Reflections 2020-2021

June 12, 2021
ยท 9 min read

I don't have a history of reflecting much, so I thought it might be good to process with some prose and some "off-the-cuff" thoughts about the last year. I will try to approach it from many angles, not just my career - though I think of what I say will be somewhat focused on my professional path. I find my work to be a big part of my imago dei, that inner spirit telling you where to place value, worth, excitement - warped by human nature as it can be.

At the very beginning of 2020, COVID hadn't hit yet. I had been working remotely for about six months. Previously, my fam and I had lived in San Francisco for three years (including office life). That could have used its dedicated weblog, but to put a point on it - we had a full experience, both of extreme pain and extreme joy. We transitioned to my home, Kentucky, at the height of summer, July 4th, 2019. The world never felt more full of hope.

We bought a house in Louisville after living with my parents for a bit and were starting to settle into some sense of normalcy. My 7yr old's elementary school was so close we could walk to it.

Working from home has some nice views. Here's my day to day view:

Work had given me a lot of freedom as it related to a new greenfield project we were spinning up. We spent all of 2020 standing up and building out features for Konnect, Kong's latest project. It aimed to take the company into the next phase of its growth, from a historically on-premises product to a hybrid cloud platform. I'm so dang proud of my team and all the engineering, product, and marketing folks at Kong for all we accomplished. It feels like such a large pillar in my career. I learned what it is like to be a technical leader where others place their trust in you to lead a project. I was able to put some stuff into practice I've always wanted to do. I learned that most of the joy of work comes from advocating and helping others. Helping others grow is this weird "but no one knows how awesome I am!" childish reaction paired with "it's my job to mentor". I learned it helps everyone to elevate those around you. I can't remember where I heard this, but I heard once your previous coworkers won't be able to recall with absolute clarity what you did, but they will be certain how you made them feel. I think about that so much. Next time you go to work, think about how you can serve those around you.

Konnect ServiceHub screenshot Konnect

After the successful launch of Konnect, I was looking for the next challenge. I wanted to go to a bigger company, remote-friendly teams, and where I could go on to gain some experience with a larger organization (> 1000 people). Stripe fit all these boxes, as they had invested in "remote" years before COVID, even establishing it as its own "office" similar to SF or NY. Kong has a great culture with tons of interesting problems, but after 3 years I wanted a change and I am hopeful to see my tenure at Stripe push the envelope for how long I'll stay at a company (10? 20 years?).

In 2020, I learned Types are everything. I continued to invest in open source, pursuing a project swrv, a data fetching and cache management library for Vue, and I even wrote about it. It was a cool mixture of learning Vue's new composition api with Typescript mixed with the fun times of maintaining a library. It also helped me stay fresh on the latest React ecosystem by reviewing the swr code and adapting it for Vue's reactivity. I love what that crew is doing with Next and SWR.

I also helped out a bit with teal-language, a typed dialect of lua created by a former coworker Hisham (of htop fame). I wrote the in-browser playground in Vue + Fengari to embed the teal compiler into the browser. This was super fun to work on, though I think my days with teal-language are numbered now that I probably won't be investing much in the Lua ecosystem. Never say never! I will continue to follow along with the teal ecosystem and hope to bring my zeal for types to Stripe's typed dialect of Ruby.

Here's an iframe of the teal-playground

I want to continue to explore programming as my new job expands my focus and challenges me in new ways. I'll be helping build economic infrastructure for the internet, with more focus on backend systems and security. There are so many fun things to learn in security, especially as it relates to systems of scale. I don't yet know how this exploration looks for me. I think it will mostly look like focusing my creative energy on job-level problem sets, or maybe spending some of my time on a Computer Science book - maybe related to security? I'll also be looking into consistent education and leadership. That could mean taking courses on whatever technology is required for my job, or maybe that looks like certifications - but mostly leaning into Stripe's internal network.

A shift I've begun this year is transitioning from interview prep times to personal growth on things I'm excited about, including trying to read a book per month. I know this doesn't sound very ambitious, but I only read 6 books in 2020. I'm hoping that by doubling my reading goal, I will stretch to read things I wouldn't normally bother with. For example, I usually go for popular fiction, but so far I've catered the list to include a biography and a book that someone else suggests, among other themes. Northanger Abbey took me longer than I would have liked, but still a lovely suggestion from Brittany. That's how it goes I suppose. I've found that it has worked well to structure my reading with a stopwatch. I time myself to read 20 minutes every night. Sometimes I feel like reading more and sometimes 20 minutes is all I can take. Consistency helps the pages turn, even if in short bursts. Follow me on Goodreads!

To reflect on my heart, I think 2020-2021 was a very strange and sometimes terrible time spiritually. This is a hard one, but I'll simplify it to mean that I didn't pray a lot, but when I did, I felt like God was nearer than maybe he ever was. I think the worst part of it was that my faith cannot be understood outside of the faith systems that I interact with. These systems have been pillars for me in my life that were not as present during COVID. The biggest one of these was the Church gathered. This includes Sundays (I am basically going through the motions when it comes to watching Church online), but more importantly, the community of friends that I have had in the past to lean on, partaking in the friendship ritual. I sacrificed a lot for professional gain, of which I'm really proud. However, this was sometimes at the expense of my relationship with our Creator. If I did not love God well, how could I have loved my neighbor well?

Black lives matter. A loud lament. A poem. Artwork. The cry of pain from our Black brothers and sisters is heard. In the city where Breonna Taylor was shot and killed, we grieve. I am thankful for my pasters during this time, who speak out and are present with those in this dark time.

Digital relationships are a kind of a shadow of real community. I don't know what this says about working from home (which I love), but I discovered I need a hug, or a piece of art, or a friend who you never realized sucks their tea bags when they're done with their tea because you'd only ever had a zoom coffee with them. I can be very expressive, gregarious, and sometimes to a fault (foot-in-mouth syndrome). My body is part of my expression. I'm finding it hard or sometimes impossible to express myself authentically via digital mediums. I'm in a very vibrant group chat with some guy friends, and we all love it, but when we can hang in person, it transcends the mundane to a level of friendship that text threads cannot obtain. Now that I'm double poked. I would like to focus my efforts in establishing a baseline community. What does community during this time look like for you? DM me.

I didn't read the Bible much. I want that to change. Writing it down here for the sole purpose of spurring me onto introducing some method of discipline as it relates to studying the Holy scriptures.

I'll end this by saying that I'm celebrating 11 years this month being married to my lover. She has taught me so much about community, pain, love, loss, empathy, history, comedy... no but seriously, she spends more of her time watching professional comedians than anyone I know. There is a high bar for what is considered a joke in our house, but also... we laugh a lot! I am so thankful to be bonded to someone I've seen change and stay the same in so many wild and different ways. We're different people than when we were 22 and without kids. I'm still wildly in love (and not just eros/romantic love!). I hope to continue this thing until death. We'll be renewing our vows in a park tomorrow. Continuously and publicly announce your love to those you love.

Darren Jennings face
Thanks for reading! I'm Darren Jennings. You can follow me on twitter or find out more about me here.