2020 Reading List

2020 was a lot. You all know what happened, I don’t need to reiterate. In times like these, sometimes all you can do to keep yourself sane is escape between the pages of a good book.

The format of this one is the same as last year. There was less that landed in my top category this time around. There’s a few things that I could see leading to that:

  • A 5 month vacation made 2019 a big year for books.
  • I picked up a couple of long biographies (John D. Rockefeller and Ike Eisenhower), that together sucked up a lot of my reading time.
  • I picked up several novellas and collections of short stories this year. Many of these were great, but they were often more experimental and less balanced than a full novel, and that kept them out of the top ranking.
  • My 2019 strategy of “find books that made it onto both Obama’s and Bill Gates’ reading lists in the last 5 years” has started to run out.

That’s not to say that what I read in 2020 wasn’t good, it’s just not the sort of thing where I’m urgently excited to share it.

Anyway, here’s the books.

Read Right Now

These books have it all. Delightful prose, fascinating content, a meaningful message. Once you’ve picked it up you’re loathe to put it down, and once you’ve finished you feel a better person for it. There is no reason that one of these shouldn’t be your next read.

So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo

It’s 2020, check out how woke I am with this best-seller at the top of my list!

Seriously though, if you haven’t done some reading and some self-reflection on the topic of racial justice this year, and especially if you’re white, you should probably get on that. This book is a good place to start.

Above all I was impressed by how accessible this book felt – you don’t need to be a social justice warrior or have read a bunch of theory to get something out of it. Taking a step to educate yourself can feel intimidating, but while this book was a lot, reading it didn’t feel like work. I honestly believe that any human would benefit from reading it.

If it still feels like too much, go check out Trevor Noah’s autobiography (see last year’s list), then come back to this.

Ought To Read

These are the ones I enjoyed, and maybe thought were important, but for one reason or another I couldn’t quite give them top honors. Still highly recommended, especially if the seem like your cup of tea.

  • To Be Taught, If Fortunate, by Becky Chambers
    • Becky Chambers is one of my favorite modern sci-fi authors, and this novella about a crew of explorers on a distant world is fantastic. If you’re into sci-fi at all, go check it out!
  • Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami
  • The Nonexistent Knight, by Italo Calvino
    • Italo Calvino is weird. The Nonexistent Knight is weird. It’s silly and absurd and almost begs to be read aloud. If that sounds good to you, you’ll probably enjoy it.
  • The Lathe of Heaven, by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang
  • The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway
    • Somehow I had never read this! I love Hemingway, and this delivered.
  • The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison
    • Serenity! This delightful little novel gets props because
      1. It’s an excellent bit of political drama with a side of unique world-building
      2. It’s the rare standalone fantasy novel (no trilogy required)
      3. I read it aloud on the Wonderland trail and we got a lot of mileage out of doing the voices
  • Liveship Traders Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
    • Fantasy pirates on sentient ships! What more could you ask for? I picked this up at the end of October as a distraction from election season, and it definitely did its job. It’s incredibly well-written, I blazed through the three books in about a month and a half, and the characters and events stayed with me long afterwards.
    • Fair warning: it does involve rape. It serves to advance all three of plot, character and setting, and it’s handled with what to me seems an appropriate amount of gravity. But if that’s going to trigger you, maybe skip this one.

Read If You’re Into It

  • Titan: The Life of John D Rockefeller, Sr., by Ron Chernow
  • Eisenhower in War and Peace, by Jean Edward Smith
  • The Orchardist, by Amanda Coplin
  • The First Law Trilogy, by Joe Ambercrombie


  • The Art of Possibility, by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander
    • Read this with a work book club. I didn’t get a lot out of it. Oh well.

Hello Remitly

I’ve found a job! On Tuesday September 22, I’ll begin full-time work as a Senior Software Development Engineer for a Seattle software startup called Remitly.

What is Remitly?

Let’s say you’re an immigrant worker from Honduras picking cherries in Yakima, or maybe a Filipino construction worker in Saudi Arabia, and you want to sent part of your paycheck home to your family every month. This kind of small international money transfer is called a remittance, and it’s a huge source of income in developing countries. But how do you get that money back to your family?

You could…

  • Go visit a Western Union office and pay a big transfer fee
  • Send an envelope full of cash through the mail
  • Use this fancy new app called Remitly

The idea is that Remitly eats Western Union’s lunch by being more convenient and just as secure at a tenth the price. This is accomplished by clever software, economies of scale, and operational efficiency.

About the Company

Remitly is a late-stage venture capital-funded startup. Earlier this year they raised $85 million in series F funding on a $1.5 billion valuation. The desired exit seems to be an IPO (CEO Matt Oppenheimer is adamant about maintaining control of the company), and general consensus they’re on track to do so “in the next few years” (which you should, of course, take with a grain of salt). Their business has been doing great in 2020 – no one wants to risk getting COVID by physically going to a Western Union office, so they’ve acquired a lot of new customers. Wooo tech economy!

I’ll be joining their “new initiatives” team, working on a new project that hasn’t been officially announced yet! Exciting! You’ll probably see another post here when that goes public.

I’ll be working in a back-end / server-side role (as opposed to working on the app itself). The tech stack is Go and Java running on AWS. I’m super pumped about learning go! I am somewhat less excited about re-learning Java, though I hear it’s improved a lot in the last decade. AWS I’m somewhat ambivalent about. I found it frustrating to use while I was at Ada, but a lot of that was because I was debugging weird student issues, and because I never spent enough time on it to feel like I knew what I was doing. But whether or not I learn to love it, I suspect working with the cloud will be an incredibly valuable and powerful skill-set, one that’s all but inevitable for a software engineer in 2020.

But the thing that drew me to Remitly is that it’s not just about eating Western Union’s lunch. Remitly is fully committed to helping improve the lives of immigrants and their families by providing useful financial services. It’s an extremely mission-driven company, and this manifests itself everywhere I’ve looked, from their website, to conversations with current and former employees, to their press coverage.

The Mission

I am totally stoked about Remitly’s mission. I think they’re actively making the world a better place, by helping the right people in the right ways for the right reasons.

People – I love the idea of working for a company that provides useful services to immigrants. These are people who have made a huge sacrifice in search of a better life, for themselves and their families. They want it, and they’re gonna go get it. People who are willing to upend their lives in search of something better (a group which includes Ada students) tend to be excellent, and tend to be a great investment. They also have intimate, direct knowledge of how they money they send can best help their loved ones back home.

Ways – Remitly helps those excellent people in a way that is useful, sustainable and dignified. Its product takes a part of their life that was both important and a big pain, and makes it easier, cheaper and safer. It’s also a “fee-for-service” model, which I like much better than something e.g. ad-supported, where the user is not the customer.

Providing the tools motivated people need to help themselves is a sustainable business model, a good fit for a private for-profit company, which in turn allows for faster growth and nimble action. It fits nicely into the theory of capitalism as an engine of wealth generation and human development (the “good parts” of capitalism, as my socialist brain calls them).

Reasons – This one is a little more complex, and I’m going to get into armchair political economist mode. Bear with me, and please do let me know when I say something dumb!

The promise of modern / postmodern / neoliberal economics, particularly the theme of globalization, over the past 3 decades has been two-fold: human development and liberalization. The idea is that poor backwards countries, when exposed to western ideas and western money, would of course become nicer to live in and more free.

The first desired result has pretty much happened. If you compare China, Vietnam, India or Poland today to where they were 30 years ago, it’s pretty clear when is a better time to live there. Of course there are many exceptions to this (particularly places where the US government meddles directly like Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, etc.), but the general trend has been a huge surge in human development and standards of living in recent years.

Much (or some at least) of this development is the direct or indirect result of investment in those economies by western companies and governments. Often this takes the form of companies moving factories overseas to take advantage of cheap labor markets. We complain (justifiably!) about bad working conditions, pollution, etc. in these factories that is hidden from the consumer and insulated from western regulatory environments, but ultimately the jobs get taken, the countries get richer, and the people who live there are less likely to starve and more likely to send their daughters to high school.

On the other hand, the liberalization component doesn’t seem to have panned out so well. China is cracking down on Hong Kong, Poland and Hungary just re-elected far-right governments, and the POTUS is an unabashed fascist. Authoritarianism is on the rise globally, despite the earnest promises of neoliberal economists from the 90s.

My somewhat uneducated suspicion is that this is partly a result of the top-down pattern of aid and investment. Governments give money to governments, corporations invest in corporations, and there are many layers for power to trickle through before anything reaches The People. What incentive does an Eastern European oligarch have to liberalize their government, or to protect the rights of ethnic minorities? None – in fact, such changes would make it more difficult to control and exploit their workers.

Remitly (and immigrant labor in general) represents a somewhat different approach to globalization. It’s bottom-up globalization, a movement of people and mixing of cultures that I think bears a bit more promise. An immigrant worker is directly exposed to western ideals, without a propaganda filter or great firewall. They are paid directly, and can send that money directly to where it’s needed most, supporting whatever people or causes back home they think are worthy. At the same time, their work is subject to labor and environmental legislation in the countries they come to – there’s no offshoring of the negative consequences, so they must be dealt with up front.

Besides which, there’s plenty of evidence out there that immigrants are also a net financial gain for the countries they immigrate to. Plus that’s where you get great innovations like Vietnamese and Thai and Mexican and Italian restaurants in every town. So who’s complaining?

Wrap Up

Huh, I got a bit excited there.

Anyway, work starts on Tuesday. I’m ready. Funderemployment has been pretty alright, but I am very ready to have coworkers and interesting problems and a mission that gets me out of bed in the morning. Even if my commute is only the 10-foot walk to my computer. I am a little nervous about returning to private industry after 4 years of nonprofit work (“but mooooom! what if they’re all robber barons?”) but I think Remitly is as good a way as any to get back into it.

Wonderland Actualized

I’m back from the woods! Yes it was great! No we didn’t get too smoked out!

Here’s the full trail report.

Dramatis Personae

If you’re not familiar with the tradition of trail names, now is the chance to educate yourself!

First is Bagel, so-named because she packed a bagel in each food cache. These “dum-dum carbs” powered her through our hardest days.

Bagel and me – different trail, same mountain in the background.

Here is Santa, famous for his bulging hang-bag full of treats. His return from the bear pole each morning would be greeted with a rousing chorus of “Here Comes Santa Claus” or “The Man with the Bag”.

The book is “Radical Acceptance”, if you’re curious. Turns out Santa is into Eastern philosophy.
Santa spent his “luxury weight” on a film camera. Gotta work for the perfect shot!

And I am known as Dad, because I carry the map, know what the hell we’re doing, and drive everyone everywhere. Plus it’s only one letter away from my actual name. I shaved down to the dad-stache after being awarded the title.

The party assembled

Additional roles included park rangers (overwhelmingly friendly and chill – the impression I get is that woods cops aren’t the actual worst like city cops, but our party was all white so it’s hard to be sure), other backpackers (friendly in the morning, tired and terse in the afternoon), day-hikers (oblivious), trail-runners (out of breath), and a few boomers driving oversized RVs.

On the Trail

9 days of hiking is a lot. 93 miles of hiking is a lot. There are many ups and downs, both physically and emotionally, and I struggled to find a way to convey the experience. There’s not one thing that sums it up, and giving a play-by-play would be boring both to write and to read. The best thing I could come up with was a series of tableaux – that’s how it presents itself in my mind. I hope they make some sort of sense.

Climbing slowly through the fog out of the Carbon River valley, pausing to catch my breath, and watching the clouds burn off over about 2 minutes leaving a beautiful clear day and a perfect view of the toe of the glacier.

Seriously, no more than 2 minutes apart!

Chasing after Bagel on her first dum-dum carbs morning as she pounds up the ridge below Skyscraper Mountain, and getting a perfectly crisp early-morning view of Rainier, followed by views north all the way to Glacier and Baker once we round the ridge.

Listening to jazz on the trail. I’ve been learning the piano this spring, and my teacher says if I can’t play for 9 days then I should view this as an opportunity to do some listening.

Jazz albums tend to have excellent names.

Catching up with Santa, who has paused for a water break in Berkeley Park, under a ridge where the Wonderland intersects with several other trails. We have a good view of the Mt. Fremont Trail just under the lip of the ridge above us. “29… 30… 31” he says as I walk up, pointing. “I can see 31 people just on that mile-and-a-half stretch of trail”. It is Sunday of Labor Day weekend, we are coming up to a major access point for the park (White River), and due to COVID no one has anything to do other than hike. The next several miles are very crowded.

Spotting deer and mountain goats in the same morning!

Slogging up the 2000 ft climb to Summerland with a full pack at the end of a 13 mile day, and the immense relief when a hiker going the other way lets me know it’s just 3 more switchbacks to the top.

Reading out loud. Each night I read a few chapters from The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, thoroughly butchering all the made-up elven words and names. I love reading out loud – it’s a great way to bring a group together, and it gives me an opportunity to bust out my teacher voice.

Waking up to pee and spotting Rainier glowing in the moonlight, then waking up early to catch it in the pink of dawn.

My crappy phone camera couldn’t handle the moonlight but it sure did snag the dawn.

Summiting the 6800 ft Panhandle Gap, being almost blown off the mountain by the wind rushing between the peaks, and spotting a mountain goat and kid somehow surviving in this desolate place.

Eating lunch in the beautiful sunlight at the group shelter at Indian Bar, and dipping our swollen feet in the cold clear water of the creek as we filled up our bottles.

Realizing my water bottle has fallen out of my pack, and having to backtrack over almost a mile of steep terrain to find it.

The relief of a “rest day” between Nickle Creek and Paradise River after 2 brutally hard days, “only” 9.5 miles and 2000 ft of elevation. The reduced difficulty is important, but almost as key is the change of scenery – instead of climbing huge ridges with outlandishly, demandingly beautiful views, we recover from sensory overload with a quiet day climbing steadily through a narrow canyon and enjoying the fall colors just starting to appear on the opposite slope. Of course, we finish with a big climb up to the big view of Reflection Lake, but by then we are ready.

Obligatory Reflection Lake pic.

Sitting on the porch at Longmire sipping coffee (real coffee, not instant!) and waiting for the restaurant to open for lunch (fresh food!).

Recognizing different groups of backpackers keeping a similar cadence along the trail. Maybe we would be at the same camp two nights in a row, then leap-frog each other up a steep climb, then loose track for a few days, then suddenly be at the same camp again. It was good to see some familiar (masked) faces.

Realizing we’ve found our second dry camp in a row (why didn’t the ranger we met this afternoon tell us the lake is dry when she checked our permit?), drawing the short straw to slog a mile back up the trail on aching legs to pump water for the night, and seeing one of the most splendid sunsets I can remember.

Finishing our second 13-mile day and finding it much easier than the first. Seems like your body really does get conditioned as you go.

Pulling a plastic half-bottle of wine out of my pack on the last night and toasting to the Wonderland, then getting remarkably silly after just one cup each. Turns out not drinking for a while and cranking your metabolism up to max for a week lowers your tolerance!

Sitting and reading on the last night when I feel something scuttly crawl over my foot. I turn on my headlamp and what do I see? Mice! A whole bunch of them, clearly living off of hiker droppings. We hang the backpacks on the bear pole with the food to avoid getting a salty strap gnawed through in the night. The mice end up getting into our food despite it being hung – either they have figured out how to get around the skirt on the pole, or a lucky one hitched a ride in one of our packs. They only get into the trail mix, and eat everything but the raisins. Typical.

Deciding on a silly name for each of our campsites:

  1. Carbonara River, at which the party dreams of pasta
  2. Camp Oopsie, at which several minor mishaps occur
  3. Lightbox Camp, from which we observe Rainier in the daylight, moonlight, and the pink glow of dawn
  4. Nipple Creek, at which the crew is very tired after a long day on the trail and takes the obvious joke (from Nickle Creek)
  5. Mediocre Paradise, which is not all it’s cracked up to be
  6. LA, which is dry, crowded and a bit smokey
  7. Land Before Time V, next to a lake so dry it would be comical if we didn’t have to walk a mile to get water
  8. Camp Serenity, at which the group shares an inside joke from TGE (we read 5 whole chapters that night!)

Driving back down into rural Pierce County, filled with Trump signs and apocalyptic smoke, and wondering if we should just turn the car around and head back to the woods.


Hiking the Wonderland Trail was a lot of work. It involved a ton of logistics, from getting permits to planning training hikes to prepping and distributing food caches. And of course, it was intensely physically demanding – probably the most physically difficult thing I’ve done in my life.

It also involved a lot of luck. Getting a permit? Luck. Avoiding injury during a long summer of training? Care, but also luck (in fact, one of our party had to drop at the last minute due to a ruptured Achilles). Wildlife not eating our food until the last night? Luck. No rain or freakishly early snow? Luck. No wildfires in the park? Luck. Smoke from the CA / OR fires holding off until the last day to get really bad? Luck.

So I guess I would say I’m grateful to have been so fortunate. Fortunate that the stars aligned, and fortunate that I had the time and money and experience and strength to take advantage of the opportunity. Fortunate that I had good friends who could share in the journey.

Hiking the Wonderland also hammered home the reality of global warming and climate change like little else I have experienced. Rainier is in severe drought again this summer, and many creeks and lakes shown on the map were dry. At the same time the glaciers are in full retreat, flooding the major rivers with silty meltwater, washing out bridges and making crossings difficult. I remember standing on Emerald Ridge over the Tahoma Glacier and being able to measure its retreat year-over-year by the quantized heights of the saplings colonizing in its wake, looking down at perhaps a mile of valley that was permanently under ice until a decade ago.

Santa crossing a raging torrent.

And of course there’s the smoke – we had some early in the trip from the Yakima fire, and then the last day-and-a-half we were hit by the smoke from the CA / OR fires. The forests and mountains that I love so dearly are literally on fire. An area the size of New Jersey has burned already just this year, and the fires are barely contained. The skies being filled with smoke and ash is not something that used to happen, and now it’s practically every year. It’s remarkable when it doesn’t happen. I don’t know what more convincing evidence you could ask for that something is terribly, frighteningly wrong with the balance of our planet.

So I guess that’s another reason to be grateful – grateful that I get to experience this magnificent trail as it is now.

And finally, I’m really glad to be back in a place where you can get clean hot water with the turn of a tap, you don’t have to go to bed at 8:00 just because the sun has gone down, and by pressing a couple buttons on your phone and trading in a few imaginary economy points you can get a real live pizza delivered to your apartment in like 45 minutes. There’s certainly something to be said for modern technology.

But… I think I will go out again this weekend. At least for a day hike.

Wonderland Preparations

Next week I’ll be hiking the Wonderland Trail!

For those of you who aren’t familiar, the Wonderland Trail is a 93-mile hiking route that circles Mount Rainier. The trail is famous for both beauty and difficulty. Over our 9-day trek we’ll be gaining something like 22,000 feet of elevation, so just a little more than one ascent of Denali.

The Wonderland Trail has been on my list for several years now, and I am elated to have a chance to throw myself at it. We leave on Friday, and I can hardly wait.


The Wonderland Trail is incredibly popular, so to help keep it pristine and let you have some solitude, Mount Rainier National Park has instituted a lottery system for back-country permits. You apply in mid-March with a proposed itinerary and a list of what changes you’d be willing to accept, and if you’re lucky you hear back a couple of months later from the park rangers with a final route plan.

Coming up with a route is somewhat complex, but there are a ton of resources on the internet that will help you. One of the most useful was the Wonderland Trail Itinerary Planner, which is very fancy and interactive.

Electronic planners are great, but sometimes you’ve just got to sit down with a guidebook and a map.

Getting a permit is far from a sure thing! I’ve applied for the last 4 years, and this is the first year I’ve gotten one. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have gotten one this year – between a low employment load and everything else being closed due to COVID, an outdoorsy hobby to sink a bunch of time into has been just what I’ve needed.


So what does it take to spend 9 days on the trail?

9 days off food and supplies is a lot! A good estimate is 2000 calories per day plus 100 calories per mile, which works out to about 27,000 calories for the whole trip, or about 3000 per day. That’s enough calories that you need to be intentional about eating. Hiking hungry is no fun, and once you’re in a calorie hole it’s hard to climb out.

What actually goes in the cache? Don’t run out of food!

That much food is heavy, and it probably won’t even fit in your pack. So instead of carrying it all with you, you leave caches for yourself along the trail. That way you only need to carry 3 or 4 days worth of food at a time. Plus you can stow a spare T-shirt and a fresh pair of socks in each cache.

This is what 27000 calories looks like. It’s mostly candy.

Of course it’s not just food – you need to cache any kind of consumables, like fuel, toilet paper and sunscreen.

Tomorrow I’ll spend the day driving around the mountain and dropping off caches at ranger stations. Hooray for being both the party leader and unemployed.

I’ve also been working on dropping pack weight. Ultra-light tent, tiny water filter, and dropping comfort items I don’t need. I should be able to get my dry pack weight to about 26 lbs, which is pretty comfortable.


What’s the best way to train for a 90-mile hike? By hiking, of course! I’ve spent 23 days and 8 nights on the trail so far this year, totaling more than 200 miles.

Yay data!

Of course, 200 miles of trail has produced some pretty good photos.

An early-season hike at Mt. Washington near North Bend

With no office to bike commute to, I’ve taken up running in between hikes. I’ve added on a light regime of body-weight resistance training. Sometimes I do yoga (I should do more of this).

Goat Lake, off Highway 20

My number one goal with this training was to drop weight. Weight has some issues as a fitness goal, both scientifically and socially, but in this case it felt appropriate. That much hiking, particularly downhill, is really hard on your joints. If you could take 15 pounds out of your backpack you would be elated, so why not take it off your middle instead? I cut sweets (mostly) back in the spring, stopped drinking in mid July, and have eaten a LOT of salads. Plus cooking at home more due to COVID makes portion control much easier. The result is I have lost 15 pounds since April, about 8% of my body weight. I feel great, my pants sag noticeably when I forget a belt, and I am ready to take on those hills.

From Mt. Defiance, with Rainier in the background

COVID has made this a very strange hiking season. On the one hand, the wilderness is the only thing that’s open and safe, so it’s been remarkably crowded. Finding a campsite or even a sliver of solitude can be a challenge, though it’s no where near as bad as that hike I did in Korea. On the other hand, none of my friends have anything else to do, so it’s always easy to find a hiking buddy.

Mt. Adams, as seen from a different Goat Lake
The Knife’s Edge section of the PCT
Cispus Basin, possibly the most beautiful place I’ve ever camped

Tomorrow I lay in the caches, and Friday we hit the trail. It’s been a lot of work to get to this point, and I am ready.

Departure from Ada

Saturday June 27th will be my last day at Ada Developers Academy.

If I had my druthers it would not be, and the same is true of Ada leadership. So why am I leaving?

The short version is, the position I came back to after traveling was a temporary role to experiment with some new course formats. Run the pilots, look at the results in June, decide whether or not to move forward. But Ada has a lot going on right now! A global pandemic has forced our entire program online, the accompanying recession has made it difficult to secure revenue for new projects, there’s a couple of big and sorely needed internal projects in flight. As a result, the board and executive leadership are tapping the breaks on anything that’s not the core classroom, regardless of whether the pilots were successful. Frankly, I can’t say I blame them.

It does put me in something of a crummy situation though.

I’ve formatted the long version as a Q+A – that’s just how it popped out. Hopefully it gives you just the right amount of context.

What have you been working on at Ada since you got back from your travels?

When I left last August, I had finally (finally!!!) brought the instructional team to full headcount. That was the first time this had happened since 2017, and I count it among my greatest accomplishments. Hiring teachers is hard!

But a full roster meant there was no hole for me to fill when I returned. So before I left on my travels, I sat down with the ED and did some brainstorming. That’s where the idea of piloting pre-application workshops for URM candidates and a continuing ed program for alums came from – both are programs Ada has had its eye on for several years, but never had the resources to pursue. I drafted a project plan, handed it off to the new DoE, and caught a flight to Tokyo. Those two pilot programs are what I’ve been working on since February.

This was always intended as a temporary role – we would run the experiment, evaluate the results, and determine whether to throw more money at it. My hope was that it would turn into something permanent, but I knew and accepted the risk before I left.

Were the pilots successful?

We don’t have full results yet – final decisions on admissions don’t go out until next week, and the data structures course I’ve been running for alums is still in progress (last class is on Saturday).

That said, the preliminary results look promising. The pre-application workshops appear to have made a positive impact, and feedback on the alum course has generally been quite positive.

So what happened? Why are you leaving?

Two reasons: funding and timing.

The initial funding model for the cont ed course was to charge tuition. Unfortunately Ada is not accredited, which means that charging tuition for a course is not, strictly speaking, legal. The process of becoming accredited is exceptionally time-intensive and expensive – Ada would basically have to hire someone full-time just to manage the paperwork. Thank goodness we hired a real Director of Education to figure all this out, instead of trying it and getting shut down by the state.

The typical workaround is to partner with a local college and piggyback off their accreditation – this is what organizations like Year Up do. But we don’t have such a relationship yet, and building one would take time and administrative attention, both of which are in short supply.

If this was a normal year, it’s possible Ada would have been able to fund the program anyway as a service to the community. We had been talking to a few corporate sponsors about picking up the tab. Unfortunately, this year has has been anything but normal, and asking companies for new big donations in the middle of the biggest recession in modern history is a non-starter.

Of course, a global recession is not the only problem we face. This year has felt like one crisis after another, and Ada’s funding and administrative attention has been stretched thin. Plus we’ve got some fairly big projects in the works already. Events that are more important than a continuing ed pilot include:

  • COVID-19 has meant we’ve had to figure out how to pull the whole classroom experience online. Plus working from home sucks, especially if you have kids who aren’t in school.
  • The murder of George Floyd and the BLM protests of the past few weeks have made social justice and D&I training feel like a more important / timely / on-brand investment than technical curriculum
  • One of our directors was out all spring, so the Director of Education was managing two teams
  • Ada is moving to a new space this summer
  • Ada is finally spinning out from our nonprofit incubator TSNE over the next year, a much-needed but expensive and time-consuming change

In short, the timing is plain awful.

I do intend to stay connected to Ada. Things didn’t go my way this time, but that’s the thing about working for a non-profit (and being an ally in general): it’s not about you. I do believe that leadership has made the right call for the org and the community, and ultimately that’s what matters.

Besides, Ada has treated me pretty well through it all. The new DoE was up-front from week one that the story was not as rosy as we had hoped, and as early as April I was fairly certain that I would be looking for work come summer. There’s been plenty of runway to figure something out, and plenty of time to process what’s going on.

I’ll be volunteering as a tutor starting with the next cohort in September, and will keep an eye out for other opportunities to contribute.

Are you worried about landing on the job market in the middle of a recession?

Worried yes, but not freaking out. I’ve got some contract work lined up for the summer, and my skills are high-value enough that I’m not worried about finding something more permanent for the fall. I have a strong network, including a legion of former students who I would love to work with. If the search takes a while, I have enough savings to coast for a good chunk of time. I am, frankly, a whole lot better off than many people who have been impacted by COVID-19, and for that I am grateful.

How are you holding up emotionally?

Something I’ve been working on for the past few years, with mixed success, is a better sense of equanimity. I can get pretty invested in things, and stepping back and letting what happens happen is really hard.

There’s certainly been negative emotions to feel this spring. There’s the fear of landing on the job market in the middle of a recession, the hurt of being let down by the organization I’ve worked so hard for, the deep angst of pouring my heart and soul into something and having it fail for reasons entirely beyond my control.

I feel like Dan from 2015 or even mid-2019 would have channeled all those negative emotions, the fear and the hurt and the angst, into anger. Probably of the self-righteous variety. It’s just such an easy emotion! Burning bridges is so cathartic! And there are still occasional days when I feel like that, where all I can do to avoid saying something I’ll regret is turn off my computer, lace up my running shoes and take it out on the pavement. But I think I’ve done a much better job of sitting with the disappointment and not feeling the need to turn it into something else. And of not hollering at my boss for something she can’t control.

I also think that having a long break right before all this and coming into it with a delightfully low stress level has been key. If I had been dropped into this scenario with the mind space I had in August 2019, I can’t imagine it would have gone well.

You talked about work this summer – care to elaborate?

Yeah! I’ve got a gig teaching CS 121 (Intro to Programming) for the summer quarter up at Shoreline Community College. The head of the CS program there used to manage the instructional team at Ada, and is in fact the person who hired me and promoted me to lead instructor. They were short an instructor, I knew it would be wise to pick up some hours either way… perfect match.

The pay isn’t great, but it will cover my expenses for the summer and give me a bit of runway to look for something more lucrative. Plus I like teaching – I did it for free before I came to Ada, so on some level them covering my rent is gravy. Just… don’t tell SCC that.

So what’s next? More teaching? Back to engineering? Something else?

The quarter goes through the middle of August, then I’m hiking the Wonderland Trail the first two weeks of September, so mid-September is my target for finding a “real job”.

While I’ve enjoyed teaching at Ada tremendously, I think I’ll probably be heading back to industry, at least for a while. Here’s why:

  • I’m excited to dust off my engineering skills and work on some hard technical problems
  • I’ve learned a ton about full-stack web development while teaching at Ada, and am ready to put it into practice
  • I’ve learned a lot about leadership and what it means to be impactful within an organization, and I want to see how it applies in an engineering setting
  • I am unlikely to find a teaching gig that pays nearly as well as Ada did, which means I’ll make 2-3x as much in industry as I would as a teacher
  • Working as a teacher has never felt sustainable – I have a tendency to take on too much and the deadlines and consequences for failure feel incredibly real. That for me has been a recipe for burnout. I suspect I will have a much healthier work-life balance in industry.
  • It’s much easier to engineer full- or almost-full-time and moonlight as a teacher than the other way around

My ideal role would be as senior engineer at a small, diverse, financially stable company based in Seattle building a product that makes the world a better place with incentive alignments that encourage it not to be evil. I am open to compromise on most of those points. If your team is hiring and it sounds like we would be a good match, drop me a line at the contact link above!

Any regrets about taking all that time off to travel or taking a big risk with your career?

Not one.