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Empathy in the time of COVID

I am writing this from my home is San Diego. It is raining outside, my hands are dry and cracked from hand-washing, and life just seems weird. Uncanny. Difficult.

I am worried, not only for my currently unemployed self, but for friends and colleagues who find themselves staring down the prospect of job hunting during a pandemic. And I simply do not know what to say to those who are ill or who have a loved one in danger.

However, I think 2020 can be a time of unprecedented empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. We (the industry, the nation, the world) are experiencing something together. Certainly we don't all experience it the same way. The pandemic doesn't erase issues of race, or class, or genderβ€”in fact it has had a tendency to highlight them.

Yet, it is undeniable that we are collectively experiencing an Event. It might just be a little easier to empathize with others right now. At my previous job, I worked with people in several countries. The last few weeks were remarkable. It was clear to me that the lived experience of my coworkers across countries, continents, and cultures were more alike than they have ever been before. Empathy is a good (and under-practiced) skill for developers. What does our user need? Will this code make sense to a reader? How should I approach a boss, a teammate, a customer? How do I listen well?

Have you heard the saying that you when you pray for patience, you are likely to be given opportunities to practice patience instead? I think this is true whether your aspirations come out in prayers, minutely detailed bullet journals, or KPIs and OKRs. We have the chance to practice empathy and I suggest we take it.

The pandemic has given us an opportunity to practice the qualities that we aspire to include in our truest selves. This applies to your individual practice and to our community practice. We are strength training our character, with some seriously heavy lifting.

That is not to say that there is anything you should be doing (except social distancing and hand-washing--you should absolutely be doing those things). It is enough to make it through the day. 100%. Pacing yourself for the long haul and taking opportunities to rest are important. I will pace myself, I will rest.

I am also going to try to build some individual and community muscle during this unprecedented time. I think my practice is going to look something like this:

  • Reviewing the resumes of friends and lending my professional network as much as I can.
  • Working on projects that spark joy (to borrow from Marie Kondo). Coding is fun and I can showcase my skills in projects that are meaningful to me in one way or another.
  • Taking time to connect with my family and friends.
  • Doing code reviews, pair programming, and other collaborative things with friends (or future friends, aka. newcomers to the community) from the communities in which I am invested.
  • Practicing patience in the job search and moderation in spending. I may not find something quickly and I want to be kind to myself and others throughout the process.

It isn't perfect, but it is what I have so far. Do you have any thoughts on empathy or on personal, professional, or community growth in 2020?

Be well. Wash your hands.

Top comments (1)

guivinicius profile image
Guilherme (Harry)

I totally agree with you. It's indeed hard times. We are all struggling and fearing for what this new world will be.

Every day I see at least one engineer losing his/her job and it's scary and frustrating at the same time. I believe now it's the time to really focus on community, bring back online meetings to talk about those issues and help everyone to improve a missing skill.

It's necessary to be a mentor nowadays to those in need.