Every year, I spend some time reflecting on the year that passed. After reading last year’s post, I noticed a fair bit of self-indulgent tangent chasing. Most of which should likely have been separate posts. I’m attempting less of that this year. I’m continuing to evolve the format, but it’ll probably be a few years until I settle on one.
Jenn took a medium-term assignment in Berlin, so a decent chunk of 2018 I spent stretched between Berlin and Ottawa. After five years in Ottawa, I was starting to feel a tad restless. Five years easily turn into 10, and while five years is a long time, 10 is a really long time. Spending time in Berlin provided an opportunity to test what life would be like in an “objectively cooler” city, without committing to a major change. We enjoyed some fantastic weekends in Berlin: knödel shops where the hairdo-memo said ‘Grease’ (unfortunately, we missed it, so no mullet this time around), biking across the city with friends visiting from Denmark to a bus-turned-café, and the weekly kinda-festival at Mauerpark, where amphitheatres turn into makeshift crowd-karaoke. Despite all of this, the best thing about the stint in Berlin was, as cliché as it may sound, the re-appreciation of how good my life is in Ottawa. Berlin is a city that screams ‘temporary.’ I don’t recall meeting a single person ‘from there’ or a single person who wanted to stay there permanently. The city has a faint smell of millennial quarter-life crisis, I know, because given another year, that’d likely have been what drew me there! Close to family, but also close to the global pulse. In contrast, Ottawa has the diametrically opposite effect on people. After this, I’m pretty okay with that.
More so than the satisfaction of chasing a high number of books read, it was a significant focus-point for 2018 to evolve the system around reading. I increasingly feel that the more time I allocate to processing what I’ve read (primarily through writing, creating flashcards, and cataloging ideas), the more long-term reward. I wrote a much longer post about the system I went through most of 2018 with. It’ll continue to evolve, and I expect to update the post within the next year or two with the experiments I’m carrying out. The feedback loops on increasing reading retention are wonderfully and painfully long. Last year, I ended up reading around 55 books. Some that stood out were The Wright Brothers; wonderful story of innovation and fortitude, The North Water; the fiction that’s kept me most glued since Harry Potter, The Course of Love; raw and genuine account of long-term relationships, Doing Good Better; a way to think about charity that appealed to me, and The Goal; part of the underrated genre of fiction with a refreshingly tangible takeaway.
The frequent flights between the New and Old World were dreadful. The whole thing clinched for me that the romantic idea of a “Nomad Lifestyle” would be a nightmare for me. If that phase of life hits me, it’s clear that my shape will be in 3-month chunks, not backpack-increments. Always coming out of jet lag, or being about to go in it, was exhausting. That, and the poor seating that invited poor posture. Under those conditions, it proved challenging to improve physical health, despite the Gym in Berlin being the best I’ve frequented yet. It had that dungeon-gym vibe I didn’t know I’d craved that badly. The health hit of jet lag and transit-nutrition was uplifted by the intimidation factor of the guy next to you casually deadlifting 500lbs, with his dog taking a nap on the platform. This year, 2019, I hope to make some strides to improve my physical fitness. More specifically, I’d like a ball to chase (event, in this context) and improve my cardio, not just strength.
Inspired by a co-workers pulse watch, I decided that’d be an excellent motivator to incorporate more cardio. Having a heart-rate monitor with a number closely tuned to how miserable I’m feeling turned out to be a winning bet for tying my running shoes more often. An unexpected additional benefit was that friends started popping up in the Apple Watch fitness app. I have no problems with abusing my competitive gene without shame when it comes to my health. Beating Jeff turns out to be a great motivator.
2018 became a year of building teams. In 2017, we were about 1.5 teams, but by the end of 2018, there are 3. The realization that I needed to build these teams led to an intense hiring cycle. Time well spent. With these teams, we’re able to do the things that we’ve dreamt about for many years now—rather than some time. It was a year with two themes: moving everything to the Cloud, and, improving reliability. For the former, the team built a tool that allows us to move a shop from one database to another with virtually no impact to the merchant. With this tool, we moved every single shop individually from our data-centers to the cloud. It’s mind-boggling to me that we’ve run every Shopify merchant through this tool without mangling any.
Long-term, the concern for any company is that development slows down. You combat that with world-class tooling. One tool we started investing in as a team, is that all the applications inside the company have a standard way of communicating. We started seeing more and more applications built independently, but the tooling for them to leverage each other wasn’t improving (for the nerds in the crowd: RPC). We’ve laid the brickwork in 2018, but this year I’m confident we’ll start to see the first massive benefits within the company from this foundational investment. Third, we process about 1 billion jobs in the background at Shopify per day. This infrastructure hasn’t gotten a lot of love over the past five years, so the third team is built around improving this machinery. They not only did that but also started experimenting with automatically scaling workloads based on how busy the platform is. What I’m most proud of is the increasing autonomy of these teams. Their independence frees up time in 2019 to focus on the next project and the next squad. If you’re interested in any of this, you should shoot me an email.