2008 was on the whole a positive year for me, although perhaps not as positive as most.

Themes for 2008:

  • I'm not really a "software engineer." Software engineer is my current job title. I think Google is a great place to work, and I might make it as a software engineer at Google, but I'm much more of a mixed bag. In general, I'm happiest and most productive when I'm either working on a hard, chewy problem with some research-y aspects, or working at the strategic level, trying to figure out the right plan. When it comes time to grind out lots of fairly straightforward, bulletproof, heavily-tested code that implements the design, I'm not nearly as strong. I'm still pretty good, it's just out of my sweet spot. I wasn't sure about this before I came, and now that I've worked as a software engineer for 1 1/2 years, I have a lot more clarity on it.

  • Trying and failing is not bad. This is really huge for me. In some relatively trivial areas of my life, I have no trouble taking risks: I'll get a crazy haircut or a piercing without thinking too hard about it. But I think that a big problem with my career has been my unwillingness to take risks, to say "I'm going to spend 6 months to a year trying this, even though it really might not work." When I was in research, I tended to favor projects that were more analysis, or pointing out flaws in previous work, or very small incremental improvements using known tools. At Google, I've let myself fall into projects that I knew were doable, that were "just work" and didn't really excite me, because they were "safe." I dream big, and to achieve big I have to take more risks. Many of those risks will fail. That's OK.

  • Meditation and Buddhist ideas. I've spent a lot of time this year working with mindfulness, meditation, trying not to get too attached to my thoughts and emotions, learning not to get upset by the actions of others. I'll have a lot more to say about this in future posts, but I feel like this year has been the beginning of something important for me, a sort of recognizing of something I'd always known but never been aware of.

Things I have made progress on:

  • Being open and non-judgemental about people. If someone does something that hurts me, at work or personally, it is much better to pragmatically figure out how to improve the situation then to decide they are bad people who need to be punished. Getting angry or upset doesn't help anything.

  • Making new friends. I've been more open to meeting and spending time with new people this year, more willing to put myself out there. It hasn't always worked perfectly, I've been rejected some and hurt some, but on the whole I'm happy with what I've done and the choices I've made. I think that being honest and open, even though it makes me a little more vulnerable, is definitely the right stance.

  • Focussing. When I worked at Honda, there was noone else in the office most of the time, and I often slacked off. At Google, I am surrounded by smart friendly reasonably hard-working people, getting good stuff done. This has done wonders for me. For most of this year I worked on a project I didn't much care for, and while I can't say I enjoyed it, I can say I was able to work my way through it and I'm glad. Community works wonders.

Non-theme for 2008: Worrying about money. I feel pretty good about both how much money I have and my attitude towards it. This is a real improvement from some previous years.

Things I am most grateful for in 2008: My ridiculously awesome wife and best friend Anna, who continues to amaze me. My friends and family. Music, dancing, yoga, math, computer programming, good food and wine, dark chocolate. Oh, everything really.

Resolution for 2009: Spend more time playing music and deliberately practicing to improve. I have other goals, like spending more time dancing, losing weight, exercising, getting some good stuff done at work, making new friends and keeping the old, but if I do just OK on those and make much better music, I'll be more than satisfied.

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