Category: Sabbatical

I’ve been busy for the last month, and I completely forgot to update the blog. In no particular order, here’s what’s been occupying my time lately:

Coworking

I joined a coworking space in East Vancouver with a friend, and I’m working from there 3-4 days/week. It’s like an airy spacious café with fast internet and quiet space, I love it. I find that getting out of the house helps me be more disciplined with my working hours; I’m much less likely to disappear down a Wikipedia+YouTube rabbit hole at the office. And then when I inevitably do that at home, I feel less guilty about it because I’ve accomplished so much at the office.

Node.js

I got really into Node and the modern back-end JS ecosystem.

javascript.info has been remarkably helpful (I can finally remember exactly what a closure is!), it might be the first .info website that is genuinely a great source of information.

This talk by Franziska Hinkelmann on the V8 team is a great overview of JS engine internals.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Node APIs a few times; the Cluster module makes it trivial to fork workers and take advantage of multiple cores, and Buffer+friends make low-level bit manipulation quite pleasant. Which leads me to:

Cryptopals

The Cryptopals Crypto Challenges by Matasano Security are a delightful introduction to practical cryptography. I decided to do them in Node to get more practice with back-end JS, my solutions are on GitHub. The problems are very well-designed. They’re small enough that you can (usually) do each one in a single sitting, and it feels great every time you decode a ciphertext.

Raspberry Pi

I bought a Raspberry Pi 4 and have been loving it. For some reason I always thought of the Pi as only relevant for education and hardware hackers, but I was wrong – it’s a remarkably capable little Linux machine. I’m currently turning mine into a private Dropbox clone using ownCloud.

Anki

I started using Anki flashcards. I have decks for Node internals, uncommon JS syntax, and infrequently-used keyboard shortcuts and CLI options. Creating cards is a bit of an initial investment, but once that’s done I find that 5 minutes of daily study is enough.

I’m taking a self-funded sabbatical after 8 years of working full-time. It feels like the right thing to do at this stage of my career.

I’ve had an unusually stable career for a software developer. When I graduated from university in 2011 I interviewed at a few places, including a mid-sized investment firm. I didn’t know anything about finance and the… rustic state of their website was a little concerning, but the people seemed great. So I took the job, and told myself I’d stick around for 2 or 3 years.

8 years later I was still at the same company. Orbis offers a lot of different opportunities; I wrangled big financial data systems, ran a small team, got my hands dirty building a modern web stack, and worked in London and Cape Town. It was a blast, and I’d highly recommend Orbis as an employer.

Still, after 8 years, it’s time to try something new. I miss the open-ended learning that’s so common in school, and I want to explore my technical interests with no regard for immediate relevance to my day job. Gianfranco Chicco’s description of a “serendipity break” really resonated with me:

In the note I sent out to my friends and network I mentioned that I’d be undertaking a Serendipity Break, which wasn’t a nice way to say that I wasn’t going to work for a few months but that I wanted to actively explore different possible paths.

In the book The Craftsman, sociologist Richard Sennett describes how “skill builds by moving irregularly, and sometimes by taking detours”, which is akin to keeping the Serendipity Engine in perpetual motion to encourage the strengthening of current skills and allowing the development of new ones.

Leaving a great job at a great company was a little scary, but I think it’s necessary for my long-term growth. Reading about Joel Spolsky’s sabbaticals helped a lot; it’s reassuring to see successful developers following similar paths.

My last day at Orbis was July 27th, and since then I’ve been trying all kinds of things. I’ve been diving into database internals, rewriting this website, and even learning Lisp/Scheme. I’m not exactly sure where my interests will take me next, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

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I'm a software engineer in Vancouver, Canada. I'm interested in databases, urban planning, computing history, and whatever else catches my fancy.

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