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Balancing Tech Careers and Personal Life with Michelle Bakels

In this podcast episode, Kent and Michelle discuss the importance of balancing a tech career with personal life for overall well-being and introduce the Developer Health Operating System initiative.

In the podcast, Michelle Bakels, a seasoned software developer and the Program Director for Developer Health at G2i, joins Kent to explore the necessity of balancing a tech career with personal life to ensure overall well-being. Drawing on her experience with health challenges stemming from work stress, Michelle underscores the importance of the Developer Health Operating System initiative, which aims to promote healthier working habits in the tech world. They discuss the pitfalls of self-imposed stress, the need for effective resource management, and the role of communication in navigating the ever-evolving realm of software development, with a particular nod to the complexities of React. The session wraps up with a commitment to further discuss the crucial topic of developer health in future talks.

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Meet Michelle at Epic Web Conf.


Michelle Bakels
Michelle Bakels


Kent: Hello everybody, I'm super excited to be joined by Michelle, one of my good friends. Michelle, I'd like you to introduce yourself to folks, so they're super excited to meet you at Epic Webcom.

Michelle: Hi everyone, my name is Michelle Bakels. I'm a program director for developer health at G2I. And I'm super excited to speak at the conference about our work on developer health for the last two and a half years.

Kent: That is awesome. So I would like to dive in deeper into that. So, and actually before we dive into specifically what you're talking about and stuff, can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and you can talk about React Miami and the work that you're doing with that as well.

Michelle: Yes, I'm a software developer in South Florida. I do a lot of volunteering and community work in the tech scene locally down here and with entrepreneurs, startups. And I organize React Miami Conference, which is a React conference in Miami, of course, where we bring together people from all over the world to talk about React and have a great time in such a fun city.

Kent: Awesome, yeah, I am amazed at all of the things that you do for your community in Florida. I just think it's awesome. And it just occurred to me, actually, I had another one of these conversations with Mandy Hartman, who's gonna be speaking as well, and she is a second career dev. Her first career was in the art industry, which I think would be fun for you to talk with her about that. So for the folks listening, Michelle used to be in the art industry also. So pretty cool, small world, fun stuff to talk with people about. Awesome.

Michelle: Definitely looking forward to it.

Kent: Good, good. So let's talk a little bit about what you're doing at G2i and how that relates, of course, to your talk. So developer health, is that like, did you first get hired on at G2i to focus on that, or were you working at G2i and you said, hey, there's a need that we have here. make a role for myself there.

Michelle: It was a very serendipitous moment. So I met the founder of G2I, Gabe Greenberg, at a local tech meetup. He's had a lot of his own, he's had a very extensive health journey himself, where his ability to work and focus on his family and create a healthy life for himself felt very like a conflict and at odds with each other for a while. And so he worked through a lot personally, Florida, I was struggling with some kind of like unhealthy work environments or expectations or workloads as a software developer, ultimately leading to developing a heart condition that there's not really a cure for, you just kind of have to manage it. And it was kind of like a wake up call having a stress related injury or health issue basically.

Kent: Hmm

Michelle: So you know, Gabe and I, we meet at this happy hour. or we're talking about ourselves, sharing our stories. And we actually started working on React Miami together first. And I was after one of our meetings for React Miami that he was like, I really want G2I to become the first developer marketplace platform that prioritizes the health of our developers. And then I was hearing that as a burnt out developer. And I was like, do it, please, do

Kent: Yeah.

Michelle: it. And so I wasn't even planning to do it. I was like, work on this. all. But then a few months later I reached out to Gabe and I was like, hey are you still planning to do this? We had talked about me working on this and he was just really enthusiastic about it and for the next few weeks we shaped the role, created the role and integrated it into G2I.

Kent: Wow, that is, that's deep, a deep story. And pretty personal, so thank you for sharing that with us. I think that this is unfortunately something that a lot of developers experience, being overburdened or overstressed. I myself, just last week, when I announced this conference, I had a little mini panic attack, like nobody's gonna come, we're not gonna get any sponsorships, and like this is just gonna be awful. And... reputation is going to go down the drain. Like all of the things, even outside the conference too, there are other things going on. And just cause I did it to myself, cause I work for myself. So it wasn't my employer that was putting this pressure on me. But as developers, I think we just get ourselves into these situations sometimes as well that are just overburden us and overtaxes. So I think it's cool that G2I is investing in solving that problem.

Michelle: Yeah, definitely. No, I know. Things in our world are very exciting and they feel limitless and open and sometimes we can get ahead of ourselves, I think.

Kent: Yeah, it's one of those things where, like if we were all building houses, we would be limited by our resources to build the houses, like the lumber and all of that stuff. But as software developers, we are literally just limited by how much we can physically make ourselves do. Because

Michelle: Yeah.

Kent: you can build up the house and destroy it and build it up again, like every day, if you want to,

Michelle: Yeah, you can

Kent: metaphorically.

Michelle: build it in 16 different ways on 16 different days.

Kent: Yes, yes, exactly. So yeah, it's challenging. So you tweeted out or posted out, however we wanna say that these days,

Michelle: I'm sorry.

Kent: to the world that you had this talk idea. I saw that you had shared that, and so I reached out to you, because we're good friends. I know that you would commit yourself to making this a really good talk, and it is on a subject that I think is really important. So can you give us an idea of what you're planning on? talking about at the conference.

Michelle: Yeah, so it's going to definitely focus around a lot of the research and work that we've done at G2i for developer health. I think our main, the center of our Work in this area is this piece that we wrote called the Developer Health Operating System, which may change names soon, but it's an 80 page guide to a restful work style. Something that you can, you're happy, you work at a healthy pace, you have work-life balance, you have healthy boundaries. So there's a lot that this discusses have published shortly after the conference talk. And this talk that I'm going to give is going to review a lot of our theories or ideas. One of the major focuses is this idea of engineers as athletes. So we look at the highest performing people in the world. Like you think, what is the limit of human possibility? And a lot of times athletes come to mind. and then you look at their regimens and you break down what their daily activities are and yes they work out really hard, yes they're exceptional at what they do when they perform, but they also take a considerable amount of time to rest effectively and to rest well and they also take a lot of consideration in their diet. So there's a lot of work that they do to be the best in the world that doesn't have anything to do with their work.

Kent: Mmm.

Michelle: So it's kind of applying the same concept to us like are we sleeping? Are we sleeping well? Those are two different things. Are we making sure we go through all the sleep cycles for a good amount of time? And then like are we setting boundaries? So like if we're working when we're out of work, then when we go back to work We're tired. We're actually less productive and effective

Kent: Mmm.

Michelle: And so are we making time to? recover recuperate There's just a lot to it There's also really cool things like time budgeting and coming up with essentialism plans For being productive and helping to be focused because I know focus and attention can be a struggle as well So these are some tools that we've used ourselves that we found very effective that we're going to share So there's a lot and I can't wait to share it

Kent: Wow, yeah, I'm super stoked to see some of the research that you've done and the examples from outside of our industry. I think it is very informative or instructive for people to look outside the industry and relate to that, to what we're doing. So I'm really looking forward to some of those examples too. So Michelle, this has been awesome to chat with you and get to know you a little bit. I have one last main question here for you, and that is, when we're at the conference, I'm assuming that you would welcome people to come in and talk with you and ask you questions and stuff, right? So

Michelle: course.

Kent: what are the types of things that you're excited to talk with people about? What are you hoping that you can do or chat with people about during the conference?

Michelle: You know what I'm really excited about is communication. So I so am a React developer, and if you're on Twitter at all, then you'll know that there's a lot of discourse around new concepts or things that feel new or confusing or whatever. My hot take is that the problem isn't with a lot of these developments or the iterations that React is making so much as like how there's like communication. gaps and like different words mean different things to different people and software development is notorious for not naming things well and so I have

Kent: Hahaha

Michelle: like a lot I have like my own personal opinions about so this kind of like strife that we're in right now but it's all based around like communication not really around like technical concepts so if anybody wants to geek out with me on that I would love to dig into it

Kent: Awesome, yeah, sweet. I have some thoughts on it as well. So maybe I'll find you and we can chat about it for sure.

Michelle: Yes.

Kent: Very good. So Michelle, thank you again so much for giving us some of your time. And thank you so much for coming to the conference and sharing what you know with everybody. And yeah, looking forward to seeing you in Park City.

Michelle: Yeah, I can't wait. Thanks.

Kent: Bye everybody.

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