Reflecting on 2020
Published May 23, 2021
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I’m publishing my year in review for 2020 in (almost) June 2021, although it was mostly written (and just in the backburner state) as I spun up in a new role.
2020 was quite a year. In early 2020 I had taken time off for work and was bug bounty hunting for fun and profit. Taking time off from work meant that I also spent significant time reading the news (moreso than a full-time-employed version of myself would). As a result, I felt like I saw the coronavirus coming to the US in slow motion, then all at once.
Post March 2020, life changed significantly in many ways. My partner came home from law school for Spring Break, and never went back She graduated! . Great things happened - we moved in together and got engaged in early 2021!
Workwise, I started a new role at Mapbox in the first few weeks of the Bay Area’s stay at home orders. It could have been extremely stressful, but I think Mapbox’s culture was uniquely suited to enabling the onboarding to happen as smoothly as it did. Over a year later in early 2021 (while I was having a great time working at Mapbox), a Google recruiter reached out about a dream job on the SRE team. That call led to interviews and an offer - now I am amazingly on the Google Geo SRE team! I will leave it to the SRE book to describe what my role entails: “SRE is what you get when you treat operations as if it’s a software problem. Our mission is to protect, provide for, and progress the software and systems behind all of Google’s public services — Google Search, Ads, Gmail, Android, YouTube, and App Engine, to name just a few — with an ever-watchful eye on their availability, latency, performance, and capacity.”
In other words, much happened (which brings me back to the traditional section of a year-in-review).
What didn’t go well
Much of what I envisioned with respect to goals in my last yearly review had to be tossed out the window.
I’m not too hard on myself for not achieving every goal I set for myself in 2020. Goal setting is an important (and useful) exercise in and of itself, and I am of the school of thought that achieving 100% of one’s goals means that the goals were not lofty enough!
That said, I am resolving to make the learning goals I set in the future more focused and measurable than they have been in the past. Other life goals not featured here. :)
What went well
I did achieve certain learning goals, even in the middle of a global pandemic.
- Learning Mandarin: I kept to my goal of learning Mandarin every day! While I have stayed with daily usage of Duolingo, I dropped other apps I was using to learn the language. My plan to attend a Mandarin course obviously didn’t happen (how “early March 2020” of me to make that goal), I started working with a teacher on Italki - it is an amazing site for language learners, where one can connect with professional teachers who are running their own teaching businesses. Having a teacher was an amazing inflection point for my language learning. I currently meet with him for about three hours every week.
- Writing: I wrote significantly more (around +50%) in 2020 than I did in 2019, and I’m calling that a win. Some of my writing even made it to the top of Hacker News, which was fun to see. I want to keep writing about what I’m passionate about, and work on trying to find my audience.
- Learning about systems: In the fall of 2020, I started a Master’s degree at Georgia Tech. I initially was planning on focusing in ML, but I started out taking Systems courses. This led to a pivot when I realized that I actually prefer Systems - the skillset is enjoyable to me, and will likely always be useful (thus building a wider foundation in it is more valuable). This is in contrast to ML knowledge, which is subject to change in the very near future. Thank you to my friend Max for your thoughts! Related article on the usefulness of studying systems
Looking ahead to (the rest of) 2021
In a previous edition of my yearly reflections, I wrote that I thought learning shouldn’t be bound by goals because “learning isn’t work”. I have since changed my tune on this. In fact, I think that in this distracted world, having goals for learning that you have written up on the wall can be helpful for focusing oneself (in particular, myself)
On that note, I have made a few goals for myself:
- Learning Mandarin. Mandarin is such an interesting language - each character has a story, and it is fun to see how words I already known can be combined together to form new words (旧字新字).
- Keep learning with the goal of passing the HSK4 test by March of 2022. HSK4 is a milestone that students who have studied Chinese for two academic years study for. I would be at about 1.5 years by then, but it never hurts to be ahead of schedule
- Writing and the blog
- Build an audience of 1000 subscribers for my blog. Why 1000? 100 seems too achievable, and 1000 subscribers would be pretty serious (considering that I only got 20 subscribers from being on the front page of Hacker News)! Building an audience for the blog also means that I am writing about topics that others find interesting, and doing so in a fashion that is good enough to be warrant showing up in someone’s inbox.
- Read at least one systems paper a week from distributed systems and write an evergreen note about it.
- Computer Security
- Find one or more security vulnerabilities in an Ethereum contract. I’ve been interested in Ethereum for a while, but trying to find a security vulnerability in a contract will require deeper understanding of both the platform and the newer innovations on it (like the various DeFi protocols).