Aria Burrell
Aria Burrell Tech dork. Student of Policy and Gender at Mount Royal University. Genealogist. Non-compliant.

The Report of My Departure from Tech Was an Exaggeration

The Report of My Departure from Tech Was an Exaggeration

Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

Quippy title aside, it’s true that I burned out severely back in 2015 and left tech to spend some time on advocacy for trans rights. A short time later, I returned to post-secondary to pursue a degree in Policy Studies. This would be my second time in university, the first time having been 12 years earlier in pursuit of a Linguistics degree. I did not complete that program. Back then, my failure to complete the program was more a result of ADHD than anything; untreated, my executive function demanded nothing short of complete passion for my work in order to remain able to keep pursuing it. Once the passion faded, I’d move on to other things. Being medicated for ADHD helped with that to a large extent, allowing me to work harder and longer on the projects in front of me, to participate in more hobbies at once, and to retain more interests over a longer span of time. While far from the only factor, this directly contributed to my burnout.

When burnout finally hit me, it drove my passion into the ground. Decades of positive memories of working with technology and dear friends in the field were overturned as tech and software became associated in my mind with feelings of ineptitude, exhaustion, isolation, trauma, and loss. For years, I couldn’t bear the thought of a return to it. I redirected my focus into activism, studies, policy, and politics. Now, 3 years into my degree (I took a meandering path), facing an uphill financial battle should I attempt to continue my studies next year, I’m prompted to reflect deeply on how I’ve grown and whether my feelings and priorities remain the same. I’ve become quite passionate about my program of study, and am reluctant to once again risk failure at attaining a degree by taking too long away from it. I remind myself that, unlike the last time, it’s not the loss of passion that makes me seriously consider a departure. I’m unsure whether that makes it easier or harder.

On the subject of employment, time, as they say, is a great healer. Immediately after burning out, holding down any form of employment was a difficult proposition. In the years after, I started small with part-time peer support work at school, followed by a term as a full-time student executive. These positions helped me to rebuild my sense of worth and capability. I spent time after these roles working on enjoyable personal software development projects and have been slowly ramping up my interest again.

Burnout in tech is mentioned frequently, but few people talk about just how severely it can affect a person for so long. Taking stock today, I still hold vivid memories of the struggles associated with my last technical position, but it seems, at last, these memories no longer overwhelm my years of positive experiences in directing my feelings about the tech and software. I’m better able to rationally tether my negative feelings to my experience at that specific job at that specific time rather than the entirety of the field.

Coming to this realization has shifted my lens on the present. While I love my classes and I love my program, the wise decision for now is to return to work, to make new, positive memories in a field I once loved and was highly skilled in, and to recover my finances from years of study. It’s a bittersweet day: after four years away, I’m over the worst of tech burnout and excited to re-enter the industry, but saddened it likely means an extended departure from studies yet again.