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2020 in Review


At the end of February, I moved from the Bay Area out to Golden in Colorado. Golden is right at the base of the foothills of the Rockies, giving fantastic access to the mountains. The goal was to take advantage of the excellent access to cycling, mountain biking, rock climbing and hiking, all available right from the front-door.

I had two international trips planned this year: a cycling trip with my partner to the French alps through a cycle touring company, with a long weekend with some friends living in Zurich after, and my usual trip home to visit my family for Christmas. Neither of these were able to go ahead. We were able to postpone the cycling trip by a year, so fingers-crossed we can get vaccinated in time for this summer.


I continued to work with a team spread between the Bay Area, Seattle and New York, so I was expecting a bit of an adjustment, though in the end I wasn't the only one. We have an office in downtown Denver that I was able to use twice before the lockdown began. Since then, I've been working from our one-bedroom apartment, the other end of the room from my partners desk. It is not an idea workplace. I've discovered that I'm not a work-from-home type of person. I need the separation of work and life to be spelled out with some geography. By the later half of the year, for extended stretches of meetings, or when interviewing candidates where I wanted to minimize disruption, I took to a make-shift standing desk in our bedroom.

My role expanded during the year to include managing three of the people on my team, along with someone on a different team but based in Denver. It's given me a new respect for people who are able to manage five or six people, run a team, and still contribute meaningful code. Incorporating this new set of responsibilities has been challenging and quite interesting. Typically, when deciding what to work on, I would follow my engineering and product instincts: what's the most important thing that needs to be done to further the product. This is something I'd say I'm pretty good at. Sometimes it was fixing open issue, other times adding features, or investing in tech-debt that would prevent flexibility in the future. I feel like over the past year I've done a decent job in stretching these instincts to include the other responsibilities of leading the team, such as communicating priorities, organizing the work of others*, collaboration with other teams, working with customers, and so on. I've started to work on expanding the balancing act to include the growth of my direct reports, especially where their growth may trade-off against furthering the product or have a longer time-horizon in terms of positive impact on the product.


With the blurring of work and home life, working on any technical side-projects has felt a bit too close to home. As a result I've not put as much time as I'd like into exploring new and interesting tech. The three projects I have toyed with have all been in the form of self-hosting and building a few websites.

The first is an online version of a card game called Turbo Hearts mostly built by two colleagues, I pitched in on a few aspects of the UI and set up the hosting, including an OAuth service for those who didn't want to use Google to authenticate.

Later in the year, as Google Play Music disappeared and was "replaced" by Youtube Music, I decided to self-host an alternative to have control over my music library§. Previously, my library was shared between my desktop and laptop via iTunes using iTunes match, and sync'd to Google Play Music for listening on the go. My requirements for a replacement were pretty straight forward: stores my existing music collection, last.fm scrobbling when listening on the desktop, and an android app that can download music for offline listening. I decided to self-host Funkwhale. I hosted on a nano Linode instance, and used Linode's object storage to host my library. It does a lot of what I need, and though the mobile app is missing a few useful features, the server does also support the subsonic protocol so there's a lot of optionality in terms of ways to connect to the instance. And of course it's open-source and hackable, so I'm excited to dig in further and add a few features that'd make it a full replacement for my iTunes usage1.

Finally, this new site! I'll write more about the site, the inspiration and intent (more than just a blog!) in the future, but for now I'm excited to have a place to put some writing, and to host little experiments.


In 2020, I covered a little over 4k miles between my road bike and Zwift. This was more than 2019, but not quite as many as 2017 or 2018. I did however climb around 420k feet, 50k more than my previous record. Given my proximity to the mountains2 this is hardly surprising. My biggest ride of the year was heading to the top of Mount Evans3 from home with two friends.


I keep a running log of most of the articles, papers, docs, etc that I read online. I don't know that I have stand-outs this year, though I did enjoy the Retool blog's explainers on ERP and Salesforce.


I didn't read as much as I had planned in 2020. I expected to have a daily commute, along with monthly business trips with flights and nights in hotels which I typically fill with reading. Without either of those, and with the work-life line becoming a blur as my commute became ten paces from the bed, I finished less than half the number of books that I read in 2019. And, as usual, I didn't read any books that came out in the year. The highlight book for me this year was 2014's "All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr, which lived up to the acclaim. The writing has a timeless feel, a story set in WWII without feeling dated, achieved through Doerr's ability to avoid flowery-complexity while still producing some of the most beautiful writing and turn of phrase.


An interesting year for music, with lots of stripped back lockdown-produced albums releasing in the later half of the year. As usual, Gilles Peterson's weekly show was a great source for new music from around the world. He also provided a fitting tribute to the late MF DOOM. Artists from my collection trending upward in my listens this year include Haken4, Fleetwood Mac, and Laura Marling5. As for new releases, here's a few words on my five favorites:

Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers

It took me a few listens to warm to Punisher. It's an album that requires attention to appreciate, something I failed to give it properly earlier in the year. Much of the beauty is in the slight, gentle production. "Graceland Too", a sombre folk ballad, and "I Know The End", with it's quiet-after-the-apocalypse chill followed by a build to the dramatic repetition of "the end is here", cap the album perfectly.

Shore by Fleet Foxes

Shore feels is a perfect amalgamation of the folkier, tender sound of his earlier releases with just a touch of the more experimental sound of Crack-Up. It has an upbeat peacefulness to it, evoking those end-of-the-summer days spent reminiscing about the summer just gone, while the days start to get slightly longer, and the sunlight runs out half an hour earlier than you want it to.

Lament by Touché Amoré

Raw, energetic, angsty. Listening to Lament feels like a release, like taking a load off. The closer, "A Forecast", manages to be open and revealing about Jeremy's abandonment after the last album whist opening as a surprisingly humorous ballad. A near perfect album.

Unfold the God Man by Psychonaut

I'm very particular when it comes to anything with a post- or prog- prefix. A lot of the music in the post- genres has such a homogenous feeling that it's hard to get passionate about individual albums or tracks, I'd rather just throw on a post-rock playlist and enjoy the music as a background. Often, a great prog- album only pays off when given time and attention, so I tend to stick to old-faithfuls that I've already invested in and know back-to-front, or artists that I know will reward my investment. With Unfold the God Man, the aggression grabs your attention out of the gate, and doesn't let up. It's hard to listen without wanting to get physically involved. It manages to draw influence from prog in song structure, without resorting to the often egregious displays of technical mastery found in, say, a modern Haken album. Almost every track has the escalating build of a great Tool track, though much like their latest album Fear Inoculum, it does occasionally cross over the fine line between consistency and repetitiveness. Despite the 70-minute run time, each of the nine tracks avoid overstaying their welcome, and I found myself playing the album through back-to-back.

RTJ4 by Run The Jewels

Musically, a tighter package than RTJ3. Lyrically, a perfect mix between brash rap bravado, and an activist message that's more relevant that ever, a message only exacerbated by the tragic-irony of it being recorded long before the killing of George Floyd and following protests for which, to me, it became the soundtrack. "A Few Words For The Firing Squad (Radiation)" serves as the perfect closers, a swelling, building, jazz-infused reflection on balancing family and their involvement in social equality movements.