Sriram Thiagarajan
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Sabbatical Experience

I exited my 8 month long sabbatical in Jan 2024. I have had quite a few people ask me about my sabbatical experience — what I did during my sabbatical, how was the overall experience and how I chose my next career move after sabbatical. I’m writing this down hoping this would be helpful for people who are thinking of going on a sabbatical or those who’re already in their sabbatical and thinking about how / when to exit.

When I decided to go on a sabbatical, I (intentionally) didn’t have any “plan” on what I’d be doing. A few things I wanted to do were focusing on my health (physical & mental), spending more mindful time with friends & family, reading & writing more, and maybe do some open source coding. I didn’t want to be “productive” during this time. For the first few weeks, I didn’t do anything worth mentioning.

I started going to the gym after a few weeks (and have been mostly consistent till date). I started being mindful of what & how much I eat — I went on a calorie deficit. I didn’t count exact calories, but I was probably eating around 1500 calories a day with ~100g of protein. I was working out 5-6 days a week and doing cardio, mainly walking, 2-3 times a week. I didn’t have a personal trainer or coach — I was binge watching a lot of YouTube channels & reading a lot of articles (+ some conversations with ChatGPT) to build my workout routine & diet. After about 3 months, I consulted a coach to measure my body fat using body fat calipers and it turned out to be ~21%, which I think is pretty decent. I wish I’d measured it before I started regular workout, but if I have to guess it would definitely have been 5-8% more. My waist size also went from ~36 inches to ~30-32 (not accurate as I’m going by the waist size of the trousers I wear 😅). My sleep habits also changed during this time. I was consistently having ~8 hours of sleep everyday. Many of you might already be doing this, but if you are not, you have to experience the magic that a good sleep of 7-8 hours & regular physical exercise can do for you! I can say for sure that mental health is a function of your physical health, at least to me.

Apart from workout and cooking + eating, I spent most of my time binge watching something on Netflix / YouTube. And I kinda overestimated the time I’ll have for me during sabbatical! Most of the time I had was only when my ~6 year old son went to the school. I spent most of my time with him playing & taking him to other classes after his school. So his teacher asked every student about their parents’ profession and this guy has said that his mom goes to office and his dad’s job is to play with him 😂. I’d take that as a win! I also spoke more with friends and family over the phone.

I had opened up my calendar when I went on sabbatical to help anyone who wanted to talk about sabbatical, career in tech, or anything I could help with. I spoke with 20+ people in the first few weeks. It ranged from just wanting to say “hi”, talking about the thinking & preparation behind taking a sabbatical and discussing preparing for (software engineering) interviews. I definitely enjoyed those meetings!

For the first 4 months or so, I was not doing anything related to tech / work. And then I started feeling itchy to write some code. PartyKit caught my attention and I built, a two player coin-dropping game; I used to play this a lot with my son using the physical one. I also started with a couple of other side projects which I abandoned quickly. I’m working on something now and I hope I can reveal it to the world soon 😉

Looking back I wish I’d spent more time reading (I only read a couple of books) and writing, but I’m fine with how the sabbatical went. One of my main reasons to take a sabbatical was to relax & refresh myself. And also to figure out what I’d want to do next, which is something that I didn’t have clarity about. If you don’t know me, I was working as an Engineering Manager at Chargebee when I decided to go on a sabbatical. I initially wanted to quit my job and take this break, figure out what I want to do next and hope that life will take care of itself. But I had some conversations (I’m not sure if I should mention who these were with!) at Chargebee and I was given an option to remain on the company records and I can choose to join or not whenever I was exiting my sabbatical. I had this discussion with someone who I respect a lot and I agreed to this since there were no strings attached and neither I nor the company was obligated to anything. My main request was to revoke all my access to email, Slack etc. 😀. I really appreciate the freedom they gave me and never bothered me about whether or when I’m coming back.

Then came a time where I was offered a new role at Chargebee, to lead the Developer Experience initiative. I thought long and hard about this for a long time and finally decided to go back to Chargebee. My main reason for this decision is the people who I’d be working with; who I look up to and respect a lot. Secondly, I’m genuinely interested in the area — Developer Experience (I’m interested in anything “experience” I guess!) and there’s a lot of exciting things to be done here. When I shared that I was going back to Chargebee, I could see a lot of people getting surprised or going meh. I guess a lot of them were expecting something “dramatic”!

Here’s what I was thinking when I made the decision. I saw this somewhere (on Twitter I guess) when it comes to choosing a career option: people > work > money. I believe this works really well over a long time. I’m not at all saying money isn’t important; after all I couldn’t have taken a sabbatical without enough money! But at this stage of my career, I’d give more weightage to the people who I work with and the area that I work in. Based on this, I decided to take up this role which has more probability of making me happy and satisfied by working with people and working on something that I love. KISS principle isn’t only for programming 😀.

I’m writing this 3 months after taking up this new role and I can say that I’m thoroughly enjoying what I’m doing now. I can totally feel the difference in energy with anything that I do, of course thanks to the sabbatical. I’m still able to maintain the healthy habits that I started (though I’ve been having cheat meals a bit too often these days that I need to control) and I’m overall a much happier person now than I was before sabbatical.

Finally, I’m glad that I took the decision to go on a sabbatical. This has definitely helped me in many ways!

If you’d like to talk to me about any of these and/or think I can help you in any way, please feel free to DM on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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