Param's 2021 in review
It's been a long year. Here's what I did this year and what I’m working towards in the future.
Engineering and Career
2021 was year 3 of me working in Security. I started off in late 2019 with no clue about security engineering, but I've been learning as I go. I learned a lot about web security and cryptography this year. However, the thing that I've found really valuable is not the concrete knowledge about things like XSS or CORS, it’s the thought process and engineering practices that get used to protect large codebases being worked on by thousands of engineers. I'll write about things I've learned in future posts in this newsletter, but for now, I'll recommend a few good things that I read this year:
OWASP has been the resource for me to learn about common security things. The top 10 is a great place to start if you want to evaluate the security of your codebase.
I read parts of Ross Anderson's Security Engineering book as part of a book club, and found it both interesting and illuminating.
Outside of work, I did not build many things this year. In the beginning of the year, I helped build music discovery features for ListenBrainz, but sadly, I did not get time to contribute after that.
I spent a lot of time helping a friend prepare for interviews as she changed jobs. We solved LeetCode problems together for a few weekends. We went over many topics, from simple ones like linked lists to more complicated ones like dynamic programming and trees. In total, we must have solved at least a hundred problems. I've always found teaching to be fun, so it was a nice experience (with the benefit of keeping me in touch with the basics).
A new thing I did this year was helping a few friends negotiate job offers. I had read patio11's essay about salary negotiation some time last year, and it was illuminating to apply the advice in the real world. It made me realize how much of a jobseeker's market it is, and how much value just a single well-written email can generate. If you're a software engineer, I cannot recommend the essay strongly enough.
My practice of writing notes has continued to go well. I have a total of 170 notes on my notes site now. The most useful notes for me have been the kindle highlights of books I've read. I've found going back to the highlights of a book really helpful to remind myself of the core ideas in it.
Music and Books
I read 15 books in 2021, of which 8(!) were non-fiction.
My favorites were:
I also listened to a lot of music this year. Spotify says I listened to 60,532 minutes of music this year, more than 99.5% of listeners in India. It is a little sad however that most of this is old music that I knew already, not new music. I spent very little time trying to find new music this year, however, I do have two albums from 2021 that I really like and can recommend:
I gained a lot of weight in 2020, and realized I needed to do something about it this year. So I picked up running in February when lockdowns were strict and gyms were closed. I've made a lot of progress through the year.
Over the year, I've run 442.4 km, not counting workouts on the treadmill. I ran a half-marathon (21.1 km) in 2hr40min in June. The time isn't very impressive, but just being able to run the distance made me happy. After that, I focused on strength training for a few months, before going back to running in November, with the goal of a 25 min 5k. My current best is 29:30, although I did run a 26:30 min 5k on the treadmill in December.
The number of workouts (runs/strength training/other cardio all included) I did per month is as follows:
December - 14
November - 10
October - 12
September - 5
August - 5
July - 8
June - 17
May - 19
April - 15
March - 18
February (start) - 8
In retrospect, this isn’t as consistent as I thought I was being, but it’s still a lot of progress from 2020. August and September were not good months, I lost a bit of motivation and I think I also didn't track a few workouts. My goal going forward is 4 runs a week, which should mean at least 16 workouts a month for 2021.
In terms of weight, I went from 77 kg (nearing obesity) in the beginning of the year to 65 kg in May. After that, I got back to 69 kg as I wanted to gain some muscle with strength training. Since September, I've been stable at 69kg.
I spent a lot of time playing chess on Lichess this year. I played a total of 2,856 games in 2021, which is a bit crazy, even if 1,866 of them were 1 minute bullet games. I don't have much to show for the thousands of bullet games, but I have slowly improved in longer time controls. My rapid (games with ~10-15 minutes per side) rating peaked at 1803 in November, before settling down to 1760 for the end of the year. My blitz (games with ~3-5 minutes per side) rating showed the most improvement, I've gone from 1462 at the beginning of the year to 1682 right now, peaking at 1694 (painfully close to 1700).
Most of this improvement is from passively watching chess content on YouTube. Channels I can recommend are Eric Rosen and GothamChess. I also did a lot of puzzles on Lichess in free time, my puzzle rating right now is 2309, I started the year at 1797. I also have been reading Jeremy Silman's How To Reassess Your Chess on and off over the past 3-4 months.
Where do I go from here?
I don’t keep explicit goals for myself, it seems a bit much to me, however I am going to be working towards certain things next year.
I want to continue progressing on my career at Stripe. This means learning more about software engineering, security and many other things. This is my main focus.
I want to keep writing this newsletter, writing essays that provide value to me and people who read them. I also want to write better and this newsletter is my way to practice.
I want to run 50 min 10k. This seems a reasonable thing to work for after I reach my current goal of a 25 min 5k, which I think I should in a few months.
I want to continue getting better at Chess. I’m not putting too much active work into this, because in the end, it’s just a game. I would still like to progress to somewhere around 1900 Lichess blitz and 2000 rapid.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading, I genuinely appreciate it! Happy new year!