Sabbatical: Six Weeks; Three Headlines

Airbnb offers a “recharge” program for those who have worked at the company for over five years. I just returned from such a six week sabbatical. Here’s how it went.


Naturally 🌲 this was the highlight of the trip. I spent the second half driving around campsites in Northern California… from Big Sur / Carmel up to the Humboldt Redwoods. Here are some of my favorite photos along the way:


I did a lot of work on my van project during the trip. This was the first time I was able to truly live out of the van for days at a time. I spent a lot of time fiddling with electronics (placing light switches where I wanted them, calibrating solar charge controllers, etc). I like to think now that the van is “100% functional.” From insect screens to a sink, refrigerator, lots of storage, and laptop charging… it has all the core amenities I imagined.

I’ll be writing up more “build log” blog posts about exactly what I did. Now, I’m moving into the “polish” phase of the build. I’ve recently begun sealing and staining wood panels, ordering decorative parts, and so on.


I coded during my vacation 🤷🏻‍♂️

Though I am now an engineering manager at Airbnb, I prefer to be up-to-speed on the tools my team works with. Our team is making a transition to focus upon “dev ops” tools. In other words: writing software for other engineers at the company to make them more productive. So I went back and learned some key skills related to this role, and played with the “latest and greatest” tools in the space.

I’m trying to come to grips with what the next stage(s) of my career and life might look like. I’ve always enjoyed teaching/coaching, and that is a large part of what my role as a manager entails. But managers are expected to be less technical, and on a personal level I know that coding marathons are not tenable throughout my 30s.

I’ve always thought of myself as an introvert. My default reaction to problems is to shut up and go away until I feel like I have have my mind wrapped around it. But increasingly I find myself acting as an extrovert. Not only have I enjoyed it, but I’m coming to realize how much more effective I can be through collaboration (something obvious, but experiencing it first-hand is powerful).

So I’m turning back to my old passion for knowledge-sharing… thinking about how I can best contribute going forward. Strange to think that it was over ten years ago that I was teaching in China; I’ve always longed to be able to scale up that kind of impact upon people. I hope to find a role, at Airbnb and beyond, that taps into this interest of mine.


I kicked off the whole recharge with a much-belated house-warming party. After putting so much effort into decoration, it was nice to finally share my new space with friends. This, in turn, inspired me to have guests while I went camping. For the first time in several years, I was able to be an Airbnb host.

I was, frankly, surprised how much of an impact this experience had upon me. I realized how much I enjoyed meeting the guests as they arrived, showing them around my place, and telling them about the city. I had everything from solo tech workers to small families on vacation stay over, and in each case I greatly enjoyed the brief conversations, and the small joy I was able to bring to their trip by making sure everything exceeded expectations.

It was a good reminder why I began working at Airbnb in the first place. So, too, though, was the “getting out of town” bit. Part of me definitely misses my traveling days. The “nomad” and “builder” personas will probably always be a little at odds in my psyche.

For now, the brief experience hosting international guests was a nice intermission. And the camping trips restored a bit of peace and tranquility to my life that had been missing.

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