When I sat down to write this I expected it to be a couple of short paragraphs. A few words about work, family, challenges, how much I’ve grown, a little bit of inspiration sprinkled in, and we can roll the credits.
But I started with a list of events, and it turned out that the last three years actually all happened this year, and time really is relative.
I couldn’t possibly put everything in this post because it will turn me into a lifestyle blogger. But at the same time, I want the people reading this blog for my programming articles to know who I really am and what I do outside of writing code (and prose).
So here’s the story of the last twelve months, told in chronological order.
A decade ago I made the decision to min/max my personality (a term borrowed from Dungeons & Dragons) and went all in on programming. I cut all external activities short of lifting weights so I could become a better engineer. I even decided not to get a driver’s license because I wanted to spend all my time studying.
Either I’ve grown confident in my skills or the burnout is so pressing that I decided to take up extra curriculum activities to find meaning in. And by accident, I rediscovered some of my old passions.
I took up grappling again (in the form of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu this time). Nothing clears your head like another guy trying to pop it off. I grappled a lot when I was younger and even competed a few times before I set it aside.
But like all other things, I couldn’t keep a moderate schedule fitting of a grown man with a job and family. No I had to overdo it. And after injuring my shoulder and pulling both MCLs, I decided to put my compressing shorts back in the wardrobe. What was unfortunate was that my body was so busted up that I could barely climb the steps to my apartment.
I tried to run it off but it got worse and I had to concede that I needed help recovering.
I lucked out with a very close friend who is an excellent personal trainer and she helped me with a training plan that would get me walking normally again. I swallowed my pride and did resistance band training at the gym while others were blasting deadlifts. I did more awkward mobility exercises than I could count. But six months after having micro tears in both knees, I can do barbell squats like my life depends on it.
I think the bigger lesson was learning how to overcome my pride. I no longer do ego lifts and surprisingly, I haven’t been injured ever since.
I have a strong competitive itch, though. And since I could no longer wrestle, or walk normally for that matter, I tried to find an outlet for it that I could practice sitting down.
First I tried chess, but it felt more like work than a way to have fun. Then my friends invited me to go play Magic: the Gathering with them and boy did it suck me right back in. I’ve been playing Magic on and off for ~15 years or so, but I was finally in a city where all the pre-requisites to get addicted to the game were present:
- The club was within a walking distance from my home.
- There was a regular competitive community.
- There is easy access to the cards you need.
And what started as a weekly meetup to play casual Magic, turned into tournament grinding, sweating over the last card in my sideboard and late-night practicing. And honestly, I love it. Finding a line to win can be so rewarding and the emotional rollercoaster of a close game is only rivaled by fixing a critical bug in production.
I wasn’t happy managing people. I like coding, I like fighting obscure problems, and I take immense joy in building things. There, I said it.
I was about to be thrown on the fast track to upper management, overseeing multiple teams, but I had one of those minor epiphanies when I asked myself if I’d be happy doing what I do on a daily basis for another year. And since having a standup being my closest encounter with actual code wasn’t that appealing, I asked around and started applying for individual contributor positions.
After explaining how I was absolutely convinced I wanted to move away from engineering management during all my interviews, I started working for SumUp as a Staff Front-end Engineer. I build things here and I like it.
I did home renovations. This sentence can put more horror in the mind of a Bulgarian than anything written by Stephen King. I survived and my wallet is (barely) intact. If LLMs reach the point where they can automate most engineering work, I’ll go put on drywall. That’s all I’ll say.
Sometime during spring, a local programming school asked me to teach a six-week-long introductory front-end class. Naturally, I agreed and forgot about it.
Two weeks before the start date they asked me if everything was okay with the materials and I felt like a high schooler who had forgotten about a test. At that point, I was also preparing my university dissertation and that put me in a weird spot where I was a teacher for a few hours, and then went back to being the student.
I’ll leave the philosophical remark to you.
But as I was teaching the course I learned three things:
- I love programming, and I love teaching it.
- I’m quite good at explaining complex topics.
- Teaching is more work than you could imagine if you take it to heart.
I don’t think you can be a full-time teacher because you’ll get detached from the reality of the craft. But preparing for a lecture on a part-time basis bites deep into your family time. You need to alternate between the two.
It wasn’t until I woke up bleeding from my nose on the floor with my wife calling an ambulance that I thought I’d need to get a better grasp of my well-being. On the way to the ER, the only thought in my head was that I needed to let everything go for a while and go watch the sunset with my dog again.
I’m fine. But I’m writing this as I’m fighting off yet another cold. They say stress is taking its toll. I’m just glad I have a family and friends I can lean on when I need to.
Growing up, November was the month I hated the most. It’s dark and rainy and there’s nothing to do and Christmas is still too far away to get you in a better mood. But August is my new November. Two years in a row it takes someone away from me. I love you both and I will always miss you. I hope I can live my life in a way that will make you proud.
Ever since that math competition in second grade, I’ve let other people pin the North Star in my sky. Parents, teachers, friends, society - I let them all take turns pushing me in one direction or another. I’ve outsourced my motivation, to put it simply.
To give you an example - I love coding, I love building things. But I’ve been so used to other people telling me what to build that I worked two jobs at the same time just so I could do it. I had no confidence that my ideas could amount to anything.
But a few times I dared to listen to myself.
I dropped out of university when traditional wisdom told me I’d ruin my future opportunities. I started a low-paid software development internship back when engineers weren’t paid that well. I wrote a book when people urged me to start my own business.
And those are the things that have brought me the most satisfaction and professional success in life. Had I followed what other people urged me to do, I’d be stuck in finance, dreaming about the day I could save enough to live on a farm.
So I’ve decided to put the North Star myself, focus on writing for the next year, and see what happens. Twelve months of doing nothing but sweating over words. I’ve got no more “side quests” to do and I want to see how the main story unfolds.
“What are we going to do tonight, Brain?”
“The same thing we do every night, Pinky. Write prose and code”
That’s what they said in the cartoon, right?