2022 in Review

Looking back at my monthly notes for 2022, I’m surprised by how terrible I felt most of the year because of work stress. I had joined a new team because I liked the manager, Alice, but she left after two months. Then I was moved under a new manager Bob, who was alright. Then I and another engineer were (forcefully) moved under Carol, whose team was only half-populated because she had several people leave recently. We both protested this transfer because we both had strongly-negative past experiences working with Carol, and not surprisingly, we both left her team in less than a year. Carol’s team is now even smaller and more junior than it was a year ago; she is destroying both individuals and the team. After my enjoyable honeymoon period on the new team, management went downhill and stress escalated until I was coping by strictly vegetating after work with movies, anime, and junk food.

<rant>

Just the other day, more than a month after transferring away from Carol, she triggered a day-long burst of familiar anger and stress by questioning the quality of my work, ostensibly to prepare for the annual performance review. She asked obvious questions like “Why didn’t you complete ABC assignment 5 months ago?” or “What happened in XYZ project?” These questions are obvious because we discussed them multiple times in the past and she has a good memory. Her objective here was purely criticism and I found this offensive both because we had agreed on my course of work and because she was reneging by re-questioning things months later. I take pride in doing good work and felt I had gone above-and-beyond by completing my last assignment – which took several things lining up fortuitously and a clean, unorthodox approach – before I transferred teams. Instead of acknowledging my work and how I held up my end of the deal, she instead asked “Why didn’t you finish the integration tests?” Moreover, these questions were unnecessary in the first place because Carol is not even doing my performance review this year and is only providing summary feedback to my current manager.

Carol is the physical embodiment of the two Amazon Leadership Principles Deliver Results and Insist on the Highest Standards. When she assigns you a task, she expects you to complete it and write the required unit/functional/integration tests – no exceptions. Examples of things that don’t matter:

  • Previous agreements to have someone else complete the work. She ignores any arrangements and will ask you for status updates anyway.
  • Making progress. Regardless of what you say, she will ping once or twice a day asking “What are the blockers?” until it’s done.
  • Being sick. I got the flu and thought I was doing her a favor by powering through to complete a time-sensitive task. Didn’t matter. She called me to remind me how important the task was and then covered her ass by advising me to take a sick day.
  • New health conditions. A developer started developing health conditions. He was able to continue his pace of work, but the stress and constant call-outs for lack of steady progress must have been very stressful. He left the company to get away from Carol.
  • Pre-existing health conditions. A developer started falling behind because of a health condition. He was constantly working overtime and obviously trying his best. When he informed Carol that he was taking medical leave, she put him on a Performance Improvement Plan that same day.
  • Sprint planning. Carol believes in developer responsibility, doesn’t care what you have in your sprint, and will ask for task updates regardless of what the team agreed upon in the planning exercises – rendering them a waste of everyone’s time. Even if you are on-call and supposed to be relieved of developer duties, Carol will ask for updates.
  • Timelines. A major project was far behind schedule from the moment it started and obviously wouldn’t be completed on time. About two months out, we started asking her about deadline extensions, but she refused citing her confidence that “we would work smart and figure things out.” Obviously things did not magically fall into place and the project was massively behind schedule, even more than initially estimated because she implicitly encouraged us to take shortcuts by, ironically, only caring about timelines and questioning the value of design and planning. On a separate occasion, she guilt-tripped me about needing to report a project delay when she set an overly-aggressive timeline without consulting me. Regardless, project success, failure, and timelines are a manager’s responsibility and it is unfair to lay that on an engineer.
  • Developer flow and prioritization. She messages engineers as soon as ideas form in her mind. Instead of prioritizing tasks and leaving people alone to complete them, she shirks her manager duties by overloading engineers with work and then laying the burden of prioritization on them.
  • Developer time. Unsatisfied with everyone’s speed of execution, she will contact multiple people for the same issue, and then sometimes even go do it herself. This causes duplicate work and sacrifices the team’s time in favor of Carol’s.

</rant>

Though I had some brief, nice times during my PTO (3-week stay in England, wedding in California, moved into a nice apartment in NYC), 2022 was a bad year because of dominating work stress. Luckily(?), I’m familiar with this situation, was able to recognize this, and was fortunate enough to be able to switch teams. I also recognized my health was in decline and starting prioritizing health. Despite many failed attempts in the past, I’ve somehow been able to maintain a daily exercise routine. My priority in 2023 will be to maintain and increase my physical health.

Some things I did in 2022

new/old Thing Comment
new Code Platoon mentorship program During the 4-month program, I met weekly with a coding bootcamp participant. It didn't seem that useful for her so I won't do this program again. It felt pointless to talk about career options or programming-related topics when the only thing that bootcamp participants care about is finding anycoding-related job. Participants already work on that front with separate career services volunteers and my personal new-hire experience is outdated and irrelevant, so we did actually just talk about the class projects and coding stuff.
new Cloud gaming services I was pretty excited about this, wrote a post about this, and settled upon (the now canceled) Google Stadia. I played Control, Cyberpunk 2077, and Metro Exodus; and was eagerly waiting for the new Baldur's Gate. I liked the convenience and wouldn't mind jumping over to Amazon Luna, Stadia's major competitor, if it had the games I want, which historically it hasn't and probably won't for a long time because of the recent economy and layoffs. Guess I'll stick with the Switch for the next few years.
old Meditate daily Unsuccessful and still a struggle.
new AI Safety reading group I learned about the field of AI alignment, did some light reading, then tried to read the dense, seminal text Superintelligence but was only able to make it 25% through before giving up. The reading group meets bi-weekly after work in Europe (middle of the day in the US) to review and discuss a paper. The organizer, Søren Elverlin, has been doing a phenomenal job every session since 2016! He starts by reviewing a slide deck that he prepares beforehand and then leads a discussion. I attended two sessions before work and life got busy.
old No-screen Saturday A few times, I self-imposed the rule that I would not look at computer or TV screens on Saturday so I would have more time to read books, write, go outside, be bored (and hopefully creative), and maybe even talk to people. It was somewhat successful, but too torturous and unsustainable; it can't succeed if I dread it. Instead, I'll work towards some smaller, daily habits that I actually enjoy.
old Giving up on learning coding I want to learn Haskell, APL, web3, hardware, networking, and other interesting coding areas, but my interest and energy are insufficient. I decided to give up these pursuits to free some head space and focus my efforts on fewer things.
new Moved to NYC After living in Jersey City for 7 years, I moved to New York City. I resisted this for a long time because of the cost, but I am really enjoying the convenience of having tons of activities and food outside my doorstep.
new Flesh & Blood (FAB) I started playing the FAB trading card game and going to weekly events at local card shops. Since I primarily work from home, this has become my daily reason to go outside.
new OrigamiUSA Convention 2022 I joined the Convention Committee and helped organize this event. OrigamiUSA holds the world's largest, in-person origami convention every year and many people come from abroad to attend.
old Analog science fiction magazine I started reading reading science fiction short stories again and subscribed to Analog magazine.
new Heart Rate Zone training I did heart rate zone training for a month or two. I felt motivated to go outside, but the training length was too long for me and I needed to check my heart rate multiple times a minute to stay inside the zones.
new Daily yoga & jogging Despite many failed attempts, at the end of 2022, I somehow established the habit of doing 30 minutes of yoga everyday and jogging one mile. It feels great and I want to maintain this forever.