2020 is going to be remembered as a “year that contained decades”. Continuing with my tradition of writing a year-in-review post, here are my thoughts on 2020.
Looking Back Chronologically
I don’t remember much from January and February, other than they have a vague “before times” feeling to them now. Things changed rapidly in the end of February: The first COVID-19 death in the US happened at an assisted living facility that is blocks away from my childhood elementary school. Despite this, the actual threat of COVID continued to feel abstract until the first week of March, when “the acceleration” occurred.
March 4th was our first “optional” work-from-home (WFH) day. The next day, we moved to an effectively mandatory WFH regime that, ultimately, will extend well into 2021. I experienced the common sense of “eternal March” for the next several weeks; each day seemed to portend worse for the future, as the expectation of a “quick, one-off lockdown” faded.
Through March and April, it felt like COVID would (or rather, could) be “solved” in 6-8 weeks, and that things would return to normal by the summer, or the fall. Yeah, nope.
By late May or early June, it became clear that we were going to be stuck in a holding pattern until “something” changed. I made the tough decision to not renew the lease on my apartment, and moved back to be with my family. This ended up being, with the benefit of hindsight, the “correct” choice as it made me significantly less isolated and allowed me to spend a lot of time with my family (including over the holidays) without the fear of infecting them with a deadly virus.
The summer months were characterized by the mass demonstrations for racial equity. It was gut wrenching to see the level of police-instigated violence, especially in Seattle and Portland. I struggled to write about this at the time. Since the summer, I’ve modified my reading list priorities and the organizations I donate to in order to try to do something that is more impactful than performative.
My personal 2020 nadir was in September, when the smoke from wildfires along the West coast ratcheted up our level of isolation significantly. There were a few 10-14 day chunks where I literally did not step outside. This also led to a curious few weeks of needing to be double-masked: one mask for the wildfire smoke, and another to prevent COVID spread.
Once the smoke cleared (literally), we slid right into the election doomscrolling of October and November. And, then the holiday season kicked in, ushering in a frightening new surge of COVID cases.
And now, well, here we are. What a year.
Isolation: Since March, I’ve more-or-less maintained the same level of physical and social isolation: I only go to the store once every other week; in the summer months, we visited our local farmers market every week; and, I went on two day hikes before the wildfire smoke arrived. That’s… basically been the entirety of my offline life. Fortunately, living in the Pacific Northwest affords access to plenty of beautiful trails (when it’s not raining), and since I moved away from downtown Seattle, there have been more opportunities for safe outdoor activities. Given the way the pandemic has played out, I think we’re going to need to stay in this holding pattern until the vaccine(s) roll out. 😞
Travel: I had a few trips planned this year: to South Korea and New York City, which ended up being the sites of the first major non-Chinese- and US- outbreaks, respectively. So, obviously those plans got shelved. I was also scheduled to go on a work trip to San Francisco in early March, which was cancelled. That was just as well, because the city entered its first lockdown the week I was supposed to arrive. Of course, staying home is what we all need to be doing, to the extent possible. I’m disappointed in not being able to travel, but the amount of irresponsibility shown by people still deciding to travel or engage in risky activities in the middle of a literal pandemic is significantly more frustrating.
2020-isms: The COVID pandemic, economic downturn, summer protests, US elections, and other related catastrophes had a profound impact on the zeitgeist. I participated in the many of the 2020 clichés: I made sourdough starters, watched Tiger King, noted the toilet paper “shortage”, and read many takes on the future of work, the flight from cities, and remote learning. Midway through the year, I created a list of 2020-isms. This is a woefully incomplete list, but it’s an attempt at chronicling some of the terms and phrases that ballooned in usage this year.
I wrote a post already on my favorite books of 2020, but wanted to link out to a few other things that I enjoyed this year.
Podcasts: Election Profit Makers was my favorite podcast of the year; it was always entertaining, and kept me grounded through the political tumult of 2020. I also enjoyed You’re Wrong About, a “turns out” show that revisits popular misconceptions, and Make Me Smart, a daily news podcast by the NPR Marketplace team.
Blogs/Writing: “The Margins”, Interconnected, and Normcore Tech were all fantastic this year, and were the publications I most looked forward to reading. That being said, I think Ed Yong’s writing in The Atlantic and Zeynep Tufekci’s writing in The New York Times and on her Substack were probably the most important things I read this year. They both wrote some of the best science-based COVID-19 coverage.
Movies/TV: My film/TV tastes were rather normy this year. I basically watched whatever everyone else was watching:
- Parasite – Came out in 2019, but was launched back into the spotlight with it’s Best Picture Oscar win.
- The Queen’s Gambit
- Soul - A recent pick, yet I think this will stand out as one of Pixar’s best productions in the past ~5 years. It’s a shame it didn’t get a full theatrical release.
- Schitt’s Creek - Schitt’s Creek is a slow burn, and you have to make it through the first couple episodes which aren’t great, but this show really hits its stride in the 2nd and 3rd seasons.
- Hamilton - Because everyone else was watching it. I had a bunch of “Hamilton” stuck in my head throughout the summer.
This year was, by far, my most prolific on this blog. In 2020, I published 45 posts (including this one), of which 27 of those were “Week Notes” type posts, and the remaining 17 were my typical mix of technical and opinion posts.
This blog was my main online side project of the year, and so I spent a lot of time yak shaving various aspects of my publication pipeline: I added a dark mode, created tooling on the backend for quicker iteration on posts, added a notes section for one-off ideas, added a blogroll to link to other blogs I enjoy, and did a big visual refresh in March – the main feature of which was removing Bootstrap.
Writing was a welcome diversion this year. My approach to this blog changed a bit, as I stopped writing for an imagined audience, and began to write more for myself and for a smaller group of friends and acquaintances. A few posts did make a splash this year, notably Solving the “Miracle Sudoku” in Prolog and Goodbye IFTTT (the former of which I’m much more proud of than the latter), but attracting views is no longer an explicit or implicit goal of my writing.
Professionally, 2020 was a year of significant growth. I haven’t written about this before, but in October, I was promoted to SWE L4 at Google. I spent a good chunk of the fall collecting and presenting evidence for my promotion candidacy, so I’m really proud that it worked out.
I still work primarily in Go, but also became much more comfortable in TypeScript and Angular this year. I got to do some interesting work with gRPC, the Closure Compiler, and a rather large cobra app. Though, I can’t really talk in specifics about most of this. I’ve also begun to pick up some mentoring responsibilities, which has been quite rewarding.
I also deeply appreciated the privilege of being able to WFH through the pandemic. After a few bumpy weeks of figuring out my WFH setup, my productivity returned to its work-from-office level.
After making so many failed predictions of how COVID would unwind during 2020, I hesitate to guess at how 2021 will unfold. In a rosy view, I can imagine the rollout of a robust vaccination program during the first half of 2021 leading to the return of something approaching “normal” (e.g. possible to travel and work in offices safely) by the fall – Dr. Fauci suggests this is possible if the vaccine rollout goes reasonably well. Cynically, I can also imagine a bungled vaccine rollout, perhaps combined with a more infectious COVID variant, leading to a 2021 that resembles the second half of 2020.
If you talked to me during 2020, you’ve probably heard me use the phrase “this isn’t going to change until something changes” – where something is either a vaccine, concerted government intervention, or some environmental change that causes the behavior of the virus to change significantly. I finally see a “something” that could make 2021 brighter: the rollout of highly effective vaccines. And so, I’m optimistic for 2021 on the COVID front. Though, I think we’re still in for 3-8 dark months of “more of the same” to get there.
Here’s hoping for a healthier, more just, less tumultuous 2021! Wishing everyone the best in the New Year. 🎊