Looking ahead to 2017

6 minute read

Wow, 2016 went by fast! Here’s a quick recap of what went down, and what my goals are for 2017.

2016 Recap

Blogging

My primary 2016 new year’s resolution was to create a personal website and to start blogging more. I wrote 18 posts (including this one) and 44 TILs about things that I learned throughout the year.

I found that writing short TIL style posts were the most helpful thing I did all year. Taking an unfamiliar topic and digesting it into a 200-300 word post was a great way for me to retain info. This method of learning was also incredibly helpful while I was preparing for job interviews in the first half of 2016.

In 2017, I’d like to up my pace of TILs. I think it’s a nice way to reflect on what I worked on each day, because every day I encounter some new problem that I’ve never seen before. I wrote 44 this year, I’d like to reach 100 by years end next year for a total of 56 new TILs.

Reading

I started the year strong on the reading front, but it slowed as the year progress:

  1. Thinking Fast and Slow - Daniel Kahneman
  2. Checklist Manifesto - Atul Gawande
  3. Elon Musk Biography - Ashlee Vance
  4. Ready Player One - Ernest Cline
  5. The Signal and The Noise - Nate Silver

…and I’m halfway through “Too Big to Fail” by Andrew Ross Sorkin and “Economics in One Lesson” by Henry Hazlitt. I’d like to pick up my reading pace a bit next year. A way I intend to achieve this is instead of looking at my phone before bed for 15 minutes, I’ll read a chapter of a book. I’ve read that looking at your phone just before bed is one of the worst things you can do to get a restful night’s sleep, so this will satisfy a health goal as well.

At the beginning of 2016 I developed a case of tsundoku, and my shelf is positively overflowing with books that I haven’t yet read. I’ll try to finish Too Big to Fail within the next month or so, to start making a dent in my backlog.

Teaching

I had a great experience teaching with the TEALS program in 2016, but with the uncertainty of starting a new job this year I did not wind up re-committing to teach for the 2016-2017 school year.

I’m still interested in teaching, though, and thankfully I found an outlet as a TA with a Northwestern web developer bootcamp. The program is 6 months long, and is targeted towards beginners looking to make a career pivot. Classes meet twice a week after work, plus Saturday mornings, and the session lasts from January 28 to July 16th. Clases are up in Evanston in the Tech building, which will be a trip down memory lane. I’ll be working as a TA with the option to teach classes if I wind up having additional time / interest during the semester.

The course focuses on javascript: we teach node, react, express, along with HTML and CSS. Since the class is designed for students with little prior programming knowledge, I think it makes sense to teach server-side and client-side concepts using the same language. Less potential points of confusion.

You never truly know something until you can teach it, and one of the reasons I enjoy teaching is it helps me to solidify my own understanding of concepts that I teach. Answering questions and helping students through problems is a great way to see tech topics in a different light. One of my strengths is communication, and I think teaching tech concepts is a great way to leverage both my technical depth and communication skills at once.

Continuous Learning

On the continuous learning front, on top of reading hacker news / staying up to date with current trends in the field, I’m also applying to the Georgia Tech Online Masters in Computer Science program. There is a machine learning / AI specialty that I am interested in. Several of my team members are currently enrolled in the program, and they say it is very doable while continuing to work. Additionally, the program was written up by the New York Times for how affordable it is for the quality of the degree.

I’ll be applying to start in Fall of 2017, which will be just after my teaching program finishes, so that should be a good transition in to the second half of the year! Expedia offers tuition reimbursement for employees pursuing a advanced degrees from an accredited institution. I’m certain my application will be accepted!

I also purchased “Cracking the Coding Interview,” and I hope to work through problems from there more frequently throughout the year.

Side Projects

I want to make sure I’m always working on a side project - something that gets me to use new pieces of tech that I haven’t used before, and pushes my creativity. I’m currently working on an app idea, tentatively called Cash Back Hero, that helps credit card users determine their best available credit card to maximize cash back for a purchase. No PII (like credit card numbers or social security numbers) will be required, just the name of the credit cards you have at your disposal. The app will prompt a user to enter the type of purchase they are about to make (e.g. grocery store, amazon, gas…) and will tell the user which card to use in that instance.

I’m hoping the app will save people money with the cards they already have, and might encourage some to sign up for other card options that offer more cash back for low annual fees. The dream would be for the logic in the app to make it in to a mobile payment system, like Apple Pay or Google Wallet, and that the selection of the best card would happen automatically with no additional user input.

I started working on the app over the holidays, stay tuned for beta invites!

Fitness & Health

I haven’t been paying attention to my health as much as I should be. I get to the gym, but not as often as I’d like considering I live a 5-minute walk away… there really is no excuse! I also have a few lingering health concerns that I want to get addressed. I’m hoping 2017 will be the beginning of a healthy year for me.

I ran the Chicago spring half marathon in 2013. I’d like to get back to half marathon shape so I could run it again in 2017.

2017 Goals Recap

To summarize from above:

  1. Blog: Reach 100 TILs by the end of next year.
  2. Reading: Read before bed, instead of wasting time on phone.
  3. Teaching: Complete a semester as a TA with Northwestern’s Dev Bootcamp.
  4. Continuous Learning: Apply for Georgia Tech Master’s Program (Machine Learning focus). CTCI problems to stay sharp.
  5. Side Project: Launch MVP of Cash Back Hero
  6. Fitness & Health: Back up to half marathon shape. Chicago spring half marathon in May. Includes getting lingering health concerns looked at.

I’ve set myself up for a busy year, but I think my goals are all achievable. My girlfriend Alex is working on the third CFA exam, and is also working on business school applications. We should both be starting school around the same time in 2017 if all things work out, and having us both be busy after work with school will be good for motivation purposes.

It also seems that for the time being, Chicago will be home. I’m interested in looking at apartments / condos to buy in the city, maybe 2017 will be the year (before interest rates go up too much more).

Happy New Year!

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