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Published 3/29/2019

In today's episode, we're talking about the feeling of safety and the idea of headroom. We'll talk about why it's important for us to have some padding in our careers and personal lives so we can work more creatively and less urgently.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
What makes you feel comfortable? Safe. What makes you feel like you are not at risk? I want you to imagine yourself on a ledge, and beyond the ledge is a huge drop off. Your toes are creeping over the ledge. You know that the ground beneath you is solid. And you know that as long as you don't step off the ledge, you're fine. Your balance is okay, and there's no wind or anything. Nobody's going to push you. Do you feel safer standing with your toes hanging over the ledge? Or do you feel safer a few steps back? Really anybody who hears this question, unless you spend a lot of time on ledges and you feel unusually comfortable with them, anyone is going to answer this with feeling safer a few steps back. We're going to talk about this interesting phenomenon. This idea that headroom is important to us in today's episode of Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, and this show is dedicated to helping driven developers like you find clarity, perspective, and purpose in their careers. And this idea of headroom that applies to so many things. Imagine for example, your application server, if you're a developer, you have some kind of application server that people are hitting. And once you imagine that the traffic is reaching the 90th percentile on CPU usage or on memory. One of the metrics that you care about, you're starting to lose the headroom. The traffic is beating down on the server. Even though you still have some headroom, the CPU is able to handle the traffic, we start to feel uncomfortable. Similarly, imagine that you have test coverage that just barely makes it over the expected use cases. Now imagine that you have test coverage that far exceeds your target metric for how much coverage you'd like to have for a given code base. Which scenarios are you more confident in? This applies not only to engineering problems or finding yourself on a cliff ledge, but it also applies to your personal problems, to your relational problems. If you have ever found yourself on the receiving end of a performance improvement plan, you know that even though you have a plan in front of you to improve your job, you would feel significantly safer if you had some headroom. If you had some padding, if you had built up the trust between you and your employer. This is true in personal finances. If you have some padding in your finances, if you save up some extra money, just in case of an emergency, for example, you feel a little bit more confident in your financial decision making. There's a whole host of situations where a headroom basically improves things. And it's important that you start to identify places where headroom is important, but more importantly for this episode, I want you to think about ways that you can engineer headroom into your habits. For example, if you feel like you are firing on all cylinders, you're working 55, 60, 70, 80 hour weeks, and you're not taking the time to care for yourself, this is equivalent to having a weight load limit of a thousand pounds and you're at 999 pounds. It wouldn't take much to push you over that ledge. And so you don't really have flexibility to deal with uncertainty. This really kind of breaks down why headroom makes us feel better. It gives us the ability to respond to uncertain circumstances. It gives us the ability to not have to watch every single change in those metrics, for example. It gives us the ability to focus on things other than whatever we don't have headroom on. When you feel like you have freedom to focus on things that are not close to catastrophe, then you can begin to work more creatively. You can enjoy your work a little bit more. Rather than constantly feeling like you are on the edge of urgency, they're close to some kind of big failure. You're on that ledge, you're close. Even if you're on solid ground, you're close. And so you have to be more careful about every single move that you make when you don't have headroom. So in every area that you can possibly manage, I encourage you to engineer a headroom into your systems. This is kind of the underlying system for why you should live beneath your means. Hopefully you've heard this before. But the idea is if you're spending every single dollar that comes in, then when you suddenly have an unexpected purchase need or maybe you have a simple increase, maybe a rent increase, for example, you suddenly can't manage that uncertainty. And so if you can engineer your budget so that you always have headroom and that the exceptions cut into that headroom, but by a rule, you don't cut into that headroom unless you absolutely have to. If you create these kinds of systems where in every area possible, you have headroom, you're going to find that you're able to focus more completely on things that matter more. Other than managing numbers and managing risk, you'll be creating opportunities. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea, this discussion on headroom. If you've enjoyed today's episode, I encourage you to subscribe and whatever podcasting app you currently are using to listen to this episode. Developer Tearelies on having listeners to continue doing what we do. The best way to ensure that Developer Teawill continue existing is by leaving reviews on iTunes. If you leave a review on iTunes, it does two things. One, it helps other developers find the show. Secondly, it helps other developers decide if they want to listen to it. And if you've enjoyed and gotten value out of these episodes, then you can provide that value back to the show by leaving a review on iTunes. The link to leave a review on iTunes can be found in the show notes. Today's episode is a part of the spec network. Every episode of Developer Teaactually is a part of the spec network. The spec network is created for designers and developers who are looking to level up their careers. You can find other awesome content like React Podcasts and Tools Day over on the spec network and tons of other valuable content. And it's all searchable right there on spec.fm. Go and check it out. Today's episode also would not be possible without our awesome producer Sarah Jackson. Thank you so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.