Moving on from Volunteer Projects

I can’t remember a time when I was not involved in side-projects, usually as a volunteer but also writing books or creating courses. New projects are like bright, shiny objects, and it’s easy to get involved in too many of them. Earlier this year, I found myself working on three books at the same time. One was contributing a chapter, another was as a tech reviewer, and the third was as the lead author. I also teach at a non-profit, present at tech events, and co-lead a PASS virtual group.

I currently teach T-SQL and SQL Server Reporting Services to a new group every six months at the non-profit. The specific program is dedicated to helping women gain skills to move into tech careers. My students come from diverse backgrounds, and many of these women are from underserved communities. It is wonderful to watch how thrilled they are to write their first queries and build their first reports. Once the class is complete, most of them go on to paid apprenticeships which usually lead to fulltime jobs in technology. My students have become DBAs, project managers, and developers at organisations like Boeing, Master Card, and Anheuser Busch as well as smaller companies in the St. Louis area. The program is changing hundreds of lives each year as well as helping to fill the tech talent pipeline.

While teaching at the non-profit has been the most rewarding experience of my life, I’m also a bit burnt out. I’ve been a volunteer at the organisation for about five years and have been teaching almost every Wednesday night during that time. It’s also an hour-long commute each way. (I work from home to avoid driving so much but still find myself driving to St. Louis a couple times each week.) At the beginning of this year, I decided to step back a bit by becoming an assistant instead of the lead instructor. One of my former students who is now a DBA has become the lead instructor, and I couldn’t be prouder. Two other wonderful volunteers also step in as well.

I recently decided to leave the six-month program at the end of the current term partly due to the burn-out but also due to the amount of travel that my fulltime job requires. I’m not completely leaving the nonprofit organisation, and I would like to try some other things like teaching weekend workshops instead of six-month classes. Stepping down from my class has not been an easy decision, but I’ve thought about it for months and know that it’s time.

It’s not easy to leave a volunteer position or even a job when one is so dedicated. Even though it is difficult in these situations, giving others responsibility – and trusting those people to make decisions – is how to be a good leader and the way to prepare to leave, even if that is years away. I know that the team will make changes to the class that are different than the ones I would make, and that’s OK because they are wonderful teachers and also just as dedicated to the students as I have been.  

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