2020 a Year in Review

Even writing this feels weird, but so many of the year’s rituals have been up-ended or discarded, that it seemed necessary to continue with one that I can easily do on my own, so here we go. 2020 presented a lot of challenges, however I was incredibly fortunate and privileged to have been able to work from home this whole year, stay in touch with family and friends via Zoom, Teams, and FaceTime, and escape into the outdoors often to recharge.

Work

The little Microsoft Research (MSR) team I joined in the summer of 2017 continues to grow and hit major milestones.  On February 24th 2020 Azure Sphere became a Generally Available Product. 

I also appeared on the Azure Friday show talking about End-to-end Iot device security with Azure Sphere and the Internet of Things Show to give an Introduction to the Azure Sphere Security Service.  Both of these were recorded pre-covid hence the lack of social distancing and masks.

My team, the Azure Sphere Security Services Team, continued to grow hiring 8 new developers and 2 new PMs.  I couldn’t be more proud of this team for its resilience, collaboration, and willingness to tackle challenges while caring for each other. 

Writing

I wrote  two blog posts in 2020.

I also wrote two essays for the book 97 Things Every SRE Should Know

  • On-Call Health: The Metric You Could Be Measuring
  • Helping Leaders Prioritize On-Call Health

Wanderlust

In February I spent a long weekend on Oahu, HI playing ultimate frisbee with my women’s master team Mint at the Kaimana Klassik.  The sun, sand and surf were a warm welcome from gray rainy Seattle.  We played on fields lined with palm trees, and flanked by mountains in the distance.  There was a considerable amount of wind which made moving the disc on offense a struggle at times, but overall spirits were high.  So high that we won the tournament’s team Spirit Award, a highly coveted prize!

I fondly remember one of the evenings sitting around playing cards, and laughing so hard my stomach hurt and cheeks ached from smiling.  The sport of ultimate frisbee  and its community continues to bring me an immense amount of joy. Even during Covid, when we could not play on the fields together, we found ways to support each other remotely, and took up a new form of virtual competition via weekly Zoom Trivia. Team ConfineMINT has had several strong showings this year.

Covid kept me grounded and confined to Washington state for the vast majority of the year, as all travel got indefinitely postponed.  Thankfully Washington state has so much beauty and variety to offer, that once I got over my initial angst at having to cancel highly anticipated trips, I felt an immense amount of gratitude to live in such a stunning locale.

I relied heavily on escapes into nature this summer to reset and recharge from the constantly online life I now was living.  From July through November I was perpetually escaping into the backcountry, hiking over a 150 miles, and many of those carrying a 30+ pound pack.  We hiked to alpine lakes, watched sunsets at fire lookouts and camped on top of ridgelines.  The days and nights I spent in the back country this year were some of the best parts of 2020. 

I started a public Instagram account IntrepidTechie to practice and share my photography and post pictures from my explorations, feel free to follow along. 

Books

I read 36 books this year.  As I often did as a teenager I escaped into books as a way to explore, while stuck in a particular spot.  Some favorites by genre include

  • Memoir – Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home: Tells the story of Heather Anderson’s Fastest Known Time (FKT) record attempt on the Pacific Crest Trail.  Anderson is a masterful story teller, and this was a gripping account of her attempt, I did not know the out come when I picked up the book, and found myself rooting and cheering for her as the book progressed, and feeling waves of elation when she reached the northern terminus. 
  • Fiction – Disappearing Earth: Julia Phillips weaves a tail of two girls in north eastern Russia who go missing.  The story is told through a series of chapters each, each told from a different perspective and exploring a different set of characters on the Siberian peninsula.  Each chapter is a masterful short story in and of itself with remote and rugged vistas and nuanced characters.  Phillips deftly links all the stories together in the final chapter in a surprising satisfying conclusion. 
  • Non Fiction – The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking) – Katie Mack is an astro physicist and describes the leading theories on how the universe will end.  This book is exceptionally well written, and Mack clearly and passionately describes the physics, in simplified terms, to take the reader on a journey from big bang to universe destruction.  I found myself giddy reading this book, remembering my summer working at Stanford’s Linear Accelerator Center as an intern.  There I heard about quantum physics and dark matter for the first time, and how it broke and stretched my brain simultaneous.  Mack’s book brought back all the excitement, wonder and awe I felt that summer, along with new knowledge along with feelings of amazement at the workings and mystery of the universe around us

What’s Next

As 2020 comes to a close and 2021 begins, a lot will still not be back to normal, so its difficult to say what’s next. I am eagerly anticipating the return of ultimate frisbee hopefully at some point in 2021.  I am also looking forward to next summer and backpacking as my list of hikes and wilderness explorations continues to grow.

Upon reflection, the opportunity of 2020 was a lesson in resilience.  I learned to continue, to change, to move forward. To practice not forming attachments, and living in the present, even as we desire so feverishly to get back to that fictional normal state.  It gave me the opportunity to practice gratitude even when it was challenging.  There were plenty of opportunities to feel the angst, the despair, the discomfort acknowledge it, feel it fully, and then figure out how to move past it.  With all the challenges it presented it gave me a chance to take stock, to think, and reflect on what’s important. 

So with all that said I know that 2021 will come with its own set of challenges and opportunities to explore and experience.