To Overcome

2016 Retrospective

Last year, I wrote:

2015 has been a hell of a year for me.

If only I knew how much more so 2016 would be!

The Longest Year

Subjectively, this has felt like the longest year in my entire life. Technically, my last CD The Cycle of the Void is the crowning moment of my 2015, but I somehow forgot to mention it in the last post, so I figure it makes a good thing to start with.

The Search for Work

The year began with a flood of job interviews. I’d cast my net far and wide, and thanks to my intense self-study of Haskell and blogging, I had a decent amount of interest. The previously abstract concern of “get a real job, leave Athens” became starkly concrete as I evaluated job offers, compared cost of living, and had to deal with the very real effects of potentially moving. A move to Atlanta, New York City, or San Fransisco seemed like an impending certainty.

I ended up choosing the offer from Seller Labs, a company based in Athens. It’s hard to beat a remote-friendly Haskell job, even if you have to do some PHP.

Compose Conf

In February, I went to New York for Compose Conf. I had a tremendous amount of fun, learned a ton, and got to meet a bunch of great folks. I highly recommend the experience.

Escape from Academic Fortress

I entered the spring semester burnt out from the previous semester. I had 17 hours of classes: computer networks, distributed systems, intro to numeric/scientific computation, intro to women’s studies, and an independent study on category theory/type theory/logic. Fortunately, since I’d already signed a job offer, my inability to care about grades didn’t end up harming me. I got to focus on the far more interesting task of actually learning things.

The highlight of this semester was certainly my independent study. I got to study lambda calculus, category theory, formal logic, the Curry-Howard correspondence, and applications of the above to distributed systems. I was able to make the connection that the type signatures for the Cloud Haskell primitives have categorical interpretations that can be shown to follow along with a modal logic designed specifically for distributed systems. If you’re interested, you can read the writeup.

Midway through the semester, I wrote a spreadsheet and a stupid little PureScript app to determine how much work I needed to do in order to graduate. This dramatically reduced the academic stress. Unfortunately, my prior attempt at college had left me with a poor GPA, and even straight As in the last semester wouldn’t be enough to get my GPA over the 3.0 mark.

Sweet Relief

May came, and I was finally done. I rested and relaxed for a few weeks before going a two week trip to Colorado for LambdaConf. Every time I go to that state, I love it even more. The open air, the lack of humidity, the mountains, the potential for snow, the bike-friendliness are just wonderful. I greatly enjoyed exploring Denver and Boulder on my own. The people I met and things I learned at LambdaConf were more than worth the price of entry. When I returned, I had a few days to recover before starting the full time job with Seller Lab.

Professional Software Development

On June 1st, I started my first official full time non-intern software engineering role. My task was to port some failing/inefficient workers from PHP to Haskell. I spent a ton of time learning how PHP works, reading the existing code, and writing Haskell to do the same job. As of now, Haskell is the beating heart of Seller Labs most successful product, managing a 2x increase in throughput with 1/4 the resources.

A Second Denver Trip

In October, I made a two week trip to Denver to explore the city and scope out where I’d want to live. I went with my then-partner and housemate. My housemate ended up moving out there in early December, being too enthused to wait any longer. I had another excellent time visiting the city and working remotely. I got to explore more coffee bars, parks, and community this time around. Denver has captivated me, and I can’t wait to move there early next year.

Finally, cello

I’ve wanted to learn to play cello for over half my life. My parents could never have afforded it when I was a kid, and I didn’t have the financial resources myself until late this year. I’d played around with my housemate’s electric cello and tried to teach myself, but made very little progress. I finally decided to rent a real cello and get lessons, and it’s been an awesome experience thus far.

I really appreciate the feeling of being a beginner. You suck at something, and it’s hard to get motivated when you suck. But progress is measured in hours: you practice for an hour and notice immediate improvement. You’re noticeably better after a week. This novice progression is addictive and fun, once you get over the complete incompetency associated with being a beginner.

Being a competent incompetent is one of my greatest strengths. I hope I never become allergic to learning new things.

Everything has a Price

Last year, I wrote:

Many of my relationships faltered this year, and some failed entirely.

Unfortunately, this trend continued this year. In May, I returned to Athens from Boulder, and a partner decided to end our relationship after two months of avoiding me. In November, I returned to Athens from Denver, and my partner of 4 years and I finally gave up on our relationship.

I worked for, earned, and bought success. I learned everything I could about good software development techniques and practices. I demonstrated my skill publicly and to employers. I picked up tens of thousands of dollars in student loans. Most importantly, I devoted nearly all of my time and effort to this goal.

Relationships require time, care, and effort. Without these things, they die. I have no roots in this city. When I shared my fears and anticipation of leaving, what little that held me here recoiled and retreated. The city that left me numerous times has left me yet again; except this time, it’s still here. Despite being surrounded by familiarity, I’m isolated. The city is building walls to keep me out, to let me know I’m no longer welcome.

I found a document I wrote in early 2014, before I started this whole crazy software development thing. All of my estimations were so conservative. Fear and anxiety were soothed by meticulous planning; a kind of reassurance from the future that I’d be OK.

I succeeded far more than I’d anticipated. I paid a far greater price than I knew.