Another year has passed. Another long year. Even though the pandemic is still messing with everyone’s lives (including mine, and why I’m putting this out finally in March), I think a lot of good things have happened this year and I’d like to take my usual review time to go back over it.
In addition to the terribleness of the pandemic, 2020 brought on a wave of protests after the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and hundreds of other Black people that year. Then in 2021, it got quiet again. Society stopped talking about them. So I want to take a moment to say a few more things.
Stop Asian hate. (Still.)
LGBTQIA rights are civil rights. (Still.)
I live in a country that is built on numerous systems that promote the value and lives of White people and continues to hurt the many BIPOC, LGBTQIA, poor and middle class, and other groups of people.
I also acknowledge that I am a White person that, as of the time of this writing, has a six-figure income in the tech sector. I believe that because of this, I need to use this privilege for good, by helping those less fortunate and by boosting voices of those that need to be heard.
The vaccines for COVID-19 came out early in 2021, and it was quite chaotic, but I did manage to get my two shots in late February and mid-March. After both of us were fully vaccinated by the end of March, I went and saw my friend Tracey, and we shared a wonderful, big mask-free hug! And in December, I got my booster shot. As of the time of this writing, I have showed no signs or symptoms of having had COVID-19 (though have not been tested for it aside from having negative antibodies from blood donations in 2020).
At the start of 2021, I had just come off an extremely stressful and overdue project at work, I quickly took a week off for vacation as soon as I could. I didn’t go anywhere, just mostly recouped at home for a stay-cation. Though quickly after that I reentered some stressful times at my job and burnt out again.
In April, I applied (again) to 18F, a technology and design consultancy for the U.S. Government, within the US General Services Administration. It was my third attempt to get in as the previous two times either my resume expired (as they can only consider a candidate for six months) or the filled the position and I never heard back. I applied on a whim, not even sure if I’d hear from a person this time. But I got lucky! I not only talked to a recruiter there, but by end of June I was already given a tentative offer pending a security check! Then about two weeks later, I got my final offer! (Hilariously, HR woman hadn’t seen a security clearance clear that fast before. She ended up calling the security offices to confirm that was accurate!)
I gave my two weeks’ notice at the old job, then took five (!!!) weeks off between jobs. It was a weird combination of knowing I needed the time to recover from burnout, feeling like I made a mistake and should have immediately started a new job, and also feeling really lucky for the first time in my life I managed to have plenty saved up in a fund to pull this off. But after the anxiety-filled first week of no job, I recovered amazingly well. I was happy and ready for the job to start!
On August 30, 2021, I was sworn in as a public service employee.
And wow! I knew from several friends at 18F over the years that the culture was a wonderful place to be, but actually being there? I’ve definitely had days I had to really remind myself “Yeah, you work here now, Sarah.” As I like to tell my friends, they take their work seriously, but they don’t take themselves seriously. This comes out in everything from all-hands meetings (where they end with jokes and take time to show off pets, babies, and other cute things), virtual “coffees” (where we’re encouraged to actually take 30 minutes here and there to just chat with friends, have book clubs, etc.), to having very public discussions about things agency leaders have said and discussing our feelings about them, and so much more. And to also say I get to share my work and contribute to our resources that are all open source is a great way to show that my impact here can have a lasting effect for years to come!
Code Thesaurus, my open source polyglot developer reference tool, turned one year old! (At least in terms of being a production-ready site.) For someone who has a tendency to start a LOT of things and never finish them, it’s been amazing to watch this site not only go live, but to actually be something I’m proud of continuing to work on throughout the year!
Hacktoberfest is an annual celebration of open source software, and they encourage people to make four pull requests (or code/documentation updates) to participating projects. I, again, spent my efforts on working on Code Thesaurus in 2021. Early in the month of October, someone discovered my site and shared it with the Hacktoberfest Discord server. Overnight, seven people claimed some issues. While Hacktoberfest 2020 gave Code Thesaurus about 15 pull requests, 2021 gave it over 90! And I personally did 10, which got me my free t-shirt and swag.
Currently, there are 20 programming languages you can compare on there in 8 different concept sections. I’m always looking to grow the site even more and fill in more gaps. I also imagine Hacktoberfest 2022 will have even more activity, so one of my goals before October is to try to automate a lot of the tasks that I do manually to help optimize my time, and maybe find a second person that could help me maintain the code repository too.
I didn’t end up doing any conference speaking in 2021. It’s a bit of a surprise to me when I think about it. However, I did still speak at multiple other virtual events throughout the year, including a couple of keynotes. I also was a part of organizing !!Con 2021, which remains my number one favorite conference of all time (attending, speaking, or organizing)!
For 2022, I’m not sure how much I want to submit anywhere. I am still a bit cautious about traveling, and I’m still trying to work out my feelings on how much time, energy, and work PTO I put in towards speaking versus the payoff I get out of it. (For example, I have several friends that use conference speaking as a way to put their name out there as they do self-employment or consulting, and this is an important payoff for them in the end.) While I love seeing my old friends and making new ones, while I still love sharing what I learn, as long as I continue to have to take time off of work or continue to have to pay some of my own way to attend these events, it gets harder for me to justify the end benefit to myself. (I do want to write a blog post on all of the events I’ve attended and break down the time, energy, and money I’ve spent attending them and whether the end result is positive or negative.)
I do believe I want to continue to submit to my top 5 favorite conferences, and will still consider all events I’m invited to speak at.
One of the things I’ve tried to do is stream some of my development work on Code Thesaurus on Twitch. (Believe it or not, there’s a whole niche community I call “Dev Twitch” of people that work on software.) I started doing it partly as an accountability method (as in: if I can reliably dedicate time to streaming, it means I’m dedicating time to working on side projects). I also do it because a lot of people have talked about how helpful it is to see how I think through code problems, being able to share my experiences, and also I think it helps to see other women developers out there being vocal about things. It’s something I continue to want to do.
Through a variety of stressors that came up through work and life, it was hard to reliably dedicate time to doing it as my schedule often frequently changed or meant canceling streams. Also a lot of burnout meant losing the energy to go through with it on a regular basis. Despite this, I did manage to stream a good amount.
I streamed 94 hours and 33 minutes over 2021. I doubled the number of followers I had, and average about 12 viewers per stream. I also made $257.95 through that. (It comes from a combination of ads, subscriptions, and “bits”, the Twitch currency.) I told myself that I wanted Twitch to be fun and not an income source, and feel that if I do it for the money, I’ll eventually lose the joy of doing it. Therefore, whenever Twitch sends me a payout, I donate it to charity.
I’ve mentored various groups over the years, but the one I’ve most recently been involved with has been a FIRST Robotics team in Pittsburgh. The Girls of Steel is the city’s only all-girls robotics competition team that’s based out of Carnegie Mellon University. It’s my third year working with them, and the first two years were a bit chaotic because of the pandemic. I’m now the lead mentor for the middle school FIRST Tech Challenge teams. Though we’ve had a few delays on getting started, we did finally get to meet in-person again in October, and they’ve been building robots for competition. We had to shut down in January 2022 (I know, I know, it’s outside of the scope of this blog post), but it’s been great to be able to work with students in-person again and to be able to watch then learn and grow!
I also have been mentoring with one of the high school group’s spin-off projects called BuzzBand. It’s an arm band that young people on the autism spectrum can wear that through various feedback methods can help them focus more during exercise. They not only won awards through the FIRST Robotics system for their invention, they received a $10,000 grant through the Lemelson-MIT program to help make their idea into a real idea! It’s been cool to watch this group really take charge on designing prototypes, talking to potential users and their parents, talking to inventors to learn about the process, and to get local media coverage about this. They even started filing a patent with their names on it! (And in a tiny moment of self-brag, they’re sticking mentor names on it too!)
Deleting Big Tech Accounts
I had a goal that by the end of 2020, I’d have deleted all of my Big Name Tech Company accounts and just eliminated the services or found replacements elsewhere.
Let’s just say that didn’t fully happen.
But by the end of 2021, I’ve deleted a lot more of them. I intend to continue to slowly get rid of more of those as I can, and eventually write a blog post on how I finally got rid of all of them and what I replaced them all with.
- Amazon/Amazon Prime: Deleted as of early 2020!
- Amazon Web Services: Deleted as of 2019!
- Android: Still use but Google is fully stripped off!
- Apple: Not deleted, no plans to delete yet.
- Dropbox: Not deleted but not used daily anymore and no more sensitive data is on it. Do plan to delete.
- Facebook: Not deleted but effectively unused. Do plan to delete.
- Google: Deleted all but one account (for Google Voice). Do plan to delete.
- LinkedIn: Not deleted, but moved it mostly private. No plans to delete yet.
- Microsoft: Deleted all but one account. Do plan to delete.
- Netflix: Deleted as of 2021!
- Skype: Not deleted, but rarely used. No plans to delete.
- Yahoo: Deleted as of 2021!
Bicycling and Health
I had an amazing 273 miles ridden in 2020 and I set a goal for 400 miles in 2021! And I’m here to announce I rode…
… 56.7 miles. I didn’t really do well at all. I think a lot of life stress, work stress, and pandemic burnout really led me to get out of the habit of getting on the bike. And from that I definitely slid downhill with regards to my health. I do want to get back in the habit, so while I won’t commit to a number, I’d like to at least get back to a routine of getting on the bike at least once a week and getting back on some trails around the area.
In other health news, I made some tweaks to my artificial pancreas settings and started for the first time fully “looping” (letting the device control all insulin without input from me on food/carbs I’m eating). I switched endocrinologists I use for the type 1 diabetes treatments, which has helped a lot as well. In the end, my last A1c (the test used to determine how well I’m managing the disease) returned a result of 5.2%. For context, you’re considered “pre-diabetic” when that’s above 5.7% and “diabetic” when it hits 6.5% or more. My first endocrinologist always told me keep it below 7% and she’d be happy, and as of that most recent test, I don’t even appear diabetic!
Goals for 2022
I’ve usually tried to set myself up with some goals, but I stopped setting specific ones during the pandemic. I do have a few general ones though:
- I want to get back into the routine of riding my bicycle, no matter how many miles I go
- I want to get back into a routine of live streaming again, no matter how often it is
- I have a few personal and medically-related goals I want to achieve
- I want to continue to teach, mentor, and share my knowledge and experiences through the tech world to help others, especially the underestimated communities in tech
I always write these blog posts for me. I think it’s helpful to remind myself of great things I’ve achieved throughout the year. The years are never perfect, and they’re filled with a lot of bad things, especially after the pandemic. I also am aware that there’s some privilege in some things I can able do with my life now. But I think through reflecting on the positive, I can help enter a new year reminded of what I have achieved, and can continue to try to do what I can to grow as a person. And who knows, maybe through sharing this on my blog, someone else can be inspired through this too.
Thanks for reading! Happy 2022!
* I capitalize “Black” and “White” because in the US, racial identities are used as strong identifiers. The shared history and struggles of Black people means the term should be capitalized out of respect to the community of those people. There are conflicts when it comes to capitalizing “White” though. I stand by the opinion of the National Association of Black Journalists who say that you capitalize “Black,” “White,” “Brown,” or other groups when referring to race. I also stand by the opinion of the Center for the Study of Social Policy who says that “To not name ‘White’ as a race is, in fact, an anti-Black act which frames Whiteness as both neutral and standard.” Therefore, I will also capitalize it, even if it makes other White people uncomfortable to be called out in such a way. Return to the section.