2022 in Review: Professional

My fourth year at LinkedIn: odd, and challenging — with some failures! — but not bad.

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

A bit of context: For many years now, I have made it my habit to write up one of these summaries. In this case, I have tried to make it a bit more digestible by breaking into smaller chunks. You can find them all at the root of this little series’.

2022 was a bit of an odd year for me professionally: not a bad one by any stretch, but also one about which I just feel… odd. When I started the year, I was still just getting my feet under me as a Senior Staff engineer (the promotion officially landed in September 2021), and at the end of the year, I was… still just getting my feet under me as a Senior Staff engineer.

I think I made a lot of mistakes this year — particularly around the nature of title-driven leadership and its effect on various relationships. None of them especially serious, all of them recoverable, but: real mistakes nonetheless. I feel pretty keenly the extent to which it is difficult, perhaps impossible, not to learn in a role like this (maybe in almost any role!) by failing. I am grateful that LinkedIn has been a place where I could fail in small ways gracefully, and in particular I am grateful for colleagues who helped me grow by providing (sometimes difficult!) feedback.

In terms of output” from the year, I think things went well: we got a lot done in the TypeScript space at LinkedIn and in open source, and I was able to move the needle a bit on some key parts of the Ember ecosystem as well. Official-izing myself and the rest of Ember TypeScript team and joining the Ember Framework team were both validations of the years of work I have done in the ecosystem (I started working on Ember and TypeScript fully six years ago now!). Those efforts are now nearing completion, which is exciting.

By mid-year, I was feeling pretty keenly how much my attention was split among many different efforts. That is a very typical experience of particularly senior engineers, from what I can tell: an enormous amount of the work in most senior engineering roles is not just designing and writing code but helping others be effective. That being so, I’m deeply sympathetic to this note from Raph Levien’s latest reflections:

I’m not one of those quantified self” people, but I have noticed that my happiness tends to correlate pretty directly with how much code I’m writing. I’m sure some of that is simply because if there’s stressful stuff going on that gets in the way of coding, that makes me unhappy, but obviously I just really enjoy it.

In particular, I love solving deep puzzles, and I find plenty of opportunity for that.…

Aside from puzzle-solving, which is largely a solitary activity, I also like the aspects of teaching, getting people up to speed, especially in topics that are not easily accessible through a standard computer science education or textbooks. Writing, including this blog, is a big part of that.

That statement resonated incredibly strongly with me. I find that when I end up spending a majority of my time on writing documents to articulate strategies, or dealing with team dynamics, or otherwise away from building, I am least satisfied. Those are all good kinds of work and they all need doing, and I don’t mind spending some of my time on them, but they never energize me the way that both building and teaching do. Particularly in the back half of 2022, I ended spending the vast majority of my time on those kinds of efforts, though, and combined with the various health-related challenges we were dealing with as a family outside of work, I hit the end of the year not exactly burned out, but deeply exhausted. There is definitely a path from where I am to being badly burned out; I am grateful to (a) have a decent sense of how to avoid that and (b) a team who recognizes as much and is actively helping me avoid it.

I intend to work actively to find a new balance on that front in the year ahead, and have full support in doing so from my own leadership, which is a great spot to be. We are getting to a point where I will no longer need to be a primary driver for our TypeScript or Ember work, and I think that will be a good change: I have been very deeply focused on the two for a very long time now, and I am looking forward to having some space to do more R&D and exploration around how to continue making an impact on developers’ ability to develop quality software quickly.

That last note is suggestive of the other reason the year felt odd: while we made a little bit of progress on things in that space of developers’ ability to develop quality software quickly”, basically all of the work we were doing felt like catch-up work — both in terms of getting LinkedIn’s web stack caught up with capabilities its mobile stacks have had for a while with types, and in terms of getting LinkedIn’s web stack at least in the ball park of where other front end stacks have been for a while. Catching up is good, and I have found ways to turn that catching-up into things that I do hope will continue to move the ecosystem more broadly — the Semantic Versioning for TypeScript Types spec I built is a good example here, though it could use a continued push to make it more broadly adopted and useful — but it is generally hard to advance the field from behind.

Returning for a moment to the theme of feeling split attention: that feeling prompted me in August to pick back up and double down on my old habit of proactively planning and tracking my efforts in my notes system. I wrote and YouTube’d about the mechanical aspects of that (see Writing Down What I Do  —  In Obsidian). Here, I will note that while that kind of work tracking and logging may not be useful for necessary for others (certainly there were a fair number of comments on the Hacker News discussion of that article to that effect!) but it remains incredibly helpful for me in working effectively.

There are, I think, three reasons for that:

  1. It helps me stay focused. There are an almost infinite number of things I could do at LinkedIn, but there are some things I must do, and other things I want to (and am free to!) do… and if I let that infinitely long list distract me, I will not get to what I must or want to do.

  2. It helps me feel the sustained progress I am making. Precisely because I am pulled in many different directions, taking those 5 minutes a day at the end of the day to note what I did, and again at the end of the larger time-scales I track on, makes it much easier for me to realize that I actually did manage to do many of the things I set out to do: and that is really encouraging when in the thick of it.

  3. It is a very useful input to professional development discussions — whether formally, as in a mid-year or annual review, or informally talking with mentors or my manager.

Particularly with the ways I had to split my attention, and the things I had to set most of my attention on, that second factor was a real help to me in the latter half of this year.

Again: none of that made for a bad year. Just… an odd one. I will be very curious to see how I feel come the end of 2023! For now, I will simply close by noting how delightful it is to be a matter of weeks from my 4-year anniversary of starting at LinkedIn: this is already substantially the longest I have stayed at any job. I no longer feel like I am just getting started” but I do still feel like there is a lot of opportunity ahead, and indeed more opportunity than there was when I started, thanks to the work my colleagues and I have done over the years in between. That is a really nice spot to be.