It’s been a while since the previous post here, and it’s not because I don’t have anything to talk about. I’ve been working on many things since the previous one.
I wanted to write specifically about something I’m doing these days, but that’s difficult to contextualize if there’s a full year gap in the middle. So I decided to talk about the 2020 and make a short review about what we did so we can look forward and see what can we build from this.
2020 at ElenQ Technology
2020 have been harsh for everyone, including ElenQ Technology. We started the year with a lot of energy and we were pretty busy with courses here and there. But then the pandemic came and all the in-person training stopped so we lost our main income source, which is also one of the works I personally enjoy the most.
So, after finishing our course on Modern C++ in July (we’ll talk about that in a future post), right after we were freed from the lockdown here, everything stopped. No more in-person courses, no more clients, nothing.
We knew that the pandemic was affecting the economy so we were well aware that there were few chances to get clients in the rest of the year. Thankfully, we had some work to do: ElenQ Publishing.
We spent the summer and part of the autumn preparing the books, the printing and making the paperwork as well as the tools we needed for the website and future books. By November 13 we already had every book shipped and the website was almost ready. At the beginning of December, the website was finished and published.
It was more work than we expected but now we have a complete set of tools for future publications, that can cover any of the points of the process with almost no human interaction. We automated almost everything, and those things we didn’t automate are simple things once you know how to make them.
Of course, as engineers, we only consider automating things that we are going to repeat so you can think about all this work as a plan to keep publishing new material in the future.
It’s really interesting to mention that our whole process is reproducible as we are using Guix as a tool, so no matter what happens we could still go back in time and remake the books exactly as they were when we published them.
As you see, at a company level, most of our work of 2020 was focused on teaching and making the books (another form of teaching), because it’s something I personally enjoy a lot and I’d say it’s more fulfilling than anything else I’ve done. But it was sadly affected by the pandemic, so we need to reorganize a little bit our strategy.
Of course, I spend time on other things too. A great part of my job is to randomly research anything I find interesting, so I can keep my mind fresh for the possible projects that may come. This gives me tools and ideas, and also lets me learn from other people.
During the year I spent some time contributing to Guix, for reasons I already discussed here. The most notable contributions were the addition of a really interesting package that was missing: Meshlab; and the correction of a package that was failing to compile for months: FreeCAD.
Being locked at home, I also had the chance to go back to electronics, which are a huge part of what I studied at university, but I never had the chance to work on that in a professional level. I even designed some PCBs, produced and soldered them with the highest level of quality possible. It was a great experience.
On the other hand, I also needed some time to relax and try to recover from some longstanding health issues I’ve been dealing with, that also deteriorated because of the pandemic.
After some time practicing yoga and taking care of my body, I feel much better in general, even if my issues are still there, at least they are not aggravated by the bad posture and the physical stress that working in a computer can provoke. So, if you are open to a suggestion: stretch, make some strength exercises and try to keep your body on shape, specially if you work in an office or any other kind of sedentary work that makes use of repetitive movements like using a mouse or typing in a keyboard.
As I mentioned, our work with ElenQ Publishing was done at the beginning of December. We approached that as a chance to stop and think.
During the last three years I had few chances to focus on an specific subject for a long time, I had to quickly jump from one thing to another, in order to be able to reach all the projects we had.
I was frustrated because of that. I’m easily distracted and it’s hard for me to pay attention for a while to the same thing but I really like to understand things deeply, those who know me or that attended to my courses know it, and my everyday life, full of stress and various stimulus, was making me unable to concentrate.
I had moments of attention and clearness of mind during the pandemic (and due to the pandemic) that made me feel in peace so I wanted to feel that kind of frustration-less live on purpose, not only when things come like that.
So that’s what I did. I just needed something to investigate, something I was interested since the early beginning of my career: programming languages.
I collected some books on compiler implementation and started reading them, then I realized I was interested on operating system implementation so I read about that too. Both things need to run somewhere so I also spent some time digging on various architectures and their instruction sets, and so on.
I started developing a simple Scheme implementation (only started, not finished or anything) that served as an excuse to have a goal in mind in the process. Also, I decided to live stream my research process so I could share my findings with others and let them provide me some thoughts and help me go slowly, paying attention to the interesting details.
And let me tell you compiler implementation is often a difficult subject for me, specially the theory, because my background is lacking some of the concepts that Computer Science students have but I have to study from scratch1.
Having the chance to tackle a difficult long term task helped me forget and not worry about the bad year we had as a company, in which we only had actual paid work during the first half of the year. I was just grateful to be able to sustain myself enough time to have the chance to breathe and spend more time with myself, doing something I don’t always have the chance to do, regardless of everything we, individually and collectively, were going through.
I hope you had some moments of relief too.
What I learned
I obviously learned many things during the year (books have been read!) But I don’t want to focus on that.
Sometimes the most important thing is not the goal, but the process. You learn more from the travel than from the arrival, right?
I like to think that I learned to care more about myself in 2020. I’m still sick, and my recovery got stuck as I was literally stuck at home, but that’s just a temporary issue, because I’m taking care of myself. Maybe not everyday, but almost everyday I take care of myself. That’s what counts.
2020 taught me how to make a publishing house. That’s some important piece of knowledge, but I consider more valuable to reclaim my time and my attention. That taught me an important lesson by itself and it also served me to learn about myself.
I learned that I was feeling alone in my interests. I had no one to share my interests with. I know it is surprising to you, but basically nobody is interested on how do garbage collectors, processors or anything like that work. Most of the people don’t even care about what they are. Crazy huh?
Sharing my findings, my research and my errors with other people makes me feel better. I feel someone is there, on the other side. It helps me avoid the frustration and the lack of motivation I have been feeling during the last years.
The streaming helped with that3: I had people reacting instantly, some sent me papers to read, ideas, and others proposed me interesting things to do. That feels good. It helped me remember that I’m not alone.
If 2020 had taught me anything is that I, or we, need others to feel better. We need to take care of people4, because life is much better with them.
On top of many things, being conscious that I was researching deep opened the door to apply that deepness in my everyday life more often. Not that I wasn’t doing that before, those who know me are aware that I’m kind of an intense guy, but that I’m more conscious about it and I can selectively choose to go deeper about my thoughts and feelings.
This time for myself remind me how intense I was back then and how I enjoyed being a dedicated person.
As I said, in a company level I decided to use that time to arrange a new strategy. I wouldn’t say I changed it that much, because I was in peace when it was developed, almost 4 years ago, but it let me rethink it taking in account my professional and personal experience in the recent years.
Collaborating on free software projects has shown me that I feel comfortable with larger codebases and more complex concepts that were too much for me in the past. Now I feel more confident about that.
Of course, this came with practice and time, but also after years of stressful work and random research that is not really fulfilling. I don’t mean that you need to spend time on that to be able to tackle bigger projects. I mean that my past is part of what I am now, and even the bad times can help forge a better future.
I decided to keep researching the way I was, because it’s something that makes me feel good, and work more slowly, but paying attention to the details as I like to do.
I’ll try to share more about my work, in a technical and a personal level. I’ll keep streaming for some time, and I’ll try to use this blog more, as I was in the past.
So, as I was saying, all this year helped me remember about important things, and forget a little bit about urgent things.
“Instead of swimming fast trying to reach as far as I could, pumping my blood, splashing water around and having to take a short breath between each arm stroke, now I want to dive. I’m far enough from the coast, already.
I want to stay in the surface until I’m ready, having some rest and breathing as much as I want, and then, I’ll dive. I’ll discover the colors of the coral reef, the sea creatures and even the deepest darkness if I feel like it. When I’m done or I’m tired, I’ll go back to the surface, take a deep breath and have some rest, feeling the sun in my face, until the next immersion.
I’m not going anywhere. I’m not in a hurry anymore.”
But hey, I’m much more comfortable with low level stuff like ISAs and all that. My degree is not useless after all. ↩
In this blog, as contrast, I can’t really know how many people reads or interacts with what I write. So I encourage you to contact me and share ideas! ↩
Making the videos also helped me to feel more confident about my English (people understand what I say!) and that is helping me tackle larger projects that involve people from different places. ↩
More now, that we have some heavy shit going on out there. ↩