Being a Dev Dad

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Walsh Men

I get asked loads of questions every day but I'm always surprised that they're rarely questions about code or even tech -- many of the questions I get are more about non-dev stuff like what my office is like, what software I use, and oftentimes how I preserve a work/life balance, especially with kids. I thought I'd share my story of initial frustration to the bliss of family life I experience today.

I can tell you this -- I started off being a "dev dad" all wrong.  The following is my story of becoming a dad, doing it wrong, getting it right, and some tips I would pass on to you.

My Circumstance

My wife and I were 29 years old when we decided to start a family.  We thought our conditions were ideal:  we had bought a condo, we'd enjoyed a few years of marriage on our own, I had job security and excellent insurance at Mozilla, I was working remotely, money in the bank, and our parents were nearby to help.  There were no surprises, we stuck to our plan, and everything went well.  The pregnancy went well and one week after the due date we welcomed our first child, a boy, to the world.  We were incredibly happy!

I Started Off All Wrong

From a work/life balance perspective, I did just about everything wrong after our child was born.  My wife had to return to work six weeks after the baby was born, leaving me to "babysit" (I know, I'll get to this term in a minute) our boy from 3-8pm.  This caused frustration for me as I'd been working mostly 9-5pm, despite being remote, throughout my career.   I had always considered an honest work day as at least eight hours.  I could attempt to get up early so I could have eight hours in by 3pm but the baby wasn't sleeping at night so I had to take the sleep I could get.  So I did probably the worst possible -- I tried working and keeping track of the baby at the same time.

Double duty for even just a few hours didn't work.  I was making mistakes in my code, I was getting frustrated with both work and the baby, and as ashamed as I am to admit it, a few times I yelled at the baby "WHAT DO YOU NEED?!"  I'll never forgive myself for the times I got so frustrated with the baby.  What he needed was his dad.  Changes were needed.

How I Pulled it Together

It took a life-changing talk with my manager, Luke Crouch, to gain the perspective I needed.  I shared with him the balancing act I was trying to pull and he so gracefully said to me "Dude, what the fuck are you doing?"  I needed that bluntness to really "get it" -- my priorities were well out of place and I wasn't even trying to create a good work/life balance because work had been my life.  A few of the points we worked out during the hour-long meeting:

  • Work should not be measured by time; work should be measured by impact
  • When 3pm comes, it's time for me to be done
  • I'd been producing more than enough in six hours
  • Mozilla is a very family friendly organization and I should not be afraid to take advantage of that

This conversation, and the smaller conversations that happened in the following weeks, changed everything for me.  My perspective, however, was instantly changed.  I started closing my laptop when my wife left and I spent that last half hour of the day communicating with my teammates about where I was leaving off.  No one resented me for leaving early and I didn't feel like I was letting people down.  A massive burden had been lifted off my shoulders.

Another perspective change came when my wife took issue with me using the word "babysit" when it came to my kid and she was right to; I wasn't "babysitting", I was "spending time with" my new son.  That mindset should have been obvious but I don't know if I was in some sort of life change denial or if I expected something different.

I recognized these changes were needed instantly.  I wont say that the mindset changes came easy, they took a lot of time to execute, but within a few months we were all happier and more content.  The keyword, both for work and home life, was "impact" -- I needed to concentrate more on making an impact in both sides of life.

Where I am Today

Walsh Men

Today I have two handsome boys, aged three years and the other six months, and I'm incredibly happy.  My wife (who is an incredible mother, I must add) isn't working at the moment and my oldest child goes to Montessori school for a half day but I've not forgotten the lessons learned during the early days.  I'll sometimes break to pick up my three year old from school or hang out with my youngest while my wife grabs the older child from school.  I'll take time off to chill with my kids without feeling guilty about missing work. I'm so proud of my boys and I love them more than anything.  I've learned so much about life and balance in the past three years!

Lessons Learned (Tips)

Some advice for those becoming a dev parent or for those who already are:

  • Measure your value at work by impact, not time.  If you can move a mountain in two hours, don't expect to move four in eight.
  • Easier said than done but find a family-friendly organization to work for.  There's a chance you take a step down in status or pay but having a good work/life balance is more valuable than both.
  • Communication is key -- let your colleagues know what you did and what you plan on doing.  Colleagues and managers usually only get upset when they don't know what progress you've made.
  • Be honest with yourself, your partner, and your manager.  Everyone is far more accepting of your circumstances than you'd think!
  • Learn to shut off when it's time to leave work.  It's very difficult at first but there's a little person that needs you much more than your employer does.

These are simply my circumstances, my experience, and my advice.  We all have a different circumstance so I'd love for you to share your experience and advice.  Know that we all struggle with creating a good work/life balance -- I'd imagine many of the young developers in Silicon Valley are finding this out year on year.  Please share your story and do what you need to be happy!

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Discussion

  1. Despite your technical skills and ability to teach them, this post and
    your article on impostor syndrome are the ones I’ve enjoyed most. Thank you.
    Combined with Developing as an old bugger,
    I’m given heart. I look forward to your insights as you get to my age!!

  2. It looks challenging and after reading this I found I am not the only one who is struggling in balancing work and life. Thank you for sharing your life experiences and valuable tips.

  3. This is the kind of work balance I’m tending too as a freelance. The problem here in Italy is that even if you’re a freelance and there are specific laws about it, companies still treat you as a “normal” employee, so that you must be physically at the office. Another problem is that they are not used to measure your impact, because whatsapp really matters is the time you spend at the office. So my typical day is leaving home at 6.30 am and coming back at 8 pm. Oh, I have two wonderful boys, 3 and 9 years old.

  4. Dude…..thanks for sharing.. I am in the same boat minus the kids…

  5. Thank you for sharing your perspective. It resonated with me very deeply actually. I’m the father of 2 sons (3yo and 10mo). I also am a remote employee (for a small company) and feel that “9-5” pull. I’ve for sure yell “what do you want?” at a kid…and it sucks to reflect on that.

    I feel like the tipping point of seeing changes (still working through some, it’s never ending) was when I could have an open dialog with my wife about my working habits and moods when I had to take off the dev hat and wear the dad hat.

    Cheers!

  6. Nice to be reminded that developers (and impactful ones at that!) need not curtail the choices that lead to deeper meanings in life.

  7. Bruno

    Thanks for sharing your history.
    Great advices and all the best for you and your family =)

  8. Han

    “Measure your value at work by impact, not time” – David Walsh

    I love to see that quote on a Startupvitamins poster ;) Great story man! Keep up the good work!

  9. Armando Padilla

    As a developer that loved to hack away at the wee hours of the night to, now a father of 2, the tips at the end are a must. To add to it, or possibly augment #1, set small tangible goals for the day. And, make time for yourself. Both of these has made a great deal difference for me and how I try to balance it all.

  10. I, too, am guilty of working way too much, while I know I need to be giving more attention to the wife, son, 2 year old daughter, and the rest of my family that wants to see me more often.

    Unfortunately, I don’t feel that I have a choice. I am a studying developer, and have been since December 17th. (199 consecutive days as of today.) I am here at this desk for 36-48 hours, then I sleep for 4-8 hours, and repeat. I don’t go out to eat, watch tv, or play on Facebook.

    I feel bound to this study because until I learn enough and gain employment, my wife and kids don’t get meals nor experiences or enjoyment out of life.

    I feel that if I take a break then I am putting off their wants and needs, and regardless of whether it is what they want or need right now, I know that the result of my efforts will allow their desires and needs to be completely covered when this is all over.

    I can only hope that time comes soon.

    • “There’s a chance you take a step down in status or pay but having a good work/life balance is more valuable than both.”

      I’ve turned down several offers and opportunities–sometimes with 1.5-1.8x my current salary to keep working at a family friendly org.

      And Colton, I think it’s great that you’re working hard, but also try to spend some time away from your computer and studies, too. You won’t burn out, and taking break may just help you with your studies too!

  11. Hi Dave, It is actually consoling to hear that celebrity devs like you (if I may call you that) have gone through the same thing that I think I was the only one going through :) At the same time your post is very encouraging. All it takes to balance and realize the satisfaction in your job is a good manager and a good team. Am glad you are bestowed with that.

  12. Simon

    Hey David, this one is honestly the best blog article i ever read on a tech blog.
    I feel you and i’m very happy how you managed your life.
    i’m a self employed dev with triplets (three 6yrs old girls) and sometimes it was hard as fuck to do the balancing act between parentship and work. too often i worked all they till the kids came home and started work again when they went to bed. Your Tips in the article should be printed and handed out to all dev-dads, managers, bosses and so on (and even to those colleagues that can’t understand why a work day may differs for parents).

  13. This is one very good and really important post, David. I’ve been in this situation over and over but all I had to do was try over and over to bring back my life on track. For me, having a routine really helps. It sets the right expectations and helps me deliver the maximum. I’ve been having trouble with the shutting off part though. You see, I”m trying to move companies now and things are way too competitive

  14. This post is awesome David! I am a 28 year old developer at a marketing agency and have a baby girl due in December. Thanks for the reminder on what is *really* important!

  15. This article resonates strongly with me, I’ve been through a very similar transition. I have a 3 year old son and 4 month daughter and work from home.

    I also try to be interruptible as often as possible. When my son comes into the office I want to be able to drop what I’m doing for a time to give him 100% attention. I’ve never regretted a single time I did that, we’ve had special moments that I know I would have missed out on if I told him I was too busy, and I don’t want my kids to grow up thinking that they are a nuisance or that I am too busy for what’s going on in their lives.

  16. This post is awesome! Although I wish I had read it about 4 months ago. I worked 100% remote for a very family-friendly company, and my wife and I had recently had out 3rd son. I love my wife and boys like crazy and never hesitated to step away from work to help them in any way that I could. On the work-side, I felt like I was a crappy employee, because I would only really put in like 5 hrs a day of solid work. It ate at me and kept me up at night, and also affected my marriage and stuff because I felt like an awesome dad, but crappy employee- and I was kind of depressed about it. I felt like a thief collecting my paycheck for my 5 hrs per day and, unfortunately, left that awesome company to take an office (non-remote) job at a company that is not family friendly. I never thought to measure my success as an employee by my “impact” as this article states. For all of you working at family-friendly companies, value your jobs!!

  17. Thank you Dave for sharing your inspirational story with us. I think almost all freelancers are passing through the same transition you have went. But, your own story is different. Apart from being a hardworking guy, you’re also a caring daddy and a loving husband to your wife. Keep doing ya best Bruv.

  18. Karthik

    Really loved this post. You have voiced what many dev dads go thru and gave specific tips to handle it. Great service to tech community.. hats off!

  19. Marv Luse

    Pardon me if I chuckle, David. I would counsel you to refrain from offering advice on life until you’ve lived a bit, and experienced a bit. As Shakespeare had Hamlet note, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Or, to put it in a more current dialect, “you have no fucking clue.” Your articles on development are excellent, stick to those.

    • Potch

      Your silence is excellent, Marv. Stick to that.

    • Dave

      Who are you? Go piss else where. Do you feel better about yourself now that you’ve tried to put someone down? Are you a big man now? You’ve got more experience to share do you? You’re qualified to judge and belittle other people? World needs more people like David and less people like you.

    • Josiah Strong

      Pardon me if the whole world chuckles at you Marv. “You have no fucking clue” is such a 15-year-old boys reaction, and we can therefore assess that you are obviously not a parent and/or have zero family values. What you fail to realize, and probably because it is you who is lacking in experience, is that when you are a father and you work from home you are basically performing a delicate and fragile juggling act every single day with your work and home responsibilities. When you are home you never stop being a dad, a life lesson for you my friend for whenever your voice stops cracking and your acne clears up. Keep practicing html and you’ll get there one day bro.

      Dave’s advice on this topic is FANTASTIC. Clearly, if you actually read the comments you would discover that every single reader appreciated this post with the exception of you my friend. You are an amoeba. Keep practicing html and you’ll get there one day bro.

  20. Dragan Filipovic

    Learn to shut off when it’s time to leave work.

    My biggest issue which I didn’t manage to solve yet.

  21. Thanks for sharing!

    Our kids are 9 and 10, and since life doesn’t com with a manual these kind of sharing of what works for each is important.

    Mozilla: kudos!

  22. David, thank you for writing this. I’m a work-from-home freelance front-end dev, and I have three boys (7, 4, and 18 months), with a 4th on the way. Oh, and they’re home-schooled :) Figuring out how to fill both roles well has been the single hardest part of my professional (and sometimes personal) life. Everyone else in my circle of friends who has kids works your typical office job, so it’s been hard for me to relate with anyone else about the position I’m in, and reading this post has been an incredible breath of fresh air. Ignore the haters, there is so much room for this kind of discussion in our line of work. Thank you.

  23. Anon

    I’ve never been able to figure out how to honestly and objectively evaluate my contribution at work — especially at remote, and more flexible jobs. The main problem for me was second-guessing myself when I knew the best (most productive overall) decision was to stop for the day, because it was also the easiest option.

    I ended up thinking the root of the problem was in the fundamental nature of the employer-employee relationship, how both parties ultimately have to hide some of their cards to avoid being taken advantage of, or even just to avoid putting the other party in an awkward position (should you tell your boss if you think you might want to quit soon, but the feeling could also just pass, thereby giving them a choice to make between letting you go immediately or gambling on keeping you on?).

    This would all lead me down the road of fully laying out the relationship and what each side was in it for, in order to figure out the best course of action for both sides, so for me it came down to the fact that this is never really fully out in the open, and would be too awkward to get into (it’s a bit of a taboo topic in society in general, let alone in the actual workplace).

  24. Nice perspectives. I have to manage the same issues as you describe and it is nice to hear what others have gone through.

  25. Jacob Alvarez

    I think the best way to manage work/life balance when it comes to the children aspect, is to have only one spouse working. It’s just too stressful and not worth it to both be working, leaving the children in someone else’s care and not having enough time to do things around the house and rest.

    I understand this isn’t the norm these days, and it’s hard to do with so many expenses and probably not a lot of income. But I believe your family is your primary responsibility. Just look at your budget and see where you can cut back. I doubt we need all the nice things we pay for. I don’t want to look back 20+ years from now and realize we didn’t raise our children right, didn’t spend enough time with them, and can’t get that time back.

  26. mike

    my daughter, 7 years, 2nd year in school starts to develop a certain new approach to the power of coding:
    >>Hey dad. could you print me a cat? <<
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