Made for Change with Dr. Janny Chang

Ep. 14: Interview with Alex Leung about Strategies to Prevent Burnout in the Tech World

August 25, 2022 Dr. Janny Chang
Made for Change with Dr. Janny Chang
Ep. 14: Interview with Alex Leung about Strategies to Prevent Burnout in the Tech World
Show Notes Transcript

It's so exciting to have software engineer Alex Leung talk about his experiences with burnout in the tech world and the tools and strategies he learned to prevent it. You'll want to tune into this episode, especially if you work in the tech industry and you find yourself exhausted and on the verge of burning out. Alex has got some great tips for you and a powerful story about his journey to prioritize his mental health. 

Hello, Hello, friends, it's good to be back. I have something really special for you. So as a coach that specializes in transitions for women, women who are going through transitions, in their career, in their jobs or in life. For smart and soulful women who want to create the life that they want, that's based on the values and the lifestyle that they want, I can help you. And today I am going to offer a very special interview for people who are interested in the tech industry. And it also is going to touch on burnout, mental health, and how to be intentional about assessing how you feel and where you are with regards to mental health. And I have a guest today named Alex Alex Loon is someone that's worked in the tech industry, he has a computer science background. And he's also developed the strong self awareness based on experience with getting exhausted and burning out at previous jobs. And so in this interview, he's going to talk about his experiences working in the tech world, and some strategies and tips that really helped him and what he recommends for people that are looking to be in the tech world and don't want to burn out and want to bring their whole human selves into this journey called life. So enjoy my friends enjoy this interview. And if you feel inclined, leave a review or message me or email me at Janny Chang I'd love to hear from you. Are there other topics that you'd want to cover? Let me know I want to go into all things related to the workplace, and how to be human and be compassionate with ourselves and to care for ourselves and each other in this world that's that extols productivity and hustle, culture, and all of that. So I'm all about helping smart and soulful women, and other people live an enriching life that's true to themselves and to their values, and creating the life that they want. And your job, or work fits into that larger vision. All right. I will see you soon. Hope you enjoy the interview. Hi, Alex, you want to tell us a little bit about yourself?

Yeah, um, so I guess a little bit of context. I studied computer science in college. I graduated in 2019. And I went to go work for Amazon. Basically, my thought process was I should probably work for a big company. In order to really boost my resume, I'd probably get a lot of experience there as well. And I think that I've made the right decision for those reasons. But I think I kind of underestimated the amount of work and maybe some of the challenges that would come along with working in such like a high pace, high expectation environment. I am still kind of young, and I guess just as someone in their 20s I'm trying to figure out how to live life. I've always kind of been someone who is, I guess you could say pretty skeptical of the traditional advice that's given to me. So you know, parents told me that I should take care of myself. Often a certain way, and maybe I'm one not to follow all their advice to a tee that can go as far as like, you know, diet and exercise and things like that. So I think, going into Amazon, I was I guess, in some ways pretty on top of the diet and exercise that I had. I remember like I, at the time, I was like following a keto diet. And I think it kind of helps keep my weight down to a degree, but it came with its own problems, like I had a lot of cravings and stuff like that. And it wasn't ultimately sustainable for the long term. So I think, like, a few years, and I ended up quitting that. But I didn't really know, like, what my diet should be, it's not really something I wanted to focus on too much. So I kind of let myself go a bit. And I'm kind of Yeah, setting that up. Because it's kind of like an aside in a way. I think the big thing at Amazon. Well, and I've, so I'm a little bit I don't know, like how much I do or don't want to share, because like you could end up you know, publishing this, and then my name would be attached to like, criticizing Amazon. And I don't want to, like criticizing a past employer or something like,

yeah, we'll talk let's just move on you and kind of like, you know, you know, we keep them focused on kind of after Amazon and how you took this eight month break? Or was that after Amazon? Was that right? The timeline

used to soar sort of Yeah, so it's like I, I was at Amazon, I was kind of like, yeah, feeling really burnt out. And I felt like I needed a change. I ended up switching jobs, wants to go to Hulu, but I just really still wasn't feeling it. And I happened to basically, like, during the pandemic, quite a few like asset prices started going up quite a lot. And I had been like, invested in largely cryptocurrency and like some stocks and stuff like that. And so around the end of 2021, all of a sudden, quitting, seemed very feasible to me. And even though I was kind of looking Hulu a lot more, I felt like that, like the work life balance was a little bit better, and the environment was a bit better, I still didn't really feel like recharged. And I didn't really feel like the way I was approaching my health was sort of lining up with, I guess, like, the expectations and I felt like, I still wasn't over the burnout that I had kind of accumulated at Amazon. Yeah, because because I guess basically, like at Amazon, there were some times where just with different project deadlines, and what's called on call where you have to, I mean, obviously be ready to respond to different issues with the software that's running.

And that can be atypical for other companies. Right? It could be other Yeah, too, right? Yeah. Yeah. And so what if someone I mean, what would you say to someone who's, you know, in their 20s? And like, say they don't have, they haven't invested. So like, they don't have the financial ability to maybe take eight months off? Like, what would you recommend to like, what can be something that can be kind of like a, I don't wanna say substitute? But can that you found that can help a little bit with the burnout? So, or that feeling with it, especially people that work in the tech industry? So

yeah, yeah. So So I mean, I thought a lot about, like, why I did burnout after after the fact. And I think it did kind of have to do with maybe, like, not being the healthiest that I could be in where when I was in those really high intensity situations. Like if I didn't have enough sleep, or for example, if I was, you know, eating a bunch of junk food or something like that, and I was expected to you know, like wake up at 2am to like, respond to an issue or put out a fire or there is just kind of like deadline after deadline and I didn't really have a good practice of time management in place then those things that are already kind of difficult to deal with can become that much more difficult to deal with and things can start falling apart pretty quickly I think. Because yeah, like if you don't have like if you if your diets not really up And then you could be feeling lethargic all the time. And it's hard to even just kind of like get up on your own, and just kind of like stay awake throughout the day and really have enough energy. And so if you combine that with a really high stress environment that I think it can, it can really, it my guess is that it really accelerates the burnout. And that's kind of why like, After reflecting on the whole circumstance, during my time off that I was fortunate enough to have, I realized that maybe I should prioritize kind of figuring that part of my life out. But I hadn't really decided to focus so much on the past.

Okay, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I mean, keeping your body healthy, eating the right foods that give you energy and sleeping enough, all of that can help mitigate like burnout symptoms, right. And then what what else? What other discoveries did you make during the eight month period? And and what kind of habits or strategies did you kind of learn that you want to take into your future? employment? So?

Yeah, yeah. So so I'm, besides just like paying more attention to my health and in a holistic way, like making sure I've, you know, scheduled time so I can sleep note making sure that I have time to exercise making sure that the diet is there. I think that another reason that I may have burned out easier is because I there were some unresolved, sort of like personal issues that I had going on. That were I hadn't really been able to process through all of them. And I think that kind of, if there was any burnout going on, it probably made that worse. Yeah, I mean, it's, I don't want to go into like, too much details. But I had I had like, gone through a kind of a bad breakup before and that girlfriend and I were pretty close. And I think like during some of the fights, like at some point, it kind of made me question like, who I am as a person, and like some of my own life goals and values. And even after the breakup, I think maybe I didn't totally realize that. But just kind of not having that sense of who I am, kind of did create some sort of a hole in me for quite a long time. And I think, yeah, maybe it's like, when you don't know who you are, it becomes difficult to be motivated to kind of just go about your day and accomplish, like, Whatever, whatever tasks you have, because you're kind of, but I mean, that's a big part of you. It's just kind of empty.

Totally, totally. I mean, people often think that, you know, your professional and personal lives are separate, but they really are together, because whatever happens to you, personally, does affect your work life, and vice versa, you know, and you're going through a breakup. And so I'm curious, like, what, what support you had or you sought? Or how did you process that? You know, a lot of people go through breakups or loss or a lot of things, you know, and it happens in life. It's part of being human. And so how do how do we, what do you think it's worked for you to help process all that. And also, while meantime, while you're still holding a full time job, you know, so?

Yeah, so I've, I mean, I've been seeing a psychotherapist for quite a few years, I, in some ways, I kind of had like a tumultuous childhood growing up. So pretty early on, my mother was like, hey, maybe, maybe you should see a therapist, maybe it would help. So I've been doing that for years. And it's helped me to process a lot of things. But I guess the big thing is, even even when you're even when you have that kind of help, it doesn't mean everything can get resolved immediately. It can take a long time to really kind of first even be aware that there's something deeper going on that that is unresolved. And then after you figure that out, it can take a long time to kind of parse through, like what what exactly is it? And where's it coming from and figure out, I guess, like what your own, like how that fits into who you are, and whatever your responses to it. But I think at least having that really helped me get through it and helped me understand it. And I probably like without therapy, maybe I wouldn't be able to articulate you know that that whole phase of what I was going through to you right now. Yeah, yeah, I think that's a that's a big part of it. I think. Yeah. I mean, I do have some folks in my life who I talk to regularly that I'm close to.

Yeah, I love that. You mentioned that because yeah, I've been through therapy and I think it is so essential, you know, especially Like examining our past and being that support, and also just examining our own thoughts and belief systems is makes you cognitive behavioral therapies and thinking about or people or trauma, very trauma based therapy. And in the coaching world, we also there are some coaches that are trained in that capacity to deal with trauma as well, though, in coaching, you kind of assume a more minimum baseline. So it's not a substitute for therapy. But you can, once you reach a certain baseline can then up level, you know, to a certain degree, but I think no matter what kind of support system or some, there's so many different modes of caring for oneself, when you're going through something difficult like that, personally, and I love that you mentioned therapy as, as being something that's a tool that helps you, you know, during that time, right, yeah, yeah. And so I'm curious, like, when for other people that are going through, you know, hard times personally, and that are working, like, what, what do you think, I mean, if this were to occur again, like, you know, and you've had this break, in your, in your in a future job, and, you know, what, what can you do when you're going through something personally challenging? How do you show up at work? I mean, how do you? How do you do it in such a way that recognizes, like, the human side of you and others that like, we all go through these challenging things, we're not just like robots, they're to be, like, productive? You know, we're actually robots can have emotions, and maybe there was nothing but you know, we're not just like, you know, not, we're not just people that don't have feelings or have personal challenges, like, what are some things that you think, you know, that you will do in your future job, or for other people advice that would help them? You know, help them be human like allowing for themselves to go through personal challenges, while they're holding a job and all with other demands in their lives? Like, what do you think, you know, can help with that? Is it like taking a day off during mental health days? Is it you know, better boundaries? Or like you mentioned, obviously, the physical diet and all of the sleeping? That really helps, but whatever, you know, what do you find can really help?

Yeah, I think I mean, I think that's something I'm still trying to figure out and still trying to answer myself. I mean, I think some of the things that you mentioned, yeah. Like, if there were mental health days, or or some boundaries, that could be helpful. I definitely agree that during the I mean, I'm pretty sure. Like this whole brownout thing that I was experiencing was really multifaceted. And it Yeah, I mean, it didn't really come on as hard as it did until the pandemic, and with the pandemic, everyone kind of being kind of indoors by themselves. Definitely, I believe it increased the amount of isolation that I felt because I wasn't really seeing my colleagues. And then it also kind of broke down some of those boundaries. Because I would be at my desk, and, you know, sometimes I would, like my desk was in my bedroom actually, kind of still is even at my new place. And it's harder to separate, like your work from your life. And like, this is the same computer that I'll like, get on with friends, you know, and hang out online later. And kind of like, you know, do all sorts of other stuff, like, you know, play games, and stuff like that. So, yeah, just to have that place right next to the place that I'm doing work is kind of, it becomes harder to sort of differentiate things. And I think there were, I remember there were some times where I think early in 2020, or 2021, where I was kind of like working way more than I had ever worked for the pandemic started, because there were like some, some really big deadlines. And I was just thinking to myself, like, Oh, this is nice, I don't have to commute. I don't have to worry about all that stuff. So I get all this extra time to work. But then all of a sudden, I found myself. I was like, working 12 hour days for like weeks and weeks. And I think that yeah, it's not like anyone asked me necessarily to do that. I say, just like without that without any kind of boundaries in place. It just kind of happened. And I excused that because I guess I thought that it would help me get promoted. And I think it did help me get promoted, and I was able to kind of, you know, get a project done faster. But I think it definitely came at a cost.

Do you think you could have been promoted without working 12 hour days?

Yeah, I think so. I think I kind of convinced myself that I should work 12 hour days in order to like, ensure the promotion. But I think there probably were other paths that could have gotten me there without being so damaging to my health. And I think yeah, afterwards, I was just kind of left in like a bitter place where it's like, sure, I finished the projects and everything, but I felt like so, so overworked.

Yeah, it's hard to know, go through yourself, right? Because you're like, oh, no, should I did it? And I'm like, well, maybe I could have done something different. Or maybe that came at a cost that I didn't really like, in its own, it's hard to see the accumulation of it until

you're Yeah. On like, going back. I said that I, I'm someone who's always like, skeptical of the common wisdom, so to speak. So people would always tell me like, oh, you know, don't don't work so much, Alex, like, burn yourself out. And I was like, No, I'm not that person I'll never burnout is one of those things where it's just like, it doesn't happen until it does. And then once you're there, I guess you have to figure out how to deal with it.

Yeah, okay. Well, this is wonderful. Um, do you have just like, maybe two or three pieces of advice for someone to be a healthy and thriving human being in the tech world? Like, what are some essential? What are like two or three central things to be healthy and thriving? And like you said, holistically, right, like, Is that is that whole human in the tech world? Do you think? Yeah. So keep in mind, yeah.

Yeah, so I guess like just the nature of the job, you're kind of at your desk a lot. And I know people say, you know, just get up and walk around a little bit. But I would say maybe even even more than that, like, set aside some time to like, I don't know, go outside or go somewhere else where you can kind of get moving for a bit of time, I like to go on, you know, kind of longer walks in the neighborhood after the day is done, or early in the morning, that that can be pretty nice. But yeah, just that having that extra time is helpful. For a while, I would kind of get into the habit where? Well, there were a lot of times where I had to ask myself, like, what should I sacrifice in order to maybe put some more time into work? And there were a few times where I decided that maybe exercise isn't as important. And I think every time I kind of decided that, then a few months down the road, I would kind of realize, okay, maybe that wasn't really the best trade off. So, yeah, I guess like, sometimes it's tempting to kind of sacrifice something related to your personal health, but I guess Think twice before doing that. What else? Yeah, I would, I would say, figure out a way to, to come up with some boundaries between work and life. And I think maybe, if you're working at home, maybe the best way to do it is just with time. Like at a certain time, maybe you can kind of log off. It gets difficult when there's a deadline, though, and it gets difficult when there is on call and getting you have to kind of be on it at odd hours. Or maybe if you're meeting with someone halfway around the world. Right? Yeah. And those cases, on Yeah, honestly, it's, it's really hard to know what to do. But maybe, yeah, maybe if you're spending extra time now maybe there's a way you can give yourself some extra time later to

write like comp time, like, maybe, you know, take some though the number of hours that you're, you know, staying up at night or being on call. Maybe you can take a break. You know, in later days, like that's possible, right?

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And then I guess Lastly, like, I guess, to acknowledge, like, if you can find a way to kind of listen to how you're doing in general, there, it might be easy to kind of like push that down and just remain focus and pretend like there's not a problem. But eventually, the problem could bubble up. So if you have a way to just kind of check in on yourself, then you might notice if you're kind of approaching that phase where you might feel burned out earlier. And then if you can notice that then I guess yeah, you can start taking some sort of actions. Or, I mean, I think a lot of companies have programs. Or maybe you can, like take some time off for various reasons. To just kind of recover. I didn't I didn't take that because I I was fortunate enough to have a scenario where I kind of had a bit more luxury to have Can I do things on my own terms, but I remember even I think I was like talking to some, like my manager at Hulu. And she had said, yeah, like, if you're going through anything personal, like there are, there are ways that the company could have given me time. Just slightly kind of deal with it.

That's so great. Yeah. So even if you're, you know, you can't do the eight months, but maybe taking a day, you know, every two weeks or something like that, or, you know, some time, right, like, I think a lot of companies like you're right, do have mental health days, or they have you're going through something personal. You can take your PTO, right. Yeah, yeah. Okay, great. That you said about checking in? Can I ask you, how do you check in with yourself now, like, you know, as you're going into, like this new chapter, you know, what, how do you how do you check in with yourself? Like, and how often and yeah,

so I do try to like, do a little bit of like journaling and meditation. I'm not able to, I haven't figured out how to do it every day, I'd like to, maybe maybe every day is overkill. I'm not sure I'm still figuring that out. But like, it is a way to kind of get your, your emotions, your your state of mind in to more of a conscious state. And then you're able to kind of look at that and kind of ask some questions like, oh, is this? Like, was I even aware that this was kind of going on through my mind? And if, if now that I am aware of it? Is there anything I should? You know, be concerned with here?

Yeah. Yeah. And I love that you left it as like, well, I'm still figuring it out. Because is it every day? Is it every other day? Who knows? And it for each person might be different, right? They can figure out for themselves, like, how regular that is. But leash you are checking you recognizing how important it is to just be like, how are things going with me? Like, right? Because I think yeah, we don't stop to think that, you know,

yeah, well, and I think I think I used to be maybe like the idea of trying to set up habits like, you know, improving exercise and diet and, you know, like, checking it on myself. Those maybe were all things that were overwhelming, because I wasn't sure what the right way to do it was. But I think a big thing that I've kind of realized over time is that you don't need to know, the perfect way to do it. You can kind of just take little baby steps over time. I love like,

Yes, I love that baby steps at a time. And also, I mean, maybe there isn't, like you said, there's no perfect way. And maybe there isn't a right way. You know, it's different at different times in our lives, right. It's whatever we need in that moment. But as long as like, we do take some time to be like, Oh, check in with ourselves, you know, like, I love that you point that out? Well, awesome. Well, thank you, Alex, is there anything else that you kinda want to share with people, you know, whether it's advice, or whether it's just a story or, you know, anything that you want to share with listeners who might be in a similar situation? Or, or looking in the tech world, or also just trying to be human in this world? That's all about productivity and hustling, you know?

Yeah, um, I mean, one thing I do want to add is like, the, like the the assets, the increase in asset prices allowed me to kind of quit, but I didn't totally do it in a vacuum. Like I still kind of had a backup plan. I was going to, like start a business. The business didn't end up panning out. But I do feel like, yeah, for someone who's looking for that flexibility, you don't necessarily need to like, you know, be super rich to kind of take the time off. Like, if you were working on a business for yourself, maybe that could give you more flexibility. Awesome.

Yeah. To your integrity. You have so many freelance options, right. You can always kind of Yeah, things to keep yourself afloat while you're looking for the next thing. That's right. Yeah. That's amazing. That's awesome. Was there something else or you looked like you you had one more thing to share? 

well, I'm searching to see if there's anything else. Yeah, I mean, I guess I mean, I guess this is kind of already implied through everything else we've been talking about. But yeah, I guess. In hindsight, I wish I was more intentional about checking in on myself, but I know going forward it will be and it's, yeah, I guess like mental health can kind of seem like, you know, maybe like you have it under control or it's not that it's not a big deal. But but that whatever the situation is, you'll kind of be able to handle it. But I think sometimes if there's not enough intentionality about taking care of yourself, then things can kind of get a little bit out of hand and then you'll, it's something that kind of creep up on you. So I think just being more intentional about it, it's hopeful If I could help people,

right? That's so true. Like if you just think sometimes you think, Oh, I can just be strong enough like, oh, yeah, like, you're young, you're like, Yeah, you're ambitious. You're like, I can handle anything comes my way. But then it's like, like you said it can creep up and you don't even sometimes realize the effects it has on you. Right until it right. Right. Right.

So yeah, exactly. Exactly.

I love it. Thank you so much, Alex, thank you for sharing this and sharing your story. It's so powerful. So wish you all the best of luck in your next chapter. And yeah, and thank you for coming on. And we will be in touch and love to kind of see what happens down the line too. So really,

yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Very nice to meet you, Jenny. Every everything in your future goes well,

thank you so much. I deal with burnout. I'm always checking in with myself. I love it. The advice here is so valuable. Thank you