Life Reliability Engineering

I have the feeling that we have an epidemic of stress, unhappiness and anxiety in the tech industry. It may be due to the working culture, perfectionism or simply because of toxic working environment. You could tell that from the suicide of Facebook employee a couple of weeks back, and Amazon employee in the last year. From time to time I would also experience such kind of tide in emotion in life. In order to tackle this I have developed my own kind of system to keep my mental health in control. And I didn’t find a good way to describe it by metaphor to explain it to another engineer until I am more familiar with the terminology of Site Reliability Engineering.

First, we have to identify catastrophic patterns to cause your system downtime. In life, it means you go depressed, and want to kill yourself, or simply lack of motivation to anything. One important observation is that the stuffs you might consider important are correlated to each other. The life could give you a straight of bloody Marry due to this. One bad thing could lead to the other. Even you are born in a middle-class family and have a good enough income, or slightly better in recent year as a software engineer. Your life could be easily destroyed. It doesn’t have to be financially, if you are depressed and committed suicide even you have billions in bank it is still a checkmate to your life. For example, it could be your marriage affects your work performance and get you fired, and you lose your income. Or it could also be your important partner is sick, it not only costs you a fortune to pay the medical bill if you are living in countries like U.S.A or Singapore, where medical bills are expensive comparing to the median incomes. And since you have financial burden, your significant partners could be tempted to abandon you since they would not like to be involved etc. In order to prevent the chain reaction, you have to manage your “components” to be more resilient against each other, and not be over-confident to have too many components in your life. For example: getting overly leverage financially on your housing but at the same time raising kids, after all raising kids and marriage are liabilities that is off balance sheet. And if you already have components you are reluctant to get rid off, make sure you have insurance covered in a proper way to reduce the over all risks, at least stopping the chain effect when it happens. The best, for sure, to have low liability.

Once you find a way to manage your portfolio of liability, a portfolio of “bomb shelters” or “chambers” where you could find peaceful time to recover is important. Over-stretching on a specific goal is dangerous since if that goal fails your mental health would be seriously damaged. For example, if you would like to climb the ladder of corporate or build a company. You have to go all out but make sure not to over stretch that could cause a total meltdown. If your goal fails, if you still have other goals like playing sports/games where you could find small achievement, that’s a hedge for your mental meltdown when you fail to build a company or climb the ladder. It’s a diversification of your goal, to make sure it’s unlikely that they correlate each other. If your secondary goal is to tied to your kids or partner, due to human minds are not stable. They might not care or understand your situation when you are down for those goals. It could be a shelter but not a reliable hedge. Having nice food is a good one since it’s unlikely that it would be affected by human factors, but having it too often it could hurt your lookings or physical health as well.

Other than the diversification, I find stoicism is also useful to me. Here is a video from Tim Ferriss.

I am not a fan of what’s been in American main stream culture on the alpha-male like of “Leadership.” Human are not infalable and actually quite easy to be broken. Overly stretching to the image of “confidence” and “overcome your poster syndrome by pretend it until you make it.” would easily make yourself vulnerable to a strike-back. I believe the Newton’s third law of motion applies here as well, if you stretch too much, you are exerting the same magnitude of force in the opposite in the same time.

These are the “tips” or “speculation” that I have in mind for years. It’s not a science or corollary that would be deemed as universal and could be applied any kind of extreme situation (for example, war time or you are put in concentration camp). But at least it kind of works for me in modern time living in big cities.