Thoughts on 2019

December 31, 2019 // Tom

All things considered; I’ve had a pretty good 2019

Here’s a bulleted list of some of the good things:

  • Climbed Mt. Whitney in September.
  • Continued to build my cooking skills with Cassady.
  • Got promoted to Senior Site Reliability Engineer.
  • Started writing more, see: []
  • Continued to hone my generative art skills.
  • Finally finished a V7 bouldering route.

Here’s to another year of pushing myself, learning more, loving more, reading more and writing more. A few thoughts come to mind when reflecting on 2019, mostly centering around how I plan my life and attain satisfaction on the journey towards my goals. I’m writing a postmortem to my future self, a reflection on this past year and a reminder for years to come. Here’s the guiding philosophy I put to use this past year:

Organization and the Nature of Thought

Human nature is often reactionary, we can plan every millisecond, but when executing said plan, it comes down to a gut response. The book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman is a great guide to understanding how thought is organized. As the simple, yet descriptive title suggests, there are largely two types of thinking: reactive and methodical. In the past, I’ve often struggled to organize my thoughts and actions at a larger scale. The act of planning work far in advance does not come naturally to me. I would have probably failed a few college classes if I didn’t use my agenda to write down assignment due dates the moment they were assigned. Working in a professional environment has definitely helped to form better habits, especially when you need to account for 8+ hours a day.

The biggest improvement I’ve made this year was a tip passed down from my mentor Adam Whitlock. He was the SRE who showed me the ropes when I first joined LinkedIn and his thinking has continued to influence the way I look at work and my life at large. His advice:

Documentation as Automation

In the SRE world, automation is the magic power that allows engineers to control thousands of servers, with hundreds of applications, all running in a relatively chaos free nature. It typically takes the form of python or bash scripts or some more complicated framework. Documentation isn’t often the first thing that comes to mind when one says “Automation”. In line with Kahneman’s thinking about thinking: Documentation exists for your long-term planning to assist in short-term decision making. Just like with my trusty college agenda, off-loading information to an analog analog, allows my brain to focus on more important things, like whether or not to play another round of Battlefield 4 or go to bed.

Writing has been my big lifehack this year, trying to write down and catalog the most information I can, freeing up space in my temporary memory. I’ll often revisit projects I wrote in college to find that I for one, had no idea what I was doing, and two, that I didn’t write anything down to explain my thought process. It has been immensely helpful both personally and professionally to write down my goals, log my process on projects, and use this blog to write about the results. What gets published on is only a small subset of my notes about various ongoing projects. It’s a redundant backup to catalog my progress.

This collection of notes effectively becomes a personal automation system. By organizing a document about Linux permissions, I can look up what permissions ~/.ssh/id_rsa needs to be in order for my ssh-agent to stop misbehaving. All without having to fire off a google search and recontextualize the results. My personal documentation also has a reinforcing effect, instead of navigating Stack Overflow for the millionth time, relying heavily on the design language and organziation of the site, I now have a contextual document which is tailored specifically to the way I access information. It’s nothing special, just a markdown file with some links. So far it’s saved me a significant amount of time.

Even now, I’m writing down more in this blog post then I’ve done in recent years. Think of writing as a gift to your future self, whether you’re making a TODO list or planning out the next five years of your career, set aside some time to write. If you’re feeling stuck, write a poem.

I sincerely hope your 2019 was good and hope your 2020 is even better.

▹ Tom