Looking back on 2018

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is how for all the (terrible) posting I do online, I still consider myself a relatively private person. Knowing where I went to high school and when I graduated isn’t going to help you figure out my passwords or security question answers anyway, but I don’t mean that kind of privacy. Specifically, I avoid sharing anything that I feel could be weaponized against me and/or my family. Things like my hopes and dreams, my kids’ faces and names, the ins and outs of my relationships with friends and family. Which means I think you’ll find all of one annual introspection post from me from several years ago – I love reading them from other people and celebrating their accomplishments with them across the internet, but I generally don’t share back.

2018 was a big year for me though, and really what I’m doing right now is writing a post so that I can unpack it all for myself before deciding whether I’m comfortable sharing about it. Here we go.

The Move

The absolute biggest thing that happened this year was that we moved to my husband’s home country: Costa Rica. We did this primarily for our kids, but also generally for a better quality of life. I could elaborate on a hundred different things that I feel like are better, but, you know, private. What I will say is this: we were here early in the year and watching my children blossom as they enjoyed the outdoors and their grandparents and aunts and uncles brought actual tears to my eyes, and then we flew back home to snow in March and a renewed feeling of my own home country not seeing me as an equal citizen. So I said, what’s keeping us here? And the answer was: nothing, really.

One thing I do want to acknowledge is how defensive I feel when people react to this news with “oh wow, tropical/beach/paradise life!” Costa Rica is beautiful with incredibly kind people and I love that, don’t get me wrong. But I didn’t come here to live an American lifestyle and do that (ugh) ex-pat thing, a term I hate for its roots in classism. We live in a nice suburb of the capital city in a microclimate with year-round temperatures of 75-80ºF during the day, 60-65ºF at night – it’s hours from the beach and we are largely in the same routine as always, especially with the kids. My oldest goes to a school nearby with the regular Costa Rican school schedule, not one of the American schools with a US school year and course offerings.

My feeling is much more in line with the story of my parents: immigrants to another country, attempting to assimilate to suburban life, figuring out social and class structures and how to integrate yourselves and your children. I have it much easier than my parents – extended family nearby (under the same roof, even), 15 years of exposure to Costa Ricans, decent language skills, and a significant economic advantage. But I do miss out on having a Chinese/Asian American community, whereas my parents landed in places with sizable peer groups. That part has started to weigh on me a little and I’ve begun to seek out other Asian Americans in the area, as the significant Chinese immigrant population is not immediately relatable from a cultural standpoint, but overall as a person who works from home in the first place and gets to enjoy the happiness of her children all throughout the day, I am confident we made the right choice.

Back to Music

For those of you who don’t already know, I’m also a pianist, with both my undergrad and master’s degrees in music. For my first three years as a full-time web developer, I was also a church+choir+freelance pianist (and still lived in low-income housing, if that tells you anything about university pay). After moving to 10up, our rapid early growth and then my first child really pushed music-making to occasional hobby status instead of integral part of my life (full disclosure: I was never a daily practicer, even in conservatory). In 2017 I vowed to push myself to finally perform one of my holy grail pieces – the Brahms piano quintet – and in 2018 I did it! Shout out to my pal Will Davis for hooking me up with his string quartet of people with similar backgrounds – wandered into tech/startups after serious music school study.

In 2019 I vow to finally replace the audio of our YouTube live streamed performance with the recording off a device with the proper gain set and get that out there. I have also started playing with my husband again after several years of him focusing more on duo work with his brother. We plan on playing a couple of recitals here in Costa Rica over the first half of the year before heading to Guatemala in June for a clarinet fest where we will present a polished program.

Personal Fulfillment

I don’t really consider music a hobby because it was my profession for a long time and because (ego alert) I’m a significantly better pianist than “hobby” implies. So outside of that, I have two main hobbies: cooking/baking and shoes. My goal has been to scale up the former while scaling back the latter – though, to be fair to myself, I do not actually buy shoes that often, I just post pictures in spurts that make it look like I’ve acquired everything all at once. I think I’ve mostly accomplished this and plan to continue the trend in 2019.

For cooking and baking, there are two major areas that I would like to continue to focus on: Chinese food and bread. It’s a little more complicated here because of availability and cost of specialty ingredients, especially after being spoiled by living a mile away from an Asian Food Market. Toward the end of the year I found tipo 00 tenero flour at Walmart of all places and brought back my copy of Bread Illustrated, so I really dove in and made some very successful pizza dough, foccacia, and dinner rolls. I also attempted my first ever dumpling wrappers, which I think were only mediocre. I’ll be doing more trials of that soon.

Shoe-wise… well. I wrote out a bunch of details but then decided I didn’t feel like wading that far in. In any case, one of the things that’s been really good for me moving to Costa Rica is somewhat less availability of material goods. That’s not to say you can’t find anything – for instance as a US point of reference, there’s a Crate and Barrel in the upscale town where the prices are basically the same as the US, just with the sales tax of 15% already included in the tagged prices. But there isn’t Amazon Prime, no constant sale marketing, no resale culture (for a lot of reasons including a lack of a reliable postal system, I hope people truly appreciate the USPS because it’s amazing), and generally lower stock where you have to be able to decide if you want a thing right there and then. I mean, it’s an entire country of about 5 million people where we just moved from a metro area that’s estimated at almost 24 million as of 5 years ago, so of course the scale is different.

As much as I enjoy my bit of vanity, the reality is that I work from home and I want to generally be more mindful of how much nonsense we buy and therefore blow our budget on. So far we are still blowing money fast (B.M.F., per Rick Ross) because of the complications of partial moving and having a house that’s twice as large as our last, but I expect that to even out in 2019 so I can finally realize the financial advantages of our move.

Aside: I went into a diversion about my shift from non-privileged to privileged which I think is a great topic of discussion but is one of those things where I don’t think I’m eloquent enough to describe it in writing and is also easily weaponized, so if we’re pals and you want to hear about it, let’s catch up soon. 🙂

Work Changes

The last 2 years of work have not been the usual for me. 2017 was not exactly a productive year on that front – I was battling some burn-out after leading the WordPress 4.7 release through the back half of 2016, my second pregnancy was tough, then I had maternity leave, and then I was “ramping back up”. I’m still at 10up (8 years this year! Oh yeah and we’re always hiring) and don’t have any desire to go anywhere else, but I needed a change.

We started 2018 out by doing what I seem to keep doing – changing my title. I went from being the Director of Platform Experience (in fairness, this was my title for quite a while) to the Director of Open Source Initiatives – much clearer about the difference between that and our own completely separate hosted platform options, and with an eye toward continuing to grow our broader open source efforts and not just think about the core WordPress software all the time. In that vein, we spun up an Open Source Practice team. I felt excited about the direction, but as we got into the daily rhythm it still didn’t quite suit me and honestly, I’m just tired.

“I don’t want to lean in, okay? I want to lie. Down.” – Ali Wong

So I finally did what I’ve thought about doing time and time again: I moved to being part-time. I always talk about how I got into web dev for benefits and a steady paycheck in a joking way but I’m actually quite serious – I was just lucky that I could find a thing I liked well enough in pursuit of stability and ended up finding a niche to excel in. I hadn’t made the change previously because I was so afraid of what it would mean for my benefits and I couldn’t fathom bringing home less as the primary earner with two kids in the NYC metro. But 10up remained as supportive as ever, and nothing actually changed on the HR front – benefits and base salary have remained as they were. I make somewhat less because of the way my total comp was previously structured, but moving has made that a non-issue. I see it as a net raise 🙂

In WordPress-land, I’ve been largely absent from the core workflow for these past two years, mostly by choice or because I was on leave entirely. I feel guilty about it sometimes, especially with the weight of that “lead developer” title, but I think that’s an important part of open source software development – people come and go, and everything about your processes and structures have to be able to accommodate that. WordPress people might have noticed in the 5.0 release that there’s no longer a section of “project leaders” on the about page. It did kind of sting for a moment, not because I felt upset or demoted, but because it reminded me of just how far I’ve drifted from what once motivated almost the entirety of my work. I have more thoughts about project leadership, as do a lot of other people it seems, but that’s better saved for another time and place.

2019 is shaping up to be a good one for my work life. We’ve successfully recruited a team+project+product manager for our open source practice who’s amazing and complements my skill set as the director/“thought leader” very well. I think we are going to do some really cool things as a team this year with a better structure and I’m super excited about it. I’ve also started ramping back up into a few WordPress core projects and being more available as a resource for mentorship and advocacy (things I think leads should really excel at) and look forward to staying active in those areas as well.

What else?

I’m currently not trying to do more, nor do I think this post captures all the different things I do day to day. My primary concern is my children, especially because they are both very young and require a lot of active attention, which I do not document on the internet. But I do have some longer-term things I’d like to do, maybe not in 2019, but someday. Like finally opening a bubble tea slash Chinese bakery place as we’ve been talking about for 10 years now. Maybe if I do a 2019 retrospective we will see where we are then!

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