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Year in Review — 2017

Man, this has been a rough year for the world.

2016 foreshadowed some of what could happen this year, but a lot of other unexpected shit went down too, mostly for the worse. In contrast, events in my own life have moved in a positive direction, and the juxtaposition is the textbook definition of a mixed bag.

Reminding myself through the 2017 archives, here are a few of this year’s major themes…

A Traumatized World

Brexit and the election of Trump set the stage for a tumultuous 2017, but I don’t think anybody would have predicted the levels of controversy and chaos which has consumed the United States federal government. On top of travel bans and failed healthcare reforms and Russia election meddling, we have a resurgence of Nazi and ultra-conservative sympathies, a polarization of political attitudes around the western world.

Beyond politics, there have been some truly horrendous shootings and terrorist attacks; multiple major natural disasters which will likely get worse as the world keeps getting warmer; an ongoing series of sexual assault scandals implicating powerful and famous men in media and technology.

To be fair, there have also been good news and progress made in science and research, but any positive news feels overwhelmed, in a year when negative events dominated the headlines.

A Technological Stall

This is a reflection of how technological progress, compared to what we lived through in the past 2 decades, seems to be reaching a point of maturity. Moore’s Law has already peaked in CPUs (though GPUs are carrying the torch), and futuristic technologies like AR/VR and autonomous driving feel as far away as they have always been. The one area of rapid growth has been in artificial intelligence, which has correspondingly brought about fears of automation and AI subservience.

The other major change in tech is that we are no longer given the benefit of the doubt, at least as from a skeptical media. The prior default of assumed benevolence has given way to (reasonable) fears of consolidated power, accusations of a lack of human compassion, and an amplification of the downsides of technological reach and anonymity. People have always questioned whether technology is a net positive for the world, and the developments this year have amplified that question more than I’ve ever felt since I’ve started working in this industry.

Leaning into Management

It has taken a few years, but I feel like this has been the year that I’ve been really able to make something of my career as a software engineering manager. A major contributing factor has been my choice to switch jobs and secure a role at my current startup (Affirm); I’m much better positioned now to show my best work. The stage of the company, the culture of our organization, how good work is recognized and rewarded, and even the business and engineering domain are turning out to be great fits.

Beyond my day job, though, I’ve started to engage with a small niche—though obviously more populous in silicon valley compared to other places—of engineering leaders to chat about problems and share experiences. I did my first podcast, my first public roundtable with a sizable audience, and have connected with a good number of other managers (through the Plato mentoring service) along the way. It might sound like ex post facto rationalization, but I enjoy feeling like I can volunteer my time to make an impact on others leveraging what I know best.

Nintendo Rises

My last Nintendo console was the Nintendo DS; the one before that was the original Super Nintendo Entertainment System. I had skipped multiple generations of Nintendo consoles due to the better selection of games elsewhere, but both the Nintendo Switch and the SNES Classic are amazing systems that have resonated with me and the kids.

The Switch has been a versatile system that happens to have some of the best games of this generation which can be played on-the-go. The SNES Classic has some of the best games of a much older generation, a lot which still hold up 2 1/2 decades later. Granted, nostalgia plays its part on fans like me who have grown up with video games, but it’s been surprisingly popular for my kids too. As it turns out, they appreciate the simple graphics and game design over the complexity and context-rich, chaotic nature1 of modern gaming. Nintendo has an impeccable track record for games that are fun and universally accessible, and it’s found the perfect audience in young parents and their children.

Onto 2018

The world is quite different today from when I wrote the 2016 year in review. I’ve celebrated some personal and professional growth, but cannot ignore or downplay the larger transitions facing our society and the political and natural—of the disaster variety—trends that 2017 laid bare. And as I think about what the next year will hold, I’m cautiously optimistic; things may not get better by themselves, but I believe in the resiliency of the human spirit.

  1. Not to mention the violence, lengthy storytelling, and load times.

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