2018: a yearly retrospective

Bye 2018, I’ll miss you

Another year older, another year wiser. Supposedly, at least. So here’s a reflection on how 2018 went, and some setting in stone (or in some SSD belonging to Medium) on where 2019 will probably be going.


From 2017

I set 3 things I’d like to do back at the end of 2017. They were 1. Pick up a martial art 2. Engage in a hardware project 3. Record a song.

As life has it, one doesn’t simply have one’s way.

1. Pick up a martial art

Pretty much the only “thing” that went well, and I’m glad to say I’m still studying it till this day. If we’ve been in frequent contact, you’d have already known I’d taken up Wing Chun.

Why Wing Chun though? There are many haters who’d tell you it’s useless, they’d even show you videos of MMA fights where WC seems rendered obsolete. But here’s why I still chose it over others I considered:

  1. It ain’t flashy. My experiences thus far in life have proven that hype kills the True Way of many arts and disciplines. Think fake teachers and capitalists out to make a quick buck. This pretty much ruled out anything from Evolve MMA – boxing, Muay Thai, BJJ.
  2. There’s no sports association. There’s martial arts, and there’s sports. Where there’s sports, there are rules, and rules exist to prevent serious damage. These rules have made modern day Karate and Taekwondo (ie other traditional martial arts) less useful in real life situations. Same with MMA – no strikes to back of head/eye gouges/groin attacks et cetera.
  3. In fact it teaches you not to fight. I don’t like fighting, but many out there might, and it’s in my interest to know how to defend myself. Quickly. Being a non-belted, non-competitive system of self defence, WC has some perks. Go figure.
  4. It’s a life philosophy, beyond a system of fighting. When I seek to learn something, I usually consider its indirect benefits to other aspects of my life. Being a traditional martial art, WC offers more than just the physical chops. This ruled out the last option of Krav Maga for me.
  5. It’s of Chinese origin. For some reason, as I grow older, I begin to have a yearning to understand my roots better. WC seemed like a good way to get started with that.

So Wing Chun it was, and I’d say it isn’t for everyone. It’s by far one of the most complex hobbies I’ve taken up. It focuses immensely on aligning physical structure and improving sensitivity, and these require a long time to even understand, without even talking about application.

Its been a year, and I would barely claim I can understand the complexity behind the seemingly simple moves taught in the first open hand form – the Siu Lim Tau. Consider that my first class – all 2 hours of it – was spent just standing in the pigeon toe stance and practicing a two handed punch to get a glimpse of the correct form which I still don’t claim to have after a year.

2. Engage in a hardware project

At the start of 2018, I visited eBay and Sim Lim and bought myself a whole lot of hardware stuff to build myself a WiFi enabled switch. They’re still in a box in my room.

But. I managed to serendipitously achieve this goal when I signed up for a workshop by @izzytouchlamps (check them out on Instagram) to build a touch sensor lamp.

3. Record a Song

Nothing done. Couldn’t make time for this, it’s probably not as important to me as I thought it would’ve been 😢


Numbers of 2018

Numbers are always tricky. It’s always possible to game numbers, yet, without them, progress would be meaningless since it can’t be measured. So from this year, I’ll be including a section on numbers that will track things I consider symptoms that I’m heading in a direction I want to. They will be:

  1. Number of books read (measures my discipline in learning)
  2. Number of articles written (measures my experiences)
  3. Number of public speaking opportunities (measures my credibility)
  4. Qualitative evaluation of three most significant skills I think I learnt (measures seeds planted for future harvesting)

Books Read

Not as much as last year owing to the fact that I found less time on my hands once I took up a martial art. This year I covered 8 books, two of them were booklets (4 and 5):

  1. Principles by Ray Dalio (View on GoodReads) *highly recommended*
  2. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (View on GoodReads)
  3. Never Split The Difference by Chriss Voss (View on GoodReads)
  4. Zero to One by Peter Thiel (View on GoodReads)
  5. Beyond the Twelve-Factor App by Kevin Hoffman (View on GoodReads)
  6. Migrating to Cloud-Native Application Architectures by Matt Stine (View on GoodReads)
  7. Emotional Agility by Susan David (View on GoodReads) *highly recommended*
  8. The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim (View on GoodReads)

Articles Written

Six feels pretty little for what I experienced this year, but I prefer to keep my Medium posts focused on fields that interest a specific demographic – in my case, that will be about technology and it’s creation. In the order in which they were published:

  1. For The Love of Coding — Keeping It Real Through Passion & Profession – on balancing professional work with my personal love of code
  2. Look Ma, No Server! – on my experience with attempting a serverless setup at work
  3. 13 Tips & Tricks for Writing Shell Scripts with Awesome UX – on my experience thus far in scripting
  4. MyCareersFuture: As Told By The Technical Team – on what went on behind the scenes with MyCareersFuture
  5. Why I went to Android and back to iOS – on my adventure to Androidland and back
  6. Building a Development Environment for Golang with Docker – on my recent taking up of Golang and the difficulties I faced in getting started

Public Speaking Opportunities Taken

This year, I managed to outdo my previous year and took on nine public speaking opportunities, arguably culminating in my greatest challenge thus far — being a conference speaker at DevOpsDays Singapore. Scary stuff, but I got through it!

  1. Live technical demo to PMO officers — Continuous Integration/Delivery technical demonstration
  2. JuniorDev March Meetup — Git started with versioning (View on EngineersSG)
  3. Presentation to IRAS officers — Microservices (Link to slides)
  4. Presentation to MCI officers — Why Agile Matters (Link to slides)
  5. GDS Rebase — MyCareersFuture moving forward
  6. AI Singapore Sharing — Geeky Insides of MyCareersFuture
  7. Stack 2018 — Effective Containerisation from Development to Production (View courseware on GitHub)
  8. DevOpsDays Singapore 2018 — DevOps & The Definition of Done (Link to slides)
  9. NUS IS4301 Guest Lecture — developer + ops != devops (Link to slides)

Other Things Learnt Worth Mentioning

1. Emotions. I attended the Sense-Making & Facilitating Powerful Conversations workshop by The Thought Collective and it was an amazing experience. I finally understood how big a part emotions often play in both personal and professional contexts.

One book I read is about this, Emotional Agility, and I highly recommend anyone who has to deal with humans (basically everyone) to have a go at it. The world would be a much better place if more people had a deeper understanding of their own and others’ emotions.

2. Facilitation. After gaining a better understanding of emotions and how to navigate them from the afore-mentioned course, I decided to try my hand at facilitating meetings. An opportunity presented itself in late April where MyCareersFuture had just launched and the quality of our codebase was a little compromised for the launch date.

So we started a technical retrospective where we could dive deeper into technical issues outside of Agile’s end-of-sprint retrospective. Facilitating this meeting while keeping what I learnt from the course in mind, enabled me to get some real-world practice in “facilitating powerful conversations” – which meant keeping meetings focused and trying to ensure things get done.

3. Golang. After more than five years doing JavaScript, it was time for change. I tried out Rust and Elixir but none fit my use cases which was to create web services. Golang was designed from the ground-up to be for the web, and it didn’t disappoint.

The language has many nice things which I found I missed in other languages when I went full-on JavaScript such as 1. type inference (from Rust) 2. multiple return values (from Python) 3. interfaces (from Java/C++) 4. pointers (shoot me, but I do like being able to be explicit with pass by reference/value — from C/C++). Still in the process of learning this and excited to see where this might take me!


Highlights of 2018

2018 was a crazy year that in retrospect was a beautiful mix of learning, application, and challenges. Here’s some of the highlights of my experiences this year.

Technical demo to the Prime Minister

It’s not every day one gets to meet the head of one’s country. What more giving a technical hands-on demo about things you love doing to the fella? I was graced with this opportunity early on in 2018 and this probably drowns the rest in “highlight”er ink.

Sense-Making & Facilitating Powerful Conversations

I doubt I’d ever list a workshop/course as a highlight of a year, but this experiential training programme organised by The Thought Collective and facilitated by Tong Yee was too eye-opening and enabling that it has to be here. From it, I took away a deeper understanding of my own and others emotions, and also how to use this understanding to facilitate conversations that result in real world differences. I’d recommend anyone who can afford it, to give it a shot.

Saw through the launch of MyCareersFuture

This makes product #2 I’ve seen through end-to-end. I love making products that benefit those that need it and being part of a government technology team has allowed me to do just that.

MyCareersFuture was created to help Singaporean PMETs find career continuity in the new economy via matching of skills instead of matching by more specific job tasks which may no longer exist today. It’s longer term goals also include giving more visibility into the job seeking process of said demographic so as to enable data-driven policy making that can help the government identify shifting trends in in-demand skills and shape our (re-)education system to meet those demands.

Visited China and experienced Chinese hospitality

Chinese hospitality. I’d only ever heard about it in legends from friends. Through my undertaking of this southern Chinese martial art, I got the opportunity to visit China, experiencing endless toasts, intricate Chinese etiquette, and being hosted by native Chinese in full-on hospitality mode. This resulted in things like being escorted to fully booked out restaurants just for us in cars that you’d normally associate with the mafia.

Attended the NDP Preview

Everyone gets to attend it once in Primary 5. Most don’t ever get another chance. So the missus and I were walking around the Marina Square area one Saturday and this extremely kind family randomly shoved us tickets to the show. I hesitated, she grabbed. Sometimes I’m glad for her being around. The tickets were for the red section (ie the best view) Thank you whoever you are! I hope you see this and how happy it made us-

Participated in a Wing Chun tournament

Before 2018, I’d have never believed I’d ever take part in a fight, competitive or otherwise. I surprised even myself by turning up on the day, and it was an amazing experience in understanding myself under pressure. It was a technical fight, meaning points were based on technique, but nevertheless, I learnt the importance of breathing, sensitivity, and reaction speeds and what I’ve internalised, and what needed more rote learning to internalise.

Gave a workshop at a conference

I set a goal for myself two years back of overcoming my then-hugest fear – public speaking. After a year and a half of grinding at it, I managed to convince (or confuse) enough people into believing I can speak without embarrassing myself, and I got a place to do a workshop at the Stack 2018 conference.

Spoke at a conference

Similar to above, but there’s a huge difference between having 50 eyes glued to a screen working out an activity, and having 200++ eyes looking at you, hanging on every word you say. I’m quite proud to have achieved this, albeit a few hiccups, at DevOpsDays doing an Ignite Talk – read scary af – about the Definition of Done and how it’s central to the DevOps culture.

Other Vanity Affairs

The last highlight of this year is probably that of achieving 37 stars on a single GitHub repository 😎, hitting the 400 follower mark on Medium, and having my 2017 article on process.env rank higher in search results than its associated official documentation (oh, and hitting 2.2k applauses with it).


So. What’s up for 2019?

2019: Creating Value

After some reflection and after reading this post on Quora, I decided that my theme for 2019 will to return to my roots and rethink how I’ve decided to go about creating value for people.

Creating value is something that I’ve always strived to do, from back in 2012 with Duck Rice Designs, to 2015 with Mooziq, to my numerous other discarded side-projects on GitHub. Ever since I gained employment, it’s been a journey of learning and self-improvement as I dove into technical work, and I think the time has come for me to re-focus on why I’m in technology in the first place — to create value for humanity.

For the longest time, I’ve seen code as *the* way to create value, but I’ve come to realise that endless coding might never result in a tangible outcome that allows someone out there to breathe easier at night. So this year, I would like to venture out from code (though there will definitely be some), into other areas within or without technology that might allow me to create value in peoples’ lives.

As of now, there are two tangible goals I’d like to set:

  1. Launch 1 product/service every 2 months (inspired by Jason Leow’s attempt at 1 minimum viable product, 1 month) — to inculcate within myself that releasing is important (instead of just writing code and more code).
  2. Take on a non-coding secondary role in product development— to assess/improve my ability of creating value outside of writing code but within the domain I know best, technology.

Two isn’t a nice number, but with my existing commitments and direction, I don’t think I will have the time to pursue a third.

And with this, let 2019 begin.


Acknowledgements

My awesome experiences in 2018 wouldn’t have been possible without the investment of those around me, in me. For that I’m extremely grateful. These people are:

  • The random passing-by family which donated their Red Section NDP Preview tickets.
  • Michael Cheng for Engineers.SG video coverage which I suspect bumped my chances at applying for conference speaking.
  • Vincent De Smet for accepting my proposal for an Ignite Talk at DevOpsDays 2018.
  • Sifu Chua Kah Joo for the talks before/after classes, for introducing the beautiful art of Wing Chun to me, and for permitting an extremely new person to take part in the annual visit to China.
  • The seniors of WCKTC — (David, Alson, Nigel, Hwee Yan, Rae — I hope I didn’t miss anyone out) for being patient enough to guide me before the competition.
  • The people from WCKTC who were at the China trip for making it an awesome trip.
  • Poh Yin for the nudges, encouragement, and final push to take part in the WC internal competition.
  • MyCareersFuture code-writing humans (Alvin, Tide, Andrey, Weijie, Kangming, Ryan, Yew Lee, Lizzie, Ziwei, Nadzir, Laurent, Raphael, Jin Jie, Dickson, Andrian, Hui Mei, Gerard, Leok Si, Raymond, Rui Jie) for making work a joy to be at and for putting up with my endless attempted improvements to the codebase which inevitably broke things often.
  • Rui Jie for entrusting RO-ship to me and oftentimes pushing me to be a better engineer.
  • Gyl Sky for being an awesome mentor in my journey of taking up DevOps/Ops responsibilities.
  • Ryan for being the awesome partner-in-crime at work.
  • Steven Koh for being possibly one of the most supportive and empowering leaders around.
  • Stacy Goh for being the most awesome partner for everything else in life and putting up with me 365 days of the year.