A little more than a year ago, after a fun 5-year ride, I left Melon.
It wasn’t a spur of the moment decision, but something that I was planning for almost 2 years. In the end it was just hard to leave my colleagues (which I now call friends).
TLDR: I left so I can focus 100% on preparing myself for the next challenge. Most of the year I did exactly that — I took time to read on algorithms, design patterns and data structures. Focused on improving my knowledge of Go and Ruby. Started working on a couple of pet projects. Through the first lockdown, I played some games. And in the summer, I was more focused on participating in the anti-corruption protests.
I enjoyed my time at Melon, but at one point I started to feel like I’m stalling. In my last 2 years I didn’t had the luck to work on challenges that improve my problem-solving skills. In companies with Melon’s business model, there’s always the luck of the draw. My first 3 years were great in that regard.
So I left and started looking for a product companies, while working on acquiring knowledge in some fields that I felt I could be better.
This happened in October, but it took almost two months to get accustomed to the new environment I put myself in. I didn’t force myself to study and do the things that were partially behind my decision to leave my previous employer. Mostly because I had an unpleasant burnout in the summer, and the most important thing for me was to take a break from doing work-related tasks. My thinking at the time was that when I’m ready to jump back in — I will know it.
December of 2019
And it happened in December. Enough time has passed since October. I was feeling the urge to be creative again. My first “order of business” was to restart a mini project I had that same year — create an absolute minimal configuration for Ruby on Rails RESTful API that could be deployed on a public docker host with just one command and do it fairly quickly, with CI/CD included. I was trying to solve a problem I’ve had for a few years — how to bootstrap a working project quick enough, so I don’t lose my motivation on the setup phase.
I don’t enjoy working on OPS related tasks, so I worked on this no more than a week but learned important things about setting up docker machines. Something that came in handy when I was deploying my last two projects.
In the same month, I read Head First Design Patterns. A great book which covers most of the knowledge you’ll need on this topic in a friendly way.
First months of 2020
In January, I started exploring the dry-rb gems. I wanted to start a small project — an online library of lo-fi visuals, and I needed something with little overhead to help me with that. Not only Rails would’ve been an overkill for this project, but I’m also in favour of focusing your knowledge more on the language itself, not only on “plug & play” frameworks. Trying something new, especially when there’s low risk, is always helpful.
Of course, this decision lead to having lots of time-sink days in which I was organising code and stitching gems that I would’ve needed for a basic working RESTful Ruby project.
The combination of having what was starting to look like a high maintenance project (I planned lots of features) and having plans to look for a job before the summer, made me abandon the project.
I needed the time to focus on theory — not pet projects.
Later that month, I started the Coursera Algorithms courses (an old nemesis of mine which deserves a separate story on itself). Part of why I left my previous company was because I needed to improve my skills in some computer science areas — Algorithms being one of them.
The algorithms courses were hard in some places. It took me both February and March to go through the all 4 of them. They are designed to do one per month, but I had free time, so I decided to have my own pace. I didn’t have 4 months to spend on this.
By the end of February, I finished all course materials and did all quizzes but ended up skipping some of the practical tasks because I was getting tired of studying every day.
Who had “pandemic” on its bingo ticket?
At the beginning of March, I was more focused on democratic primaries in the US, but at that time, COVID was heavily on the news, some of my friends were following it since February.
Of course, most of us knew that there’s a high chance of this hitting Europe. The moment I heard about the cases in Italy, I knew that we are gonna have cases in Bulgaria in a couple of weeks.
Officially, our lockdown started on March 13th. Everybody developed some kind of coping mechanism. I knew that it would be tough to stay productive because it would’ve been a news heavy period and it would’ve been hard to focus, so I chose to take a break and play games.
I started with FTL: Faster Than Light. It’s not that complex, but it can be hard if you haven’t spent some time on it. I remember that one time when I beat it on Easy with the first ship (which is even easier). It was so hard for me at the time that I even celebrated for a bit. Well, this time I beat it on Normal with every ship, even the hidden ones (which have to be unlocked), with 100% of the achievements.
Next, for a while, I’ve been planning to beat Minecraft on hardcore mode (you die — you lose the world and the progress) and this is how I spent April. It was really hard, and there were times that I was close to giving up because the mistakes were too punishing — one misstep and you have to spend 4 days progressing again. By the end of the month, I was able to beat it. I didn’t complete all achievements, but I didn’t have the time and the nerves to try. They were a project on their own.
I didn’t think about the pandemic and checked news only at night, so I’m kind of thankful that I had the privilege not to work at that time and handle it that way — on easy mode.
In May I got back to programming. I dusted off an old passion of mine — Go(lang). I used it to start working on a simple CLI application which was very fun.
As the summer started, my productivity ramped up. I finished the GO CLI app, started Moodytags with Hanami. Which is not on Rails for the same reason I mentioned above — it would’ve been overkill.
Most importantly, that month, I started following a new workflow for my tasks, with a focus on weekly goals. This would be a separate post on itself. Part of the setup can be seen on my post about Habitica.
The new system made things fun, I started planning time for studying or implementing specific algorithms, and the most fun part — data structures! It was in June that I was able to plan the projects I want to finish, and the things I want to study or read, until the end of the year.
Also, the lockdown was lifted that month, so a week after that, I slowly started doing my night walks and seeing friends again.
But then there were protests…
I was doing well in July until the political (corruption) news cycle started to become a little bit overwhelming. The month was marked with a couple of corruption scandals, so I was glued to the news portals and followed every detail I can (I have a FOMO on some topics).
As the public issues piled up, you were able to sense how the tension grew more and more, and by the middle of the month — there were full-blown nationwide protests. At the time, I still avoided massive gatherings, but after some time of envying the people who were on the streets every day, I started joining the protests in my city. They weren’t that massive as these in the capital, but at least we were helping spread awareness in our city and doing our part.
If you’ve ever been part of corruption protests (only Eastern Europe has them these days), you know how time-consuming they can be — following the news, participating. It made me take a break from programming, again.
There was no way I could focus on work, while literally, every person counts in times like these. It didn’t help that I started going out with friends more often. My routine was basically — get up (late), follow the news, work out, go out to join the protest, continue somewhere with friends or go home to follow the protest in the capital, then go to bed at 3 am.
This continued until September, and although I enjoyed part of it, I always will feel that I could’ve spent the basic minimum of one or two hours per day, to study or work on something.
Aside from these events, in the summer, I played a lot of football (yay). I also bought myself a longboard!
Cruising around with my longboard was one of my highlights of late August and September.
Every weekend I would skate to KFC or McDonalds and then cruise around for two more hours, so I can convince myself that I will burn the massive amount of junk food I ate before that.
September - October
As the protests ended without much success, by the end of September, I got back to programming.
I worked actively on Moodytags. Studied data structures and implemented them in Go. Then continued to study specific algorithms, mostly sorting. Started a project about managing subscriptions, which was in my plans for a long time.
I also started reading The Well-Grounded Rubyist to refresh more of my Ruby knowledge.
In November I finally thought of a new nickname/pseudonym that I like, and can use in various places where I don’t want to put my name. I happily renamed most of my handles online and this site.
I also finished the MVP of the two projects that I was working on. Moodytags, for now, will be a second priority, while Subalogue will receive most of my attention in the future because it’s something that I’m more passionate about.
Algorithms and data structures are on pause for now because I couldn’t spare time for this. I will be back on them soon because I like learning them.
I think I took enough time to follow my interests. The initial plans for this break were to last no more than 6 months tops, but that was before COVID deleted the word “plan” from our dictionaries.
In retrospect, I did good for working on pet projects, but although I spent a good amount of time there - I still have important computer science things to study. I like graph theory for example, but I didn’t have the time to focus seriously there. That will come next year.
Things I’m glad I did this year:
- ✅ Thanks to the lockdowns, I decided to try having a long hair. Liking it for now.
- ✅ Bought a longboard. Although sometimes my legs aren’t happy about it.
- ✅ Started designing a productivity system which in the future will help me a lot in learning things.
- ✅ Didn’t think of excuses not to go out on the streets to protest, and instead - did my part in helping the cause.
- ✅ Started to write every week, although short in length.
Thanks to undraw for providing high quality graphics for free, without requiring you to mention them. Always try to credit creators when possible.