2020 Year in Review

10 min read

2020 was definitely a year packed full of twists and turns. I don't need (nor would you want me) to go on and on reviewing all the events that took place in 2020. Instead, I want to take some time to reflect on my own experience this year. It certainly wasn't all doom and gloom. I'm fortunate and grateful for that.

Let's go back to when it was considered normal to eat out at restaurants.

Winter 2020

Ah, yes. Winter 2020 in the USA. Before the pandemic. Before the masks.

Mary was with her family in Hawaii at the time I first heard about the coronavirus. They told me the virus landed in Everett, WA, not too far north of Seattle. For the next couple of months, people seemed to generally be aware of the virus, but masks had yet to become the norm.

The only thing on my mind at the time was just finishing up my two quarters of college and getting my degree. I had accepted my return offer from my internship to work at OfferUp. So in early 2020, I was focused on grinding through these last two quarters, blissfully unaware of the looming pandemic.

First time being a TA

During Winter quarter, I was a TA for the first time for CSE 451: Operating Systems. The course instructor described the course as "drinking from a firehouse." Even though this was my second lap going through the course material as a TA, it felt no different for me.

I'm glad I had the opportunity to TA a course during my time at UW. Our instruction team consisted of 2 Microsoft veterans, Gary Kimura and Mark Zbikowski, accompanied by a group of 4 TAs, including myself.

One of our TAs, Jialin, was a Ph.D. candidate doing operating systems research. It was valuable having her on our team. She had a great breadth of knowledge about the theory of operating systems and she built the labs so she knew about all the nooks and crannies of the software. We'd often lean on Jialin to help us understand concepts and the codebase.

One of my responsibilities as a TA was holding office hours, which usually involved helping other students debug the labs. Debugging students' software was a challenging but rewarding aspect of being a TA. It's certainly a useful skill to be able to read other people's code given that code reviews are a common part of a software engineer's job.

Each TA also led an hour long section each week. When I took the OS course as a student, I thought the sections were useful because the sections would discuss the lab assignments in detail which would help us in completing the labs. I wanted the sections I gave to be no different. I needed to review the material prior to teaching the section so that I could at least pretend like I knew what I was talking about. All in all, teaching the section was good practice speaking in front of people, reading a room, and making sure the most amount of people come out of it feeling like their time was well spent.

Towards the end of the quarter, masks started to become more common. The last week or so, they canceled classes and all of our finals. A welcome surprise.

Relaxing in the San Juans Islands

After the quarter ended, Mary and I stayed at an Airbnb in Friday Harbor, San Juan Islands. We enjoy how chill it is in the San Juans. The day we were on the ferry back to the mainland, they were just starting to not allow new visitors on the island. We came right on time.

Spring 2020

I didn't apply to be a TA for another quarter. Instead, I decided to take 4 CSE courses so that I could've taken all the CSE courses I wanted to take while at UW.

Since Spring 2020 would be completely remote, I was actually able to utilize my time in such a way that doing 4 courses concurrently was manageable. For example, the teaching material for my course on programming languages is available online, allowing me to watch lectures at 2x speed and finish all the homework in the first 2 weeks of the quarter. This ended up being helpful since I needed the extra time for my other classes, like Algorithms.

Improving my grade with Office Hours

My course on Algorithms was one that focused heavily on proofs. We learned about things like graphs, dynamic programming, min flow, max cut, etc. Although the material was interesting enough, I found myself doing poorly on the homework assignments.

After I found out how far I was below the mean after the midterm, I knew I had to make adjustments. I set up a Zoom call with the instructor to explain my situation.

He asked if I was going to office hours. I replied, "No".

He said, "Oh yeah, you should be going to office hours. I give students substantial hints there."

I took him up on his suggestion. I started attending the office hours, and sure enough, I started receiving substantial hints on the homework which helped improve my grade in the class.

Virtual graduation

After working my ass off for the past 5 or so years, I finally graduated from college. The pandemic was in full-swing so the graduation ceremony was all virtual. Mary's family came over to the apartment and we had chicken wings and hors d'oeuvres.

In addition to having Mary's family over, we got my family on the east coast on Zoom and we played Family Feud together. The Keevers vs the Osetinskys. I was your man, Steve Harvey.

Another kind of funny part of the graduation ceremony was when they were showing the reel of graduates. I remember sitting there and being like, "Oh Mary, come see. They're almost at the K's for the college of engineering! Here I go!"

We looked intently.

Then we saw L's. Then M's.

Wait a minute. They skipped me!

My family began to wonder if I actually did graduate. 😂

Started the Skies blog

I started the first iterations of this blog. It was still under my GitHub Pages domain swkeever.github.io at the time.

The blog has been a nice place for me to try out different technologies. For example, I got to play around with deploying to various platforms like Netlify, AWS, and Vercel.

In the summer I bought the skies.dev domain name and started building out the blog as Skies. I would work on the blog in the evenings after work to relax.

This year, I published 32 articles.

Summer 2020

Joined OfferUp

After graduation, I started working at OfferUp as a backend engineer on the Discovery team.

I was actually pretty happy that I could work remotely. When I interned at OfferUp the summer prior, I asked my manager at the time if I could work remotely because Mary and I wanted to travel to Spain.

The manager at the time said, "It's not going to happen. We don't do remote."

It's interesting to see how then COVID hit and then BAM, everyone is remote. So from that perspective, it was a welcome outcome of COVID to see remote becoming more of a norm in tech.

So far at OfferUp, I've taken ownership in our lists service. The lists service handles storing users' saved items (like a wishlist). A few of my contributions to the lists service:

  • Refactored the system to lose its dependency on the legacy monolith without breaking existing clients.
  • Designed, documented, and implemented new internal endpoints to be consumed by our admin client.
  • Automated the ability to provision cloud infrastructure with Terraform.

Fall 2020

Got engaged

This Fall, Mary and I got engaged. We then spent 2 weeks in Maui, HI.

It was my first time to Hawaii, and it was quite peaceful. We enjoyed sipping coffee on our deck, hearing the sound of the tropical birds outside in the morning. Here are some of the things we did while we were in Maui:

  • Road to Hana
  • Climb Haleakalā volcano
  • Kahekili Highway, dubbed the “death highway of Maui”
  • Boogie-boarding "Kohana" waves

Started building Geofyi

Since college, Mary has had an interest in building a startup. Mary took the plunge and quit her job this summer to start building it. We went back and forth on what kind of product would be worth investing time and energy in. We eventually started what is Geofyi—a platform for people to feel closer to local communities—near and far (wherever you are).

We're still in the early stages of building this product, but you can sign up, make posts, and have discussions with local communities today.

Got a rowing machine

Rowing is one of my favorite ways to work out. I've wanted my own rowing machine for years now.

My dad had a Concept 2 rowing machine that he wasn't using anymore, and he offered to ship it to me as a Christmas present.

I'm pretty excited that I can row anytime I want now.

Goals for 2021

Some goals I have for 2021 are

  • Become promoted to Software Engineer II at OfferUp by Summer 2021 after helping them build out the new redesign of the search architecture.
  • Continue helping Mary build Geofyi—iterating on new features to see what people are like and focus on the growth of the app. We plan to have our first real release early next year.
  • Mary and I want to utilize this unique time to move somewhere interesting for 2-3 months during Winter 2021. We have a few places in mind including Texas, Florida, Arizona, and maybe even Mexico. I am personally interested in any opportunity to improve my Spanish, but we would need to consider how feasible it would be with the restrictions due to COVID.
  • Marry Mary in Summer 2021. Maybe we can go on a trip of sorts after. We're pretty low-key people so we don't need a whole lot to be happy.
  • Buy a new car. Our dream car is a Tesla, but that is looking over-budget for now. We are thinking of getting a Subaru Crosstrek as a practical option that'll get us by for a long while.
  • Find a new place to live long-term. This will most likely be back in Seattle after moving somewhere during the winter. Not sure yet if we'll buy or just rent, but I'm still probably leaning towards renting due to how astronomical house prices are in Seattle.

That wraps up my 2020 year in review. Thanks for reading and happy new year! 🎊