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2020 in review

I write this note around the end of December. The process is simple. I fight a baggage of depression and disappointments laced with chaotic thinking. This manifests into something I call a year-in-review. This year did not end on time for me. It took three extra months for me to finally move forward.

In the beginning of March, we got wind of a single Covid-19 infection in a nearby IT park. Our team decided to go back home for the week. In most of our minds, we already knew that this is going to be semi long-term thing.

I was low-key ecstatic with the prospect of working from home. I realized around end of 2014 that my productivity was much higher when working at home. That thought sat in my head. After a while, I noticed some thought leaders pushing for remote work and the perils of open offices.

I have been reading a lot of opinions on developer culture and developer experience for a while now. Some of them include:

  • Negative costs of interrupting an engineer at work
  • Cost-benefits associated with remote work
  • Futility of open workspace
  • capital A agile
  • 10x engineer, 1x engineer
  • and so on.

With all this knowledge and bent of mind coupled, I believed and concluded that WFH, or remote work, is what I need. So I was happy about coming back home.

Yet, I did not know what was in store. Nobody did. The term new normal spread like wildfire when it was evident that there is no clear end in sight. This is no chaos. This is a cataclysm. An event that forever changes all society.

I was ready for wearing a mask. I started using an anti-pollution mask during the daily commute in November 2019. It worked wonders on my breathing and outlook for the day. So I was ready.

Split into three phases, this is how I went through the year — descent, despair and depression.

Descent

As a thinker and an introvert, it felt normal to work from home. Yes, I am an introvert. Lately, I am rather proud about this fact.

I love solitude and quiet. I value a focus friendly ambience. This makes it difficult for me to work in noisy workspaces, especially the ones with open plans.

Full of hope, I preached to close colleagues about the virtues of working from home. All I needed to do was show up on time and follow some best practices to be productive while remote. All is good. Some habits and lifestyle changes happened organically. Some good, some bad.

  • Eating less rice — This led losing nearly 5kgs within a month without much exercise and next to no outdoor activities. I lived only on oatmeal, millets, and curries and dal. To fend off hunger pangs in the gaps, I took to sweet and salty snacks.
  • Daily weight watching — Above diet constraint resulted in checking my weight multiple times a day. I kept a weight scale next to my desk for this.
  • Staggered work hours — Then, a pattern emerged gradually wherein I worked for 2 hours and then was off work for 1 hour, repeatedly, until the end of the day. This culminated into often working 12-14 hours per day. I noticed my productivity tapering off as the worktime became more splattered across the day for several weeks.
  • Dark mode — As I worked at night more often, I embraced dark mode wherever possible. Visual Studio sucked in dark mode.
  • Bad sleep — I got things done late at night, not to catchup on tomorrows work, but to finish the high-profile tasks of the day. This devolved into playing catching up most of the week. This was troublesome as some nights, I was just tired to do any mental work. I got less and less sleep around June.
  • Polyphasic sleep — I looked for opportunities for sleeping during the day, 20 minutes at a time. It was good for a few days. Then those 20 minutes swiftly turned into 3 hours.
  • Binge watching TV shows — Just one show, The Office. I watched it entire 9 seasons 5 times in a row.

This turned into a bad burnout and lasted about a month. I figured I will take a break, work in a senior developer role, get my focus back etc.

Despair

I did not get that break. I am choosy about the work I intend to do, but I had to relent and begin another assignment.

This assignment was a golden opportunity to understand enterprise architecture in a great team. But, my mindset was not receptive. I was looking to cruise, but the work kept piling up. Not a stranger to this situation, but in such cases, I usually plan some power-through sessions to get on top of the work. This was different.

I became ever so argumentative, restless and impatient. The work suffered. I kept having the same discussion, reading through the same codebase on a loop, kept asking the same questions. These situations devolved into having fights with the manager. This frustrated me daily. There was some fault on the other side as well. But, that's not what is important. I hated every moment in that assignment as my behaviour caused some collateral damage to the team.

One of my much younger colleagues, was very kind, despite repetitive questions and discussions. His positivity and general demeanor helped me regain some levelheadedness. Thanks Jatin.

I watched The Office 4 more times in this phase, bringing the total to 15 times. I moved onto a new assignment after a very short break. I got hit with many health issues somewhere in phase two. I addressed these with doctor visits immediately during this break.

Depression

Depression is not generally a phase for me. It is a state of mind for a good part of the last 2 decades. But this time, it became a separate phase. My behavior just threw me into deeper depths than I have seen before. At that point, I did a deeper dive into self to gain more perspective and see newer avenues for a cure.

After the initial onset of the vicious cycle of self-loathing and anger, I came to my senses about a plenty of things that left me in a persistent depressed state in the first place.

I evaluated and reevaluated many significant actions and decisions going back 15+ years. I pinpointed my failures to a personal attribute and searched for ways to either overcome or step around that attribute. I incorporated more gratitude, lesser ego and big-picture thinking.

One of other significant things I have done after a long time is to rethink my purpose. This helped evaluate my current and past relationships and laid a path forward.

The bright side was that all of this did not feel new or scary. I still have my tools to fight and embrace it. It took me some time-off and good discussions with my parents and mentors who helped me see the light. Thank you to my parents and my managers.

In this new assignment, I also learned a bunch of new things. This cured me somewhat of the recent mental state. I have also managed to complete a major course work at my workplace. It was significant and has enabled me to identify my career path.

Realizations

Some new realizations I happened upon:

  1. Drastic cutdown of carbs affected my energy levels
  2. Dark mode is not effective if you are working more than 8 hours a day
  3. Polyphasic sleep may not be effective without a solid 5+ hours sleep the night before
  4. I love data visualization.
  5. The senior engineer in me became rusty.
  6. Usual opinions on The Office stop making sense after you have watched it enough times. For example: Karen was not right for Jim. David Wallace was not as good a boss as we tend to think.
  7. Sometimes you don't have to work on good projects. They are still good projects without you. You just may not fit some projects.
  8. Key and Peele may break your addiction to The Office.
  9. For the first time, I started saying it is okay when I mess up the smallest thing, professional or personal, instead of self-flagellation.
  10. Remote work is still good, but now, I can see the other side of it. For remote work to be moderately successful, you need at least two things.
    1. a team that is aligned with asynchronous communication patterns
    2. good remote work patterns and practices.

Highlights

Some achievements:

  1. Learned Power BI on-the-fly and fixed some reports within few days.
  2. Discovered some amazing Youtube channels.
  3. Recorded my daily habits for 300+ consecutive days.
  4. Identified a bunch of new things I want to do.
  5. Learned Angular freshly
  6. Completed a brief intro to Racket and had some fun
  7. Cutoff Amazon Prime for the entire year
  8. Achieved first level of digital minimalization†
    1. Moved to a single new domain
    2. Redesigned Blog
  9. Completed Solution Architecture course work†

† These tasks were completed in March 2021. That means 2020 had 15 months for me.