December 31, 2020#review

2020: Year in Review

It's been quite a year, to say the least. I'm not going to touch particularly on world events, because I'm sure you've heard too much about them already. Instead, I'm going to talk about what happened in my own life over the course of 2020, the most complicated year in a looooong time.

Let's go month by month.

In January, I started off the year like any ordinary year. I ended up dropping French, which was not a happy decision, and I ended up Academic Interning for CS 61A, which was an excellent decision. I also picked up a bit of flight simulation before that, over winter break, which was oddly relaxing and a fun new adventure that I continued through the summer.

February came and went in the blink of an eye. Reports of the Coronavirus were coming in, but nobody was thinking much of it in the US. I realized that for the first time I had a circle of friends who would love to go to a restaurant with me on my birthday next month, so I spend a lot of time planning for that.

Then came the fateful month. A week before my birthday, Berkeley told us all to go home, and that classes would take place online until after Spring break. That was the last time I saw a sizeable number of people before we got locked down and essentially quarantined away for over a year. It feels like just yesterday that we were sent home and told that we'd be back in two weeks, yet we're about to enter our third semester (and second full semester) of online learning. My entire sophomore year is going to be spent in online learning, and I barely realize it even now.

April was uneventful. You didn't a blog post from me that month because of midterms and the transition to online learning, which together had overwhelmed me a bit so I took the month off.

May came, classes ended, finals went fine, and I had the rest of the month off. 61A didn't begin until June 22, so I picked up my Honeycomb Alpha Yoke and decided to fool around in X-Plane. Eventually drew up my Round The World plan and took off.

The next month was split into two: the first part was predominantly flight simulation, and the last week or so was 61A. It already felt like a great experience in just the first week, so it's no surprise that the rest of the summer was a blast. Unfortunately though, I failed to get past the 47th airport on my Round The World plan, but in the face of larger responsibilities, the hobbies take a hit. I hope to pick that back up someday and finish it, though I haven't had the time to do so yet.

I spent all of July dedicating myself to being a good teacher. Students seemed to enjoy learning in my discussion sections, and I certainly enjoyed teaching. It was an absolute joy to work with the wonderful students in my section, who often even scheduled one-on-ones with to discuss future CS pathways and career choices. They knew I hadn't experienced the industry, and that I was just an incoming sophomore, but freshmen and junior transfers alike still thought to come to me for advice. I was touched, and I did the best I could to help them, even if it meant going out of my way to ask other members for staff for their advice.

August was also spent in part on teaching. When classes started, things didn't really pick up for a while, so the rest of August was a drag. I did switch up the way my website was hosted, and that was indeed quite fun, but that was it.

The article I wrote for September was largely only written because I wanted to stick to my plan of writing once a month, but I didn't really have anything substantial to say that month.

October was so quiet that even now I can't think of anything worth writing about. All I remember is being increasingly upset because of an unfavorable recruiting season, as I watched other people get hired by the companies I'd always dreamt of interning at, but then getting rejected without reason despite a perfect performance on every coding challenge I completed, and without even being invited to interview after said challenge. That is, when I even got a coding challenge...

November. Ah, November. The first half was boring, but the second half was the most exciting part of the semester. All the 61A infrastructure work got me really hyped up, and it was exhilarating to see my work have such lasting impacts on core tools. I also got rehired as a TA for 61A for the Spring at this time, which made me even more excited to continue contributing to software as I had started doing. I also got the opportunity to join a research project with The Yu Group here at Berkeley, which seeks to improve Data Science techniques for large-scale reproducible research. This project specifically involves writing a Python library based on Professor Bin Yu's research, and begins in the Spring. I'm looking forward to it!

Finals season zoomed by in December, and pretty soon I found myself making a series of improvements to 61A infrastructure over winter break. In the last two weeks, I've started tinkering around with VSCode servers for our staff, as well as getting ready to transition our website's build system from a number of cryptic Makefiles to a brand new in-house build tool, written by our Head of Software. Also found out this week that I was actually rehired as a Head TA for 61A, not just a regular TA, so that was exciting! I'm looking forward to heading the grading team, as well as co-heading software with the previously-lone software TA.

Like everyone else, I saw a series of ups and downs in 2020. It was by and large the worst year of my life on the whole, but it also had my most memorable achievement. I got hired as a TA for the first time, I made a number of impactful contributions to large-scale open source software, I made my own open source project and actually finished it this time, and I got appointed to a Head TA position for a 2000-student course as a second-semester sophomore. And though these achievements were overshadowed by the terrible experiences I had with online learning and internship recruiting, I don't intend to lose sight of them anytime soon.

I'm incredibly fortunate to have the opportunities that I have, and though they're by no means all I want, they're certainly things that I've sought for a long time. Now that I've acquired them, I intend to put my all into making things work. I want to give my best performance on all the tasks that come my way, and I suppose that's my New Year's resolution. This year drained my motivation, but I want it back. I'll get it back, and I'll apply it to the best of my abilities to make sure the next year doesn't get wasted away by the monotone nature of staying at home.

Happy New Year!