My Army Experience

12 April, 2019

Being an male Egyptian comes with a small fee, serving in the mandatory army service if you are not the only son of your parents. The duration varies from 1 to 3 years depending on your education and rank.

At first you feel your life has come to a halt, all your plans, and ambitions will have to wait until you finish the service. I was worried about my future as a web developer, having adopted the profession late, I always feel that I'm behind. Always playing catch up with other amazing and accomplished people. Putting my career to a halt for a year was not ideal and I was depressed. On top of that how I was going to keep maintaining our open-source, how I was going to learn the stuff I need to learn. I love playing Dota 2, how I'm I going to allocate enough time for those activities within my short vacations.

Shortly after a month of my service, I started to think positively about it. I did learn some things during that month, like dismantling an AK-47 under 15 seconds. To be able to survive the rest of the year mentally, I had to change how I perceived it. Instead of putting my career on hold. I could improve it by learning the side skills of the trade, managing and working in a software team.

So I brought some books with me, I started with Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams and took me a couple of weeks to finish reading it. I got a lot of insight and it changed how I do work. Instead of burying myself in code for 14+ hours a day, now I only work 8 and I ensure that every minute of them count. This has improved my productivity far beyond what I was doing before then. Now for each vacation I have a plan for it, what I was going to do and how am I going to do it.

A couple of days would go to answering and fixing the issues in our open-source. A day for exploring new subjects and learning. One more for catching up with friends, and the last day for gaming.

After a couple of months I started reading Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less which made me realize I needed to allocate a lot of time for my family. I needed to spend more time with them and I needed to reconnect with my buddies to keep some social thing going. It had a great impact on my mental state. Suddenly, going back to my unit wasn't grim, I could talk to and learn from my army buddies and superiors there, and I did learn a lot.

I'm not going to be cheesy and say that I learned discipline, You had to be disciplined, you had no choice in that matter. What I did learn is discipline gets things done. I could get things done and still have some fun only if I was self-disciplined, or in our terms: by optimizing my efforts.

I got my hands on a great book titled "It doesn't have to be crazy at work" and I liked how it implemented everything I read from the other two books I mentioned. I started to think about improvements to the workplace and how I perceived work.

The most important thing I learned during my service, was managing people's ego. The unit commanders were very humble, honest, friendly and stern. Having to manage a large number of subordinates with different backgrounds, different goals, different ideas and attitudes, and most importantly, a wide spectrum of ranks. You want to be friendly, but you don't want to be a push-over. You want to be respected but not feared. You want the people around you to get the job done, but you don't want them half-assing it. You want to be empathetic, but not naive. These are very hard things to balance in our lives, but I think they did a great job at it.

I don't hear a lot of positive stories of my fellow recruits during their service. But I'm glad that I was lucky enough to be at the right place that taught me what I needed most at that time.