Year in Review: Part 1 – 2016 Retrospective

Colorful rainbow 2016 sparkler2016 has been a weird year for many people I know and many I don’t. My Twitter timeline is guaranteed at least a few “this year sucks” posts every time I look at it. (Heck, I’ve retweeted several of the more amusing ones.) But a “year” is just a time frame, and really is relative. Sometimes things suck, and sometimes things go well. And really, a year is just one rotation around the sun, so it can start and stop anywhere. And for this particular year, I want to recap some of the things that went well for me, and maybe reflect on some of them that didn’t. (I won’t cover things that don’t really have a direct influence on me, like celebrity deaths.)

Let’s start with…

What Went Well –

Reflections

At the end of 2015, I backed out of a lot of the activities I was in so I could have time to work on personal projects I wanted to do. Many of the ideas in my head had been there for at least a year, some as long as 4-5. This was hard because I spent so much time mentoring, teaching, working with others…  it felt wrong to stop doing all that for me. And it took a while to wrap up enough “things I had to do” to find enough time for “things I wanted to do.” I did eventually get to that point, and started working on several things. I still miss a lot of the community work I do (though it was good to get rid of some of the more toxic work I did) and knew it wasn’t a permanent departure from my favorite activities.

Also from my time off and life calming down came a lot of reflection. Time to just think on a lot of things. I won’t talk about a lot of it as it’s more personal, but I did realize there are a lot of mental health things going on. Things I sort of subconsciously told myself that weren’t great. Confidence issues. And more. The worst part is probably feeling like 2015 was so full of accomplishments that writing about 2016 would make it sound like this list totally sucks, since I didn’t accomplish as much.

Perhaps the best thing from all this reflection? It took a year to figure out many things, but I figured them out. And I think this prepares me to set 2017 up to be a great year full of accomplishments, helping others, and improving myself even better than before.

 

Accomplishments

I feel like I haven’t accomplished as much as I did last year. And I think it might have been important to not do as much this year. Also the things this year feel more subtle. It was harder to remember all I’ve done. However, In lieu of backing out of several activities I did regularly, I did do a variety of other things.

  • I started work on my LED dress. This dress was an idea inspired by several sources, and though people have made dresses similar now (due to hardware creation and e-textiles having a lot of easier access nowadays), mine still seems to have enough of a twist to make it unique. It’s covered in the front with LEDs, and they change colors and patterns based on sounds and music. Over the 4-5 years I’ve had this idea, I’ve built a couple of prototypes to see if it was possible, but never got to work on the full thing because it was so time consuming and I haven’t had it. But with getting out of school, changing jobs, and having a crafty group at work, I started working on it there. And I officially have a dress now that has some LEDs on it. Progress! I intend to document my progress with it in 2017.
  • I had an idea of a site that could compare a programming language you knew with one you didn’t to either learn it quickly, or to at least use it as a reference if you were thrown into some language you didn’t know. I started on the foundations of this, and call it Code Thesaurus. It now has a domain and some code and a database structure, but still is far from being anything presentable. But it’s started and is real, and I am hoping to have a “minimum viable product” in early 2017.
  • I took my second real “adult” vacation! I flew to Boston, took a Greyhound bus through New York City, and ended up in Washington, DC. I got to visit a variety of other friends I’ve chatted with on Slack and Twitter but hadn’t met in real life yet, did lots of fun activities along the way, and wandered both cities on my own too. (Combined, I walked over 80 miles!) It’s a TON of work, but planning vacations around people I want to meet is way funner than trying to plan it around attractions. I missed a lot of people I wanted to see, but maybe I can wander back sometime soon.
  • I’ve always hated singing, but realized early this year I enjoy it, and sing regularly (and often loudly) in the car. A transgender choir was forming in Kansas City, and I went ahead and joined it. The Heartland Trans Chorus sung at Pridefest for their first performance, and I was with them on stage. It was pretty scary taking this step of joining a group and singing in front of people when I never do, but definitely think I learned a bit more about conquering fears.
  • I stopped working with the Heartland Trans Chorus (now Transfinity KC) and tried out for the Kansas City Women’s Chorus. They let us come to one rehearsal to get a feel for the group, then go to the audition. I bombed the audition, but had a great experience at the rehearsal, and got goosebumps hearing my voice with a hundred other women singing. I have been working on my confidence, and hope maybe to try the audition again this spring.
  • I had a job at the beginning of the year that was alright, but after switching to the next team on my onboarding rotation program, things got bad pretty quick. After some issues with management and bad miscommunications, I started “passively” job hunting. (I wouldn’t look for jobs, but would consider any that crossed my path.) Despite this mental thought that “I should just be happy where I’m at and take my paycheck and just do my job,” I applied at a position a friend of mine told me about. After several chats with the friend, and then the interview, I saw how wonderfully the team worked together, and realized the work would be more fulfilling than what I was doing. And I got the job! Aside from learning two new frameworks as well as a ton of stuff about the code base and the science that happens, it’s been pretty wonderful to be there and work with this team.
  • I decided I really wanted to work on making more real life friends, as well as more non-developer friends. I have a LOT of online friends, which is great, but the real life contact with people is something I miss. So I have started going to more meetups. I’ve made more acquaintances so far, but it feels good that I’m trying (although sometimes feel awkward when I don’t know how to talk to non-tech people).
  • I’ve realized I have a lot of deep-rooted confidence issues. I also realize that I love dressing nicer, and since leaving school and my last job (a more conservative work environment), I’ve missed dressing nicer. I always feel like I need a reason to do it, and instead decided that a feminine side of me is a part of me and I should embrace it, not second guess or ignore it. I started a blog to dive into my thoughts on fashion and to share outfits (in hopes that maybe if I see myself repeating them I can try to be more creative).

Speaking

I gained a bit of popularity from my talk in 2015. I really worried if I could ever give another talk that would ever compare to the popularity of “Intro to Hacking with the Raspberry Pi.” I didn’t end up giving any encores, but I did give talks that had full rooms, and it helped me feel great. The weirdest part? I went from one talk a year to writing 3 full talks and two lightning talks this year. (Even Cate Huston told me “I wouldn’t give that many talks. Why? Don’t ever do something I wouldn’t do!”)

Talks:

  1. A Primer on Functional Programming (full session)
  2. Building Your Team to Last: Successful Onboarding and Mentoring Practices (full session)
  3. The Power of Secrets (full session)
  4. Encouraging Kids Through Robotics Mentoring (lightning talk)
  5. Why Self Care is Harder for Me (lightning talk)

Events (numbers in parenthesis are the talks above):

  • Nebraska.Code(), Lincoln, NE, May 19-20:  (1) (2)
  • Self.Conference, Detroit, MI, May 19-21: (1) (4)
  • Kansas City Developer Conference, Kansas City, MO, June 23-24: (1) (2)
  • AndConf, Camp Meeker, CA, August 12-14: (5)
  • AlterConf, Portland, OR, October 1: (3)
  • Prairie.Code(), Des Moines, IA, October 27-2In October 8: (1) (2)

Classes:

  • NCWIT Aspirations outreach event, Kansas City, MO, August 6: Intro to Raspberry Pi Hardware
  • NCWIT Aspriations outreach event, Wichita, KS, August 13: Intro to Raspberry Pi Hardware (designed curriculum, but didn’t teach)
  • Girl Develop It, Kansas City, MO, September 26-27: JavaScript for Beginners

Events and Involvement

  • In October 2015, I was elected vice president of PFLAG-KC. I didn’t really end up contributing much, mostly due to a super busy president that didn’t pass off much to me. Though October 2016 I didn’t run for any officer positions, but I am helping the new president and have done more work so far than all year as a VP. But it’s still important to me to be able to support parents and family of LGBTQ people and remind them that their children are wonderful as they are, even if they don’t turn out as expected.
  • I continue to be on the board for the Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas Women in Computing conference. We’ve had planning meetings throughout 2016 and the next conference will likely be November 2017. (It’s held every other year.)
  • I did get involved in trying to start an LGBTQ in Tech podcast with several people. It eventually died due to the person hosting the site going off the grid and not replying to our messages.
  • In March I curated the @TwkLGBTQ Twitter account. Each week someone takes it over and gets full posting access to do whatever they like. I shared many stories that I don’t normally share on my personal Twitter, and chatted with a bunch of people all over the world. In October I was given access again as a backup as the original person didn’t respond back to the owner of the account. Though I didn’t really feel I engaged as much with people, it was still good. I hope to be able to do it again next year.
  • I got involved with Code for Kansas City (a chapter/brigade of the larger Code for America group). I also took on a new project: KC Speed Test. This would be a speed test app (like speedtest.net) but with open data that would allow us to see how the digital divide splits up the city and see what ISPs are living up to their promises. It’s not at a deployable state yet, but is being developed and hopefully good to release in early 2017.
  • I was a part of the planning committee for the National Center of Women in Technology (NCWIT) Kansas and Missouri chapter’s Aspiration Awards ceremony. (Isn’t that a mouthful?) We planned the ceremony where 30 high school girls won awards for their aspirations in computing and computer science.
  • I taught my first Girl Develop It class in JavaScript. We only had 5 students, but it made it nice and cozy, and I was able to offer a lot of personal support for them that they wouldn’t have had in a class of 20 or more. It was good, and I hope to do it again (looking at maybe doing one later in January).
  • In 2015 I visited St. Louis to “crash the party” of people I knew going to Strange Loop. It was a lot of fun, and after talking to them, I learned how cool Strange Loop was, and told myself I wanted to find a way to go. Lucky for me, I ended up meeting 2 of the 6 directors of the conference at a bar after the conference, and they are wonderful people. When 2016 rolled around, a friend told me “I wonder if you couldn’t volunteer for them and get in free?” Turns out I could. I got really lucky and asked one of the directors about it the day before they were having training, and got in, and got my free ticket. The conference was good (and first one I had been to in years that I didn’t speak at), and met so many great people both I had met online and met for the first time. I’m already signed up for 2017!

 

Not every thing can be perfect. Let’s see…

What Could Be Improved?

  • After a conversation about podcasts with a friend, and me saying I didn’t really listen to any, he had asked “So how do you learn anything new?” He meant as a developer and learn things about the industry or whatever, and I clearly have learned things. But the more I thought about this the more I realized I don’t have good ways to quantify to myself that I’m learning stuff. I’ve heard that public speakers should blog, as some of what they write about can turn into talks, and some of what they write can get others to ask you to talk at their conferences. There’s also other good reasons to share. I had lofty ambitions to blog more, but didn’t really do it. (I think I had like 1-2 blog posts all year.) Very much a thing I need to improve on.
  • I wanted to watch at least one conference talk a day. That didn’t happen either.
  • I really wanted to take my conference talks and make them more accessible. This meant making slides available with notes for the talk I had them with, writing out more thorough notes for ones I didn’t already have them more, and hopefully having videos available for them. I did some better organization of the talks on my website, but didn’t fully get notes out and available.
  • I keep knowing that taking the time for me to do personal projects is important, but at the same time, I feel guilty for quitting all the teaching/mentoring I did. I probably could have kept one activity going though.

I’m sure there’s a few things I missed. As I mentioned, 2016 has been fuller of subtle things and less obvious things than 2015. But it still was a good year of successes amidst the many disasters of our world. I look forward to some of my 2017 plans (in my Part 2 post), and more successes in my future.

I really would recommend people write out a list of their successes. I’d love to see yours too! Feel free to tweet me with yours after you write it up.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

 


Also published on Medium.

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