To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect. - Oscar Wilde
More seriously, 2021 is a strange year to summarize. My year felt like a near continuation of 2020, primarily due to COVID. We went through a few false starts of post-pandemic life (vaccines! decreasing case counts!), which were deflated by the Delta and Omicron variants. However, there are also lots of reasons to be optimistic coming out of 2021. The bubbly enthusiasm of emerging technologies – biotechnology, renewable energy, crypto/web3, VR/AR/metaverse – is infectious, even if much of it turns out to be substanceless hype.
My main takeaway from the year is that the medium-term future is predictably unpredictable. Things like supply chain malfunctions, COVID mutations, and extreme weather events will continue to happen. We should expect unexpected events to continue to occur, and with increasing frequency as things get weirder.
The good thing about uncertainty is that it, like risk, can be managed. Setting expectations for an uncertain future makes it easier to adopt a “So it goes” mindset when inevitable disruptions occur. Constraining uncertainty is a tradeoff against imposing additional constraints on yourself. Deciding where and when to accept uncertainty is a very personal decision, but the global dial of uncertainty is increasing (again: pandemics, extreme weather, technological disruptions, etc.). As a result, the baked-in amount of uncertainty in the median person’s life is increasing. The optimal amount of risk-taking is not zero, and neither is the amount of acceptable uncertainty in one’s life.
Such was the experience of 2021.
Favorite Media of 2021
📚 Books: I wrote an entire separate post of my favorite books of the year.
✍️ Blogs: My favorite new-to-me blogs this year were:
- Matt Ricard - Excellent, short posts about technology trends. Matt is a great writer, and somehow manages to post an interesting bite-sized idea every day (!).
- Mike Crittenden - Another great daily blog. Good source of new ideas for self-experimentation and working in tech.
- A Wealth of Common Sense - Helpful for keeping the pulse of economic and finance news. I also enjoy the author’s podcast, Animal Spirits
🎬 Movies: I really didn’t watch many movies this year. So, by default, my favorite movie of the year was Dune – in part because it was the only movie that I remember watching (and enjoying), and partially because it was so visually striking that it prompted me to revisit the Dune books.
🎧 Podcasts: I continued to cut down on my podcast consumption in 2021. There were only a few that I added to my rotation:
- Rationally Speaking - Interviews with rationalist and Effective Altruism-adjacent thinkers and figures.
- Animal Spirits - The podcast companion to the aforementioned A Wealth of Common Sense blog. Contains some reasonably levelheaded discussions of crypto markets, among other larger trends in finance.
- Modern Finance - The firehose of web3/defi/NFTs/crypto. I only dip my toe in this feed. It’s not a hype machine, but there’s only so much of the crypto scene that I care to pay attention to. This is one of the better sources I’ve found though to at least keep my eye on the space.
The biggest change in my work this year was that I switched teams – from an internal-facing infrastructure and developer tooling team to a more external-facing backend services team.
It was a rewarding change, and I’ve learned a lot on my new team. In particular, I’ve been ramping up on control plane design, the Kubernetes resource model, and the surprisingly vast world of enterprise-scale cloud configuration management (e.g. Anthos).
I’ve also been thinking more about the types of work that I enjoy doing – and where I can provide the most value. I used to think that designing a system’s “greenfield” architecture was “the fun part”, but I’ve since shifted to being more interested in working with systems that are already operating. One of the most enjoyable projects I did this year was instrumenting an existing system, identifying performance bottlenecks, redesigning components of the system to be more performant, constructing a migration plan, and rolling out the change. It was super rewarding to see our dashboards respond positively to the change.
As far as day-to-day coding, I still primarily use Go and Python at work, and continue to enjoy both ecosystems (though, admittedly I’ve become out of touch with the OSS Python community). Go continues to be an excellent workhorse of a language, and I’m excited to use generics once that feature gets released early next year.
On the horizon, I remain interested in Rust, but I haven’t had the chance to use it in a professional context yet. (Though, my dabbling contributions to git-branchless were quite fun…) I think I’ve gotten over the initial difficulty curve of Rust, to the point where I’m pretty confident in my ability to befriend the compiler. I’d definitely prefer working in Rust to C++ or Java, at this point.
At a meta level, the other component of work this year has been the continued (and likely continuing) reality of “hybrid work”. While I still expect to work more in the office in 2022 than I did in 2021, I wouldn’t bet on a return to a 2019-style work environment soon.
Much ink has been spelled on remote/hybrid work, and I don’t have a particularly unique take on it: the increased flexibility is welcomed; the disconnection from coworkers is a loss. The few times that I did work on-site and got to meet with my team in-person were enjoyable. Conversing in-person is indisputably higher bandwidth than video calls. I understand the push to continue remote work: commuting sucks, being able to set your work hours is nice, as is increased control over your working environment (who want’s to return to “open floor plan” offices?). So, we’ll see… 🤷♂️ We’re in uncharted territory.
I didn’t write as much this year as I did in 2020, but I still enjoy blogging occasionally. When I was in college, I blogged as a way to increase my legibility. It was a way to supplement my side projects, and construct a “serious” looking portfolio. However, this started to feel like a chore.
Over the years, this blog has shifted to be more of a project log, as I started including posts about personal non-technical projects (especially during the pandemic).
Going forward, I’m planning to deemphasize my prior stance of “maximal personal legibility,” and lean into what currently makes me curious. I hope to write more posts in the style of the book reviews I wrote earlier this year, and also shorter single-idea posts.
My only prediction for 2022 is that it will continue to be weird. In what ways? Answer unclear; Ask later. 😛
I hope everyone had an enjoyable and relaxing holiday. Here’s hoping for a bright 2022. 🎊
Cover Image: The Tillamook Oregon Octopus Tree