" continues to be a dominant theme, with a feature race emerging among the major cloud providers across Alibaba Cloud Function Compute, AWS Lambda, Microsoft Functions, and Google Cloud Functions. Language support continues to expand, with Java, Python, NodeJS being common place, and differentiation in the long tail. For example, Alibaba supports PHP and AWS supports Go.

    What's maybe more interesting is seeing more niche products enter the serverless ecosystem, either trying to fill in usability gaps or specializing to support narrower usecases:

    Zeit Now promises selective build and deployment of only modified code paths (similar to what you might self-roll with Bazel).

    Firebase has specialized on supporting mobile development, providing a complete platform for mobile applications (mostly by specializing or extending existing Google Cloud functionality).

    Twilio has traditionally relied on their HTTP API, but in 2017 introduced Twilio Functions, which allow users to react to Twilio's events running code on Twilio's servers rather than their own.

  • WebAssembly on Cloudflare Workers allows folks to write WebAssembly, sometimes abbreviated as Wasm, and execute it on Cloudflare's edge compute infrastructure.

    Wasm is a mediocre product but an exceptional platform layer: I think long-term folks won't want to write Wasm directly, and will instead write more familiar languages and compile down to Wasm. That approach is being explored in Fastly's Terrarium, which I write about a bit more later on.

  • AWS Lambda@Edge is in similar vein to Cloudflare Workers or Fastly's Terrarium, but they've reached it from a different direction. For Fastly, the move into Wasm is increased flexibility compared to their existing VCL based configuration. However, Lambda@Edge only supports Node.js, which is much less featureful than AWS Lambda which [supports Java, Node.js, C# and Python.

    In some ways it's unfair to compare AWS Lambda with Lambda@Edge, as it's pretty clear the implementations are distinct and the similarity is mostly a marketing concern, but either way it's interesting to see how physical and efficiency constraints create product limitations and specialization in "code as configuration" offerings.

  • Chrome Extensions are an interesting, different slant on integration through code, and an another aspect of what "edge computing" might mean in the future. Here you write JavaScript applications which users of the Chrome browser can install from the Chrome web store, running on a cloud of internet browers.

Writing code is such a powerful platform interface because it is a fairly unique combination of extreme expressivity while retaining extreme control at the platform tier. However, it's worth pointing out that these offerings are largely Infrastructure-as-a-Service, which can assume a significant degree of technical expertise on behalf of their users. Will we see "code as integration" mechanism expand further beyond IaaS?


Containers such as Docker are an interesting choice of interface. They allow extraordinary customization and configuration, while often choosing to restrict or eliminate the statefulness offered by running a complete virtual machine. However, container security remains a pressing concern in a multi-tenant environment, and containers often provide an inferior interface between platform and user, forcing users to address operating system upgrades and platforms to appease multi-gigabyte images.

That said, I found one particularly interesting example of using containers as an integration point that I think is digging into, which is Azure IoT Edge.

Azure IoT Edge allows you to create and specify Docker containers, that process data on your physical internet-of-things devices, offloading some processing from the cloud to your cloud of physical devices. Containers represent an even higher abstraction than code, as you can control an entire virtual machine underneath. Containers represent some potential security risk in a shared computation environment, but that doesn't apply in the case of running on your IoT devices, so this usecase is a clever increase in flexibility without many downsides.

I also generally think this is an interesting product because it introduces the idea that "edge" is a broad concept, with both physical devices and CDNs representing different facets of edge computation.

All of that said, I do believe containers represent an effective internal interface within companies as they provide an interesting composable interface in terms of the complexity and flexibility tradeoff, but perhaps not working well externally.

Domain Specific Languages

Using domain specific languages to specify integration behavior is a bit of cross between configuration-driven integrations and code-driven integrations. Some of these examples use DSLs as an artifact of their initial implementation (similar to AWS Redshift using the Postgres protocol because the early versions were implement using Postgres), and others use them to improve correctness.

  • Github Actions allow you to write commands in a simple DSL to configure your build, test and deploy workflows:

      action "Deploy to Production" {
        needs = "Provision Database"
        uses = "actions/gcloud"
        runs = "gcloud deploy"

    This is a nice approach, because it describes how the actions relate in their DSL, but they don't try to describe the actions themselves. Instead the actions are described as scripts or shell commands. I could see Github Actions replacing large swathes of continuous integration tooling, and it's done so in a very flexible way that will allow for users to innovate on top of their platform, not trying to define all the ways that someone might want to integrate.

  • Fastly's use of Varnish Configuration Language, sometimes abbreviated as VCL, is another interesting example of a domain specific language. It's a pretty fascinating choice, because VCL is an extremely powerful language that is intentionally constrained to what is possible to do in a high performance web server, but also a rather dense syntax.

      sub pipe_if_local {
        if (client.ip ~ local) {
          return (pipe);

    In this specific case, I think VCL is probably too complex a DSL for wide-spread adoption, and I suspect that Fastly agrees based on their experimentation with Terrarium, which is compiling Rust, C and TypeScript to WebAsembly and running it at the edge.

  • Terraform is pretty fascinating as a DSL written by HashiCorp to represent integrations with third party cloud providers like Alibaba, AWS, Azure or GCP.

      resource "aws_elb" "frontend" {
        name = "frontend-load-balancer"
        listener {
          instance_port     = 8000
          instance_protocol = "http"
          lb_port           = 80
          lb_protocol       = "http"
        instances = ["${*.id}"]

    The entire idea of your product being a DSL on top of other products is pretty fascinating, and a powerful testament to how important effective interfaces can be. In this case, I think Terraform's biggest value propositions are in abstraction (sort of theoretically decoupling from vendor specific configuration and making it easy to support multi-cloud, although in practice this is a bit tenuous) and verifiabiility (much better tools to validate correctness than in e.g. YaML or JSON).

IDEs and development environments

Several examples were of powerful IDEs and development environments. Some of these are very focused specific tools, others are development platforms, and others fall somewhere inbetween.

  • Glitch which will run your entire frontend and backend Javascript application, providing an entire online IDE, development and deployment environment. Some of their existing examples use Airtable's API, Slack's API and Google Sheets' API. This is a powerful showcase of just how good Javascript sandboxing has gotten from security and performance isolation perspectives.

  • VSCode is a free, open source IDE from Microsoft that has been getting widespread adoption as a light, configurable and powerful IDE. Beyond being free, it does a lot of interesting things well: debuggers, smart completion, Git integration, extensions, etc.

    Potentially the thing is does best, though, is the Language Server Protocol, which abstracts language support from IDE particulars, allowing one LSP integration to support a wide range of IDEs. This is a very powerful approach to encourage adoption of VSCode, but also will lower the entry barriers for future IDEs as well. These sorts of platforms allow tools to compete on quality, and make it feasible to support hyper-specialized tools for particular workflows. Very excited to see more products that are viral vectors for platforms that can be used by the rest of us.

  • Google Cloud Shell is a pretty powerful idea, allowing folks to interact with and control their Google Cloud environment with a dedicated VM for each individual. This is pretty crafty, as it allows Google to upgrade the clients automatically on their images (reducing backwards compatability overhead), and also provides better security and auditability primitives.

    From a user perspective, I also love that it prevents the proliferation of the much-dreaded "shared management server" anti-pattern, where folks do a bunch of critical work off a single, shared server that is forever running out of disk space, getting its CPU pegged on a bad script, or causing an outage when it goes down.

  • Hyper is a HTML/CSS based terminal application, that allows heavy customization while using familar web-technologies. This opens the door to some neat ideas around embedding terminals into tools for powerful IDEs, without having to (directly) rely on native technologies to do so.

  • Merlin is an editor service for the OCaml programming language that supports autocomplete and such. By default it supports Emacs and Vim, but has also been integrated with other editors such as... VSCode. I think this example is interesting in three different ways. First, it's a reminder of how we can draw inspiration from many places. Second, it's a testament to how well design Emacs and Vim are to remain heavily used and actively extended so many years after their first development. An inspiration! Finally, it's a testament to what a great idea the Language Server Protocol is, because the future it'll enable will allow tools like this to integrate cleanly with any editor.

  • Pharo is a Smalltalk implementation which combines the operating system and IDE into a single bundle. Pharo expects far more from us than most tools--to give up our entire operating system--and I think that's part of what makes it so interesting. Many of the barriers we create for tools are social constructs, we have the technology to do much more than we typically do in our tools.

Progressive configuration

In practice, very few developer-centric tools provide only a single vehicle for integration, but instead provide a range of integration capabilities from simple to rather complex.

Picture of Google Cloud Build's configuration interface.

  • Clubhouse is another standard, modern example. Default configuration done through their UI, and more powerful customization done with a REST API and webhooks.

Programming without code

I won't belabor this too much, but products like Airtable and If This Then That still hold a very special place in my heart. They are these spiritual successors to HyperCard, providing fairly simple tools that "non-programmers" can compose into deeply powerful programs.

These products slot into a void between standard GUI-driven integration and programmatic integration. The difference between these and GUI-driven integration is they aren't particularly opinionated. They aren't designed to solve a specific thing, but rather a tool that can solve many things by providing some composable, open-ended building blocks.

Libraries and tools

This is kind of a grab bag categories of tools that folks called out as offering particularly good developer excperiences, which maybe didn't fit perfectly into other groups.

  • Flutter is a tool for building native apps on iOS and Android from a single codebase. Similar in some aspects to React Native but seemingly to better results.
  • pytest is a Python test runner that simplifies test running and in particular test writing, relative to the standard library's Unittest.
  • Laravel and Laravel Spark are powerful PHP frameworks for developing web applications.
  • Gatsbyjs bundle together the full modern frontend stack into something with all the power and a more graduated learning curve.
  • elm is a language for writing reliable webapps, with powerful type inference in the vein of Haskell.
  • React Hooks are a simpler way to deal with state changes in React.
  • Sourcegraph is a powerful code search tool, that makes it easy to search across large code repositories.
  • OASGraph is a tool to transpate OpenAPI Specifications into GraphQL APIs, which lowers the barrier to start running an GraphQL API.

Things that weren't mentioned

Given the endless hype, I thought it was interesting to just briefly mention a few things that that no one brought up:

  • Blockhain in general or Ethereum in particular as examples of great developer experiences.

    Depending on usecase, it seems like either the wallets are still difficult to use securely, or the transaction costs remain prohibitively high or volatile. Together, it seems like the developer experience for blockchain is still lacking.

  • Chat bots didn't come up either. despite getting a lot of excitement. I think this might be in large part due to US and Europe focus of the folks I know on Twitter, as it seems like chat bots are getting a great deal of use in other markets.

  • React wasn't brought up as much as I expected, although React Hooks were mentioned. Perhaps React is so commonplace at this point that folks don't even think to mention it, much as no one mentioned Python, Ruby or Node.js.

Altogether, this was quite an interesting way to spend some time! I was unfamiliar with many of these tools before today, and it was a good survey to help refresh my thinking about where developer tooling and great developer experiences are headed.

Very hopeful to hear folks suggestions for other impressive and inspiring developer experiences they've had recently!

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10 days ago
Melbourne, Australia
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my coworkers complained that the look of my breasts post-mastectomy is making them uncomfortable

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A reader writes:

I recently had a double mastectomy with reconstruction, but the reconstruction on one side failed. As a consequence, I am not exactly symmetrical at the moment and will stay this way until the reconstruction is attempted again (probably next summer).

I decided to not wear an external implant (it goes in the bra and once I’m dressed makes it look like both sides are identical) so even with clothes on it is quite obvious that I am missing a breast. I find the implant (I call it a boob-cushion) quite uncomfortable to wear.

I’ve recently started work again and a higher-up asked to speak to me. He explained that people had complained to him about the look of my breast and that it made them uncomfortable. He hinted quite strongly that i should wear the boob-cushion to not make colleagues uncomfortable. I know that a couple of colleagues had breast cancer in the past and thought it maybe reminds them and makes them uncomfortable … except it isn’t them who have complained. I even spoke to them and they were both really supportive of my choice. I wasn’t told who exactly complained, but apparently it’s a few guys who work in my area (not my own team). I’m a woman in my late twenties and most guys in the office are 40 or over.

My office has no dress code, and if it makes any difference, I don’t wear any cleavage, just jumpers and things like that.

I’m not too sure what to do and how to react. I really don’t like the boob-cushion and it’s really uncomfortable to wear all day, but at the same time if my higher-ups thinks it’s serious enough in an office with no dress code, then maybe I should just bite the bullet and wear it? All i said to my higher-up so far is that I would think about it, but I know he expects me to wear it when I come back after the Christmas break. What should I do?

Oh my goodness, you do NOT have to alter the appearance of your chest to suit anyone else, least of all coworkers.

It is, frankly, outrageous that anyone would even think to complain that your chest isn’t sufficiently pleasing to them — in any situation, but particularly post-cancer. And it’s even more outrageous that your manager would think it was appropriate to pass that along to you, or to expect you to act on such an offensive and gross complaint.

If your manager brings this up with you again, please say this: “I am deeply uncomfortable discussing the appearance of my breasts at work, and hope you will agree that it is incredibly inappropriate for any colleagues to weigh in on how they’d like my breasts to look post-cancer. I hope we can agree never to discuss this again.”

If he replies with anything other than an apology and dropping the matter, you should say this: “I’m sure we don’t want to get into telling breast cancer patients that they need to wear prostheses after cancer. Cancer is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and we could be opening ourselves up to legal liability. I will do the company the favor of pretending this didn’t happen, and of course I trust that you will shut this down with anyone who you hear discussing it.”

You can go with either of two different tones here: icy or collaborative. Icy is well-warranted, but if you don’t want to cause tension in the relationship, collaborative (a tone that conveys “let me help you fix this, since you’re about to step in a huge hole and I want to help you out”) can be the way to go.

(I originally had a whole paragraph here about how if this doesn’t solve it, you could say, “What you are suggesting wearing will cause me physical discomfort. Are you directing me to wear something that will cause me pain while I’m recovering from cancer, even though I dress no differently than others in the office?” But honestly if it gets to this point, talk to a lawyer because it’s past the point of reasoning with them.)

Also, if your company has an HR department (a real one, with trained HR people, not just the person who runs payroll and got roped into HR duties on the side), I’d skip all of the above and head there immediately, using the language above.

my coworkers complained that the look of my breasts post-mastectomy is making them uncomfortable was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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10 days ago
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10 days ago
if the way a person who is a cancer survivor looks makes you uncomfortable .. get over your damn self and act like an adult.
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