On Sabbatical

As I begin the new year, I'm trying something new. I'll be taking a sabbatical for all of 2016. Normally at this time of year I'm starting new courses and beginning research projects that I'll lead in the spring/summer semester. I've been following that rhythm now for over 16 years, really giving it all I have, and I'm in need of a break. Coincidentally, I'll be turning 40 in a few months, and that means I've been in the classroom, in one form or another, for the past 35 years.

While I wouldn't count myself among those who enjoy 'new' for newness sake (give me routine, discipline, and a long road!), I'm actually very grateful for the opportunity provided by my institution. Historically a sabbatical is something you do every seventh year, just as God rested on the seventh day and later instructed Moses to rest every seventh year. I'm aware that this isn't so common in private industry, and I think it means you end up losing good people to burn out with predictable regularity. At Seneca you can apply for one every 7 years (no guarantees), and I was lucky enough to have my application accepted.

The sabbatical has lots of conditions: first, I make only 80% of my salary; second, it's meant for people to use in order to accomplish some kind of project. For some, this means upgrading their education, writing a book, doing research, or developing curriculum. While I'm still figuring out a schedule, I do have a few plans for my year.

First, I need to retool. It's funny because I've done nothing but live at the edge of web technology since 2005, implementing web standards in Gecko, building experimental web technologies and libraries, and trying to port desktop-type things to the web. Yet in that same period things have changed, and changed radically. I've realized that I can't learn and understand everything I need to simply by adding it bit by bit to what I already know. I need to unlearn some things. I need to relearn some things. I need to go in new directions.

I'm the kind of person who likes being good at things and knowing what I'm doing, so I find this way of being a hard one. At the same time, I'm keenly aware of the benefits of not becoming (or remaining) comfortable. There's a lot of talk these days about the need for empathy in the workplace, and in the educational context, one kind of empathy is for a prof to really understand what it feels like to be a student who is learning all the time. I need to be humbled, again.

Second, I want to broaden not only my technological base, but also my community involvement, peers, and mentors. I've written before about how important it is to me to work with certain people vs. on certain problems; I still feel that way. During the past decade open source won. Now, everyone, everywhere does it, and we're better off for this fact. But it's also true that what we knew--what I knew--about open source in 2005 isn't really true anymore. The historical people, practices, and philosophies of 'open' have expanded, collapsed, shifted, and evolved. Even within my own community of Mozilla, things are totally different (for example, most of the people who were at Mozilla when I started aren't there today). I'm still excited about Mozilla, and plan to do a bunch with them (especially helping Mark build his ideas, and helping to maintain and grow Thimble); but I also need to go for a bunch of long walks and see who and what I meet out amongst other repos and code bases.

I'm going to try and write more as I go, so I'll follow this blog post with other such pieces, if you want to play along from home. I'm less likely to be irc in 2016, but you can always chat with me on Twitter or send me mail. I'd encourage you to reach out if you have something you think I should be thinking about, or if you want to see if I'd be interested in working on something with you.

Happy New Year.

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