Long term paternity leave

It’s been five months since I last thought about work. My laptop is in its original packaging. My home office turned into a guest room and work goodies packed away. I’m currently taking a six month break from work since the arrival of Ariah.

Long parental leave is normal in some countries, but for a South African father, 10 Days is the maximum. The Lord has blessed me tremendously through Automattic. Their benefits are truly world class, specifically the generous paid time off. This is my fourth paternity leave period during the last 5 years. Through sheer privilege, I was able to be on paternity leave for 16 months all together.

Before tell you about the experience, I wanted to note the following. I’m not on standby. I don’t have to do any checkins. There are no work emergencies to take care of. I’ve handed over all my responsibilities to my team. Even after becoming a team lead, a great team mate (thank you David) stepped up to handle my responsibilities. That’s the way Automattic expects you to do it: when on leave, focus on your personal life, not your job. For the sake of communication, no news is good news.

So, how does it feel?

With our first two boys, Judah and Hosea, I had a lot of down time. Lauren breastfed exclusively which left me waiting on her call for assistance, but from Avah onwards, it felt like I was switching to another full time job. The more kids you have, the more valuable longer paternity leave becomes. With each new family member, everything becomes exponentially more complex.

The first few weeks was more about switching off from work and switching on to the reality of a new family member. I’ve already written about the challenging times we had with this pregnancy, but to add more context, with Ariah arriving early and then further complications with Lauren I was the full time carer for Judah, Hosea and Avah. I had a lot of help from my family as we moved back to my moms house during Lauren’s long hospital stay.

I’ve heard many people say “kids grow up too fast”. They all wish they had more time to spend with them. And this is the best benefit of paternity leave: a special time spent with your wife and kids. You get to take them to school, the park, outings and longer walks at the end of the day. You get to support your wife and entertain the new baby with your “googoo gaagaa” impressions.

Paternity leave is not a holiday. You don’t get to simply pick a destination and enjoy your time off. Having a baby is a serious responsibility and they limit your options quite a bit, especially in the first 3 Months. It is tempting to use the time for traveling and getting out, which we did, but during these outings we always realised that the best thing one can do is stay at home. The last few weeks felt more relaxing. We decided not to make any plans, avoiding the stress brought on by the desire to maximise time off.

Towards the end of paternity leave, your mind starts to wander back to work. How will you adjust? What must be put in place with the family to make the transition as smooth as possible? How will we cope with kids during late night meetings? What if I have to travel? The situation changes from being supportive to needing support. All these questions will be answered in the next few weeks, as we make the transition back to normality.

Normality

Whenever I’m away from work, I realise the great value it adds to life. It gives a sense of purpose, belonging and the feeling that you’re spending time on something more important than yourself. You’re in a team, part of the crew, rowing in the same direction.

Am I ready to work and take on the challenge of juggling more responsibilities? As I write this, I have little more than 3 weeks left. My mind is slowly making its way back to work. I’m about to setup my office again. I’ve started working on a side project just to see if I can still write some code. Planning to setup a few meetings before I return, just to get the feel for where I’m going to fit in again.

The past 6 months was life changing. I’ve grown as a father, man and a believer. I’ve realised how quickly things can change and how precious this life is that we all share.

Since the family is full, this is also my final paternity leave. Again, what a great privilege.

The team lead path

Being a team lead at Automattic is not a promotion, but it is very challenging and after doing it for the last year, I understand why.

During 2020, just before an intense hiring spree, I got the opportunity to lead a small team of 3 software engineers. Our primary responsibility was WooCommerce Payments (alongside 3 other teams). With payments being a business focus, we needed more engineers. And in what felt like no time, a 6 month onboarding rollercoaster season led to the team growing to 8 people!

My vague team management ideas did not serve me well. I hoped to figure things out as I went along and expected work to remain as is, with a few leadership tasks added. No big changes. I was very wrong. Two major areas changed: my schedule and work type.

As an individual contributor I had two standard meetings per week. One with the team and one with my manager. As a manager, I now have eight check-in’s (1on1 with each member of the team), the team meeting and the meeting with my director. Along with these there are also other meetings that I have to fit in the gaps.

The type of work also changed. I was no longer writing code, but rather, spending a lot of time in google docs, messaging and P2 (our replacement for email). I could still help out with code reviews and do minor code changes, but I really struggled to find uninterrupted time to think deeply about the technical problems. Along with this I had to get used to the constant context switching.

Automattic truly supports team leads. We all get access to one on one coaching with a professional external coach. The company runs remote training cohorts specifically for team leads and on top of this you have access to any learning resource that could help you become a better leader and manager.

Besides work there were also so many changes in my life. The Covid-19 pandemic, loss of loved ones and 2 new arrivals in our family, Ariah and Avah. On top of it all I also undertook completing my academic qualification. I’m not complaining here, but just wanted to highlight how there really wasn’t any time for extra hours of reading and learning about the new path.

While figuring everything ways to handle the new path, I began to discover how valuable an impactful team lead can be. I began to see small things that came about as a result of my championing. I realised how my impact on other team leads can move the organisation forward.

As a new team lead you try and throw things together, a mix of what you’ve seen others do and you try to avoid the bad things that you’ve experienced. This mix doesn’t really help as you constantly doubt yourself. I think this past year helped me to discover the type of lead I’d like to be and what I can work towards.

My grandfather used to say: “Time changes many things”. I feel like this new path challenges me to change into a better version of myself. The great thing about the team lead path at Automattic is that because it’s not a promotion, you can always switch back. Maybe the pendulum will swing back and I will become a better individual contributor or perhaps I’ll stick it out and be the best manager I can be.

Easter reminder: Jesus died for you

Thinking ahead about easter/passover weekend, I’m reflecting on the reasons for observing it. I consider this to be the perfect weekend to consider who Jesus is, why He was born and died in such a gruesome manner.

Back in 2016, I wrote about believing in a Creator, which came after a period of searching for answers to make sure that I’m not just blindly believing what I was taught growing up. Since then I also rediscovered a personal Jesus, and how He was God’s plan all along.

There isn’t much written about Jesus’ early days, but some of His first words in public were: “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. – Matt. 4 v 17. Repent, meaning to turn away, also implies that we turn toward something else. In my mind this is narrowed down to one thing: turning toward God. In every area of your life.

If we read the bible, we see throughout all the books that God truly hates sin, which is simply going against His design. In the Old testament, the only way for sins to be forgiven was through animal sacrifice, which was temporary and needed to be done every year. With the death of Jesus, God made the forgiveness permanent; it need not be repeated. The only way we can receive that forgiveness, is to believe in Jesus and as part of our faith, add the action of following Him every day through obeying His commands.

The bible promises us, that if we do this and receive forgiveness we avoid His wrath and receive His eternal blessings. A lot has been written about this. I am 100% convinced that we can choose between life and death. Life is with Jesus, forever, and death, well the bible doesn’t have anything nice to say about that.

Moving on to something that really triggered me a year ago: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” – Matthew 13 v 44 . If Jesus died a terrible death at the age of 33, in the prime of his life, so that I can avoid God’s wrath, why am I not excited to give my life up for Him?

That’s why I’m so happy to write this post. My life and everything I have belongs to Jesus. The bible talks about Him as Lord and Saviour. As Saviour; He was the perfect sacrifice for sin, as Lord; He owns everything.

This easter, consider Jesus, what He has done and what that means for your life. I’m not ashamed to talk about Jesus, and hope that one day, He won’t be ashamed of me, and invite me into His eternal kingdom.

Since 34

This blog has been idle for over a year! The last time I blogged was for my 34th birthday (January 2021). I’m disappointed in my lack of blogging, dropping a ball on becoming a better writer. So let us kick off with a quick update and some photos to match.

Our family has grown! We now have 4 beautiful little humans trying to rule our lives. Ariah Rhoda Maralack joined the gang after a very challenging pregnancy. She arrived at 34 weeks after Lauren was in hospital for 7 weeks leading up to it: read more on my Lauren’s blog. During this time I got to spend a lot of time on the road, driving between Paarl and Panorama Mediclinic, as well as many hours entertaining and looking after Judah, Hosea and Avah.

I became a team lead, or and engineering manager as we call it in the industry. I’m managing a team that spans 5+ timezones. Working with amazing folks from Brazil, Canada, Scotland, Wales, Spain and Turkey. This new role is not a promotion at Automattic, so you can switch back to working as developer as soon as you no longer enjoy it. I’m learning a lot from the challenge, but will share more about this role change in a separate post.

While adjusting to team lead responsibilities I’ve also taken on an academic course, finishing up a course I started 10 years ago: Advanced, Diploma in IT (or the new name Information Resource Management). I underestimated the impact the program would have, but, thank the Lord, I made it through. I finished this up and achieved something I always wanted, to get my qualification “with distinction” (cum laude). I also want to write more about my academic journey and what I learned here.

Finally, I also turned 35, and I’m grateful to my eternal Heavenly Father for blessing me with such a wonderful life. I was an average student and not one of the greatest minds. I don’t deserve what I have: A beautiful wife, strong and healthy children, a loving larger family and a comfortable home and the blessing of a great job. “Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favour to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.” (Ecclesiastics 9:11)

It’s been a busy year for us all. With all that’s behind me I’m grateful and excited. It’s wonderful to be alive and to have the opportunity to choose life everyday. As for writing. I hope to blog more often. I hope to avoid heavy filtering and unwanted colouring. Above that, I hope for my writing to be helpful. I hope to live fully.

Previously: 32, 33, 34

34

I am 34 years old! Today is a day for counting blessings and thinking about the great people in my life and most importantly the Lord’s goodness towards me and my family.

The highlights of the past year were celebrating Judah turning 3, Hosea turning 2, and that our beautiful daughter Avah was born. We also celebrated 9 years of marriage! We were fortunate to have been employed through the terrible COVID-19 pandemic and the bonus for me was that we realized how toxic negativity was and started to encourage one another to not think that way anymore.

I also stepped into a “management” role at work and have really been challenged to grow through the experience. I celebrate the team I’m on and the individuals I get to work with every day. It’s an adjustment to think of success through the lens of helping team members but it’s interesting and I look forward to learning more.

Besides our family and work, the last year was a great challenge. Lauren and I contracted covid and sadly lost Lauren’s father and my grandfather to the virus. All plans were thrown out and motivations were low.

In the next year, I hope to grow deeper relationships and be better at understanding others. I look forward to a year filled with positive thoughts and friends who uplift. I hope to spend many hours with family and have more fun.

If you’ve been reading while I was 33 wait till you see me at 34 🙂

Previously: 32, 33

Success with your support network

Lego inner cricle. A close nit lego family.

To succeed at remote work, we need to know what we need and how to communicate it.

I have three kids and the best kind of support from Lauren. Remote work would be impossible without her being a great friend, taking care of the kids when I’m having meetings and listening to all my silly ideas.

This post was a draft for a while and I’ve tried to make it as universal as possible, though, I realized that I could only share my viewpoint on the type of support one would need and so I’ll touch on practical and intangible support.

Practical support

My workday starts at 8am. I have a separate space where I can lock the door to stop the kids from running in. I’m not too fond of interruptions and any other task or requests while I’m working. I’m most productive in the morning and try to schedule my deep work between 8 and 12. Since I became team lead I have more meetings in the afternoon. I take a break every hour and regularly go outside to see my family.

To think about what you need to help you with, consider these questions:

  • What kind of space would you like to work in? Should your space be open and accessible to those around you?
  • What are your preferred work hours and when are you most productive?
  • What can others do to make your work easier and how can you return this favour?

After answering these questions or thinking about your own practical needs, consider the intangible needs that are equally important.

Intangible support

I need to talk about disappointments and let go of stressful situations. Similarly, I love speaking about the joyful work moments and having some quiet time to write and think fills me up. Reflecting on the positive things and practicing gratitude allows me to face life with a fresh perspective. There are days where it’s impossible to be entirely focused, where I am distracted by family responsibilities or life. You will face similar situations.

For the intangible support consider these questions:

  • Do you have good separation between work and life? Are you taking enough time off?
  • What makes you truly happy and how can you create a space for this in your life?
  • Do you take time to acknowledge and celebrate your successes, regardless of how small they are?

When we disconnect from work we need to return to space where we are loved, respected and cared for. In this environment we can more freely share how work affects us emotionally. Remote work situations differ a lot and we all have our own unique context, but despite the varying contexts taking your loved ones on the journey with you is crucial.


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TIL (Things 3) – Filter list by multiple tags

The ability to filter by multiple tags will elevate my prioritization process.

All Narfed Up

When viewing a list on all platforms (Mac, iPad, or iPhone), you can filter by more than one tag.

  • Mac: Press and hold Command (⌘), then click your desired tags.
  • iPhone: Filter by tag, select one tag, then return the same menu for the ability to check more tags.

The “Using Tags” support page by Cultured Code gave a handy example:

It’s useful […] if you want to see all your 🏷 Work to-dos that are also🏷 Important.

For Todoist, see “Filter for tasks by label“. As for Wunderlist, no joy.

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Remote work success

Remote worker, like a lamp in the darkness

The global pandemic induced a mass workplace migration. Many office inhabitants were thrown into the wild remote working paradise. The expected decrease in Covid-19 case numbers will see most people abandon the remote working paradise, but for some, the distributed work environment is here to stay. I’m writing this guide for those who will become permanent remote workers.

I have worked remotely for over 7 years and still find both glorious and challenging. Along with flexibility and control, remote work requires great discipline and support.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting on the pillars of remote work success. I’ll touch on inner circle support, time boundaries, self care and much more. If you are interested in learning more about remote work and other related topics please subscribe below.

This is the list of topics I’ll blog about in the coming weeks. I’ll update the titles with links to the posts as I publish them.

1 – Success with your support network

Update: After thinking through these topic, I realised that I don’t have much more to say beyond the titles. So here they are. Consider them and make sure you do some of these things.

2 – Time boundaries

3 – Find a dedicated space

4 Remove Distractions

5 – Structure every day

6 – Take great breaks.

7 – Get out and away for remote work success.

8 – Work hard on yourself .

9 – Look after yourself.

These topics are the pillars that have helped me over the years and I’m sure it will guide you in figuring out how to succeed in a remote working environment.

Howzit Podcast Appearance

It was a privilege for me to feature in episode 003 of a fantastic podcast called Howzit. The podcast episode touches on remote work, faith, writing, and personal development. I’m grateful to Travis for inviting me.

Links