2017 was a year unlike ones before. A lot happened in 2017, and especially towards the end of the year, I found that the past months have given me ample opportunities to push boundaries and learn. If I had to describe the year in a single word, I’d probably go with educational. Every year presents new opportunities to learn new things, so to wrap up this year, I decided to reflect back on 52 things — one thing for each week — that I learned in 2017.
In January of this year, I moved from Microsoft to a new role at High Fidelity, which marked the first time that I began working on larger engineering projects with other engineers… which meant learning how to open up pull requests! My previous projects had been entirely independent, so while I was familiar with the basics of keeping my projects under source control, pull requests were a whole new beast to tackle.
Over the year, there were two projects that I worked on that relied on learning how to use different types of storage mechanics, table and blob storage. The first project was the development of a serverless API function that processed Twitch and YouTube ‘slash’ commands to create 3D emojis in High Fidelity domains, storing data about the sender, recipient, and emoji type in a NoSQL table on Azure. The second project streamed binary audio data into blob blocks to reference by URL. Both these projects, and additional projects related to storage, were particularly exciting for me to work on because it granted me the opportunity to get hands on with a fundamental piece of the development pipeline.
Throughout the process of implementing client and server-side features for High Fidelity, I’ve had to get comfortable with debugging in Visual Studio, specifically attaching different assignment-client processes to the code to inspect states in the code when things behaved different than expected. While I had used debugging tools previously for open solutions, being able to build out a more extensive understanding of the debugging process has helped my development process become more effect and efficient, a critical skill to be practicing regularly as part of my workflow!
While cryptocurrencies are all the rage, learning about the underlying Blockchain technologies and various applications that decentralized ledger systems support has been a highlight of my year and is always an area of interesting conversation and discussion. As High Fidelity rolled out the commerce beta for in-world transactions for virtual worlds, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be in the presence of really talented engineers working on blockchain technologies and getting to hear about their experiences building out the system.
One of my favorite prototypes this year involved learning how to use the Bing Translation API and Limitless’ voice recognition API in High Fidelity to create a real time translation service for speech to text to translate what was said in-world into other languages. I feel strongly that voice is still a largely under-utilized feature set in virtual worlds, and I’m looking forward to experimenting more with this in 2018.
Sure, maybe creating a rainbow unicorn poo emoji isn’t the epitome of complex 3D modeling, but it was the first 3D model that I UV unwrapped myself and it was one of the most entertaining skills that I learned this year.
One of my key areas of interest in social virtual reality is the idea of identity, so naturally, upon starting at High Fidelity, I set myself on a mission to create my own identity in the form of a custom avatar that I made myself. After looking over what it takes to model a humanoid avatar from scratch, I decided to go the route of learning about Adobe Fuse, a product that makes it easy to create characters that have a standardized human rig and can be easily brought into a 3D engine. I’ve since had a blast creating all sorts of different characters to play with in the virtual spaces, and got a good overview of modeling, texturing, rigging, and IK from the process!
10. Writing Technical Specs
While I was familiar with the general process of writing functional specs from my days as a program manager at Microsoft, this year I learned how to apply those skills to writing technical architectural documents that outlined a development strategy for various projects that my team took on throughout the year. It was a great opportunity to learn how to piece together various other types of technical writing that I had done to create a roadmap that could be used to evaluate implementation details for features and get in the right mindset for later development.
In the past, the majority of my projects that I wrote and shipped for VR were a bit unstructured and lived squarely in the ‘development’ part of the development life cycle. This year, I learned how to plan, design, scope, and release a standalone VR experience in coordination with other teams — and involved learning about scheduling, making implementation decisions, and evaluating feature trade-offs.
12. The Basics of Managing a Team
This is one area that I’m still new to and looking forward to continuing to grow into. 2017 marked my first foray into engineering management, which has been a unique new set of tasks and responsibilities within my career that I’ve been very appreciative for and look forward to continuing to develop.
I had the incredible opportunity this year to learn about the startup and engineering culture in Paris at Viva Tech, a three-day conference event that highlighted the innovation happening in France and surrounding European nations from both startups and established corporations. The attitudes towards and integration of emerging technologies into powerful applications and services that focus on societal, environmental, and cultural change were incredible to witness face to face and provided a refreshing perspective shift from much of Silicon Valley.
14. Opening up at work
Some of my closest friends today are ones that I met through work, but moving from a large company to a startup involved a new level of opening up with my colleagues that I wasn’t anticipating. The experience of working at a small company has been so different from working at Microsoft, and it’s led to some great knowledge of how to be more open about communication and befriending colleagues given the depth of shared experience that working at a startup has enabled.
15. Letting go of difficult communities
When I moved out of developer relations to focus on engineering this year, I was given the opportunity to really take a critical look at the different community groups that I was a part of and how they were impacting my well-being. So much of the immersive technology industry has been incredible to work with, but there were moments throughout 2017 where I was able to really evaluate how I interacted with different groups, both online and in-person, and make decisions about who I continued to develop relationships with.
Fun Experiences, Hobbies, and New Skills
16. How to open coconuts
On a trip to Maui this spring (another first — visiting Hawaii!) I had the opportunity to visit a coconut farm and learn about them, including how to open them (it’s so much harder than it looks!), how to drink from them, how to make coconut flour, and how they travel around the world and grow in sandy climates. As a bonus – we also learned how to make sugarcane juice!
Historically a fan of pumpkin, this year I decided to try my hand at a Dutch apple pie for Thanksgiving. I used a variation on the recipe linked above with a gluten-free crust and omitted the flour in the filling for a sprinkle of cornstarch, and it was absolutely delicious! A definite new addition to my holiday kitchen rotation for sure.
There’s nothing that made my Thanksgiving feel quite as much like a mini-boss victory battle like learning how to spatchcock a turkey, which involves cutting through the turkey’s back to remove the spine and flattening out the bird so it fits on a sheet pan.
19. Making eggs over easy
Up until his year, my egg-cooking skills were limited to the kinds that were scrambled or hard-boiled, but this year, I was able to master eggs over easy. An eggscelent addition to most breakfasts, learning this skill has made a small but greatly enjoyable impact on cooking throughout the year.
20. Making lattes
This one took me a while, but being able to finally master the espresso machine at the office to make my own lattes was another skill that has led to lasting delight. Both pulling espresso shots and foaming milk took time to get right, but it was so worthwhile!
21. Finding my apartment style
In August, I moved into a new apartment and living alone gave me the opportunity to experiment and find my own style. It’s still under development, but being able to explore what I wanted in my own apartment has helped me solidify my own tastes and artistic style to create a place that really felt like home to me.
22. How to clean a carpet
This seems like something that I probably should have learned a bit earlier on in my adulthood, but 2017 was the year I learned how to clean up the grime that has accumulated over the past year on my rug. You’re welcome, anyone who visits my apartment.
23. Creating a skincare routine
Up until this year, I was somewhat haphazard about my skincare routine. I took my makeup off at the end of the day, but that was about it – and I didn’t really take time to evaluate new products or figure out what works for me. While this is still an ongoing process for me, this year gave me the opportunity to learn a lot more about getting into a consistent routine in the morning and night, and to spend more time making sure that the cleansers and moisturizers I use work well for my skin type.
A lesser-known fact about me is that I used to blog about makeup, which has always been a hobby of mine – but one thing that I consistently failed at was finding a set of contouring products that worked for me and a technique that helped me figure out my best ways to apply them. This year, I played around with several different products and figured out what colors and application styles worked best, which has made playing with makeup even more delightful and confidence-inspiring.
25. Brows on Fleek
Similar to contouring – figuring out how I like to style my eyebrows! They may never be as hip or stylish as the Kardashians’ but I’m chill with that, I figured out a nice way that works for me and it’s been great to have a consistent strategy for it as part of my morning routine.
Sure, it’s no iPhone X portrait mode, but I’ve spent this past year experimenting with the ‘pro’ mode on my Samsung S6 Edge and figuring out how to take better photos. It’s been incredibly satisfying to feel like I have a little bit more power behind my phone camera and more customization for shots.
27. Painting with watercolor markers
Watercolor painting always felt a bit out of reach for me, but during a trip to Napa this past September, one of my friends had a set of watercolor markers on her and I fell in love with them. It’s become one of my favorite quiet hobbies, and I use the resulting paintings as style inputs for other areas of artistic media.
Within the past couple of months, I’ve been experimenting with a python program called neural-style to train a neural network on watercolor paintings and other analog art, and create new art from photographs. This is something that I’m particularly excited to carry on in the next year and continue to explore.
29. How to write a short story
During NaNoRiMo this year, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to pull off a full novel, but I set myself a different writing challenge: I decided to set a goal of finishing the first draft of a short story. Thinking through a story from end to end, and getting it into a state where it could be shared for review, was a fun learning experience about understanding and developing my own personal writing style.
30. The basics of SCUBA diving
In Maui this year, I had the opportunity to do an introductory diving expedition where I learned the basics of scuba diving principles, including hand gestures, breathing techniques, and safety considerations. We got to do a short dive trip and while I’m still not sure that SCUBA is for me, it was a lot of fun to learn about a skill so different from anything else that I had tried before.
31. Belay climbing
Up until recently, the extent of my climbing experience was limited to bouldering, but this year, I finally got to tackle my fear of heights head on and learned the basics of belay and top rope! Learning how to do something that generated fear – and subsequently overcoming it – was an adventure in learning how to let go and feel more comfortable taking risks.
Running was never my preferred workout of choice, but on a bit of a whim this past August, I decided to start and signed up for a 10K race, then a half marathon (which I’m currently six weeks out from). Learning how to run in a way that didn’t overtax my body, aim for distance goals, and keep to a schedule was a rewarding exercise in and of itself – and it turns out, I’ve grown to love it!
In an ongoing practice to be more mindful in my actions, I tried out aerial silk yoga this year and absolutely loved it. I learned how to enjoy being upside-down, something that terrified me the first time but I soon grew to love. I learned more about how to stay in touch with how my body was feeling, and ways to deal with stress and tension from sitting in front of my computer screen.
Emotional Growth & Personal Wellness
34. How to enjoy San Francisco
Learning how to enjoy being in San Francisco was one of the more personal things that I learned how to do this year. On the surface, I’ve historically bounced between being honest (that I hadn’t found my stride) or brushing off questions about it with a ‘yeah, it’s great,’ but this year I finally spent time focusing on my relationship with the city I’ve called home for the past three years. Moving closer into the heart of the city and spending time running and outside more, appreciating the history of San Francisco, and developing new routines have all helped me feel like I’ve finally learned how to enjoy each day in the city where I live.
35. The necessity of fitness routines
One of the easiest things for me to neglect is exercise, especially when I’m stressed out or particularly busy. This year, I finally learned how important staying active is for me as part of a healthy lifestyle and fending off depressive and anxious thoughts & behaviors, which has helped me tremendously in staying positive in other areas of life.
36. I don’t enjoy podcasts
I’ve spent two years wrestling with the fact that so many people have told me to listen to various podcasts, there was a bit of guilt there that I could just never get into any of them. This year, I’ve spent a while listening to different podcasts on various topics with different hosts and I’ve finally come to the conclusion that it just isn’t a form of media that works for me – and that’s okay.
37. Seeking out inner motivation
While there are still ways that I’m extrinsically motivated (hello, finisher metals!) one of the things that I learned this year was how to set a goal and establish inner reasons for completing it. Understanding the different methods behind various forms of motivation has helped frame problem-solving techniques for me throughout the year in both personal and professional goals.
38. It’s okay to express your feelings, even if they’re negative
There have been so many times throughout my life that I’ve struggled to express a negative feeling about something – it’s always tended to stay stored up inside. This year, I spent more time learning how to process my emotions, and to slow down and evaluate how I was feeling about things, and it’s helped a lot in how I communicate with others.
39. To give feelings less permanence
This one was a big one for me – especially over the past year, focusing on the idea that feelings are temporary and not a fundamental part of my self has been incredibly helpful in staying optimistic and looking ahead when things have felt a bit tough.
40. Walk away from things
There were two personal life changes that I made this year that involved walking away from things that were a large part of my life. While scary at the time, learning how to make the decision to move forward and search for things that were better suited to what I wanted made 2017 more rewarding than I thought possible.
41. Embrace silence
Up until this year, I had a hard time enjoying silence. I often had Netflix on in the background and disliked being alone in the quiet – but this year, through yoga, I learned how to really appreciate time without music, TV, or conversations ongoing and to embrace the ambient sounds of the world around me to help quiet my mind when anxious thoughts started to take over.
42. Take myself less seriously
I’ve always had a hard time laughing at myself, but thanks to some really incredible new friends that I’ve made this year, it’s become much easier to lighten up and I’ve learned to enjoy humor that can be made at my own expense without projecting insecurities onto what’s being said. I’ve also learned how to be more willing to make mistakes as part of the process of growth, which has helped me relax around myself more.
43. How to ask for help
One of the most poignant recognitions that I’ve had this year has related to asking for help. Learning how to become comfortable in turning to those who have strengths where I feel as though I struggle has been a critical part of self-growth and expressing need / vulnerability throughout this year.
44. Let go of control
This was a tough one for me and one I’m still learning – but being able to finally sit back and let go of a need for control over everything has been a great learning experience and exercise in trust building for me this past year.
45. Consciously setting new routines
Learning how to be consistent in creating a new routine has been something that I’ve appreciated a lot about this past year. Being able to consciously shift into doing something new, and regularly, has helped me set and reach goals that I wouldn’t have expected to be able to do at the start of the year.
46. It’s okay to express what I want
It’s easy to say that you don’t have preferences or feel strongly about things, but 2017 taught me that it’s okay to express opinions. One of those opinions? Thai food is objectively one of the best cuisines and yes, I do want to eat it at least once a week. Luckily, my co-workers never object.
47. The importance of music
Vocal performance was always a part of my life growing up, but it was only this year that I really learned how important it was for me to listen to music. The ability for emotions to process through different sound is an increasingly important way for me to evaluate my own feelings.
48. Expressing my feelings through visual art
One thing that I spent a lot of time learning about myself this year was the importance of having creative outlets, specifically analog outlets, that would take me away from my computer for periods of time. Over the year, I learned a few different painting and art styles (as well as a few digital techniques) that I’ve been able to use to experiment with using art as a way to process and express my feelings about things during the year. This was one of the most profound realizations that I had during the year, and creating space in my life to spend time doing more artwork has helped my mental state immensely.
49. Why I enjoy writing
I’ve always loved writing, but this year, I finally learned more about why I love writing so much. For me, writing feels like one of the most honest forms that I can communicate feelings or thoughts through, and learning that was incredibly powerful in understanding how to structure my writing throughout the year.
50. I like warm glow lights
In learning about things that I like, I discovered that I have a strong preference for yellow-toned warm lighting over other light types. There’s something about the way that it reminds me of candle light that draws me in and I’ve made an effort to replace most of my apartment lighting with warm lighting instead of bright white.
After learning that we tend to mirror people to build rapport quickly in social situations, I’ve paid much more attention to body language and group dynamics in social settings. It’s been fascinating to observe how people respond to one another and look for cues with how people build off of each other in conversation, then seeing subtle shifts in how communication styles adapt.
52. Appreciate what I’m grateful for
I started off one morning this year reading this interview with Dona Sarker about staying on track and her first habit of writing down gratitudes, worries, and intentions really stuck with me. I made a point to start off my mornings writing down what I was grateful for (and on days where I felt I needed it, my worries) and this small change has made worlds of difference in how I approach the day.
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