Essays

What I Learned - 2020

What I learned in the most awful year and why I'm optimistic for 2021.

This year was a horrible monster of a shit cyclone. That said, I'm extremely fortunate and count myself lucky that I leave the year relatively unscathed. Continuing the tradition of summarizing what I've learned for the year (2018, 2019), here's my wrap-up of 2020.

Personal

It's really annoying to keep hearing the word unprecidented (honorable mention to word of the year), but it held true throughout the year.

We were all forced to learn about covid-19 the tragedy of mass loss of life. I learned that American values are incompatible with managing a pandemic. The politicization of masks is an excellent example of how covid-19 is a vehicle of fantasmic projection that can be fit to purpose.

I felt painful reminders of systemic injustice and structural racism. I learned how economics is used to substitute for racism in government policy. I also saw a young black person grapple with these problems for the first time and it was heartbreaking.

Like many, I dealt with depression, anxiety, and pressure of supporting family and co-workers during the year. I did therapy for the first time in my life and learned that stress and anxiety are cumulative. With the help of therepy I put practices in place that bring me back to feeling like myself again. My morning practice helps clear my mind, take care of my body, write more, and start the day off having achieved something for myself. If nothing else, I've learned my VO2 max roughly correlates to the quality of my mental health.

Projects

I learned a new way to prototype games in the terminal using Rust by building Tunnelcast, a deck builder game. It's surprisingly fast and easy, you can even work on it in the browser using GitHub Codespaces.

Building on my GraphPlan rust library, I prototyped Episodic, a procedural narrative generator. It's a fascinating field of active academic work and seemed useful for building simple game scenarios.

I built a pipeline using Emacs for publishing my personal notes. Based on that experience, I started building Noteland (early alpha at the moment) to make note blogging available to everyone. While building it I learned TypeScript and re-oriented myself with frontend JavaScript tooling with some mixed feelings.

Finally, I worked on an air quality sensor reader in Rust because every consumer AQI monitor was sold out due to the many wildfires in California (oh right that happened too).

Professional

It was the hardest year I've experienced as a manager. I was moving off of Stripe Atlas and starting the New User Experience team, then shelter-in-place orders happened. Last year I wrote everything I know about building remote teams and while I'm thankful I didn't need to figure it all out from scratch, supporting a new team with no prior remote experience during a pandemic is not the nearly the same thing. Despite that, I've seen that remote work at scale really can work and I'm optimistic this will lead to more access to opportunity as companies support remote work permanently.

I spent time pondering product work and what it means to solve problems. I learned that product work necessitates change which can be very difficult for the organization. One of the most impactful things I've worked on this year (and the most difficult) could be boiled down to convincing folks a small, but fundamental product change was needed.

Wrapping up 2020

This was a challenging year to be an optimists, but I'm hopeful things will get better. There's a new president elect, an effective vaccine, more attention on inequality, and there will be an end to shelter-in-place. I'm excited to work on new things in 2021 and look forward to eventually getting back to some level of normality.