10 years ago, I hadn't even started high school. A lot has changed since then to say the least. This post is a hastily-written self reflection of the past decade of my life. I've mostly written it as a memo to hold myself to or adjust as needed.
In the past few weeks, I've spent a lot of time solidifying my 2020 goals and values to start a new decade of change. This is the decade I've been looking forward to my entire life. There's no one holding me back except myself.
Rather than telling a monolithic story about the past decade, I've broken it up into themes:
What you learn in school may not be relevant to your job, but it is relevant to the world. The more you know, the easier it becomes to recognize patterns and understand the world.
As with most people, high school was a major transformative period for me. I developed an ego after scoring the highest grades in my class two years in grades 8 and 9. I was never top in my class again, but it was too late, the ego was there.
Even then, I learned a tremendous amount from my teachers at Lakefield College School. In grade 12, I took physics, biology, calculus, and chemistry. It was tough, but nothing compared to what would come next.
I didn’t want to go to university. I only completed a single university application for computer engineering at the University of Waterloo (don’t tell my parents). Luckily, I got in. Nowadays, it’s more competitive and I probably wouldn’t have been accepted.
University was hell. The workload barely let up during my five year degree. I spent the first couple years learning how to cope. The key is to skip classes and tutorials then use that time to beat your head against the assignments.
Oftentimes, I hear people say what they learn in school is irrelevant to their jobs. While this is true, it misses the point. Having a broad base of knowledge allows you to understand what’s happening in the world. My high school biology and chemistry classes have proved foundational to becoming a better cook. I apply my understanding of robot dynamics class at my job.
Learning to program was a side effect of my desire to build stuff. Little did I know it’d become my career (for now) a decade after starting.
In 2008, I started “programming”, Alice 2 (check out my Alice forum account). A year later, a friend taught me how to use Adobe Dreamweaver so I could build a flash game website like Miniclip. It took me years and countless franken-sites to become proficient at building websites. I would go to my high school’s IT department to get help.
There were very few noticeable jumps in my abilities. It took a decade and thousands of hours hunched over a keyboard to get to where I am today. I’ve programmed websites, games, mobile apps, neural networks, firmware, and distributed systems. I’ve done software and design consulting. I’ve spent an equivalent amount of hours reading about programming. My first job was as a software developer at a local engineering firm in grade 11.
I’m an impatient person, but programming has come to me through patience.
I’ve been cooking my entire life, but unlike programming, formal[ish] education leapfrogged my abilities. I need to improve the nuances of my cooking. I’ve never had a good sense of smell or taste and have to work hard to improve them.
Inspired by my mom, I’ve been playing with pots and pans in the kitchen ever since I could crawl. I used to spend entire days baking apple and blueberry pies. During university, I’d frequently bike to the farmers market precariously carrying tens of pounds of fruit.
Five years ago, I had sourdough at Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. Ever since then, I’ve been mastering sourdough bread. On one occasion, I biked 50km with a 15lb bag of flour from a Mennonite farm. The bread from that flour was an utter failure.
During an internship last year, I took an intense 4 week French cooking course at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. I worked from 9 to 5 then cooked from 6 to 10. Before the course, I informally knew the fundamental techniques of French cooking. The course put a name to them and has completely changed the way I approach cooking. I’ve become more methodical and organized like I’m applying mathematical formulas when I cook.
This has allowed me to develop my own recipes that actually taste good. One night, I couldn’t sleep until 4AM. My mind was racing the entire time, concocting complete recipes like smokey mexican siu mai or duck in a pond.
This year, I’ve made hundreds of croissants in the pursuit of a perfect honeycomb crumb.
If I want to continue refining my cooking, I have to free myself from the habit of limiting myself to what I have in the fridge. And I have to train my sense of smell and taste.
There’s a reason successful people read books. Books are the highly-curated, lifelong learning of other people. By reading, you’re leveraging the thousands of hours authors have put into learning and distilling information.
- Think and Grow Rich
- Strong Towns
- One from Many: VISA and the Rise of Chaordic Organization
- Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World by Peter H. Diamandis, Steven Kotler
- Your Successful Farm Business
- The Omnivore’s Dilemma
- Setting the Table
- How to Own Your Mind
- Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty
I like making things.
In addition to cooking and programming, I make a lot of other stuff.
I used to spend days creating metropolises, planes, boats, and trains with sand, Lego, and pencils. Sometimes, these creations stood taller than me. That all ended when I started playing Minecraft. I invested thousands of hours into building everything imaginable from a functioning Space Invaders to a Youtube channel with a few hundred thousand views.
There’s something magical about growing fruit at home. 13 years ago I started growing tropical fruit plants from passion fruit to avocado. Since then, I’ve managed to harvest a single coffee bean. Probably the first coffee bean to ever be harvested in Canada.
I’ve had a lot of RC planes and model rockets. I’ve even built a few different balsa planes. This hobby culminated in spending hundreds of hours designing a plane in CAD that could be cut using a machine (CNC). The end result was impractically large, but with beautifully clean edges.
I’ve been making pottery ever since my mom sent me to a summer camp. The Youtube channel, Primitive Technology, helped bring my hobby to the next level. This hobby culminated in spending an entire week digging clay from a stream, shaping it into bricks, firing the bricks, and building a pizza oven entirely from scratch. The oven was able to get hot enough to fire my own clay pots.
Here’s some of the other things I’ve made:
- Canoe Paddle
- Renovated a Condo
- Shitty Handdrawn Pokemon
I’ve always been interested in starting my own business. Over the years, I’ve started and stopped a lot of ideas probably for the better. Over time, I’ve begun to understand my reasons for wanting to start my own business. My early ideas were “get rich quick” schemes.
Software engineering pays well and has a great work-life balance, but that’s not what I’m looking for. I need to take some risks. I’ve written business proposals, cold called, LinkedIn spammed, ran social media ads, and listened to Think and Grow Rich too many times. Each time I haven’t been able to follow through with my ventures.
Here’s a list of everything I’ve tried to start:
- 2010: Selling passion fruit plants to my classmates and teachers
- 2011: Selling LED lights
- 2012: Music management app for music artists
- 2012: Coffee subscription app
- 2015: Selling LED lights (Round 2)
- 2016: Growing weed or selling weed growing devices
- 2018: Identity verification
- 2019: Quote management app for construction contractors
- 2019: Ontario Place redevelopment
My early grades in high school were a big bump to my ego. I had no idea what was coming for me. The ensuing events may have been a blessing in disguise. I finished 2019 with less ego and more confidence.
I was originally planning to apply to local companies for my first internship. Then I went to a resume critique session. My critiquer saw potential and suggested I apply to jobs in Silicon Valley instead. I got an offer to work in Silicon Valley. Once again, I got an ego boost. I was a first year student working in the software mecca of the world.
It seemed great until my naive self told my manager I didn’t believe in the company. At the end of the internship, I received the second lowest rating - a major penalty for future internships.
I saw my next internship as a downgrade. I was working in Toronto at Wattpad, a website that teenage girls use to write fan-fiction. I walked in with a negative attitude and walked out two weeks early with the lowest rating. I cannot stress how bad this rating is. No one does this badly on internships.
Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t find an internship after that. Luckily, my aunt stepped in and offered me a job working on a Wordpress website. As much as I appreciated the opportunity and easy rating, I felt my soul being crushed.
Humbled by my 3 previous internships, I was ready to turn things around. I landed an internship at Bread in New York and performed far above expectations. I developed strong connections with my coworkers, manager, and one of the founders. I loved it so much I returned for a second internship at a much higher salary. My last internship at Lyft went extremely well.
In the end, I probably needed the ego check. Nowadays, I’m confident in my abilities, but try to not bring my ego into work.
My immune system sucks. Over the years, I’ve accidentally tested its limits and learned how to keep my health in check. I try to sleep 9 hours every night because I’ll get sick otherwise.
The countless anaphylactic reactions I’ve had to nuts have taught me how to deal with allergic reactions. I’m a firm believer in using natural household cleaners.
I always had mediocre athleticism. However, my high school ingrained a spirit of taking care of my body within me. I’ve been lifting weights since 2011 and my cardio training has allowed me to go on 100km bike rides.
I’ve developed a strong appreciation for the people in my life. While friends and family are not everything in my life, keeping them close is critical.
My family has done a lot to support me, especially when I was screwing up my internships. I’ve always felt like I don’t fit in with my friend groups, but I’ve met some extremely close friends in the past decade. One of them through Minecraft. It’s surprising how many strangers are willing to help out and provide advice when you reach out.
Looking back at the past decade, I've attempted to pinpoint my values that will guide me throughout my life. From these values, I've come up with a tentative list of 2020 goals.
The reason I call this section refraction is because I'm altering my current path like how light rays of light are refracted when they go through glass bottles. Cheesy, I know.
In an attempt to solidify my direction in life, I’ve written down what I think are my top 5 values. These may change in the future. Values act as a sanity check when making big decisions.
- Health: Before anything else, care for the mind, body, and spirit.
- Passion: Become extraordinary at one thing while appreciating the process and obsessing over the details.
- Impact: Create lasting and positive change that improves the lives of future humans and animals.
- Innovation: Do something different by drawing on broad knowledge roots. Why? Why? Why?
- Influence: Multiply impact by leading and teaching others. Lead by example.
I also have three wants that I choose to outright reject because it's difficult to ever feel satisfied with them.
- Power: Lead by example, not force.
- Status: No ego. No envy. No greed.
- Approval: If you do things differently, there will be resistance. The more resistance to your ideas, the better.
The biggest goal of 2020 is to start a business no matter what. I've had a lot of false starts in the past. I've done a lot of ideation and planning, but now it's time to execute.
- Start a small business (for real this time)
- Explore starting a bakery focused on viennoiserie
- Explore starting a more scalable, money-oriented business - food distributor
- Other secret things
- Visit France (Cedric Grolet)
- Visit Miami (Bachour)
- Write a frontend engineering book
- Blog at least once per month
- Go to the gym 4 days per week. Focus on slower, controlled motion and form.
- Attend at least 1 - 2 conferences
- Read at least 2 books per month
- Develop relationships