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Weeknotes February 24, 2019

From New Yorker’s “Do Jails Kill People?” (Yes):

“Because jails are chaotic and concealed from outside view, we only become aware of them when very bad outcomes occur, such as deaths,” he writes. “As a result, our periodic glimpses into this area miss the systemic failings of the systems we’ve designed, and we make the repeated error of blaming individuals for outcomes that we’ve essentially predetermined.”

Taming the Demon: How Desert Monks Put Work in Its Place about scriptorium@christdesert:

Work ceases for the day with a 12:40 bell. That’s it; they’ve upheld their end of Paul’s bargain. The monks clean up, pray another brief office, and then eat their main meal in silence. They spend the afternoon at rest or in silent prayer, eat a light meal, and enjoy a brief recreation period in the evening. The final office of the day, entirely in Latin, concludes by 8:00 in the evening with a ritual of sprinkling the community with holy water. Thus begins the Great Silence, when the monks return to their cells and may not speak. They won’t go back to work until the next morning.

I asked Fr. Simeon, a monk who spoke with a confidence cultivated through the years he spent as a defense attorney, what you do when the 12:40 bell rings but you feel that your work is undone.

“You get over it,” he replied.

Getting over it is a spiritual discipline that is in short supply in secular life. It’s what makes the paradoxical but deeply humane approach to work at the monastery possible. The Benedictines who live in the canyon keep strict watch over their time and attention. Doing so keeps their desires in order. But it also keeps labor within limits. They get over work so they can get on with something much more important to them.

More from Christina Maslach on Job Burnout:

I used to talk about burnout as a red flag that warns you that something is going wrong in the workplace.Let me change that a little bit and say that it’s more like the canary in the coal mine.

The canary in the cage goes down in the coal mine, and if the canary is having trouble breathing and functioning, it’s a sign to you that the workplace, the mine, is dangerous. Too many toxic fumes, you’d better not send people down there. It’s a warning sign, and this is really what burnout is in a sense. It’s a warning sign of a toxic work environment, and what you should be doing is saying, “What is going on to cause so many problems among people who work here?”

What you don’t want to do is try and make the bird tougher and more resilient and “it can take it!” You know, “If you can’t stand the toxic fumes, you shouldn’t work here.” Again, it’s a sign that it could get worse. You don’t want to go there because it’s harder to treat people at that point.

Anna Shipman on Finding the Next Level Tech Job:

The first important step was to work out what I was good at. This is something worth doing because although it seems like it might be obvious, I tend to focus on getting things done, and don’t always reflect on what skills it is that mean I’m succeeding (or what weaknesses mean I’m not).

There were four main ways I did this:

  1. I asked people directly what they valued about me. For example, a friend made an intro to her boss and I asked how she’d described me, and she reported that she’d said “more single minded than anyone else I know”.
  2. Another former boss called me “terrifyingly competent” (which I think was a compliment…).
  3. I did an exercise called a Johari window to learn what colleagues thought my strengths are, which I’ve written up here.
  4. As I started having interviews, I made sure to ask for feedback at every stage of the process. A good question to draw that out can be something along the lines of “Do you have any concerns about my ability to do this job? Are there any gaps I can perhaps set your mind at rest about?” And of course, as I live my life by lists, I made a list, and updated it when I noticed I’d done something well or badly.

On the changing (and more difficult) labor market for data scientists, “Data science is different now” by Vicki Boykis:

Don’t get paralysis by analysis. Pick a small piece of something and start there. Do something small. Learn something small, build something small. Tell other people. Remember that your first job in data science will probably not be as a data scientist.

One of my favorite books ever is Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. It’s about how to write. The story she tells in the book, of how the book got its title, is a book report her brother had to write.

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said. ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”

And he got it done.

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