2017 in review, the 2018 plan
It has been almost a year since my last blog post, in which I complained that Slack silently drops some messages for people using the IRC gateway. That bug was about a year old then, and it’s about two years old now. I’m still annoyed… but that’s not why I’m here. I’m here to summarize what I did this year, since I forgot to post anything about it during the year.
I have been keeping busy, despite appearances to the contrary. My involvement in the Perl 5 community has been way down: I’m doing less on p5p, touching less on the CPAN, and I didn’t even make it to the Perl Toolchain Summit this year, for the first time in seven years! What has caused this disruption? In part it’s just a continued trend, but mostly it has been work. I have been busy, busy, busy.
There have been two parts to that. The first, at least chronologically, was Topicbox. Topicbox is FastMail’s newest product, and I spent about a year and a half hard at work on building it (but not alone). The lousy five cent explanation is “it’s a mailing list system,” but that description is lousy. It calls to mind Mailman or Majordomo, or even our previous email discussion product, Listbox. I really enjoyed using Listbox, but Topicbox puts it to shame. Beyond being much (much) faster and simpler, it changes the focus from mailing lists to organizations. You create an organization, invite its members, and then discussions can be organized into topics.
Topicbox is built on JMAP, a developing standard for efficient client/server applications based on simple synchronized object storage. We wrote it in Perl 5, in Ix, a framework we built for writing JMAP applications. I spent much of 2016 working alone on Ix, but now several members of the internal dev team work on it and Topicbox a lot of their time. At first, this was mainly a quality of life improvement for me. I’d been largely working in isolation, which was fine, but not great, and having people to discuss my work problems with was a big win.
Since then, the kind of work problems I have has changed substantially, which is the second thing that’s kept me so busy with work this year. Pobox became part of FastMail in late 2015, and I think everybody realized pretty quickly that nobody on either side of the deal thought anybody on the other side was a boor or a cretin. Still, things moved slowly. The acquisition took (as I remember it) about fifty-two years to complete, and further integration of the teams was slow going. By early 2016, we knew we needed to re-organize the company at least somewhat to provide some structure for the growing team. We went through a few iterations of this, and by mid-year I ended up with business cards that said, “Ricardo Signes, CTO.”
I’ve long wanted to be doing technical management, and this change has felt like I skipped a step or two on my imagined career path — which is just fine, since I felt like I’d spent a few too many years as an individual contributor. It’s been a really enjoyable challenge to bring myself up to speed on parts of the system I’ve previously half-ignored, to start to build a coordinated plan for the future of our systems, and to work with all of the technical staff to execute that vision. I feel pretty good about our plans for 2018, and about the team’s general excitement for the future. Beyond my project plan for 2018, I want this to be the year where I figure out and (more or less) lock down the amount of time I spend on different kinds of work.
I wrote todo lists for a few years in the past, and most of the time, I did very poorly. My finding was generally that I’d make pretty good progress on all my ongoing work projects, and could keep up with the random things I had going on, but I rarely made good progress on goals stated up front.
Probably many different things contributed to this, ranging from laziness to changing interests to bad time management to lack of accountability. I’ve tried to address some of these problems in the past, and I’m still trying, and I’m sure I’ll never make as much of a one-year improvement as I want, but I’m going to keep trying.
May plan for 2018 is to try to stick to a three-tier routine: a daily routine, a weekly routine, and a monthly routine. Each one will start with a “make specific goals beyond the routine ones” and end with “write something about how you did.” This writing will mostly go into my Day One journal, rather than boring everybody who subscribes to my blog’s long-dead RSS feed… but I’ll try to post some updates when I think it’s interesting.
In 2017, I set my Goodreads reading goal to 52 books, and I hit 50% of that goal with a few hours to spare. For 2018, I’ve scaled back to 48, so I’ll still have to push to hit it. I’ve set a few more specific goals about socializing with people, and I’ve said that every month I need to pick a skill to get better at, and then work on it. Maybe in time I’ll realize that a month is longer than I need for most things, and make it a weekly pick.
This month, my goal is to get a better handle on IMAP. I have a tolerable understanding of it, but there are a few parts I could brush up on, and I think this will be a nice place to start. (It might also make it clear whether a month is too long for something small in scope.)
The other thing I need to keep in mind is that lots of other things are bound to come up and try to disrupt my routine. Sometimes, I might have to let them. When that happens, I need to be sure that I recover from the disruption, and that I don’t view it as a failure, but just as a thing that happened. I think that a routine is a big help at getting things done, and that I’ve traditionally been so-so at sticking to non-work routines. I need to focus energy on getting into one, so that I can eventually have one without having to keep spending energy on it. Right? I think so.