Hey! Thanks for reading! Just a reminder that I wrote this some years ago, and may have much more complicated feelings about this topic than I did when I wrote it. Happy to elaborate, feel free to reach out to me! 😄
🎵 The song for this post is No Strings Attached, by the Swingrowers. 🎵
Better late than never! 2020 was a year but I always do these year-in-reviews, and I was on the road during the turn of the year. Now, halfway through the next, I've cleaned up my draft and am posting. I was this late once before (2016) so it's not unprecedented lol. Everything following, sans some cleanup, was written in January. Here we go!
I'll come out swinging: while 2020 was subtantially worse than many years, I feel like a lot of it was independent of the horrible pandemic, and the things that Made It Shit are with us to stay. I hypothesise 2020 misery is attributable to more of the populace becoming increasingly Online, and that that happening during lockdown was especially bad. Fellow "brain-poisoned by Twitter" folks remember this:
That was 2014, and if you were refreshing the timeline as often as we did (truthfully this isn't most of you reading this, but it was me), you sincerely felt that way! Later, during the primaries for the 2016 election, and then during the 2016 campaign, I remember most of Twitter saying: "God, I can't wait for 2016 to end." Oddly, 2017, 2018, 2019 didn't feel markedly better! Being an empathetic person and being reminded, all the time, that journalism is dying, conspiracies are spreading, corporations are further consolidating + monopolizing without a sufficient antitrust arm, while we lose even the scent of a functional government, as society enters massive challenges requiring coordination… why, it can lead to abject misery! And it increases every year!
While the pandemic was and is a catastrophe, when we're complaining about murder hornets or whatever Trump does, there's at least a bit of "everyone's online all the time now" powering that horror. Even if you're a "watches local TV news" person like most of the country, a lot of that now is just reading a digest of recent tweets and subject to many of the same forces that is killing independent journalism.
Not to sugar-coat the pandemic: it was (God, hopefully) a once-in-a-lifetime horror. For many, it was also the first time they got to nakedly see how the systems are built to take from them and their families, and confronting that reality is horrifying. I just want to point out that we can't meaningfully compare what this year would have looked like without the pandemic, and I'd bet it still would have been also been challenging.
Also to say: brace yourselves, many of the forces that made last year feel uniquely terrible are going to get worse. Climate issues aren't being acted on aggressively enough, inequality is rising, and the Democrats (who really just barely squeaked some election wins) are determined to be the spineless, geriatric, corporatists shitheels they've been my whole life. And you and everything you do will continue to be more and more Online.
But, as tradition, here's some reflections on my year, personally, which also per tradition, was pretty nice.
Beginning-to-end 2020 at Ramp
I started and ended 2020 at Ramp, which had a rebrand. We started 2020 not having widely launched, and I wrote a little post when we opened our doors to the world, weeks before "the world" got madly scrambled.
Ramp has been my favorite gig of my career, and I've had a few. I'm very lucky to have gotten in when I did, and I'm delighted looking at the other faces in my video calls because I've never felt so aligned and supported with such strong players on work I believe in. We've got a ton of work to do and are still comparably early in our journey, but I'm still incredibly proud of where we are, and see no reason we can't reach our ambitions.
If you're looking for your next gig, I encourage you to reach out and speak to us. It might not be a fit! But what if it was?
Goals for 2021 are to keep this ship sailing. Additionally, as I manage more, I'd like to create a fantastic environment for my reports to grow and do the best work of their lives.
I'm happy with the near-daily blogging I did during the pandemic. Writing here correlates pretty strongly with periods of my life when I feel… settled? True to myself? idk, not "jittery" or unfocused. It's one of those good habits you always put down for some reason.
They got pretty stream-of-consciousness-ey, so I can't say I have notable favorites like I have in other years. The "California trip / Twitter bad" one was pretty good. The "I could see myself falling into alcoholism if I'm not careful" is another I liked. Generally folks like it when I do "being a person" thing on here, and when considering what I liked, I agree with them.
Included in those posts: I've made great strides in the kitchen! They're extremely baby steps, but every journey begins with initial steps. I ate way less animal products this year than I have any year previous, and generally felt like I had the healthiest relationship to food. Here's to more.
Advent of Code
While I've participated in previous Advent of Codes (2016 was my best year, using 23 programming languages) I never finished one.
Until now! I picked a more scoped goal time and did it all in OCaml. You can see the solutions here, if you're curious.
It's a fun diversion, and helped me feel a bit more comfortable in OCaml, which I've struggled to make one of my primary languages. The real learning was how much a language's features and design aren't the most important element of their utility, which I already knew, but experimentation is the best way to explore this space.
I'll keep writing OCaml, I guess? I've had a few ideas but it's hard to imagine I'll have time to commit to a project that I'm sufficiently motivated to work on and spend the innovation tokens on.
I'm not leaving Ramp. I love it, it's the best!
With that out of the way, I sometimes have Founder Dreams, and there was a period last September when I had an idea that got my blood pumping like it does, idk, every 2-3 years: could I create a two-sided marketplace (e.g. Uber, AirBnb…) for tabletop players and game masters? So I wrote 70% of a prototype for one.
There's a bit of thinking behind this:
I love tabletop RPGs. I reconnected with some friends in high school and played remote D&D for the better part of 5 years and it's been some of the richest gaming + social interactions I've had in the last decade (that's where all my tabletop posts are from).
Almost everyone I know who's had a good group wishes they were playing more. Anecdotally, only one person who's ever tried it wasn't actively jonesing to play their next game; most folks just struggle with the legwork to arrange a group and/or find a GM.
There are amazing GMs, and remote play is not only viable, but in many ways preferable. It's a no-brainer that they could bring their gifts to others.
If it's such a good idea, why isn't anyone else doing this? The answer is, they are! Or starting to, anyway: StartPlaying.games, which built an early version a few months before I got the fire under me to build it. They even got YC money, which might have discouraged others.
But… their site sucked! I was confident I could build a better experience in LiveView, by myself, in my free time. I told myself if I did that, and still felt the fire underneath, then maybe I'd consider breaking out on my own. A few things kept that from happening:
I'm less bullish that the economics of this make sense. GMs really don't scale, and while some people can be "professional GMs," it's hard to square away the prices I and others would be willing to pay, how much time a GM has to invest, and what's required to live sustainably in industrialized markets. I doubt this would actually be as tractable as I initally thought.
I'll re-state 👆 because, if there was an easy market here, it probably would have already been built. Popular internet apps are 20 years old! We have old tabletop communities and forums! More modern two-sided marketplaces had physical-world, technological, regulatory, and capital-intensive obstacles that would have prevented them from being built in 2002 (e.g. Uber and Lyft came about with the rise of smartphones with GPS); this kind of product had no such obstacles and was still never built.
In service of the previous two: you still could build a great product here! Someone's gotta be first, and there's no reason we can't have nice things! But I now believe the execution on Product and Tech would have to be pretty huge to see the kind of traction needed to make it anything but a massive pay cut or a decent hobby project.
Which I may have even liked! But I don't scale lol, and…
I really love my Ramp gig! It was actually dead easy to put the project down after we hit the gas on a few initiatives and made a few key hires.
So PlayTabletop joins Ghostlight and Amado as web products I built most of, then put down. I get further along each time; If I had, like, friends, I'd probably make poor life choices and actually launch one of these things. It may happen some day, but actually founding a thing isn't a priority over other life initiatives.
I do love what I learn each time! And here was some things:
LiveView! It's a really cool and fresh way to look at building webapps, I highly recomment taking a look at it. Some cool demos over at Phoenix Phrenzy.
mix phx.gen.auth(link), beats the home-grown things I'd been doing for Auth before.
Deploying an Elixir app on cheap AWS, without a PaaS, again.
I wrote some things on how I dealt with the pandemic here.
Left to my own devices, I probably would have spent the whole pandemic in my NY apartment. I don't have that muscle that says "push hard to get what you want," and while that makes me a Cool Enough Dude to share space with, I unfortunately still have the "want things a lot" muscle, which means I'll sit and stew and crave adventure and wonder why I'm unhappy without it.
Karen doesn't have this mix, and after bearing the worst of the pandemic in NYC, we sublet our place for two months and did a big road trip without a permanent home, stopping along various places across the country (with a lot of complications to make it as COVID-safe as possible). That gave us more confidence, in turn, to make the most of working remotely and move for a longer stint in SF in 2021.
Focusing on the 2020 part (and our first stint in CA podding with friends), I gotta reiterate that I love remote work. It's a big, beautiful country and I treasured the chance to see more of it.
We've since moved to SF, and that probably merits its own post. But! I'm proud of me and us for good adventuring 😄
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