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Software Engineering and Mental Health are not Mutually Exclusive

Software Engineering and Mental Health are not Mutually Exclusive

Working with software can be stressful at times, but does it need to be? We as a community need to discuss the importance of balance and well-being to ensure our community is healthy, thriving, and pushing for psychological safety in our work environments.


Jacqueline Potts

March 21, 2019


  1. Software Engineering and Mental Health are not Mutually Exclusive

  2. At work I felt anxious in meetings I felt like

    I had noting important to contribute to the male dominated group I felt the extreme pressure to meet aggressive deadlines I didn’t push back when unrealistic deadlines were set because I thought they were only unrealistic because I wasn’t good enough I was petrified of being the cause of downtime for the team and started getting ver anxious when deploying to production I kept my computer and slack on all the time I started working late to catch up on work I felt behind on I started using weekends catch up on work I felt behind on I stopped taking breaks at work I started working at my desk through lun I started isolating myself from my friends and family I was now only sitting, with my posture crunched down, making my body tight, hunched and as small as possible I was getting so anxious at the sight my code editor I was getting so anxious just opening my computer I didn’t want to code I didn’t want to look at screens I started getting so anxious I would throw up I kept getting sick
  3. I wasn't good enough to be here I was ashamed

    in myself I felt so useless. So tired. So stressed. I felt I just couldn't handle the fast paced environments that the coding world had to offer And so alone. I wasn’t good enough to write software
  4. But, slowly, I started to dig myself out

  5. I sought out a therapist who I met with weekly.

    I learned about panic attacks, anxiety disorders, imposter syndrome, and isolation. I started taking antidepressants.
  6. Eventually, I was able to start feeling better I was

    able to get heart rate back down to normal levels I started talking about my anxiety and was shocked to discover that I was not alone
  7. Many of my friends and peers were going through the

    same sort of feelings, pressures, and fears.
  8. This is when I stated thinking about the why. Why

    are people in tech so stressed out? Why are people in tech afraid to push back for the sake of self-wellness and self-care? Why is software so stressful? Why does no one talk about it?
  9. I started doing some research came up with some hypotheses..

  10. Stress in Software Representation of software developers in media and

    film Software Engineering and Company Cultures
  11. Representations of software in media and film

  12. There is really only two types of software engineering characters

    we see on tv and film
  13. The antihuman hacker type Genius level intelligence Always coding Antisocial

    - lone wolf Has a minimum of 2 monitors (tasteless joke) Unlimited knowledge + control of computers On some sort of stimulant - energy drinks, drugs, etc
  14. Mr. Robot

  15. Silicon Valley

  16. Hackers

  17. The Matrix

  18. TLDR; this is not what the day to day of

    a software engineer looks like
  19. The antihuman geek type Social Awkwardness Intelligent Computers are work

    and hobby Usually exhibits issues with interpersonal relationships - dating, friendships Comedic character
  20. IT Crowd

  21. Silicon Valley

  22. Do these characters act as a barrier of inclusion in

  23. Study 1 - What does a Computer Scientist look like

    to you? The Stereotypical Computer Scientist: Gendered Media Representations as a Barrier to Inclusion for Women Sapna Cheryan & Victoria C. Plaut & Caitlin Handron & Lauren Hudson, 2013 Participant Base College students of University at Washington and Stanford 186 Female, 125 Male
  24. The Stereotypical Computer Scientist ❖ Technology-oriented ❖ Obsessed with computers

    ❖ Lacking interpersonal skills ❖ Intelligent ❖ Physical features: pale, unattractive, thin, wearing glasses ❖ Male
  25. – Anonymous Female Participant “I’m not obsessed with computers..., I

    don't dream in code like they do..”
  26. I am different I don’t belong

  27. Study 2 - Manipulating Computer Science Stereotypes Using the Media

    Participants asked to read one of two articles “Stereotyped Article”: Study finds computer science continues to be dominated by “geeks” “Non-Stereotyped Article”: Study finds computer science no longer dominated by “geeks” After reading, participants asked to rate their level of interest in computer science on a scale from 1-7
  28. Interest in Computer Science (1-7 scale) 1 2 3 4

    5 6 Women Men Stereotypical article Non-stereotypical article
  29. Lack of representation is a limiter for diversity in software.

  30. Software Engineering and Company Cultures Could certain cultures be fostering

    a stressful environment?
  31. Move fast and break things

  32. Categories Top External Causes of Unhappiness in Software Engineers Bad

    decision making 9% Unexplained broken code 12% Mundane or repetitive task 12% Under-performing colleague 15% Bad code quality 22% Time pressure 31%
  33. –Happy-Productive Worker Thesis “Happy workers are more productive”

  34. The “Real Programmer” Syndrome “Real programmers don’t consider coding work

    - they love it!” “Real programmers love coding so much. They love it so much that it's what they spend all their time doing. ” “A programmer isn't a Real Programmer when they don't volunteer to work 60 to 80 hour weeks (for no extra monetary compensation, remember) because it's “fun"!”
  35. But “Real Programmers…” ❖ These ideals permeate the industry’s culture

    and bonus points: these are the images we see of programmers reinforced in tv and film.
  36. I am different I don’t belong

  37. Solutions -- in representation

  38. Volunteer + Become a Mentor ❖ #BUILTBYGIRLS ❖ Girls Who

    Code ❖ Black Girls Code ❖ Exercism.io ❖ Girl Develop IT ❖ Women Who Code Be a role model for the next generation of STEM ..and many more Please share your volunteer stories and organizations!
  39. …we’re on the right track and getting better As for

    media representation…
  40. None
  41. Thank you for paving the way for all of us,

    we pledge to continue your legacy and advocate for diversity in STEM
  42. Reducing stress at home

  43. Designated Self- Care Days Perfect for those Sunday Scaries!

  44. None
  45. Spend some time with the love of your life

  46. Other Self-Care Techniques ❖ Meditation ❖ Journaling ❖ Yoga ❖

    Reading ❖ Get enough sleep ❖ Drink enough water ❖ Look into therapy
  47. Reducing stress at the workplace

  48. Enlist the help of some friendly robots Set up dashboards

    and altering tools on important features, such as user registration, user login, payment processing etc, things that would be a disaster if they were broken or affect the business making money
  49. Recognize flaws in process and be an advocate for improvement

    Remember, not everything is your responsibility, software fails when processes fail
  50. Advocate for retrospectives for you and your teams Without reflection

    on process, how can we identify key problems with it and improve it?
  51. Be explicit and upfront about tradeoffs It is okay to

    say no sometimes.
  52. Make prioritization your new best friend If everything is an

    emergency is anything an emergency?
  53. Protect yourself from open office spaces Distractions and context switching

    is expensive!
  54. Make your workspace as lovely as you Make your desk

    a happy place that makes you feel good to be there
  55. Ask for help, you’re not invincible We all need help

    sometimes, it is natural and part of being human.
 We are all here for you and are rooting for you
  56. Set some boundaries and take care of yourself It is

    okay to take time off to rest
  57. – Sandi Metz “Coffee is not a food group”

  58. ❖ Check in on your workplace posture

  59. Be an advocate for mental health in your workplace ❖

    Demonstrate healthy behavior and encourage those around you to do the same. ❖ Ask people how they are doing ❖ Spend time with your team members ❖ Keep an eye on others
  60. Share your story

  61. Come say hi! Selfishly, I want to hear your story

    too, please please come say hi today! Or find me and my dog online at: jacquelinepotts.com IG: @jacqui244
  62. Thank you