I haven’t done a ‘year in retrospective’ publicly for a long time, but after reading Alice Goldfuss’ 2017 year in review decided to do one for me too!
This is a very filtered view - there are lots of important people & events in 2017 that are not contained here, and that is ok.
I finished around 6-ish years at the Wikimedia Foundation, and joined UC Berkeley’s Data Science Division early in the year. I grew immensely as a person & programmer in that time. The new job gives me a lot more responsibility and it is quite fun.
At Berkeley, I build infrastructure for students to dive into writing code to solve their own problems in their own fields without having to navigate the accidental complexities of software installation & configuration as much as possible. This is in line with my previous work like Quarry or PAWS, except it’s my main paid-for job now rather than a side project, which is great! It lets me work full time in realizing some of the ideas from my talk on democratizing programming. I’m happy with the kind of work I’m doing, the people I am doing it with, the scale I am doing it at and the impact I think it is having. I feel lucky & privileged to be able to do it!
Wherever I go, whatever I do - good or bad - Wikimedia will always be partially responsible for that :)
Working closer to users
At my Wikimedia Job, I was partially responsible for maintaining the Tool Labs infrastructure. Others (mostly volunteers) built the tools that end users actually used. While this was still good, it made me one step removed from the actual end users. At Berkeley, end users (both students & faculty) directly use the infrastructure I build This increase in directness has given me a lot of joy, happiness & confidence about the impact of the work I’m doing.
I helped rewrite & redeploy mybinder.org as part of the mybinder team, which was one of the high points of the year! It has had the most public facing impact of all the projects I’ve worked on this year - even got a glowing review from Juilia Evans! We’re now temporarily funded via a grant from the Moore Foundation, and need to find long term sustainable solutions. We have a lot of low hanging fruit to take on in the next year, so I am super excited for it!
I’m now sort-of accidentally ‘inside’ Academia as defined in the US, which is a strange and surreal experience. I’m ‘staff’, which seems to be a distinct and different track than the grad student -> post grad -> faculty track. From the inside, it is many moving parts than one behemoth - some move fast, some slow & super cool stuff / tension at the intersections. I don’t fully understand my place in it yet, but maybe someday I will!
At Wikimedia, I was in a team of (otherwise amazing!) operations folks that was mostly white and male. Now, I’m in multiple diverse & multi-disciplinary teams, and it is amazing. I find it easier to do more impactful work, grow technically & professionally, build consensus and have fun. Hard to go back!
I spend time at the Berkeley Institute for Data Science, with the interesting variety of people who are there. They’re all very smart in different fields than I am in, and the intersection is great. I walk away from every conversation with anyone feeling both dumber & smarter for the new knowledge of things I now knew I didn’t know! Cool (and sometimes uncomfortable) things happen at intersections, and I want to make sure I keep being in those spaces.
I am a Maintainer
With enough involvement in the Jupyter community, I have now found myself to be an actual Maintainer of open source projects in ways I was not when I was at Wikimedia. Took me a while to realize this comes with a lot of responsibility and work that’s not just ‘sit and write code’. I am still coming to terms with it, and it’s not entirely fully clear to me what the responsibilities I now have are. Thankfully I’m not a solo maintainer but have wonderful people who have a lot of experience in this kinda stuff doing it with me!
I was involved in 3 talks ( 1 2 3 ) and 1 tutorial at JupyterCon this year, which was a mistake I shall not make again. I also gave one talk at KubeCon NA 2017. I am a little out of practice in giving good talks - while these were okay, I know I can do better. I gave a number of talks to smaller internal audiences at UC Berkeley & ran a number of JupyterHub related workshops - I quite enjoyed those and will try to do more of that :)
I finally understood how little I had valued writing good documentation for my projects and spent time correcting it this year. I still have a long way to go, but the Jupyter community in general has helped me understand and get better at it.
I’ve started working on python projects again, rather than just scripts. Some of my skills here have rusted over years of not being heavily used. I got into writing better tests and found lots of value in them. This is another place where being part of the Jupyter ecosystem has made it pretty awesome for me.
This year I’ve had far more operational responsibilities than I had at Wikimedia, and it has forced me to both learn more about automation / autonomous systems & implement several of them. It’s been an intense personal growth spurt. I also have the ability to work with public clouds & a lot of personal freedom on technology choices (as long as I can support them!), and it’s been liberating. It will be hard for me to go back to working at a place that’s automated a lot less.
Performance analysis + fixing
I did a lot of performance analysis of JupyterHub, in a ‘profile -> fix -> repeat’ loop. We got it from failing at around 600ish active users to about 4k-5k now, which is great. I also learnt a lot about profiling in the process!
I learnt a lot about how containers work at the kernel level. Liz Rice’s talk Building a container from scratch made me realize that yes I could also understand containers internally! LWN’s series of articles on cgroups and namespaces helped a lot too. I feel better understanding the hype & figuring out what is actually useful to me :) It pairs well with the kubernetes knowledge I gained from 2016.
Lots happened here that I can not talk about publicly, but here is some!
Election & Belonging
The 2016 US Elections were very tough on me, causing a lot of emotional turmoil. I participated in some protests, became disillusioned with current political systems, despondent about possible new ones & generally just sad. I feel a bit more resilient, but know even less than before if the US will be a good long term place for me. I’d like it to be, and am currently operating on the assumption that the Nov 2018 elections in the US will turn better, and I can continue living here. But I am starting German classes in a week just in case :)
My visa situation has stabilized somewhat. Due to wonderful efforts of many people at UC Berkeley, I am possibly going to start my Green Card process soon. My visa is getting renewed, and I’ll have to go back to India in a few months to get it sorted. It’s a lot more stable than it was last year this time!
I did not travel out of the country much this year. I had the best Fried Chicken of my life in New Orlean’s, and good Chicken 65 (!!!) in Austin. I also did my first ever ‘road trip’, from the Bay Area to Seattle! I spent a bit of time in New York, Portland & Seattle as well - not enough though. Paying bay area rents does not help with travel :(
I cooked a lot more of the food I ate! I can make it as spicy or sweet as I want, and it is still healthy if I make it at home (right?). Other people even actually liked some of the food I made.
I haven’t fully recovered from a knee injury I had in 2016 :( It made me realize how much I had taken my body for granted. I am taking better care of it now, and shall continue to. I’m doing weights at home, having admitted I won’t have the discipline to actually go to a gym regularly when it is more than a 3 minute walk…
It’s been mostly red this year! I might just stick to red from now on. I switched out my profile picture from random stick figure to a smiling selfie that I actually like, and it seems to have generally improved my mood.
- My primary community is now the Jupyter community, rather than the Wikimedia community. This has had a lot of good cascading changes.
- Lots of personal changes, many I can’t publicly talk about.
- The world is an bleaker & more hopeful place than I had imagined.