“work-life balance” at school

Everything so far goes great for me. Austin is a nice place: you don’t have to worry about extremely cold weather and unlike Beijing’s summer, the summer here is not about humid air. Everything feels both familiar and strange at the same time. The usual part is that the school life style is the one that I’m most familiar with. However, on the other hand, it feels a little bit strange to me because I become quite okay with working style: you get up, go to work, and after eight hours, you go back home and sleep. To be honest, there isn’t much pressure when you can enjoy your adult single life. You just get out of school, and there is no intensively homework due, and you are free to do whatever you want after work. That’s why I have the opportunity to write bunch of blog posts in the past two years. But, taking a break from work and heading back to school is totally different story. You need to adjust your time schedule back to probably the most intensive and high pressure schedule. There are endless deadlines you have to meet and all of them are quite intense. You cannot say to your professor that due to the limit of resources, you have to push back the GA date of your programming assignment. All in all, you are expected to get the job done in a timely fashion at school (of course, you are also expected this from your boss but lots of factors can make this sentence not strictly hold in a real setting working environment).

That brings up one important issue that people usually emphasize the most when they work: work-life balance. Specifically, under the academia setting, the question becomes:  does work-life balance matter to the students? In my early college year, the answer I’ll give is “No!”. The reasoning is simple: I’m in a state of endless worry. I worry about the job hunting; I worry about I become lazy and don’t make enough out of the expensive tuition and cost of living. So, I spend most of time working at library or labs in the hope of that “hard working” can make myself less anxious. The end result is not good. I can practice this life style until I’m sophomore and I quickly burn out when I’m junior and senior. Those years the intensity of advanced classes and the work in research labs make me breathless. Thanks to the cold weather in Wisconsin, things become even worse: I feel depressed and hopeless. I don’t want to work at all. I end up spending whole days playing video games and I even skip the final exam to my algorithm class in the Fall semester of my junior year.

Now, after two years of work, I gain some new insights from this miserable experience. One thing is about the worry itself. I have been reading Dale Carnegie’s book “HOW TO STOP WORRYING and Start Living“, and in this book, the author says the following:

Clearly, what I needed was a textbook on how to conquer worry – so again I tried to find one. I went to New York’s great public library at Fifth Avenue and Forty-second Street and discovered to my astonishment that this library had only twenty-two books listed under the title WORRY. I also noticed, to my amusement, that it had one hundred eighty-nine books listed under WORMS. Almost nine times as many books about worms as about worry! Astounding, isn’t it? Since worry is one of the biggest problems facing mankind, you would think, would’t you, that every high school and college in the land would give a course on “How to Stop Worrying”? Yet, if there is even one course on that subject in any college in the land, I have never heard of it. No wonder David Seabury said in his book How to Worry Successfully: “We come to maturity with as little preparation for the pressures of experience as a bookworm asked to do a ballet.”

I have strong feelings towards this text. Lots of important lessons are barely taught or even mentioned in school. In most cases, you seem to be expected to find them out on your own from your own experience. It’s a “Swim or Sink” situation. I don’t blame our education system for this because you can hardly come up with a way to teach a course about “worry” with proper assignments and exams. However, those lessons are so crucial to people and you’d better have some tools in your mental toolbox to know how to handle it. Otherwise, sooner or later, some situation or life events will eat you up just like what happened to me in my junior year. There is a sentence from Jesus: “Take no thought for the morrow.”, which gets translated into “Have no anxiety for the tomorrow” in modern English. In other words, we try our best for today and hope for the best. This one is important for me because I don’t want to work ten hours day because of the worry. I want to work ten hours a day because I just want to work on the day.

Work-life balance means important to research as well. There is no doubt that research is a hard job and unquestionably, I will meet various difficulties when working on research projects. However, I want my future self know that even I face challenge in research, I can still have life. I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket. This is just like researchers want to work on multiple research projects because you always have plan B when one project doesn’t go well. Keeping work-life balance can help you when you start losing faith in this job because, all in all, you still have something left in your pocket.

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Leaving IBM

To be honest, this is probably the most difficult post I have ever written. This is majorly because there is a ton of stuff I want to say but I’m unsure whether I should keep them public or should keep it to myself. Another factor that makes this post hard to write is because the span of drafting. I have been drafting this post since April in 2016, right after when I decide to start the whole process of quit-IBM-and-get-a-PhD project.  I used to use this post as a log to record things and feelings when somethings happens around me at IBM. Frankly, if I take a look at the stuff I record (mostly are rantings) retrospectively, lots of stuff still hold but the anger just passes away with the time. So, that year-long drafting really makes me hesitate even more because the mood when those stuff are written are gone. However, two years can be a significant amount of time and quitting IBM can be called “an end of era” and I should give a closure to my happy-and-bitter experience with IBM anyway. So, here it goes.

 

Thank you, IBM!

I’m really thankful for the opportunities working with IBM. This experience really makes me grow both technically and mentally.  Technical-wise, I have the opportunity to get hands on experience with DB2 development. DB2 as a database engine is extremely complex. It has over 10 million lines of code and it is way beyond the scope of any school project. Working on those projects are quite challenging because there is no way you can get clear understanding of every part of the project. I still remember when I attend the new hire education on DB2, there is one guy says: “I have been working on the DB2 optimizer for over 10 years but I cannot claim with certainty that I know every bit of the component I own.” This fact really shocks me and based upon my experience so far, his claim still holds but with one subtle assumption, which I’ll talk about later. There are lots of tools are developed internally and reading through both the code and tool chains are a great fortune for any self-motivated developers. I pick a lots of skills alongside: C, C++, Makefile, Emacs, Perl, Shell, AIX and many more. I’m really appreciated with this opportunity and I feel my knowledge with database and operating system grow a lot since my graduation from college.

Mentally, there are also lots of gains. Being a fresh grad is no easy. Lots of people get burned out because they are just like people who try to learn swim and are put inside water: either swim or drown. I’m lucky that my first job is with IBM because the atmosphere is just so relax: people expect you to learn on your own but they are also friendly enough (majority of them) to give you a hand when you need help. I still remember my first ticket with a customer is on a severity one issue, which should be updated your progress with the problem daily. There is a lot of pressure on me because I really have no clue with the product at the very beginning. I’m thankful for those who help me at that time and many difficult moments afterwards. That makes me realize how important is to be nice and stay active with the people around you.  Because no matter how good you are with technology and the product, there are always stuff you don’t know. Staying active with people around you may help you go through the difficult moment like this by giving you a thread that you can start at least pull. In addition, participating with toastmasters club really improve my communication and leadership skills and more importantly, I make tons of friends inside the club. Without working at IBM, I probably won’t even know the existence of the toastmasters club. If you happen to follow my posts, you’ll see lots of going on around me when I work at IBM. Every experience you go through offer you a great opportunity to learn and improve yourself. Some people may look at them as setbacks but for me, I look at them as opportunities.

toastmasters1

( the picture on the left is all the comments people give to me about my speech and on the right is the awards I have earned inside the club in these two years)

With the help of all those experience, I have developed a good habit of writing blogs (both technical and non-technical), reading books, and keep working out six days per week. All those things cannot be possible if I work at a place where extra hour work commonly happened. I’m very thankful for IBM for this because staying healthy both physically and mentally are super critical for one’s career. Even though those stuff don’t directly come from IBM, but IBM does provide the environment to nurture this things to happen.

 

IBM has its own problem. The problem is centered around people. There are many words I want to say but I think I’ll keep them secretly but I want to show my point with a picture:

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I don’t know why IBM’s term “resource action” on firing employees and the sentence “IBM recognize that our employee are our most valuable resources.” bother me so much. I probably just hate the word “resource” as a way to directly describe people and how this word get spammed so much around IBM. I know everyone working for a big corporation is just like a cog in a machine. However, what I feel based upon lots of things happened around me is that IBM as its attitudes represented by its first-line managers (because those people I commonly work with) makes this fact very explicitly. It hurts, to be honest. No matter how hard you work and no matter how many prizes you have earned for yourself and your first-line manager, you are nothing more than a cog in a machine, which is not worth for high price to have you around because there are many cogs behind you that are ready to replace you. They are much cheaper, much younger, and more or less can work like you because your duty in the machine is just so precisely specified, which doesn’t really depend on how much experience you have had under your belt. To me, that’s devastating.

This leads to the problem that talented people are reluctant to stay with company. My mentor and the people are so good with DB2 have bid farewell to the team. That’s really sad to me because they are the truly asset to the company and the product. The consequence of this is that crucial knowledge is gone with people. Some quirks existing in the product are only known by some people and once they leave the company, the knowledge is gone with them. That makes mastering of the product even harder. That’s the subtle assumption that the person makes during the new hire education and that’s also part of the problem when working with legacy code. The whole legacy code issue is worth another post but one thing I now strongly believe is that any technical problem has its own root cause in company culture and management style. To me, I’m not a guru now but I cannot see the way to become a guru with my current position, which scares me the most

That’s it for this section and I’ll leave the rest to my journal.

书评:《男人的一半是女人》- 张贤亮

这本书立在我的书架上很久了。我曾经被它的标题所吸引,但是翻开到第一部第一章,开头却是这样子的:

也许我过去见到过她而没有留意,也许我从来没有见到过她。总之,这一次,她却给我留下了一个非常深刻的印象。

两个月前,我从大组被抽调出来,去管水稻田。在劳改队里,我是大组长,调到田管组,我仍然是田管组组长。

我顿时失去了兴趣。这本书似乎描写的并不是我脑海中特定的画面。我就把它丢到了一旁去看我的电脑去了。但是,在半个月前的某个晚上,我实在是难以忍受电脑所散发的热量,来到了卧室书架旁,想随便找一本书翻翻。我对外国文学的喜爱程度远不及我啥事吧对英文技术书籍的热衷程度的。一个个拗口的名字不停的摧残着我大脑的记忆力:莎士比亚的剧本我一部也没有完整的读下来过,每次总是边往后看,边捏着前几页出场人物表不放,像查字典似的费力的啃着每一个字。当我的目光划过《男人的一半是女人》的时候,自然而然的我就伸手把他从书架上取了下来。

这本小说在我看来一大特点就是真实。这种真实源于作者对人性的描写。这点在以文化大革命为背景下就显得更加弥足珍贵。众所周知,人的欲望是没办法被遮盖的。这个和他所处的时代和文化背景是没有什么关系的。很多文学影视作品,在描写某个特定时间年代的时候,都会不自然的从某些特定的角度去描写。比如说,描写长征或者抗日题材的话,一个非常常见的角度就是尝试着从艰苦,人民被外敌蹂躏等角度去描写。承然这种角度本身是没有任何问题,也反映了当时的时代特点。但是,不得不承认的是,长此以往的这样描写,时代中的人物不免会固话在某种特定印象中:比如思想觉悟高,时刻准备牺牲等。这种固然会起到使人物形象高大化的目的,但是与此同时却又使人物脱离了一个正常人的正常喜怒哀乐,人之欲望等特点。变相的使形象与读者脱节,造成了一种符号化的印象。从这种角度来看,张贤亮的《男人的一半是女人》取得了某种意义的突破。虽然整个故事的时代背景是文化大革命等各种建国初期的整风运动,但是作者却从文中男主老章和女主的黄香久的感情故事入手,既反应了当时人们的心理特点和生活常态,又从侧面通过老章的所思所想,表达了作者对文化大革命等整风运动的观点。

作者的真实描写是多方面的,甚至以我现在的眼光来看,作者的描写显得露骨,有时候甚至让我觉得我在看的是一本小黄书。比如说作者在描述女劳改犯在劳改队的生活状态时,他是这样写到的:

据他们说,女人在劳改队里比男人难熬,她们脆弱的神经忍受不了孤独,她们总要寻求爱抚、支持和保护。有的女犯隔着铁窗向警卫人员调情:“班长,你的小老鼠要咂水水子么?”

这种用词读起来的感觉和我上中学时大火的电视剧《蜗居》中宋思明对海萍说的“你想吃我的棒棒糖么?”非常像。一种成人的味道从文字中弥漫出来。再比如书中主人公老章最开始是没有性生活能力的。但是,在他舍身堵住快要决堤的大坝的窟窿后,他发了高烧,书中的女主人公黄香久解开了衬衣像温暖老章冰冷的额头,描写是这样子的:

她拽开的也不是她的衬,而是她的胸脯。在我面前,两大团雪白的莲花似的乳房一下子裸露无疑,莲花中间是彤红的花蕊,花朵还在一池清水中荡漾。花朵和花蕊,都比我记忆中的更大、更鲜明、更具有神韵。

石破天惊!我骤然产生了一种我从未有过的冲动。这就是爱情?我一伸手搂住了她。。。

“你好了!” 她的声音从很深很深的水底浮了上来。

”是的。。。我也不知道。。。” 我笑了。一种悲切的和狂喜的笑,一种痉挛的笑。笑声越来越大,笑得全身颤抖,笑得流出了眼泪。

“你还。。。能吗?” 水底又浮上来模糊的声音。

“能!”我恶狠狠地说。

书中像这样的描写其实有很多。这对读者来说是一种小刺激。但是,同时我却非常感谢作者这一种坦诚。在那个年代里,可以想象,崇高理想并不会让一个人时刻保持着活下去的冲动。但是,相反,恰恰是这种人性欲望和情感需要才会让人能艰难度过那段时光。老章最开始没有性能力其实并不是老章自身有什么生理问题。恰恰相反,从这次以及老章在林子中和黄香久的一段云雨看出,老章的身体其实一点问题也没有。那么是什么让老章最开始不能的呢?其实是心理上的一种压抑。这点从老章在第一次和黄香久相遇的场景就可以看出。老章和黄香久第一次相遇是黄香久在池塘了洗澡出浴的时候。老章第一次看到女人的裸体 。长时间艰苦的劳动改造和自己的本能让老章想要与她欢愉一番(”开始,我的眼睛总不自觉地朝她那个最隐秘的部位看。“)而黄香久也摆出了一番欲迎还拒的姿态(”她并不急于穿衣服,却聊下手中的内裤,像是畏凉一样,两臂交叉地将两手搭在两肩上,正面向着我。“)。但是老章总后却没有行动,他用自己的理性战胜了自己的欲望,但是与此同时这也给老章带来莫大的内心痛苦:

就在这孤零零的土屋里,就在这张散发着霉味和汗臭味的炕上,我展开过各式各样有关女人和爱情的幻想。所以,我非常的懊悔,我失去了一个极为难得的机会;可是,我又很感自豪,觉得自己经受住了一次严峻的考验。但究竟是什么?我也说不清。啊,魔障啊,魔障!是什么阻止了我扑上前去?既然那种精神上和肉体上的饥渴同时折磨这我和她,既然我们身上都烙印着苦难的印记,为什么我们不能再苦难中偷得片刻的欢愉?

我开始蔑视我过去所受到的全部教育。文明,不过是约束人的绳索,使一切归于人,发自人的本性的要求都变得那么复杂,那么可望而不可及。如果我象那些普通的农民劳改犯就好了。但我又庆幸自己过去受了教育,是文明使我区别于动物,使我能克制自己,在关键时刻表现出了人,也只有人才能表现出的高尚行为;我有自由意志,我可以选择,因而我要对自己的行为负责。然而,倘若我迎了上去,世界也并不会因此更坏些;我转身逃了开区,世界也没有因此变得更好。我,一个劳改犯,一只黑蚂蚁,还谈得上什么用行为合乎道德规范这点来自宽自慰?何况,如果我认为自己是道德的,就必定认为她是不道德的,而我又有什么权利在心里职责她?那不正是曾在自己幻想中出现过的场景吗?我对自己的行为负责,那么谁又曾对我负过责任?社会的责任似乎就全在于折磨我和迫害我。

。。。 那么,刚刚我要是与她媾合了,我就将不成其为我,我今后的命运就可能大大改观–

据说,人一生的命运就是一连串一环套一环的因果关系。不过,我又怎能知道改观以后的命运必然更糟?说不定我还能从此割断束缚我的精神绳索,还原成一个人,一个原始的人,在这个野蛮荒唐的年代,用野蛮人的方式去荒唐地生活。。。

我对老章这番思想斗争还是颇有感触的。因为,不论在何种年代,做一个好人真的是非常非常的不容易的。有些时候,在生活中你会发现似乎最后总是坏人,不道德的人,没有那么多像老章这种精神束缚的人笑到了最后。就像老章说得那样:“我对自己的行为负责,那么谁又曾对我负过责任?社会的责任似乎就全在于折磨我和迫害我。” Google的名言是“Don’t be evil”。但是,仔细想想,这是一个多么高的道德要求:”倘若我迎了上去,世界也并不会因此更坏些;我转身逃了开区,世界也没有因此变得更好。“ 如何在面对诱惑,面对那些最后 ”be evil”然后获得利益好处的做法,保持一种不作恶的行为准则。这是多么苛刻的要求。最后,也许就像老章那样,不停地去压抑自己,去符合社会所谓的准则,去活下去。但是,这真的是“活着“吗? 我不知道,书中也似乎没有给出这方面的答案。最后,老章为了自己的信念选择了离开黄香久。这也许是老章选择的 “活着”的一种方式。那么,我们自己真正应该以一种怎样的姿态去活着呢? 我还没有一个明确的答案。

注:我真是太喜欢这种纸页泛黄的书读起来的感觉了!

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