December 9, 2021

Day 9 - 3 things parenting taught me about system administration

By: Jennifer Davis (@sigje)

The last five years have been grounding for me as I became a beginner at parenting. In this article, I want to share three things I learned about being a better sysadmin from being a mom.

Prioritize your health

Of course, I've heard it so many times. But in the rush of trying to support the "system," sometimes, I lose track of the little things (getting enough sleep, eating meals, human engagement that isn't predicated on deliverables and action items). When it comes to parenting, I see the difference in how the necessities of the moment can gradually subsume the primary goals and real joy* (a secondary outcome of successful parenting that I tend to only enjoy in retrospect, after having assured myself that my internal parenting kanban board is as it should be–obsession, exhaustion, and then joy tends to be my experiential flow as a parent).

Prioritizing health - if I'm not ok, I'm not able to handle the "system" as well, regardless of its state.

Any parent of a child under five will tell you that 90 percent of the job is keeping the child alive. If they make it to the next day, smile and giggle the proper number of times per day, and if your friends, family, and parenting peers seem unaware that your parenting path bears a concerning resemblance to the plot of the movie Speed, then you're more or less gravy. You also learn that, while you can spend a great deal of time analyzing and conversing about your child and how they're faring, the main thing is to put them in the right places at the right time. Sunshine, exercise, the company of their peers, easily accessible bathrooms–these are the things that matter. If my son doesn't get direct sunlight within 90 minutes of walking, his mood takes a nosedive, and this isn't a mystery to me. Likewise, if he isn't let loose at the park to terrify small woodland creatures with his desire to befriend them, his attentional resources will be suboptimal when it's time for flashcards. Yet I (and I don't think I'm alone in this) will frequently wake, obtain caffeine, have a quick all-hands with my family, and proceed to sit in a small room staring at a screen for eight hours straight. As a result, my ability to practice self-care myself fails regularly.

Leverage the community

To prioritize my health, I have to ask for help. I've had the following experience again and again professionally, and as a parent, and at some point, I hope that it won't astound me, which it does every time: I believe that I'm having a singular experience (which, of course, we all are) and that I am an outlier because obviously no one else is concerned about the state of affairs or struggling. And then someone else gives voice to the precise issue that I've devoted considerable resources to NOT sharing. Of course, other people are also concerned about the children pretending that the scissors are boomerangs. One of my primary errors is thinking that there is some scorekeeping of tracking the social currency and categorizing discourse into the buckets of "I helped" and "I was helped." It's a binary that renders engagements as transactional when my actual community experience is almost always that I walk away feeling better regardless of who broached a topic.

You can't eliminate all Snowflakes

Within the community, we often talk about snowflakes as problems. Yet, as a parent, you discover that there are no handbooks for YOUR kid because every child is different in their own beautiful, hard, and surprising way. Likewise, while there is value in the community and sharing stories, every system will be different. You work with one system, you've learned about that system, and while there are useful things you'll learn from that system to apply to other systems, every system will be beautiful, different, and hard in its surprising ways.

Wrapping Up

Our industry is constantly evolving with the introduction of new technology, tools, and processes. It may feel overwhelming to try to understand everything. You have to accept some degree of the unknown. When I first became a parent, I realized that Operations had prepared me for the inevitable changes that occur every single day. No matter what tomorrow brings, the essential skills are learning to adapt to change and learning to learn fast.

Please make time for yourself, connecting with the community, and accepting what is different and unique about your systems and the environments they are running in.

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