Thinking back to the first day of 2020, it feels unreal that I lived in a different apartment, worked at a different company, and commuted to Manhatten without a mask.
Early January brought with it the long-awaited on-site interviews I’d scheduled in mid-December because of the holidays. Additionally, I was hoping more would open up as new headcounts would open from a few companies that I passed the technical phone screening but didn’t have available headcount at year end.
This meant that the grueling interview prep that started two months ago continued. Living in a studio apartment didn’t make it easy; Frankie endured me waking up at 5:30 am, making a fresh cup of coffee, and working through Leet Code, AlgoExpert, or System Design practice questions every single day.
I was near burn-out and hoped the upcoming interviews would go well! Interviews are two-way streets, especially as you gain experience in what makes you happy in a working environment such as: a product that you believe in, growth opportunities, culture, work-life balance, and respectful team members you’ll be working with every single day are all important. Achieving all of these in one role is tough, so I recommend determining the most important for you. For me, respectful teammates is a top priority.
PS: See my guide on preparing for interviews to learn more!
Long interview story turned short, by the end of January I had accepted my new position as a Software Engineer working at Disney Streaming Services!!
Disney Plus had ~20 million subscribers a few months after launch, and I was ready and excited for my new opportunity starting in February!!
Outside of interviews and job changes, we visited both Boston and Mexico in the first two months of 2020 - our timing was impeccable and unintentional. I’m thankful we stayed safe and we were able to get back home before travel bans had begun.
The Pandemic Hits
February arrived slowly, my commute didn’t change much and I hit the ground running with my new gig thanks to an awesome onboarding process. I’ll never forget being in orientation, seeing all of the Disney swag, watching videos from Bob Iger about the company, inspirational videos with Disney characters, introducing the magical culture I’d now be part of.
I was just getting into the new routine, learning the new tech stack, and hitting the gym during lunch - all was going well…until one month in, we went from an in-person dev team to remote!
The First Few Months
It really hit home we’d be working for a while as NYC cases surged and we began having lunch & learn sessions on how to work from home. Frankie was working from home soon after, and all of a sudden our studio apartment felt much, much smaller.
We were anxious and scared. Thankfully a friend had urged us a week or two prior to stock up on food and supplies, so at that moment we were fine.
Reflecting though, at this time - there was much less knowledge from the scientific community about the virus, no one knew what was safe and what wasn’t. We listened and watched the leadership of the nation, of NY, and of NYC on how we could stay safe and help out our fellow citizens
I remember following a few general principles:
- Cloth masks were recommended, if you had other kinds donate them as supplies were limited
- Only leave your apartment for necessities
- Order from local restaurants to help them stay open
- Donate to food banks and other organizations if you can, because we were in it together
Frankie and I both recall the unprecedented number of ambulance sirens throughout the day, it was non-stop and nerve-wracking. Queens was hit hard at that time.
Every evening at 7:00 pm, we joined our fellow New Yorkers in clapping and making noise for our healthcare workers. It gave us a feeling of closeness to people we never met before. Friends and family worried about us, but we assured them at we were safe.
For three months, we didn’t leave our studio apartment.
We wanted to do our part in stopping the spread and keep hospital beds available for others, constantly telling ourselves we weren’t stuck, but safe at home. Many artists and businesses entertained us through virtual means, and like others, we all appreciated it. Especially with all non-essential businesses closed and big events canceled indefinitely.
One humorous side was Frankie discovering how often Software Development teams collaborate (news flash, all day long), requiring close coordination as we avoided being on calls at the same time.
A Brief Summer
The warm weather of 2020 felt like it came and went in the blink of an eye.
June brought feelings of helplessness as protests erupted across the world.
Frankie and I were at a loss of words and infuriated, how does one cope with a pandemic followed by George Floyd and Breonna Taylor being murdered?
It wasn’t an easy time.
We used work and recommended reading as a source of distraction as we learned more. It wasn’t new but its importance was reinvigorated. Rewatch the first two seasons of Fresh Prince of Bel Air, aired in the 90s, and pay attention to themes presented in some of the episodes from 30 years ago. Guess what? They are the same!
The history we learn in school - lacking. Driving a Benz while black - dangerous. And many others.
A lighthearted show demonstrating real issues, and I was so disheartened at not doing enough so far. I’ll be fighting harder going forward, that is certain!
Finally going outside
The summer brought with it a lapse in case numbers for New York City; we left our apartment and even dined outside. We snuck in two small beach trips, one in Long Beach and another in Montauk with a focus on outside activities. They were both equally refreshing.
I was ecstatic just taking walks around our neighborhood parks, and I never appreciated seeing others doing the same (masks on most of the time) as much. It was a good feeling just being around other people, reminding us of how incredible living in NYC usually feels.
Back to Cold Weather and Quarantine
It wasn’t long though that warm weather turned chilly and cases spiked, leading us right back into the apartment except for essentials. Frankie joined a new team in the Fall, and with more meetings throughout both of our days, we decided it was moving time. Signing a lease for our new apartment in September - we quickly were all moved in and unpacked by the end of October.
Since then, life has been routine with home-cooked meals, work, video games, books, and occasional appointments such as visiting the dentist.
We’re doing our best as responsible citizens in a few ways:
- Supporting local restaurants and businesses
- Wearing masks
- Reducing all non-essential travel
- Relying on outside activities to prevent the spread
- Donating to organizations that are helping people (hello Actors Fund!!)
It’s been a different type of year, but we’ve been cognizant of our blessings and empathized with the hardships of others. There have been extreme difficulties and amazing silver linings, and we can only hope 2021 will be better for everyone!
Now that the mandatory Covid summary, here are some other parts of the year that could be of interest!
My First Year at Disney
Working at Disney this year has been an absolute blast. I still find it surreal playing a role in the ecosystem of a product used by at least 85 million people (and growing!!). Disney+ helped bring happiness when the world has needed it this year; watching Hamilton, The Mandalorian Season 2, Soul, and many others gave me joy.
Working on products that deliver goodness has been and will continue as part of my life mission. This year has been in tune with that perfectly; I love being part of something bigger than myself, and seeing the world respond has been an incredible experience.
It’s been absolutely humbling and intriguing as I’ve been part of architecting and implementing many new features in the internal services I (along with our team) help support. Being part of finding solutions to challenging problems, weighing different architecture options, and celebrating the results built by the team makes me proud of the work we’re doing.
There were many opportunities for personal growth, which I find highly rewarding!
Working with an Amazing Team
Engineering isn’t an exact science, yet creating art with individuals through discussions and code generates the feeling you get when admiring a beautiful painting - it comes together wonderfully. Working with others who believe in quality engineering principles with various experiences has been fabulous. Our discussions are about finding solutions to challenges that work best, meet user needs, and keeps architecture extendable in accordance with our conventions.
I’ve written about being open-minded in the past, and still have the opinion that respectful discussions lead to incredible outcomes. That’s why diversity of thought is a KEY metric for success.
Becoming More Versed in Angular & SpringBoot
During my interview process, I learned that joining the team as a Full Stack engineer meant working on Angular, Node, SpringBoot, and database technologies.
The previous year at NM consisted of working on a React app with GraphQl…in other words, I was a bit rusty on the backend and didn’t have much experience with Angular so far in my career.
I gladly accepted the challenge!
Angular vs. React
Learning the large feature list of the Angular Framework was tough. The docs feel like reading a Brandon Sanderson novel, but I’ll admit it grew on me as my experience level increase.
The biggest complaint I have is the various places logic can happen, for example, in the templates, in the component, or parts of angular like an auth guard, interceptor, or resolvers on a route.
It’s amazing once you figure out what those are and how to quickly see where they are used, but in the beginning, learning all of these features was difficult. Angular provides standard ways of implementing common features of web applications these days that I do appreciate, and services as a way to share data across components work wonders with managing data in the app. Overall, I find it very useful for an enterprise application.
React still has my final vote of preference (although not by much) with the beauty of combining JSX and component logic in one place, especially with the huge win of opening fewer files while developing one component.
I find many that prefer Angular use the argument of “separating HTML, JS/TS, and CSS in their own files” as their main reason of preference. I’ve used
SCSS in my React projects with separate files, so it boils down to separating out HTML from JS.
It’s a strong argument because separating concerns at face value makes sense.
Once you start adding
*ngFor, attribute binding, property binding, custom events, and even the
<ng-container> tags, it no longer feels like separated concerns in my humble opinion. Instead, you now have HTML entangled with framework features (even if you keep template logic simple).
The huge win of having all implementations of common web app features in Angular, especially when it’s supported by Google devs and OSS, is hugely beneficial. I’ll never forget that feeling of changing from React Router to Reach Router, only to learn later that Reach Router would be deprecated and one should move back to React Router…when both were created and supported by the same people. It’s hard to see that situation happening in Angular (barring AngularJs upgrade to Angular2+ from the convo); and, that’s why it has become such a close match for me that I’m fine using either, but vote for React if given the option.
Before gaining this experience, my opinion would be based on the experiences of others instead of my own. If it has taught me anything, it’s that Vue, React, Svelte, or Angular can all work well - arguing which is best feels like a mad hatters tea parter. If you can meet the user requirements and the library has strong support, you’re in good shape.
SpringBoot & Backend
Upon starting 2020, you could ask me anything about Frontend Development best practices, and I could give you thoughts on approaching problems, features, or architecture based on foundational knowledge and experience. If you ask me something about the best practice of SpringBoot or Java instead, I’ll need research time before answering.
My mindset has always been - if you’re uncomfortable tackling features on part of a tech stack - start trying to work on it more. That’s exactly what I was able to do!
My knowledge has tremendously grown in these areas thanks to many conversations with team members and being part of many architecture discussions (plus reading about architecture in our Disney Tech Book Club).
2021 will bring even more of this and I couldn’t be more excited.
I’m unsure why there’s a stigma against being a full-stack Engineer in the web dev community, stating it’s impossible to have expertise in both. “Expert” has such a general definition, along with it being on a sliding scale, that I respectfully disagree with that notion. It’s definitely feasible developing features on both sides of the stack with best practices in mind.
No one, I repeat no one knows everything. Learning a new skill or technology makes working in our field exciting. Who doesn’t want to continue increasing the skill base they have, even if they aren’t a so-called “expert”?
My First Year as a Freelance Writer
My first blog post was written and published on Google Blogspot back in 2015; the goal at the time was inspiring others through my journey of positive thinking. I’ve written many different types of articles since then, developing my skills as a writer over time.
I’ve earned the “Distinguished Author” over at Dev.to over the last two years.
2020 gave me a nice surprise though!
One of my articles was noticed by an editor over at HoneyPot - a platform that helps developers find new roles. I received an e-mail asking if I’d be interested in submitting a few articles for their new developer community.
Of course I was! We talked through rates and topic ideas over a few e-mails, and BOOM I was a freelance writer.
I couldn’t believe that one of my hobbies became a small stream of income. I’m hopeful the trend continues for 2021!
Check out my published articles (a few more to come) on my author page!
My First Full Year of Singing Lessons
Music has always been a love of mine - its power of bringing people together amazes me.
Before November 2019, I was a strong believer that singing was a born talent. It’s true that some are born with an innate ability, but just like athletics, there are skills developed too.
I decided 2020 would be the year that I’d at least give it a try!
It was an embarrassing first few lessons (ok maybe more than a few). I still remember sweating as I tried to sing the basic pitches as my teacher instructed; but, I refused to give up!
The progress has been very rewarding! Although I won’t sing like John Legend anytime soon, I can hold a few notes and sing through a few songs all thanks to my brilliant teacher.
I’ll be singing in my first recital (which raises money for charity) in Jan 2021, something I never would have thought was possible!
My Friend Started a Company
A mentor and friend started a consultant agency for AX Dynamics in 2020! He started the year off strong by hiring full-time employees, and I couldn’t be prouder of him!
His grind and persistence this year was definitely admired by all of those he worked with, and I wish nothing but success in 2021 (and beyond)!
A New Year and a New Start
2020 was a challenging year mentally for all of us. It taught many unforgettable lessons:
- Catching up with friends and family is key to happiness
- Appreciate the little things of life
- The Importance of Health - Physical and Mental
- Achieving the American dream can still happen, but we need to make sure everyone starts from the same starting line
- Help Others During National Cris by volunteering or donating
- Voting Matters
- Support small businesses
- Create routine habits that accomplish goals - systems and environment matter
- Continous learning through books, courses, and other means makes a huge difference (see my recommended books in my resource pages - Life and Development)
With the end of 2020 behind us, all we can do is hope for a better 2021. Let’s do our part to make it happen!!