2015: A Year In Review

Since the inception of this blog (March 2015) I’ve had a goal to write at least one blog post per month. I figure, if I’m staying as involved in development and learning as I’d like to be, then one post a month should be easy. I’ve actually done relatively well on that goal so far. I missed a post in July, but I did three posts in June so I count that. Well for January, I totally missed the mark. I don’t know if I was too busy to post or maybe I just didn’t really have anything to post about. Maybe I’ve become disillusioned since I have virtually no readership. But that’s a poor excuse, I’m writing this blog for my own amusement and benefit. I guess that’s besides the point.

The point is that what I should have posted in January was some kind of New Year’s resolution thing. I think I considered it at one point, but I sort of don’t like making public resolutions. Don’t tell people you’re going to do something, just actually do it and maybe they’ll notice? I also didn’t really even make a resolution other than just kind of “survive”.

What I’d like to do instead, is just make a post recapping what happened in 2015, how I feel about it, and what I’d like to see happen in 2016.

2015 began by moving from St. George, UT to Provo, UT. It was a relatively big step I guess, the farthest I’ve ever moved “on my own” with no real support structure in place. I had my wife with me, but for both of us it was a daunting move. We moved up here so I could go to school at BYU, which was a little bit crazy from the get go as I’m not some genius student, I’m not an extreme Mormon, and I couldn’t care less about any kind of athletic program. One way or another, we were here. I intended to study electrical engineering, which went okay for about a semester. Once I realized an engineering degree is really more like an applied mathematics degree, and that I frankly have little interest in math or engineering, I had to re-evaluate that plan. I settled on a weird major: Technology and Engineering Education. Basically it’s all sorts of engineering degrees, but applied with the outcome of teaching it in a secondary school. And a lot less math. I think it’s a little bit lame when someone is defined by their major/degree, so I try to keep that out the conversation if it’s not super relevant. By that I mean, don’t think that I’m super passionate about technology, engineering, or education. That isn’t to say I’m not passionate about those things, just don’t get the idea that I think I’ve found my “calling in life” thanks to a major. I want to write computer programs, and I’d like to get paid to do it. I don’t really care about algorithms, or cutting edge research. I just like building that solve real problems for real people. I haven’t “arrived” yet, but I think I’m on the right path and that’s good enough for me.

After a semester at BYU (and while I still thought I wanted to be an electrical engineer), I landed an internship at a company called Digi International. They make xBee radios. That was fun (for the most part) and rewarding. I made some good friends there and was able to finally observe first hand what an electrical engineer actually does. As it turns out, electrical engineering in a formal job setting wasn’t that interesting to me! I think more than that, I realized how much I care about tooling. Being locked into outdated embedded systems IDE’s is not exciting to me. The process of creating electrical hardware, while interesting from a hobby perspective (see my shop page), isn’t as enjoyable in a corporate environment. I took that internship as a huge learning moment and made some course corrections because of it.

In May we had our first baby, a son named Wolfgang. That’s been an exhausting yet exhilarating ride from day one. It’s just so awesome! Having a little person hanging around is really cool. He’s so innocent, so pure. I guess you could look at it like babies are selfish since they only take and never give, but the way I see it they only take exactly what they need. Nothing more, nothing less. If everyone were like that, and were able to communicate their needs in a clear way, life would be easier. We really love our son, and it’s been really fun to watch him learn and grow.

After the summer wound down, I started back in school for my second semester as an electrical engineering major. It was then I made the final decision to pursue a different course of education. Browsing the list of majors offered by BYU, I saw “Technology and Engineering Education”. It was part of the school of technology, not the school of education. I like technology, and I like engineering for the most part (wait didn’t I just say I didn’t like those things like three paragraphs up?). So I pulled the trigger. One of the first classes I took in the major was something like “Electronics for Educators” or something. It was really more like electronics from a hobbyist perspective, which is what I am! We learned about AC and DC electricity, how to convert one to the other. We learned about resistors and their color codes (which I use almost daily). We actually designed and milled our own PCB’s, which I’ll admit was like half the reason I wanted to become and electrical engineer (that’s what I thought they did). Overall I just found it really rewarding and satisfying, but more than that I was actually good at it, which was a first in my BYU career.

After knowing my major, and this what I try to avoid talking about, you probably think “Oh, so you want to be a high school teacher?” Well, not really. I mean, there are worse things in life than teaching high school (like prison), but that’s not my ultimate career goal. Like I said, I just like programming and building things. So I just want to keep doing that. So far people have been willing to pay me to do it, so as long as that continues, that’s probably what I’ll do.

On a whim, I decided to go to the STEM career fair at my school. I was still working at Digi, but I just thought I’d see what was out there. Armed with a few copies of my resume, I descended upon the potential employers like an awkward 12 year old descends upon the local sock hop by standing against the wall for 2 hours. I actually did put myself out there though. I had some good experiences, and some interesting experiences. I was interested in the technology and I found it extremely annoying when I would probe to find out what languages a company used, only to be met with a blank face. Apparently it’s cheaper to send “recruiters” and HR representatives to career fairs. Well, if you don’t even want to send an actual engineer to a STEM career fair to recruit other engineers, then I don’t want to talk to you. I also found it interesting how some (usually bigger, more nationally recognized companies) set arbitrary limits on who could apply to their programs. Don’t have a 3.5 GPA? Get out. Haven’t taken a specific CS class? Hasta la vista (looking at you, Qualtrics. Also, Wes, you’re a smarmy cuss and I consider your rejection a dodged bullet).

On the positive, I found many companies who clearly consisted of real people, with actual brains, and had the foresight to send engineers to a career fair. That was really what I was looking for. I don’t care if you make me code COBOL in a dank cellar, if you’re a real person, who makes actual decisions and legitimately cares about me and the product we’re building, I want to talk to you. From talking to roughly 20 companies that I felt I had positive interactions with, I was contacted by 2 for an interview. One company wanted me for a QA position. What was notable here is their entire stack was in Rails, which I have a year of full time professional experience in. I’m not a Rails god by any means, but I would be surprised if a single other candidate at the fair had even heard or Rails before. Anyways, I wasn’t super excited about the QA aspect of it, but I showed up anyways. It was a little bit strange. The interviewer was like 15 minutes late, and didn’t really seem like he cared that he was late. I get that I’m literally nobody to them at this point, but if you can’t even show an intern candidate common decency, I doubt you give the rest of your employees much courtesy either. That interview was pretty much the usual random semi-easy coding challenges. I will say though, one thing that turned me off a bit was that they made me do the challenges on the back of my resume. Is that ridiculous to say? It’s just that I had gone and printed off high quality color copies on nicely weighted paper. It cost me money, like almost a dollar a pop. So to write all over it, I don’t know, it just insulted me a little bit. Maybe I just have some kind of rejection complex, I don’t know. It was like they were asking me to take a coding challenge by drawing on my arm with a sharpie or something. Anyways, I left that interview with the usual neutral tone an interviewer usually leaves with you, and a few weeks later I got the email saying the usual “Not you this time, maybe next time (AKA never).” Oh well, I still had the Digi gig and that was going well.

The second company I interviewed with I had an overall much better experience with. It’s probably just because they offered me the job though. I like to think that’s not the only reason. The first thing I got from them was an email, only hours after I had talked with them at the STEM fair. They informed me that I was one of their favorite people they talked to that day. Maybe they said that to everyone they talked to, but it made me feel special and that they actually cared about me. They said they wanted to get started on the interview process right away, and could I please take an online coding challenge. The problems weren’t too bad really, one was a little tricky though. It said “Print the first 5 lines of pascal’s triangle.” and then showed the first 5 lines of the triangle, then explained how it could be found and stuff. It really tripped me up. “Print the first 5 lines”. Print. Print. Print. I was completely fixated on that term. After much debate, I figured it must be a trick question to see if I would over complicate the task at hand by actually solving the first 5 lines rather than printing them. I think I actually wrote a program like

print "1\n1,1\n1,2,1\n1,3,3,1\n1,4,6,4,1\n1,5,10,10,5,1\n"

They were cool about it, but they told me it wasn’t supposed to be a trick question and could I please solve it for real. I liked that they had a sense of humor about it though. After that, they did a phone interview, then an on site interview that was slightly technical (nothing crazy though). And then, they cut to the chase and offered me the job which I happily accepted. I want to work for people who are happy, nice, and who want me to be happy and nice. That’s what I feel like this company wants for me. Even having worked there for a few months now, I’ve never seen someone upset or stressed, or complaining about some deadline. I have seen a lot of happy people though, so that’s really cool. I love being in that environment.

I think that really wraps up the year for me. 2015 has been a lot of growth for me. I’ve learned a lot about myself, what I really want out of life. I’ve learned where my priorities are, and where I really find my value as a person. It’s been humbling as well. I feel like a more sustained and refined person now. I have a nicer soldering iron, more respect from my peers, a happier family, and less doubt and worry.

In 2016, I’d like that trend to continue. Sometimes I like to think of myself as Jean Luc Picard when he says:

“Space… The final frontier…
These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise.
Its continuing mission:
To explore strange new worlds…
To seek out new life; new civilisations…
To boldly go where no one has gone before!”

I consider myself to be on a continuing mission. I want to always stay curious and aloof. I want to find things out that I’m interested in. I want to further descend into the niche irrelevant rabbit hole of whatever the heck you call the stuff I’m into. I want to simultaneously become more specific, while broadening my horizons to the point that I can relate to anyone about anything, yet hold a detailed conversation with only a select few who share my same interests. I want to refine the individual that I am and become a better husband and father, while becoming a better son, brother, student, and friend. I feel like I am in a position where only I could thrive and be happy in, and I want to continue to leverage that position and exploit it’s greatest assets.

Only time can tell, but here’s to you, 2015. It was a good year. Let’s enter 2016 with boldness.