RETROSPECTIVE

We’re now beyond a whole year of dealing with a global pandemic and I’ve written a few posts about 2020 but I’d like to write at least one more. This one is about what the pandemic was like for me between mid-March to about November of 2020.

I won’t make you read the entire post before coming to a conclusion, I’ll give you the executive summary up front. Simply put, compared to most people, I had it easy for most of the grand pandemic year of 2020. I am not writing this to gloat or to show off. I am writing this a fair and honest record what I went through. It’s useful for me to write this down so that years later (if we all get through this), I don’t have some overinflated view of how harsh I had it.

It would be helpful if you read this post about my working situation for first ten months of 2020. It provides some context. You might be wondering what I’m adding here that wasn’t in that post. Well, in this post, I’ll tell you what my workdays looked like during the pandemic with my old team. I think my situation was unique and I’ll say upfront that I was very lucky. Feel free to contrast it with your own work from home situation.

By the time we all transitioned to working from home in mid-March of 2020, my manager and my engineering lead knew I was not enjoying my time working on FIFA. Now either by luck or most likely design, I got assigned really simple and less complex tasks. This was probably the smartest thing my manager and engineering lead did for me. They didn’t give the guy who didn’t want to be there the most important and difficult engineering tasks.

My normal weekday quickly transitioned into something that looked like this. I’d wake up around 9:50am so that I’d be ready for my 10am Zoom stand-up meeting. I didn’t use my camera, so I didn’t need to change clothes or look presentable. I’d roll out of bed, turn on my computer, log into my work computer, and be ready for the Zoom meeting. Nearly all my work was done in isolation from others, so I’d just zone out while my other co-workers spoke. When it was my turn to update the team, I’d speak for less than a minute. For a majority of my 2020 work days, that would be the only time I communicated with my co-workers. There were many days where I didn’t have an e-mail or Slack message that I needed to respond to.

After the Zoom meeting ended, I’d wash my face and brush my teeth. I’d then go make some breakfast. There wasn’t a hurry to make a fast breakfast either. I had lots of time. Back then, in the early days, I making it simple, just a heated blueberry muffin some margarine on it.

Since I had lots of time to spare, I’d sit at my dining room table with my laptop (which was not logged into my work computer) and eat my muffin while reading and watching the news. You have to remember this was in the very early days of the pandemic. Everything was so new and it seemed like if you didn’t watch the news, you’d miss some lifesaving bit of info. Remember the guy on YouTube who showed you how to wash your groceries?

There was so much news, much of it so bad that I couldn’t stop reading or watching. I think a lot of us have grown weary of it now but back then, everything about the pandemic was so new and novel, it was impossible to turn away.

On most work days, I’d finish my muffin, make a coffee and just consume the news until lunch time rolled around. Somewhere between 12pm and 1pm, I’d make some lunch. I remember one of my first pandemic lunches involved making hot dogs, something I hadn’t made myself in years. Whatever I concocted, I had lots of time to make it and I was never in a rush.

While eating lunch, I usually turned from the news to lighter entertainment. I’d watch YouTube videos that were filmed before the pandemic, for example. I’d look at Facebook, answer personal e-mails and IMs.

Afternoons were a bit of a free-for-all. Sometimes I’d nap if I felt tired. Sometimes, I’d check in with my parents and/or friends. I also reserved early afternoons for grocery runs. Back then, I was stocking up enough to last me a whole week without needing groceries. This was when I’d go a whole week without leaving my apartment. Remember when we were so paranoid about even going to the supermarket? I figured that weekday afternoons, after lunch would be the least busy time to get my groceries downstairs. I’d go downstairs to shop around 1:30pm or 2pm. Everyone was so skittish back then, so I shopped quickly, basically power walking through the aisles. I’d be back in my apartment in less than thirty minutes usually.

So you must be wondering where in the workday I did any actual work. Yes, of course, I did some work occasionally. It really varied day to day but in the late afternoons, I did anywhere between thirty minutes to perhaps three hours of work. I also want to make it clear, I always made sure I answered any direct e-mails to me immediately, as with Slack messages. I never let any of those things slide because it would have looked bad.

Now you might be wondering what were the ramifications of working so little during the day. I will tell you truthfully that I never missed a deadline and my work output was sufficient to keep my team on schedule. That is to say, I never caused us to be behind schedule.

I usually ended the workday anytime between 4pm and 5pm. I don’t think I ever worked past 5pm in about ten months of working from home. If I stopped around 4pm, I made sure not to log off my work computer but I was elsewhere in my apartment after that.

As you can tell, I had most of the day to have the freedom to do whatever I wanted. My work schedule and work load wasn’t very stressful at all.

My workdays evolved sometime around the end of April for two reasons. First, the project moved from building game features to bug fixing. Now, if you can believe it, when my team transitioned to bug fixing, I had even less to do. This was partly by luck and partly by design again. My part of the game was mostly bug-free. I worked with really good engineers and their code was rock solid. We just didn’t have a lot to fix. My manager and my lead also made sure I didn’t get a lot of bugs assigned to me. What few bugs I got were simple to fix and didn’t require a lot of code changes.

The second reason my work day evolved was that the weather got warmer. We were now into the early spring of the pandemic. I’ll get to why that was important shortly.

So at this stage of the project, I’d wake up and have maybe zero to perhaps two bugs to fix on any given day. That wasn’t a lot of work at all, less than before. Also, there was never any pressure to fix these bugs within a day, so I could leisurely work on them on my own pace. Another fortuitous thing for me was that a majority of my bugs were already fixed by someone else or they needed to be assigned to another group to be fixed. So imagine this, I’m looking at this bug and I realize it’s already been fixed or it needs to be assigned elsewhere. In both cases, I don’t have to work on this bug because there’s nothing for me to do. I have the whole rest of the day to do whatever I want.

With my reduced workload and the warmer weather, I began going out on walks, either at lunch time or in the afternoons. By this time, pandemic guidance had evolved to letting the public know that spending time outdoors, socially distanced was safe. So I got outside to get some fresh air. The first two months or so of the pandemic were difficult, staying inside for a whole week at a time was crazy.

My lunchtime walks eventually settled into a routine where I’d leave around 12pm and I was free to wander for however long I wanted to. Sometimes I’d eat lunch before going. Sometimes I’d grab takeout lunch while on my walk. One of my favourite spots was at the waterfront concession stand at the public park. I’d grab a burger or hot dog and sit near the water and eat.

I could walk and wander as long and as far as I wanted to. Sometimes I’d go to Walmart, hoping it would be less busy there to get supplies. It was just nice to be outside and in the sun. In general, my walks would last anywhere between an hour and a half to about two hours. During the really sunny months, my afternoon walks allowed me to get a real nice tan. I even bought a new pair of awesome Oakley sunglasses (not the douche models) because I was outside so often.

During these spring and then summer months, it even shocked me how little work was required of me. There were many days where I had nothing to do, at all. I would be hard pressed to even find five minutes of work for me to do. Our daily ten minute Zoom stand-up meeting got cancelled eventually and we just updated everyone using daily Slack threads. The one thing I actually had to be awake and present at was now gone. At this point, you might be wondering what I’d say during these Zoom meetings or write in Slack for my updates, especially on those days where I literally had nothing to do. I would just say that I was “working on bugs”. On some days, that was very truthful, on other days, it did stretch the truth a bit. In any case, no one questioned me further about that. In fact, on most days, I didn’t need to communicate with any of my co-workers in any fashion.

I’m embarrassed to even write this but I began feeling as best as one could during a global pandemic as spring moved into summer. Yes, I was of course still worried about my friends and family, but having no stress about work, almost no work to do, and having so much free time during the weekdays put me in a really good spot, both mentally and physically. Again, with the huge caveats in mind, all things considered, I will always look back on the spring and summer of 2020 with relatively positive thoughts. I know that reading that might be infuriating to some people because of massive hardships they’ve had to endure in comparison. I am not without perspective, I know I was lucky.

It didn’t dawn on me how great I had it until, much later, many months in, almost near the autumn of 2020. This is how I knew. Do you know how most people love Fridays? Why is that? It’s because Friday means the weekend is here and the weekend means everyone doesn’t have to work and we can all take a well-deserved break. Somewhere in the spring of 2020, I stopped loving the arrival of Fridays. Fridays meant nothing to me. Weekends lost their special meaning. Weekends were normally to be cherished because you didn’t have to work but now I barely did any work during the week, so weekends also meant nothing to me. Similarly, Sunday nights didn’t phase me anymore. While others dreaded the start of a new work week, I was quite indifferent to it all.

If you’re wondering what my evenings were like, I guess they weren’t all that different than other people’s. Perhaps one difference would be that some might use the evenings to relieve stress, whereas I had almost no stress to worry about. One more thing might be that others would use the evening to catch up on their Internet reading and watching, whereas I’d already consumed all my personal Internet during the day.

Since I didn’t have to get up until around 10am each workday, I’d usually go to bed around 2am every night. As I remain a night owl, this was great because I could stay up late every weeknight and still get about eight hours of sleep each night.

So another thing you might be questioning is whether or not I did anything productive from a personal standpoint, given all the massive amounts of free time I had. I am happy to say, yes I did. Starting in the spring, I began reading books on computer programming and software engineering. I think I read about three books in total, reading them quite thoroughly. I became much more knowledgeable about modern day C++, specifically with C++14 and C++17. I also brushed up on design patterns, which I had not really studied in detailed back in my school days. Without a doubt, I became a much better software engineer since the pandemic began.

Overall, I have very little to complain about the seven months or so that I lived this type of life. I was well-rested and had minimal stress (for someone living in a global pandemic with older parents). I was essentially paid to stay at home and do nothing for over a half a year. It felt like I found this unique pocket of shelter in a storm of chaos, fear, and uncertainty, that allowed me to weather most of that year.

As I write this, the pandemic is not over, and indeed it seems to have gotten worse compared to the easy days of 2020. If we manage to get through this, I will always look back at 2020 with, well fondness isn’t a great word for it, but more like an appreciation of how lucky I was and how much easier I had it than many others. For that, I will always be extremely grateful.

A quick note if the last thing you’re wondering is if I still have that much free time. The answer is no. I moved to another team of my choosing at the beginning of November of 2020. I do more meaningful work and I have actual tasks that take up an whole work day. People contact me on Slack all the time and I need to do real work just like everyone else. I feel more accomplished and it’s work that gets me closer to my next promotion. Do I miss those relaxing days of 2020? I admit, when I’m really busy, I do miss those days. It was nice but ultimately not sustainable in the long run.

Like I said in the beginning I didn’t write this to gloat. I wrote this down for myself as well, so that years down the road, I’ll have a record what 2020 was like for me. I hope more people will share what 2020 was like for them. I will read with enthusiasm.

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