2021 End-of-Year Thoughts

Another year behind, another reflection on what happened (and what didn’t!) in this latest circuit of the sun.

Assumed Audience: People who like reading year-in-review summaries. (I always assume that’s mostly just me, a few years in the future!)

As is now traditional (see the long list of previous posts of this variety at the bottom of this post!), my end-of-2021 reflections.

This year, like 2020, was not the year I had hoped for or expected — for many reasons. Most significant among external factors: we didn’t make nearly as much forward progress on dealing with COVID-19 as I had hoped (would that vaccination rates were higher and both infection and fatality rates correspondingly lower!). Beyond that, there were plenty of other things big and small in our lives which simply meant the year went differently than I thought it might. In summary: where 2020 was a series of very large disruptions, 2021 was a slog through the ongoing ramifications of 2020. I am — and so is everyone I talk to — worn down in a way I can hardly put into words.

Contents

Reading

Reading-wise, this year was heavy on things which were purely for unwinding and relaxing, and light on robustly intellectual reading. My 2021 Reading List tells the story: I read to completion only a half dozen non-fiction books (a couple of which I had started last year or even earlier), and not many more works of fiction.

Nonfiction

Theology

The theological reading I did was an interesting mix:

  • Jesus and John Wayne was a provocative read, but I take it to be smuggling in a lot of theological work the cover of the claim that it’s just some sociological analysis”: a classic motte-and-bailey move. I go to a church which would seem likely to typify many of the problems Du Mez goes after… and I don’t think the people of this congregation would recognize themselves in the portrait she paints. She just grinds her axe too hard, paints too broadly. In her telling, no one who disagrees with her does so for principled or good reasons — instead, they are misogynists, abusive, or trying to provide cover for those who are. It’s too bad, because if she had been a bit more charitable and judicious it would have been a far more interesting and persuasive book.

  • Though I have yet to finish it, William Witt’s Icons of Christ is a far more interesting book than Jesus and John Wayne. It sits in the same rough space of thinking about gender and the church — but is explicitly a theological analysis. Witt is a conservative egalitarian (an unusual combination!), but/and I have found him far more interesting and agreeable than most of the complementarians I have read. I mean it as very high praise indeed when I say that the book is consistently fair: Witt is not afraid to argue with people, but he does so carefully, with nuance, and without resorting to ad hominem. When I differ with him, I differ with him on the merits. I look forward to finishing this, and hopefully sooner rather than later.

  • Reading more Barth and Webster was just as profitable as I hoped. I started Barth’s Dogmatics in Outline in 2019, got sidetracked, and came back to it while on my little New Mexico getaway in April. I’m hard pressed to think of a book with a higher ratio of quality content per page. Meanwhile, Webster’s essays collected in Word and Church and the two volumes of God Without Measure1 were profoundly encouraging. They have been soul-nourishing as well as intellectually-stimulating. Indeed: they have been been devotional helps in no small part because they have fed my mind.

Tech

The only tech” book I read to completion this year was Accelerate: Building and Scaling High Performing Technology Organizations, by Nicole Forsgren, Jez Humble, and Gene Kim. I was… unimpressed, to be honest. It was clear that I wasn’t the target audience, in a whole host of ways. I also just don’t think it was a great book, though: it was low on actually making arguments or demonstrating its case, and high on simply asserting it over and over again, with backup provided only by reference to the same handful of small studies conducted by the authors. I think there is good material in here, but it could use a better framing. (I ended up bailing on Team Topologies: Organizing Business and Technology Teams for Fast Flow, by Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais, because it reeked of the same out of the gate; but an old colleague I respect told me it gets better after the first chapter, so I may go back to it next year.)

Essays &c.

Much of my non-fiction reading was not books, but articles, essays, etc. of various lengths, largely through the KoboPocket integration. I am currently experimenting with using the Archive from Pocket to build up a list of links so that I can also share that reading more publicly.2 Watch for me to possibly introduce a Curated” section on this site, or as a dedicated sub-site like curated.chriskrycho.com, which will mostly be a place for folks to follow along with what I’ve been reading if so inclined.

I continue to be a paying subscriber to The Hedgehog Review and Stratechery, and am delighted to now also be a paying subscriber to Mere Orthodoxys print edition. All three were great sources of good, deep, interesting reads this year. I commend them to you! I also subscribe to a great many newsletters as well as traditional RSS/Atom/JSON feeds. You can see my old-school subscriptions here (and I will try to update that quarterly or so, as it does change over time!).

Fiction

My fiction reading this year was heavy on re-reads:

  • of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings with my 9-year-old daughter (what can I say: she takes after me!);
  • of the second half of The Expanse in expectation of its conclusion with this year’s Leviathan Falls, which I very much enjoyed on its late-November arrival;
  • and of The Eye of the World in anticipation of this fall’s Wheel of Time television series, which Jaimie and I have also enjoyed (though not without our quibbles about some of the content in the show).

The two new books of fiction I read this year were both science fiction” — at least, of a sort. Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary was a fun little bit of popcorn reading: not as good as The Martian, and retreading too many of the same thematic beats, but a fun romp even so. Gene Wolfe’s Shadow & Claw: The First Half of The Book of the New Sun is another thing entirely. As I put it to a friend on completing that volume:

This is literary sci-fi in a mode that reads like fantasy. I have never read anything like it. I’m not sure I’ll fully understand it till I finish the second half (there are four short novels collected in two volumes) and then reread the whole thing — but it is utterly compelling in a way I can hardly describe. It’s clearly not for nothing that Gaiman called the whole thing The best SF novel of the last century.”

(Jacobs recommended these long ago so they’ve long been on my list. Someone I ran into when we went to an event put on by Anselm Society seconded that and so I finally picked them up.)

They are weird novels. But I like them so far. For, rather than in spite of, their weirdness. The best word I can come up with for a net description of the first two novels/first volume is elliptical. Also these might be the platonic archetype of unreliable narration. It’s hard to say. 😂

Net, I’m glad I have picked these up, and I expect/hope to finish them over the vacation I’m taking here at the end of the year.

Writing

I did a good deal less writing this year than in most years past. All told, I published somewhere on the order of 50,000 words on this site, excluding Notes entries and quotes-tagged Library posts. (In that latter bucket, most of the content is the quotes, not my comments thereupon.) Of those, some ~16,000 are from the Ember Template Imports series which I wrote for work — along with more than 14,000 more words in the RFC I wrote afterward. Now: ~65,000 words is not nothing! But I wrote ~30,000 of those on the job; my output outside work was only (!) ~35,000 words this year. That is indeed many fewer words than I have written in years past, similarly adjusted:

year words
2018 ~75,000
2019 ~90,000
2020 ~105,000
2021 ~35,000

There were many good reasons to write less this year, including focusing more on family time and simply having spent all my mental energies on work for many consecutive months. What’s more, I don’t have any regrets about the things I wrote: a goal to which we should all aspire! Net: while I would not be sad to see that number go back up next year, I am not disappointed by this year’s output either.

Of the things I wrote this year, my favorites are:

We’ll see what the next year brings, but I have no doubt there will be tens of thousands of words here unless something really up-ends things. After all: there were tens of thousands of words here this year and it was an off” year for me!

Podcasting

Only one thing of note here: after much deliberation and prayer, Stephen Carradini and I decided it was time to put Winning Slowly on indefinite hiatus. (A hiatus, not permanently done,” because we reserve the right to pick it back up in the future if that seems good to us; but an indefinite hiatus because we have no plans to do so at present. Sound familiar?) We started the project back in January 2014, so it was bittersweet to set it aside, but it’s the right move. The years ahead do not look to be years in which it would be wise for either of us to commit to this kind of high-investment side project. For more reflections on that, I’ll simply direct you to the episode where we announced the hiatus: Farewell… at least for now.

As for what the future holds here — I really don’t know. I very much enjoy podcasting, but I have no current plans to start any new shows. I am, of course, still happy to appear on other people’s shows (seriously: get in touch!), but the effort of running a show is not something I’m currently interested in adding to my docket.

Photography

I’ll be doing a dedicated post sometime between now and the end of the year with my top 10 photos of the year (a suggestion my friend Tim Hopper made which I think is a great idea). I continue to very much enjoy having picked back up this hobby, and I have improved quite a bit at it. The biggest change of sorts in this area is my subscription and semi-regular posting to Glass, which I really enjoy. I haven’t been posting as much as I might like the last few months, but only because most of my photography in that time has been for family events.

As I noted to Gracy Olmstead a while back (By the way, are you reading Gracy? If not, please stop right now and go subscribe to her consistently-excellent Granola newsletter):

…as the unofficial but very actual family photographer at this point, I have come to value the way that photography can serve others: by sharing the memories and helping us reaffirm the goodness of an event past. And, in a strange way, having a camera in hand has made no few family social situations tolerable and bearable for me which would have otherwise been nothing but exhaustion: because there was at least that joy, of the work to find and catch beautiful moments along the way (again, rightly drawing my attention), even if everything else going on was deeply frustrating at best.

This year, the frustrations have been thankfully diminished, but the joy has remained. As I write these words, I have Lightroom up in the background and I’m about to switch over to at least doing a quick triage” pass on the photos from the extended family Christmas get together we had this evening with my parents and my sisters and their families.

Music

Picking back up composing last year reminded me how much music energizes me, and Jaimie has consistently encouraged me to keep at it. So I have! …albeit with less consistency than I might have liked. To start with, I kept iterating on the fanfare I wrote last May, and I ultimately published it to every service available. It has gotten a grand total of 23 plays on Apple Music, 39 plays on Spotify, and 38 views on YouTube — exactly 100 total! (It’s unclear how many of those are total play-throughs, of course: YouTube counts it as views at well under the total video time, for example.) That number is small, but: there are people out there who are enjoying that little fanfare. That is good enough. I am glad to have made my first foray into the world of music publishing beyond SoundCloud, and hopefully will do more of the same in the future.

I also put two other pieces of music out into the world this year, but they stayed on SoundCloud:

While I have been composing more or less steadily since publishing the fanfare, I don’t yet have anything ready to share. In the interest of not over-promising and under/never-delivering, I have resolved to keep musical projects (and indeed any project of any real scope) to myself until it’s actually ready to go out into the world.

Health & Fitness

I listed my goals for this area in the 2020 end-of-year post:

  • run at least 1,000 miles — should be pretty doable; I ran over 700 miles this year despite all the limits of the year, getting very sick a couple times, and not having anything to train for.

  • do at least 30,000 push-ups — a goal that is actually much more doable than it might sound: that’s doing 100 push-ups a day and taking off every Sunday.

  • ride at least 500 miles — this is the real stretch goal for me: it will require me to actually put some miles on this year. I only managed about 200 miles this year, so I’ll need to make more consistent cross-training time

The score is… mixed. I am very close on the first one, and whether I complete it will depend almost entirely on how quickly I get over the head cold I am fighting as I write these words. I hit my push-ups goal by mid-year, but ended up falling off that train in the fall and never really got back onto it. As for riding: ha! I only managed about 100 miles on my bike this year. Maybe next year.

I also ran the Colfax Half Marathon again — on a new course this year — and turned in my third-fastest half marathon time ever. Adjusting for altitude, it may well have been my best performance to date: running at a mile above sea level is just a bit harder than running at sea level! This wasn’t on my list of goals because, when I wrote them, we still had no idea whether the race would even happen.

Also not listed, but an equally big win as the race, was successfully maintaining my weight. Staying at a very healthy weight, right in the middle of the recommended zone for someone of my height and build, is one of my primary health goals for the rest of my life: check off another year. Gladly, it was less annoying to manage this year than previous years: I seem to have adjusted a bit to the level of food I need to eat to stay here — unlike in my late twenties and early thirties where it required a painfully high degree of effort.

As for next year: well, Lord willing, I’m running the Colfax half marathon again; I’m going to try to repeat this year’s 30,000 push-ups goal but more sustainably; I’m going to maintain my weight; and I’m going to try to ride more than than this year — maybe 250 miles?

Work

This was a tiring year, but a rewarding one, professionally. A year ago, I was preparing to run an initiative involving dozens of teams and hundreds of developers: migrating the whole of the main LinkedIn app from Ember Classic to Ember Octane. It was a massive undertaking, given the sheer size of the app, and given the amount of change involved. Octane included updating basically every file in the app to use new (much improved) ways to author code, but even more importantly it included adopting a new reactivity system. I’ll write about that effort more when the last bits of long-tail cleanup are done (most likely on the LinkedIn Engineering blog), but the long and short of it is: we managed to do it successfully, with no regressions and indeed many significant performance and developer experience improvements!

In September, I was promoted to Senior Staff Software Engineer. That promotion validated the work I have done since coming to LinkedIn — from building tools to mentoring other engineers, and from leading large efforts to motivating major technical investments. While the intrinsic satisfaction of the work has been high, the promotion was really encouraging as affirmation of the impact I have had through those efforts.

I felt it all the more keenly because this is only the second time in my career I’ve been promoted, and the first time I was promoted, from Software Engineer to Senior Software Engineer back at Olo, was functionally more of a re-leveling; it wasn’t even on my radar. This time, by contrast, I was actively pursuing the promotion. Thus, being promoted less than three years after being hired in at Staff (itself a promotion-by-job-change!) was profoundly satisfying.3

Being Senior Staff has also been satisfying: not least because LinkedIn genuinely does a good job of promoting people when they have already been performing at the target level for the preceding six months. My day-to-day has shifted a little since the promotion, but only a little. The role is high impact, with lots of opportunities to teach and mentor and shape important projects and overall technical roadmap, as well as opportunities to get down in the weeds and build things when that is the right move.

I’m also still really happy at LinkedIn in a more general sense. Astonishingly so. Three years in, I have a very robust sense of what we do well and what we don’t, but I remain much happier here than I have ever been in any other job. That’s particularly noteworthy to me because at this point in every previous gig, I was either starting or finishing my job hunt for whatever came next! The people here are kind; the pay is excellent; the combination of autonomy and impact is wonderful; and the thing we do in the world is good and has far fewer of the downsides of social media than the other big players have: business models matter;. Like every job, it has its ups and downs, but I like going to work every day.

Looking Forward

I presently expect 2022 to be a sustaining kind of year, more than one in which there are a lot of new things happening. I am intentionally adding no new commitments at present: our lives are full as it is! As for what that sustaining looks like — I hope:

  • running another half marathon
  • doing a lot of push-ups and pull-ups
  • writing a bit more regularly
  • reading a bit more regularly
  • making our family D&D campaign a bit more consistent
  • making TypeScript in Ember successful for LinkedIn
  • composing consistently (though with no commitment to publishing anything I compose!)
  • posting photos both here and to Glass more consistently

I pushed hard through my 20’s. So far, trying to push equally hard in my 30’s has been a recipe for frustration. Finding a pace of sustainable, consistent, effective work is one of my major goals for the rest of this decade of life.


Previous Years

Previous annual reflections (this is the same list every year, but updated to include previous years):

  • 2007 — “Retrospect: n., a survey of past events”: fair warning, there are parts of this I find utterly cringe-worthy at this point.

  • 2012 — the one Christmas letter I ever wrote!

  • 2015

  • 2016 (all the year-in-review posts)

    • Introduction
    • Part 1 — “Running headfirst into a wall of pneumonia.”
    • Part 2 — “So. many. words. I had no idea how many words.”
    • Part 3 — “Podcasting: Winning Slowly, New Rustacean, and more!”
    • Part 4 — “Writing software for Olo and for open source.”
    • Part 5 — Getting things done in 2016 and beyond.
    • Part 6 — “Plans for 2017!”
  • 2017 (all the year-in-review posts)

  • 2018

  • 2019:

    • Adieu to 2019: the actual year-end summary post
    • A Decadal Kind of Change: my thoughts at the time looking into not only 2020 but the 2020’s. (Surprise: 2020 was wild and not at all the start to the decade any of us hoped!)
  • 2020


  1. the second volume of which I am aiming to finish over the course of the same end-of-year vacation over which I am drafting this reflection! ↩︎

  2. Folks following me on social media will have noticed that I also experimented with posting my favorites” on Pocket to social media, but I suspect the volume is too high — especially since I am not especially engaged on social media otherwise. ↩︎

  3. At some point I will write up some notes on my career trajectory to date. I think it might be illuminating for many of you reading along, not least in the space of things I just didn’t know at various points along the way. ↩︎