Respecting the Social Battery in DevRel
Over the past year, I’ve gained a great insight into the developer and community focus of developer relations. As an advocate and engineer, I’ve enjoyed connecting with and learning from so many wonderful and intelligent people.
As an extrovert with introverted tendencies, I’ve often found some of these events to be as draining as they are engaging. And at my first Engineering All Hands this year I found I’m not the only one. We had a great conversation on tiredness, with one colleague referring to their depleted social battery. I had never heard of this term, but it resonated strongly with how I was also feeling by the end of the week.
Ever feel like you’re running on empty?
In this piece, I discuss the factors that impact our social battery generally, as well as those specific to DevRel and tech. I’ll also share tips on managing your own social battery, learned from my wonderful colleagues, and resources you can use to manage your own social battery and well-being.
Like a Battery
The social battery is the allowance of energy a given person has for socialising before it starts to harm their well-being. Introversion and extroversion is a scale, which we can move up and down throughout our lives. Having been a prominent extrovert for a large portion of my life, and therefore being energised by social interactions, I’ve had points of introversion as well. Everyone has a different capacity for social engagement, or battery size, and this battery size and capacity ebbs and flows.
The metaphor of a battery representing social energy charge always reminds me of the Duracell Bunny. As a child, I would regularly see TV adverts of bunnies powered by competitor batteries quickly becoming tired, whereas Duracell would keep going for longer.
We can’t all just keep going like the Duracell Bunny!
But it’s not just tiredness that is a sign of a depleting social battery. There are other signs, including:
- Mental exhaustion or difficulty processing new information.
- Periods of quiet or inactivity in group conversations.
- Irritation caused by not only others but loud noises, music or lighting.
- Difficulty responding to emotions or verbal cues from others.
- Physical symptoms such as headaches or back pain.
- Insomnia or difficulty falling asleep due to overstimulation.
Any of these side effects can also have an impact on productivity. As can the working environment, which I’ve written about before based on my experiences of working in a busy and overcrowded office. We need to be mindful of the causes, and on the lookout for the symptoms in ourselves and each other.
Tech does have some industry-specific challenges in supporting the social battery of those working within it. We’re not talking about the developer stereotype of an introverted developer hiding in the corner of the office in front of their laptop coding away in a set of enormous noise-cancelling headphones. The explosion of increased collaboration driven through the adoption of agile, or sadly fr-agile, ways of working and techniques such as pair programming means that everyone working in tech is working in social ways with less time for isolated work. I must emphasize that these techniques are wonderful and essential for building better software that solves real-world problems. But if they are not used in a balanced way they can drain people anywhere on the introvert-extrovert scale.
DevRel and community can introduce challenges in maintaining a fully-charged social battery
It may seem like DevRel is an extrovert-only club, but I’ve found having a mixture of individuals on the energy scale helps accommodate developers across the community. In the DevRel world there are several unique considerations:
- Advocates, program managers and company representatives moving between extremes of solitary work building content and highly social settings such as meetup talks and conference booth duty.
- Interacting with a mixture of introverts and extroverts within the community.
- The increasingly remote nature of our work as we complete tasks working at home, or on public transport as we travel to events. Working for a company such as Elastic that is distributed by design means many individuals will visit offices occasionally, myself included.
- Traveling long distances for a conference or event can mean working while managing jet lag, which can be a draining experience.
What’s more important is that we acknowledge industry and environment-specific factors, and give space and empathy to help each other prevent or manage a drained social battery. This includes colleagues, counterparts and the developers and users with which we engage.
Irrespective of where you feel you sit on the introvert/ extrovert scale, it’s important to build a personal toolkit to prevent or manage depleted social energy levels. Here are some tips that have worked for me, as well as some I’ve learned from others:
- Be sure to take the idle time that you need to do things you enjoy when you need. Perhaps it’s listening to music or a podcast, as it is for me. Or maybe you are more of a knitting person. Brief regular breaks help you maintain charge.
- Balance short and long spells to maintain energy. This has been the biggest challenge for me while juggling work and parenthood, even with a supportive co-parent on my side. Taking longer spells for restorative activities, which for me are things like reading a book in the bath or taking a walk outside with my camera, is necessary to maintain energy.
- Use conference schedules or your personal meeting calendar to plan potential points for personal time. It can be useful to take a planned break on particularly busy days to recharge your energy before it is completely exhausted. Even if it’s 10 minutes to grab a cup of tea as I do before giving a conference talk.
- Identify the social events you can step away from to avoid order-stretching yourself. Sometimes at work gatherings or tech conferences, you may feel you have to attend every social. But the reality is social engagements will be optional.
- Take time to relax at home with family or on your own after a long trip. Chilling by yourself in your hotel on a work trip can help with a temporary restoration, but home is where the heart is after all!
- Support others when they step away, and respect their decision to take time for themselves. If you are a natural extravert this may be challenging as it’s at odds with how you get your energy. But it’s the best way to garner mutual respect when you need your own break.
- Be friendly and open to those who approach the stand. If someone has low energy they may want to just have a look at the swag or any product information, rather than have an in-depth conversation. Don’t force the issue.
- Seek out nature or fresh air. Be it a hike or even a step outside, both a great ways to get energy back. Especially if you’ve been sitting inside an office or conference venue all day.
- Use the Pac-Man Rule to allow people to join conversations if they wish. This is particularly inviting for those who don’t know many people at an event.
- Withdraw from events if it’s getting too much. Self-care comes first!
All Together Now
I still consider myself an extroverted introvert. It has taken me quite a while to be comfortable saying no to social events and taking my recharge time. Especially as a parent caring for an excitable and enthusiastic little boy who can definitely deplete your energy quickly! It’s important to take the time to find your social limits and the activities that help you recharge those batteries!
In researching this piece I found these resources helpful:
- A Conscious Rethink: An Introvert’s Guide To Recharging Your Social Batteries
- The Power of Misfits: What Is a Social Battery and How to Recharge It as an Introvert
- Glamour: How to recharge your ‘social battery’ if you’re running on 1% with any form of social interaction RN
- Sue Smith: From software engineer to dev rel: the good, the bad, and the rewarding
Do check them out. Best of luck maintaining your DevRel social battery!
Thanks for reading! Do share if you have additional tips to share on managing your social battery charge.