24 April 2016

So I got a pay raise...

I'm feeling a bit exhausted. I've had a lot of stuff happening lately, more than usual, and so I've been a little short on down time and time to work on personal projects-- both of which are things that I use to recharge. So the batteries are low.

Last last week, I had a training session scheduled during the time I'm normally scheduled to be working on software development at work. If you've been following along lately (or not), this is exactly the thing I've submitted a written ADA accommodations request for-- when I'm scheduled to be working on coding, don't assign me to do other things because I don't task switch well. If it's Tuesday and I'm supposed to be working on code, then leave me alone to work on code (and talk to me about my other job at work, help desk quality assurance, when I'm scheduled to be that). I was assigned to that training meeting time on the basis of already being scheduled during that time. In other words, convenience for them, not for me.

Anyway. Attended the meeting. Turns out it was essentially the same information that we'd already been given once already. After the meeting, instead of working on the software project I'm on, I finished watching a course on Pluralsight. The courses there are chopped into blocks, most of which are shorter than 45 minutes, and which I can focus on pretty well with breaks in between each. I worked on the user documentation for my project for a while after that, and that was essentially my night. Did I earn my pay? I think so, I did do meaningful work, but I didn't write or debug any code. So my project fell behind again.

This past Saturday I was at a hackathon that I helped organize, here. It was a small one-- around 75 people registered, maybe 2/3 of those actually showed, and an even smaller number stayed the entire 12 hours. I did a lot of the publicity for the event, and helped keep track of the judging for the prizes, and some other operational stuff that came up. I'm pretty much an introvert, with a good dose of social anxiety plus PTSD. Hackathons are, interestingly enough, one of the mechanisms that I use to overcome all of that. I'm one of the people standing in the front of the room talking at organizational meetings. I can give you an elevator pitch on demand about what I'm working on. And I can help organize a hackathon. My social anxiety therapist from a few years ago would be proud.

I'm proud that I can do these things, too, but they take a lot of energy. The energy drain is especially pronounced when all of this takes place during time when I'd normally be doing things to recharge. So between everything to do with the hackathon, and everything that's been going on at work with the ADA accommodations request, my batteries are lower than usual.

This Thursday I had a F2F meeting with my supervisor-- it wasn't about the ADA accommodations request, it was to talk about giving me a pay raise. I'm getting a raise. Wait. What?

Apparently the powers that be are quite happy not only with the software development work that I'm doing, but also how I interact with and mentor the other programmers on the team. The words leadership and professionalism and we know you could be interning at a company like Microsoft and we're glad you're here instead came up during the conversation. It was, to say the least, a very positive meeting.

The meeting, however, was also scheduled during the hours when I'm normally scheduled to be working on said software development, and it's exactly this kind of thing that led to me making a formal, written request for ADA accommodations-- to stop making me task switch when I'm scheduled to be writing code. There was a set of questions I had to answer for the form that's going to human resources to justify giving me more money, mostly about what are the good things about the work I'm doing and is there anything that the department can do to make things better. ADA, this is your cue. So I talked about my projects, and the very cool things about the software development team I'm on, and that it's very cool that I was one of the people that got to interview the programmers we recently hired. And, I talked about the ADA accommodations request and how the remainder of the evening, I probably wouldn't get much coding accomplished because I wouldn't be able to concentrate due to the meeting.

A side note, about the not being able to concentrate when my schedule is jacked around-- you've maybe heard programmers talk about being "in the zone", that zen mental space where you have the your head wrapped around the code you're working on and the rest of the world just disappears. Different people have different ways of getting there. For me it begins long before I get to the office where I work. It starts when I wake up, goes through the time when I'm clearing the cobwebs and getting coffee and taking a shower and getting dressed and walking to work. It's not so much a spiritual ritual as it is my brain getting itself ready to code. It takes a while. Throwing in a training session or a meeting or making me task switch between jobs totally disrupts that process. That's why I can't get focused on code. (It's the same situation when a professor deviates from the syllabus in one of my classes, like throwing out a pop quiz or changing what they'll lecture on today.)

The part of the meeting where we talked about accommodations was actually very positive as well. We also talked about noise, this being not only an open office but a call center as well. I wear foam earplugs when I'm coding, and over the ear Princess Leia style headphones, and it's still noisy enough here to be distracting. That came up during the meeting I had with human resources, and apparently it's come up in meetings between human resources and my chain of command. Noise cancelling headphones came up several times during recent discussions, and my employer is going to buy a set of them for me to use at work to help with the noise.

Really good noise cancelling headphones that other programmers have recommended to me are in the $300 price range. Supervisor said "tell us what you need and we'll order it." I should also note here that not only have I heard this in person from my supervisor, but from my supervisor's supervisor. This is at a campus where money's really, really tight right now, so I want to emphasize how important it is that they've said "tell us what you need and we'll order it."

I'd be totally lying if I said I hadn't wondered if I'll get to keep them. Probably not.
We also discussed seating arrangements, and I asked for a particular desk that's in the corner farthest away from the nearest place where people sit to answer phone calls. It's in a corner with no doors and no windows, under an overhang from the floor above-- it's the place where someone with PTSD would sit. I requested that desk, which might actually be granted (it's currently configured with a standing desk so some furniture moving has to happen).

And we actually discussed the initial request I made, that when I'm scheduled to work software development I'm not scheduled to work help desk duties, or help desk training, or meetings, or whatever else comes up. Everyone that matters sees my request as reasonable and pretty easy to accommodate.

Which is nice, but thinking and worrying about all of this has been exhausting as well. The thinking about it and worrying about it don't stop when I leave work. PTSD is often about stuck points, and this whole ADA accommodations trip is a serious trigger and a serious stuck point.

As far as the paperwork goes: I have the letter I need to give to someone at the VA Hospital to fill out and fax back to human resources at work. I haven't received a response back from the secure message I sent, so if I haven't heard anything by Monday I'm probably going to go to the VA Hospital in person and bug people until I can get someone with a degree and a license to fill it out and sign it for me. The tricky part about this is, right now I'm not "in therapy". I have an assigned mental health provider, and an assigned primary care provider, but who that person is changes with some frequency (and often without notice). Since I stopped going to the prolonged exposure therapy group last fall I haven't heard from anyone at the VA Hospital, which means that I've fallen through the cracks of teh VA yet again. So finding someone to fill out my paperwork will be a not fun adventure.

Is it worth it? 

Programming (or software development or software engineering or whatever title) is hard. It's frustrating. It's banging your head against a brick wall for hours before you realize that you should have used a do...while instead of a, or that a variable you thought you'd declared as an integer is actually being a boolean. It's trying to reverse engineer the code your employer has so you can write code that makes it do something entirely new. It's work. It's also immensely rewarding when things do finally work right, when you see other people using what you made to do their job better, when they rely on the machine that you made do things that it didn't do before.

Life, too, is hard. There are often no easy answers anyway, and PTSD and anxiety and depression make finding the answers damn near impossible. It's hard enough as it is to be successful (whatever that means), to find a good job that you like and can do well at and get paid enough for doing without PTSD. As wonderful a thing as the ADA is it's entirely on you-- the disabled person-- to navigate it, especially at first. Chances are that your managers/supervisors haven't been trained on how to deal with accommodations requests, many of which are just tweaks to workflow or environment.

It is not simply not easy. I know, I know, that doesn't answer the question.

It is worth it.

I'm a hacker.

I've been a hacker since before I had my own computer, since the days when I'd buy and read computer magazines and write snippets of code on bits of paper to take along the next time the family went shopping. The K-Mart, or the Target, or the Sears, would have a Vic-20 or a TI 99/4A or an Atari 400 or 800, or the mall would have a Radio Shack, and while the family was shopping and doing their thing I'd stand there typing in my code on the demo computers. There was "Hello, World" of course, and probably at least one "RADIOSHACKSUCKS...RADIOSHACKSUCKS...RADIOSHACKSUCKS" loop written (look, I was 14, k?) but there was also seeing that the different computers were both different and the same. They all had BASIC, but the BASIC on one was different than the BASIC on another. Now, many years later, I'm writing stuff that's a lot more meaningful and complicated than loops that infinitely print "RADIOSHACKSUCKS", but the same fascination and the same passion are still here.

I love programming.

This is what I do, what makes me get up in the morning afternoon (I work nights), what has given me a reason to keep going and keep striving. I've taken some detours. I've been married, divorced, bankrupt, and homeless, but I've never stopped loving programming. This, and a lot of Diet Mountain Dew and coffee, is what pushes me forward.

I'm not willing to give this up. Programming makes me happy. Therefore, whatever it takes, even dealing with the ADA, is worth it.

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