Ski first, work later - How to win the burnout battle

Jun 7, 2022 · 7 min read · Leave a comment
Taylor McCaslin GitLab profile

It's 9:13 am and 20 degrees outside in Big Sky, Montana. I'm bundled up in my warm rainbow pride ski suit. Dangling 30 feet in the crisp air, perched on a ski lift, I'm on my way up to a double black diamond run 9,382 feet above sea level. There are few people out this early on a Wednesday morning. I ski off the top of the lift and enjoy a beautifully untracked run of champagne powder snow, fresh from last night's snowstorm. This is a normal start to the workday for me. And I have a bit of a secret to admit, this is exactly why I joined GitLab.

Taylor on a chair lift at Big Sky Resort

Something's gotta give

Rewind two years to January 2020, before I joined GitLab. Before I had materialized my daily skiing routine. Before I moved to Big Sky. Before the global Covid-19 pandemic. I had decided I needed to make a change in my life. I had spent the past decade of my life climbing the startup tech career ladder. Along the way I had sacrificed my health, happiness, and my mental and emotional well-being. I was burnt out. While I don't think I'd change anything going back, I knew the next decade wouldn't sustain that lack of work and life balance. I needed to get back to being the person my friends and family knew: a slim guy with a smile always on his face and a hopeful outlook for the future.

You’re invited! Join us on June 23rd for the GitLab 15 launch event with DevOps guru Gene Kim and several GitLab leaders. They’ll show you what they see for the future of DevOps and The One DevOps Platform.

A remote change

GitLab had been on my radar for a number of years as many of my tech friends had become DevOps engineers, but I had not used it myself. What I did know was at the time they were one of the few truly remote companies with no offices and a global team embracing an async work style.

While I hadn't ever worked remotely before, I knew I liked the idea of not being stuck in a bland office of noisy and distracting open floor layout workspaces surrounded by silly ping pong tables and unlimited snacks. My previous employers thought these things made for a 'supportive environment and 'great work culture'. I couldn't disagree more. It was a scary thought to have less structure, but my previous decade had shown me those offices weren't conducive to my sanity, happiness, or productivity. So I decided, let's go all in.

I knew I wanted to make a big change, so I tested GitLab when I was interviewing. I gauged reactions from my interview panel as I described my desire to move to a ski mountain and balance working and skiing. I was caught by surprise. Every person I interviewed with loved this idea and encouraged me that GitLab's remote and async working style would be supportive of this plan. Just about everyone had a story of how they themselves had adjusted their schedule to add flexibility to their lives. I was convinced. This was the future.

A global pandemic

Two months after joining GitLab in January 2020, the pandemic ruined my plans to relocate to a wintry wonderland. I delayed my move, diving into work like many of us did, mainly because there wasn't anything better to do. Fast-forward to December 2020 – it was clear Covid wasn't going away anytime soon. I had gained the Covid 15 lbs. from sheltering in place in my Austin, Texas, apartment for the past nine months. It was time for a change. I needed to prioritize my sanity and health. An outdoor sport like skiing seemed like a relatively low-risk activity. The move was back on.

By February 2021, I had relocated to Big Sky, 1,600 miles away from the state I had lived in for my entire life. With zero friends and only two bags to a town of 3,000 people. I had visited Big Sky a number of times on ski trips with friends in the years before, and each time the three-to-four day trip never seemed long enough. Now I would be able to call this place my home.

Welcome sign to Big Sky, Montana

A new chapter

2021 was the year of me. I was turning 30, exploring a new life living in a mountain town. It's hard to believe how fast your life can completely change. I went from being depressed and unhappy living a sedentary life in Texas to being out and about on a beautiful mountain nearly daily with a new sense of self.

I've done things I never thought I would, or could, do. I took up hiking. I learned to enjoy the outdoors by visiting Yellowstone National Park, just 30 minutes from my house. I also explored 13 other national and state parks. I learned downhill mountain biking. I rode over 1,000 miles downhill on my mountain bike. I've explored mountains in five states and two countries, and I've skied and biked in the shadow of the Grand Tetons. I skied 186 days at 20 resorts across the last two ski seasons. I went on a combination ski and biking trip to the mountains of Salt Lake City and Moab, Utah, and to the mountains of Canada. Along the way I lost 25 lbs., getting me back to a healthy weight I felt good about.

Collage of Taylor's adventures while at Gitlab

Happy people do their best work

And you know what else is crazy? I've been doing my best work since all this. GitLab went public last October. I am now establishing and leading a new machine learning team at a public company, all from rural Montana. This also presented me with an opportunity to even further embrace remote async life.

With my new ModelOps team at GitLab, I have a number of team members in APAC, so I decided this past winter to switch to working evenings, embracing some of my favorite GitLab values: Measure results not hours and shifting working hours for a cause. This change allows me to ski and mountain bike during the day and, as a night owl, leverage my most productive hours overlapping with more of my colleagues in APAC.

Taylor biking in Glacier National Park

Now I can join my evening team meetings in person rather than relying on a recording and notes. I always enjoy when I meet with my team members as they always want to know: "What mountain are you on today?" It's a simple small talk question, but it's just another way we connect virtually and get to know each other better as people. And, of course, at GitLab we have a Slack channel for everything. I frequently post and share my adventures in #DevSkiOps and #mountainbiking and enjoy swapping photos, tips, and articles with my fellow GitLab skiers and bikers. But let's have the numbers speak for themselves. Here are my '21/'22 ski season metrics, and I can't wait for this summer's mountain biking adventures.

Taylor's 2021/22 Ski metrics

My journey to the mountains and switching up my working schedule all showcase my favorite value at GitLab: Don't wait. I think this value applies to our personal lives as much as it does to our professional ones. Life is short, and the pandemic has made that even more real as we've lost so many friends and family so early. Gone are the days of sacrificing your life for 9-5 dead-end jobs. We're realizing life has so much more to offer and employers are increasingly recognizing that happy employees do their best work.

Had you asked me two years ago if I'd see myself living in a small mountain town skiing and biking nearly daily while working at a public company, living my best personal life, and doing the best work of my career, I would have thought you were crazy. But now it's my life. All thanks to the remote and async lifestyle GitLab empowers. And the best part, we're hiring.

GitLab Remote Work Promo with Taylor

“All remote async work @GitLab can open up new life experiences. Read about @digital_saas's working ski adventures” – Taylor McCaslin

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