This isn't a full 2018 retrospective, but I wanted to write about three things I'm happy about from the year, all of which involved doing stuff that scared me.
Well, the glue talk slides hit 50k views, and I got an enormous number of emails and messages from people who were affected by it. Such amazing emails. About a week after the thing hit the interwebs, Cian (who is insightful) asked me whether the backlash from it had started yet. It hadn't, but I was already obsessively refreshing Twitter because he's right: after a few days of people telling you you did a good job on something, there's usually a period of people telling you that what you said was really obvious, or that you said this one thing that was incredibly wrong, and therefore invalidated anything you might have accidentally gotten right. (Sometimes the same people will tell you you were both obvious and wrong, which I think is actually a pretty good achievement.) Anyway, that didn't really happen for this thing, but I guess I'm still waiting.
I finished writing a talk about fire escapes in New York City and keynoted QCon New York and DevOps Days NYC with it. It was a plenary at SRECon Americas too. The glue talk was at Write/Speak/Code, which was my first time there. I track hosted Velocity NY and am on the program committee for next year's SRECon in Brooklyn. And I took on some paid speaking gigs, which is new and exciting. I will try to do that more.
And I took a couple of steps that really scared me. One is that I presented twice without speaker notes. This didn't mean there weren't speaker notes, it means that I wrote them out and then memorised every word of the presentation so that I wouldn't need them. It was incredibly time consuming, but it does definitely make for a more open presentation style. I need to get better at just talking about things without sixty hours of preparation, and that leads into my other thing, which is that I was a guest on a podcast. Speaking without a script is petrifying for me and honestly I didn't do a great job of it, but the InfoQ folks spliced together some coherent thoughts out of my shaky self-interrupted sentences. Now that I've done it, I can see the 800 ways I could have done it better, but I think I won't be able to chill the hell out and just make it a conversation until I've done it like five times more (and of course I'm still terrified of it). So please let me know if you're willing to let me come mess up your podcast. But in the meantime, I'm genuinely proud that I pushed through the terror and did it.
I'm a socially awkward penguin. If you know me and don't know this, it's because I spent years deliberately learning how to do social. I can do both small talk and chit chat now! I can "mingle" at a "social" for a whole hour before I have to pretend my phone is ringing. I always tell people that you get better at what you spend time on, and that's really been true for me here.
This year I've gotten better at approaching people I admire and/or would like to be friends with, and that's gone universally well. (My normal reaction to people I think are awesome is to avoid them. True story. I could have been friends with Carla like five years earlier.) I was invited to a tech retreat thing this year which involved a lot of conversation with tech luminaries, and… I'm actually still kind of surprised that I went, and even more surprised that I enjoyed it.
But I still run social in software, not hardware. It’s cognitively expensive and I've needed to be deliberate about recharging. I joined The Wing and have carefully avoided most of the networking opportunities and social events; I just go there and code and write and do the NYT crossword and let my social-brain fill back up again. I’ve started scheduling solo train trips before or after things like conferences when I know I'm going to talk to a lot of humans. I wish I'd made peace with this a decade ago, but this was the year where I stopped trying to power through and just respected what my brain needs if it's going to do (and enjoy) a lot of humaning. Better late than never.
I left Google! I'd been there twelve years, and the outside world was pretty scary to contemplate. So much had changed since I was last outside! I didn’t know the tech nouns any more. Were my skills even transferrable? In one of my interviews, I suggested (knowing it couldn't be right) using tarballs for something where the right answer (I know now) was clearly Docker. I practiced for design interviews and needed to learn how much memory servers have in the outside world, what anything costs these days, what things even exist. Even still, my first few months at Squarespace had a lot of "ok, I don't know what it's called, but is there a thing that is kind of like… *draws a system design on a whiteboard*... does a thing exist that’s like that?" and a lot of "No, don't do that, follow the best practice… *spends two minutes online* … oh, that is the best practice. (Wow, how does everyone live like this?) Ok, carry on!". I vowed that I was not going to be an "At Google, we…" kind of person, and I guess I should ask my colleagues how well I succeeded at that :-)
I'm really enjoying Squarespace. I'm the principal engineer in the infrastructure group, which so far I've interpreted as a mandate to go broad, get in everyone's business and ask "yeah but why" a lot. Usually the whys are fascinating and I have learned so many things! I've had time to randomly dip into topics like database consistency and java frameworks and how edge networking works, but that's mostly so I understand what the people I'm working with are talking about. The stuff I've ended up focusing on so far has been more glue-y -- processes and charters and long term plans, design reviews and how we handle outages. Now that I've got a broad picture, I'm ready to go deep on some tech projects; my brain is (unusually for me) really eager to read hundreds of pages on a single topic for a while. It was also kind of jonesing for code, but I've almost finished Advent of Code, so that's scratched that itch for a while.
I'd been really broken up about leaving one particular social group at Google, but we moved to a Slack just before I left, and I feel more connected than ever. ✨👩💻🍵 I've maintained a bunch of other friendships online (and over breakfasts) too, and everyone else feels just an email away; I don't feel like I've "lost" people. But I've gained people! I have phenomenal coworkers who care about each other, are vulnerable with each other, and are vocally enthusiastic about each others' work. It's warm and lovely. I've got new mentors who bring me up a level and new mentees who I can help go up a level. (Sometimes these are the same people.) I get to work with Tiarnan and Niall again, which has been fantastic. Tiarnan and I have been following each other around the industry (and world) for decades, so it was probably inevitable.
Changing jobs was entirely the right choice and I'm glad I did it.
In work-adjacent news, Silvia, Ashleigh and I wrote about managing microservice dependencies, which is already a thorny problem and I think is only going to become more relevant. It was my first time being published, and we were in both ACM Queue and Communications of the ACM. I find writing excruciatingly difficult, but I love having done it, so I will try to do more of that.
And that’s 2018. Onwards to 2019!