Pandemic, Parent, new Position

6 minute read

This story starts with a package that I dispatched in Adelaide, Australia, on the 23rd of March and that I received today, 4th of July, in Mannebach, Germany:

Stamps Australia
Package sent in March and received in July.

Coincidentally, the package arrived one day after my last day working as a Lecturer at the University of Adelaide. But let’s start from the beginning…

Pandemic

I still vividly remember the day when I dispatched that package in Adelaide. It was a beautiful autumn day. During that day, I recorded a lecture (teaching was already remote due to COVID-19), gave an interview via Zoom for the Adelaide Computer Science Club, and had a PDR1 meeting with my line manager.

River Torrens Adelaide
River Torrens in Adelaide, picture taken on 23rd March 2020 during my daily "commute".

As nice as that sounds, it was actually a very difficult time for me. I already had to rebook my return flight(s) to Germany three times, all of which got canceled. For some of those flights, I wasn’t informed about the cancelation until trying to check in my bags at the airport (see picture below). The reason I planned everything so that I can go back to Germany after the first half of the teaching semester was to be there for my son’s birth (having the baby in Australia was not an option for us for different reasons, one of which being the difficult health insurance situation for temporary residents, but that’s another story).

Checkin Cathay Pacific
Learning that my flight got canceled while trying to check in bags.

To be honest, I may have underestimated the whole COVID-19 situation at first, but those difficulties definitely knocked me out of the skies. The whole rebooking nightmare started when Qantas announced on the 19th of March that they were going to cancel all international flights. I immediately rebooked to an earlier flight, because I expected other airlines to follow. The new flight got canceled on the next day. This cycle continued for a week, with further bookings and cancelations (six in total, yielding temporary credit card debts of almost $12k AUD).

Eventually, Qatar Airways announced that they intend to keep their hub in Doha open, adding new connections from Australia to Europe. At that point, they were basically the only remaining airline connecting Australia and Germany. I managed to book one of the new Qatar flights on the 24th of March, but from Melbourne, because basically all international flights departing Adelaide were canceled. Also, many domestic flights were canceled and Virgin Australia was about to stop flying altogether.

The next issue was that the Australian interstate borders were closed due to the pandemic, meaning that if I went to Melbourne and had to go back to Adelaide, I would have gone into a two-week quarantine. Since I was afraid that the state of Victoria was planning to introduce similar rules for travelers coming from South Australia, I immediately booked a flight to Melbourne and stayed there in a hotel for four days until my planned departure on the 29th of March.

Side note: In that same week, my colleague Paul Ralph contacted me about studying the effects of the pandemic on wellbeing and productivity of software developers. I agreed to help him design and organize the study, also because it was a good distraction from all the mess outlined above. The project ended up being very successful, a preprint of a first paper is already available. I’ll write a blog post about that project once the paper is accepted (we submitted a minor revision last week).

Anyways, after staying in Melbourne for four days, checking the ABC News and Qatar Airways apps at least a thousand times for potential flight cancelations, I was finally able to check in my bags and walk to the gate. It was a bit scary, because also in Melbourne, Qatar Airways was one of the few airlines still operating.

Melbourne Airport
Empty hallway at Melbourne Airport.

When I was finally in the air I was able to relax a bit—for the first time in more than a week. It was during that time that it became clear that my career in Australia doesn’t have a future. More on that later, but first something much more important!

Melbourne Airport
View on beaches south of Adelaide while leaving Australia.

Parent

After landing in Frankfurt, I stayed one night in a hotel and then took a rental car back home to my wife. She was staying in our old (pre-Australia) apartment in Mannebach close to Trier. However, while not required in Germany yet, I decided to voluntarily self-quarantine for two weeks. I even got tested because I had mild symptoms that were luckily not related to COVID-19. After the test, I had to wait another week for the results to be available, and on the 20th of April I was finally able to move in with my wife again. Four days later our son Johan was born. I am so happy that I could to be there to support my wife and spend time with her and Johan, even though the hospital had very strict visiting regulations. My four weeks of parental leave ended much too fast, but I was happy that I had clarity on my professional future before the leave started…

Johan Porta Nigra
First family trip to the city.

New Position

I had been critically reflecting on my decision to stay in academia for quite some time. One aspect was that I noticed how often I referred to my brief experience as a software developer “in the industry” when teaching software engineering courses. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I agree with what Andreas Lundblad wrote in an email to me back in December 2019:

Teachers with stories from industry are much MUCH more interesting to listen to if you ask me :-)

Side note: Andreas published this blog post motivated by my research, which gained quite some attention.

Besides, I actually enjoyed working in a software company back in 2011/12. Don’t get me wrong: There are many reasons to love academia. However, there are also quite a few things that keep bothering me. But that’s material for another blog post.

In the end, several factors contributed to my resignation as a Lecturer in Adelaide:

  1. not being able to travel back to Australia in the foreseeable future
  2. not wanting to travel with a small baby during a global pandemic
  3. the fact that Germany offers much better support for parents than Australia (yet another potential topic for a blog post)
  4. last but not least: the desire to gain more industry experience

Luckily, is was already in contact with QAware through a talk I gave there back in 2019. QAware is a small software company that already attracted some academics such as Harald Störrle and Marcus Ciolkowski. They have offices in the German cities of Munich and Mainz.

I’m happy to join QAware 1st of August as a Senior Software Engineer. I will, however, only work 80% as a software engineer and keep a status as Adjunct Lecturer in Adelaide. I left Adelaide on good terms and will keep in touch via joint research projects, student supervision, and involvement in course planning. I would also not rule out going back to a full-time academic position in the future, but first and foremost I’m now looking forward to my new hybrid role, which of course also includes my role as a father. Caring for Johan is as much my responsibility as it is my wife’s.

  1. PDR: Planning, Development & Review 

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