A Few Goals for 2016

I’m not sure I’d like to call them “resolutions”, but here are a few of the things I’m planning to work on in 2016.

  • Improve my skills with Python and Go

I’ve been using Python and Go for most of my projects lately, whether at work or for fun, and I usually feel like I can figure out how to solve my problems in them. But in both langues, I still spend a lot of the time with API docs open in the next window, and I haven’t written anything longer than a few thousand lines of code in either. I’d like to try to tackle a couple of larger projects and get really solid with the standard libraries, so I can spend more time coding and less time looking things up.

  • Get a better understanding of theory

There are several areas where I have a solid “practitioners’ understanding” of what I’m doing, but not a lot of underlying theory. This includes some fields I at least touch on every day as a system administrator, such as monitoring and configuration management, as well as some basic computer science I didn’t get in school since I wasn’t a CS major.

Having come from physics, where I learned a lot more theory before attempting to put anything into practice, this feels pretty backwards. I know that these days, computing is a field where it’s pretty normal to be self-taught and just start working; and large systems administration in particular seems like a field where there is not a well-defined body of theory that everyone reads. Still, I’d like to get myself on a more rigorous footing, especially given the scale and complexity of the types of systems I work on, and those I’d like to be working on.

I have a Goodreads shelf where I’m collecting some of the books in this vein that I’ve read, and will probably re-read this year. It includes some books that aren’t strictly theory, but more like collections of best practices; but these are useful too. Sometime later I may post a list of papers I’m planning to read or re-read this year. Suggestions in this area are welcome. :)

  • Refresh my math

Having been out of physics and materials science for over five years now, I guess it’s normal for me to feel a little rusty on some things. But while I don’t intend to be getting back into active physics research, I’d still like to maintain the skills I spent so much time learning, and still be able to use and understand advanced math when called for. Not to mention refreshing myself on how to “think like a physicist”, which definitely comes in handy from time to time.

In particular, I know that my statistics and linear algebra are rusty, and those are areas that are useful in any technical field, so I’ll probably focus on these. I’ll also try to spend some time refreshing my calculus abilities; while I think I still have a pretty decent grasp in that area, I’m not sure I’d enjoy it if you asked me to integrate by parts…

  • Read more fiction by diverse authors

I’ve seen calls in the past to read only women, or only people of color, for a given year, but I’ve always thought it would be too difficult to restrict my reading habits that closely. I tend to pick up books impulsively, and don’t always notice who wrote a given novel; I don’t love the idea of deciding to not read something exciting because of who wrote it. Not to mention I have several ongoing series I enjoy which are written by straight, white men. And while I realize that part of the challenge is in its difficulty, fiction reading is escapism for me. Reading more books I can do; giving up others is a little too far.

However: Max Gladstone, whose books I enjoy myself, posted about an intermediate project which I am willing to try. While he had different reasons, he eventually came up with:

In the end, I settled on a related project: I wouldn’t read two books by straight white cis men back to back.

I like this because it should increase the diversity of my reading – always a good thing! – while not killing my ability to follow series I enjoy. And who knows, maybe next year I can go all in.

  • Make time for fun

I know in advance that 2016 is going to be very busy at work. Much more than this year, I expect to be spending some nights and weekends at the lab. Knowing that, I’m going to consciously try to make time for doing things completely unrelated to computers: playing board games, going curling, tasting beer, playing with our cats, and spending time with Leigh.

Of couse, we’ll see how it goes. I wouldn’t be surprised if in 2016 I end up doing completely different things. But these are a few of the things I’m planning to think about right now.

Good luck in 2016, everyone. And Happy New Year!

Questions, comments, interesting anecdotes? Tweet to me at @ajdecon, or send me an email at ajdecon@ajdecon.org.