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2021- The year in review

by on under general
6 minute read

Another year in the books…

There are a few things that I was able to accomplish in 2021 that I’d like to talk about, and probably a few others that should be mentioned. The things that I’ll choose to omit are most likely gross failures to even get a project started, so it may get kicked ahead to 2022. Maybe.

My Internal Conflict

There are not enough hours in the day for me to learn all the things that are interesting to me. I also find that as a specialize more and more at work, the more that I want to branch out into other technical realms in order to be more well rounded. It serves two purposes: I love learning, and I also love to be self-sufficient. During the year I did find a few places where I could align some of my technical learning goals with work goals, which was nice. Some of the things that I wasn’t able to justify for work-purposes are getting rolled over to 2022, but I haven’t decided on an approach just yet.

My biggest challenge to learning new technical skills outside of work is the allocation of time. Spending extra hours in front of a computer after I’m done work for the day is done can sometimes be a real drain, and I don’t feel like I’m unplugging. It also interferes with other things that are just as important to me, like jiu jitsu and mountain biking. I don’t know how to balance it all. I’ve also found that if I attempt to do technical learning first thing in the morning, that it quickly leads to me starting work early, which has yet to result in me walking away from the computer any earlier at the end of the day. Maybe I have boundary issues? Working on a distributed team that has a -5h to +4h spread means that there’s always something going on, or someone to chat with about something that we can improve. Maybe time management should be at the top of my list for 2022.

Start, Stop, Continue, but in a different order.

I find the “start, stop, continue” feedback process the most actionable sort of way to think about moving forward, but I’ve nerver applied it to personal development, so here we go.

Stop

  • Using R. I started using R in 2017 when I needed programmatic graphs and it fit the bill. ggplot2 can make some beautiful graphs. My main issue is that the I find the language completely arcane. Between the tidyverse, CRAN, and the standard language itself, there’s just too much variety. Too many calling conventions, arbitrary naming and syntax conventions , and and general lack of uniformity. RStudio is nice, but I find a lot of the tooling weak, and the error messages terse enough that I’d never attempt to code without access to the internet.
  • Complaining about JavaScript(on the front-end). I haven’t denied the utility of JS on the front-end, but I have willfully ignored it as something that I’m not willing to spend time learning. I maintain that NodeJS, while enormously popular, is a mistake.
  • Saying “yes” to all requests. The ability to be versatile doesn’t always mean that you should actually be versatile. The more things that you take on, the more obligations and interruptions you accumulate. This can become antithetical to deep work and learning.
  • Arguing on technical solutions. If I’m not the person doing the work, all I can do is offer my perspective and supporting evidence. If I’m not the one implementing, this needs to get to “disagree on the implementation, but agree that it’s the path forward”.

Continue

  • Improving at vim, more specifically nvim. I overhauled my .vimrc to be an init.vim in the last few months as part of the exercise and have really enjoyed taking the time to attempt to master some of the core features. I’ve been using vim for 15 years, and was still using arrows, and many other rookie methods. Leaning motions has been great, and I’m finally starting to really unlock the power of the “editing first” principles. I’ve been doing Python development for smaller projects exclusively in vim and I hope to move my Go development into vim as well.
  • Learning/relearning Python. I dabbled in Python 2.5ish days and it really felt like a more structured version of shell(this is an oversimplification, but that was my impression at the time). Watching the train-wreck of the 2 to 3 migration(and the Perl 5 to 6… um, whatever that has turned in to) let me put it on the shelf as a “I’ll get back to this at some point” item. I knew that web frameworks had popped up, and that the push to Python 3 had picked up steam. In coming back in the last year, thing like type checking, and overall tooling seem to have really come along. The potential removal of GIL is also an exciting possibility moving forward.
  • Learning more abstractions in Go. I’ve spent a bit of time learning interface{}, however, I don’t really find myself using it in projects. Generics landing in Go 1.18 mean that there will be more abstractions showing up in code bases, and knowing what’s going on will be very useful.
  • Improving SQL. The last year has had me write some queries that went beyond my initial comfort, and some were certainly killed by the DB engine for being abusive. Refining queries, and really understanding sub-queries and making results sets smaller earlier via constraints seems like an easy win. I’ve also had to translate queries to other engines that don’t support all of the features that I’m used to which has been interesting. Knowing when something is specific to an engine will also be important going forward.
  • Knowledge synthesis. I started very deliberate leaning for vim and the results have been quite good. I plan to expand the technique into other technical realms.

Start

  • Learn some JavaScript. This is only for front-end work(see above comments for thoughts on Node). It seems that Next.js is quite popular, and when I ask front end devs what framework they’d pick if they were able to start over today, and Next.js is almost always the answer. I’ve been doing all sorts of work from data generation/collection, to APIs to expose the information, but I’ve never done a modern front end to display the results. My last serious front end used PHP and tables for layout.
  • Get comfortable with pointers in C. I understand C just fine until folks break out multiple levels of indirection with pointers. It’s no wonder that dangling pointers and “use after free” bugs are a thing. Sadly it’s outside of my current skills to be effective in that area. Also, it’s a good bridge to being able to better understand assembly languages and other outputs from reverse engineering.

Onward

Taking the time to reflect on my technical goals for the upcoming year should help me direct my focus. It also gives me a reference for what I thought was important to me if these things fail to materialize. Capturing information is the first step, reviewing and reflecting on it at a later date may actually be the much more powerful part of the equation.

learning, tools
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