the near- and medium-term future of a quiet misdreavus

Here’s another post where i’ll start with the short version: Next month, i will be starting a position at Apple, and cutting back how much i code outside of work hours. There’s a short answer for how these statements are related - the broad reach and corporate policies of Apple make it cumbersome to publish or contribute to open-source software - but i also want to look at the situation in a different light.

To bring all this into context, i want to reprise some things i’ve talked about a few times before: The arc of my contributions to the Rust community, my process of transitioning my gender expression, burnout, and the world of open-source as i’ve experienced it. I want to pull all of these things together to create my personal conclusion to how i want to interact with online spaces in the near- to medium-term.

Five years ago, i was starting to shift how i portrayed myself on the internet. I’d been using the same moniker for over a decade, and after setting up a sort of “public alt account” on Twitter, i realized i could sketch out something different. This change led me to the “quiet misdreavus” alias, and eventually started me on the path to changing the basics of how i expressed myself.

I include this anecdote here because i feel like it was basically the beginning of my “transition”, so to speak, and a lot of what i did in service to it helped create the conditions behind this announcement. I never really felt comfortable talking to people in-person about gender things, so a lot of that research and discussion happened over the internet, with people i’ve still never met face-to-face. These kinds of thought processes in my head would generally happen “in the background” while i was doing other things in my life, but wouldn’t really get spoken aloud to anyone. I imagine this is a situation that happens for many trans people at some point.

Four years ago, i moved from my hometown to a much larger city to start a new job. Having been separated from a lot of my social ties back home, i found myself with some extra time on my hands and in want of a new community. This was the situation i found myself in when i started learning Rust in earnest.

My initial work in the Rust community sat in this backdrop of “looking for a community” as well as a sort of “looking for myself”. I enjoyed using a purely-virtual space to “hide behind an opaque alias”, so to speak. It allowed me to continue experimenting with my persona and use it to create a body of work unlike anything i had done beforehand.

Three years ago, i was starting to get recognized more in the Rust contributor community. I had made a few updates to the documentation tooling, and over time i found i enjoyed it a lot. I eventually put away my learning project and started finding more ways to make the docs tooling nicer. The broader developer tooling landscape in Rust was growing by leaps and bounds at that point, and when the former Tools Team was restructured into the current Dev-Tools Team, i was asked to join as a “peer” to help maintain rustdoc officially.

It was in this context that i went to my first RustConf in 2017 and met many fantastic people, several of which i still call my friends. The talks were engaging and informative, and that night i got to eat dinner with a handful of people i had only seen as GitHub and IRC usernames, feeling starstruck as i realized i was just casually hanging out with this group of people i really respected. After dinner, we joined a large group of conference-goers that had congregated in a nearby restaurant bar, and i got to meet and hang out with so many more wonderful people. It was one of the best experiences of my life.

It’s lucky that the environment i was “creating this persona” within was so aware and understanding of transness that i didn’t even need to be coy about wanting to figure myself out. It was refreshing to be honest about being someone different back home and owning up to the journey i was on. In the Rust contributor community, and i imagine in the open-source world more broadly, there’s an understanding that much of the work being done is happening on a volunteer basis. This creates a situation where you need to meet people “as they are”, whether by openly acknowledging time commitments or being understanding of people’s diverse backgrounds. I feel like this combined with Rust’s early community of openness, fueled by a shared understanding of its Code of Conduct, to create this welcoming situation.

Two years ago, as i kept balancing work and Rust, i started to realize the extent of my own notoriety. Earlier in the year, as the Call for Proposals for RustConf 2018 launched, i launched a soft proposal to the internet. The response i got convinced me to create a proper proposal, and in the end i got to give a talk that year! With how much i enjoyed RustConf the previous year, i was really looking forward to going again and catching up with all the people i’d met both in 2017 and since then.

2018 was also a year where the tension of this “double life” split between my “old life” in-person and my “new persona” online escalated dramatically. At the beginning of the year, i got to visit Berlin for the first time for the Rust All-Hands contributor work week. At the same time, i felt like i was battling with my day job to properly convert from contract to full-time; there was some back-and-forth about the team itself liking my work and wanting to keep me around, but the overall company budget being unclear about supporting another full employee. (Literally the same week of the All-Hands was when i was finally fully hired! I wound up having to extend my contract an extra week so that i would be “continuously employed” when i formally started as a full-timer.) It felt difficult to balance the interesting and rewarding work i was doing in the Rust world with the reality of the completely different (but no less interesting or rewarding!) work i was doing to sustain my existence.

As this dichotomy of my “double life” became more and more stark, i had to ultimately keep a running dossier of who i had told about what details of which thing i was doing. The more frequent travel i was doing for Rust meant i had to talk to my managers at work to let them know i would be out of town, but i also had to catch myself from saying so much that they would start investigating Rust and figuring out what i was doing. At the same time, i was nervous about seriously pursuing anything about transition, because i couldn’t be sure who would be accepting and who would want to stop associating with me due to various prejudices about trans people.

By one year ago, i was thoroughly burned out. I had stuck myself feeling “obligated” for so much that i couldn’t keep up with any of it any more. In a last-ditch effort to renew my interest in programming, i followed my partner’s advice to apply for the Recurse Center. My hope was that by cutting out one source of obligation (my day job), i could focus on a different one and be able to reclaim some of my interest for programming. So, just over a year ago, we packed up my apartment into a storage unit, and relocated from Texas to New York for a few months to search for a better life.

To be sure, RC was a really great experience! It’s wonderful to be surrounded by so many people who are each learning or working on their own thing, in an environment deliberately designed for collaboration. The complete change in scenery also added a sense of novelty - it was my first time in NYC, and it was quite different compared to the sprawled-out cities i was used to. Ultimately, however, it took much more than quitting my job and living somewhere completely different to get better. My time in New York was undercut by my burnout and its resulting depression; i couldn’t bring myself to get out of bed many days, much less do the sightseeing my family fervently suggested.

Relevant to previous threads in this post, and mentioned in the “home: unknown” post linked above, was that RC was also the first time i was fully able to shed my “old life” and live fully in my “new persona”. It didn’t happen all at once - i had done almost nothing to change my appearance before arriving in New York, for example - but for the first time, i felt like i could fully reintegrate my identity, thanks in part to that complete change in scenery.

Half a year ago, i made the hard decision to leave the Rust contributor community. It felt really hard to let go of the community that had helped me create a new self and a body of work i’m truly proud of. In the end, though, it was still strongly associated with that sense of “obligation” that i couldn’t shake or overcome. Even though i was looking forward to using this newfound “hiatus” to work on the things i couldn’t make time for beforehand, it would all be for nothing if i couldn’t work up the energy to do it now that i had the time.

Finally relieved of all my past stressors - with no more commitments to a day job or to an open-source organization, and with my “double life” finally reconciled - i could start recovering. It took a full month after that announcement before i could start coding for myself again, and six months before i felt fully willing to look for another job. I’m immensely grateful to my partner for putting up with me for this time! The burnout had scorched away the fun from a lot of the things i enjoyed, and i had to gradually reclaim each of them.

A month and a half ago, i went to Twitter and announced that i was looking for work. After a few fits and starts over the last year of feeling like i “should” get back to work even though i still dreaded it, i finally felt like i could be interested in working again. It wasn’t the first time i had tried to leverage Twitter to find work, but this time felt noticeably different than before, as i felt a genuine interest in some of the responses i received. I think it also helped that this time i wrote up a sort of “informal CV” with a more thorough technical background that couldn’t fit in one or two tweets.

This time seemed to pay off too, since a manager in Apple’s Developer Publications organization contacted me and said that my experience with documentation tooling and compiler internals perfectly matched an opening he had on his team. To be honest, i was initially unsure about it for a few reasons:

Ultimately, he allayed my concerns long enough to get me to talk with him and his manager. Over the course of those conversations and the set of more formal interviews that followed, i felt a strong connection with everyone thanks to a shared love of developer education. It turns out the feeling was mutual, because they liked me enough to extend an offer! As i spoiled at the beginning of the post, i accepted it. I don’t even need to leave Denver!

A week ago, as all the pieces fell into place, and as i learned more about Apple’s policies toward personal-time open-source work, i had to grapple with this dichotomy of gaining so much from free time spent working and being unable to continue it further. I owe a lot to the Rust community. It created an environment where i could not only pursue work that genuinely interested me, but also to pursue a version of myself that i could be genuinely happy with. The work i’ve done for the Rust community literally landed me a job at a major, well-known company. It also cost me a lot; i had to spend a year recovering from the situation i left myself in before i could properly leverage that experience.

In the end, i decided that it was ultimately for the best that i stopped committing myself to volunteer work i couldn’t hold indefinitely. The flip-side of the volunteer nature of most open-source work is that it’s hard to balance it with taking care of yourself. It was doubly hard for me because not only was i invested in the work, it was also a rare opportunity to be myself. Unfortunately, that meant “burning the candle at both ends” for a while, and rebuilding my life when it caught up to me.

For now, i want to try to reconnect with the things i lost when i was focusing all my energy on code, or when burnout scorched my ability to enjoy my hobbies. I want take care of myself for a while, and try not to pile on more “obligations” than i can ultimately handle. I apologize for filling a “job announcement” post with a couple thousand words about burnout, but it’s been on my mind a lot for a while. To all the friends i made along the way: I’m really grateful for your time and compassion over the years. Thank you for all the good times and great opportunities, and for being accepting of someone who had to hide behind an alias for a while.