2019 in Review

December 31, 2019

Here are some of my thoughts and reflections on my 2019.

Biggest Lesson

One of my biggest struggles this year has been my tendency to take on too many projects at once. Throughout the year, I found myself constantly being spread thin trying to accomplish too many things at once. I nearly experienced burn out for the first time, and had to take a week off from everything to recover.

I failed to learn my lesson repeatedly. I realised that I had too much on my plate multiple times within the year, but I still took on more projects anyway. I got sold on ideas too easily and felt a lot of FOMO if I missed the opportunity. This boils down to not respecting my own time or energy.

Nearing the end of the year, I tried as much as possible to really prioritise and drop the commitments that don't matter to me. So far, I've managed to clean up and close out most of the unimportant projects, with only a few left to bleed over into 2020. I will try my best to finally learn my lesson next year.

Notable Stuff

Working as a software engineer

I worked as a full-fledged software engineer for the first time in 2019. I started off the year joining TenX part-time. since I still had to deal with school. It was a fun and enriching experience overall. I got to work with many insanely smart people. I worked in a team for the first time and picked up on many of the processes that go into working cohesively. I coded in Rust professionally. And of course, I also got some extra cash to save and to spend on the (more than) occasional taxi ride home.

Looking back, however, I think I could've made better use of the opportunity. I didn't do enough pair work, so I feel I didn't grow as much as I could have in terms of my communication and technical skill. I also suppressed too many of the questions I had, for fear of them being too "stupid". In the end, the biggest problem was that I didn't put in enough time into my work due to me spreading myself thin with commitments, and as a result didn't get as much value from this opportunity as I could have.

I reflected on these mistakes, and took the learning to Taskade when I joined them in September. This time, I made sure to ask more questions and dedicate myself more to the product, and so far it's been going great. Although I still find having to travel to the office every day quite limiting, I've adapted well enough to this new lifestyle. In my next 6 months with Taskade, I hope to dive even deeper into my work there, and hopefully I'll find myself growing even more.

WorldSkills Kazan 2019

In August, I took part in the WorldSkills competition in Kazan, under the Cybersecurity skill. Alongside my partner, Devesh (who hard carried me), we managed to clinch the Bronze medal, behind China and Russia. It's the biggest award I've received so far in my life, and I'm super thankful for it.

I felt really undeserving after winning the medal. Our skill was new, it was through a lot of confusion and ambiguity in the 4 days of competition that we managed to pull ahead of the others and win. We had trained full-time only the week before the competition, while many of the other Singaporean competitors in the other skills who had trained for months came away with naught. It's tough to describe the feeling — something about getting too much upside without enough effort.

I think my biggest takeaway wasn't the medal we won, but the team that we fought within. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was part of something bigger than myself, competing not only for myself but for who I represented as well. The last time I'd felt that feeling was back when I played football. It was a really good feeling.

Picking up reading again

Early this year, I started to read semi-consistently again, after almost 6 years of not reading much at all. I can't exactly remember what the trigger was, but I remember being struck with the realisation of how important the consumption of distilled content was. Most of the content we consume today comes from social media, news sites and sometimes blog posts. Unfortunately, these tend to be highly contextualised and thus contain lots of noise. Through reading books, we can avoid that noise altogether and receive much more distilled knowledge. More stock, less flow.

So far, my main benefit from reading is the increased vocabulary I've gained to describe my thoughts and ideas. This is one of the issues I've struggled the most with in the past — being unable to describe concepts effectively — so reading has helped a lot in that way.

I've also found great joy in reading again. Back in primary school, one of my favourite past-times was to read science-fiction novels, and I'm glad to say that hasn't changed one bit. My ideal vacation now would be a simple getaway to laze and read. I think that reading books is a much healthier habit than spending time on social media, and it's one that I'll continue to cultivate over the next year.

Writing 500 words a day

Late April, I saw a blog post somewhere that wrote about the benefits of writing 750 words a day. I thought it would be quite interesting and so I tried it out. For 26 days, I wrote 500 words on whatever topic came to mind on the train ride to the school. I wrote about topics like social media, time anxiety (although I didn't know the term for it back then) and sometimes discussed my goals for the next few months.

The 500 words were more of a brain dump than anything, lacking research and generally being quite boring. However, looking back, I think that writing those entries every morning was quite therapeutic, and reading them again now, I realised that some of them were actually quite decent. Maybe I'll flesh out and publish some here soon.

I spent some time reading through the entries after rescuing them from the writing app that I'd deleted. There's a strange feeling to reading my own writing published in the past, different from reading my own code. The writing seems foreign, but the ideas and beliefs behind that writing is the same. It's an almost out-of-body experience.

Unfortunately, I eventually stopped the morning entries after thinking it would be better to put together an essay every week instead. Well, that didn't happen. Overall, I think it was a really good experience, and perhaps I'll pick it up again once I settle into my life in the military next year.

Looking Forward

Unlike many people, I know exactly where I'll be at the end of 2020 — serving out my National Service. I've been told a great number of stories from my seniors, some exhilarating, others incredibly depressing. But the best piece of advice I've received so far is to simply lower my expectations as much as possible, that way, I'll be pleasantly surprised if any good comes of it at all.

As for the first half of the year, I'll continue my work at Taskade. I want to contribute as much as possible before I inevitably have to leave. I also have some trips to Tokyo and Helsinki planned, super excited for those.

But I think the biggest area of my life I'll be focusing on is my health and fitness. Thanks to the countless projects I took up, I never really prioritised my own health, and I'm starting to feel some of the effects of this choice. Thus, I hope to change up my lifestyle next year to be more health-conscious and to include more exercise.

Phew! It's going to be a busy year ahead, and I can't wait to get started.