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My 2021 was less about accomplishment than revision. Most of it was good, and none of it was easy.
My relationship with the Perl programming language came to an uneven crescendo last year.
In January, I saw the language’s new documentation style guide published—a point of terrific personal and professional pride, and the largest direct contribution I’d made to this technology that I’d built my whole career upon. I applied the energy from that win into volunteering to propose and lead a new documentation team, an idea the Perl project’s steering council approved of enthusiastically.
And then, as an initial action, I applied on behalf of Perl to Google’s Season of Docs program, seeking funds that would let us hire an expert to audit Perl’s documentation. It worked! And just before the year ended, we published that audit’s results.
In between these wins, however, I had to dramatically curtail my own ongoing involvement with Perl. By late summer, I found myself with a leadership position at my new full-time job, which—when adding in my ongoing IFTF presidency—left me holding three leadership roles. Wisdom will tell you that priorities are like arms, and so I now had one too many. I made the difficult and painful decision to step away from leading Perl’s documentation efforts, just a few months after hyping myself up into it.
I realized only towards the end of the year that part of switching careers means that your earlier career has ended. Perhaps I’ll always think of myself as a hacker, but I do not call myself a programmer any more. I have barely written a line of code in any language since beginning my current job, six months ago.
I think I’ll find some balance here, in time. I did write a little Perl one-off script a couple of weeks ago in order to divvy up some reading assignments to my work-team. It felt very good! But the intense, decades-long relationship I’ve enjoyed with Perl—and with programming in general—has come to an end.
Part of my motivation for writing this post was funerary: I wanted to publicly acknowledge this ending, and reflect on it. I can let myself feel a little sad that this once-central part of my personal and professional identity, one which I’d always assumed would last my whole life, has instead come to its coda. I hope I can look back on this time of my life with gratitude, and allow that feeling to suffuse my new and ongoing occupations.
In January, a startup hired me into my first full-time technical writing job. It laid me off in May, at which point I was already seeking a position elsewhere. I found it a month later at Google, where I have remained since, and where I expect I shall continue to reside for some time.
Joining Google involved another painful decision, even apart from the ensuing need to step back from Perl documentation. Choosing Google meant declining another opportunity, offered by a good friend, to work as a contracted technical writer for a nonprofit whose work is very important to me. For reasons too complex for this post—and more than a mere difference in salary figures—accepting Google’s offer was my only rational option. I do not regret my choice, but I can still feel the hurt from it.
This career shift has contained layered disruptions: not only does this work represent my first truly full-time job since 2005, but I discovered only in August—two months after joining the company—that Google had hired me into a senior role, and expected me to organize and lead a team of writers. I like to think I rose to the call, which involved weeks of especially intense professional development, communication, and improvisation.
I greet the new year wobbling like a just-born calf: standing, looking ahead, determined to roll through all the tumbles to come. The tumbling takes place mostly in spreadsheets and internal task-management tools, but I have managed to author a paragraph here and there within the product’s public documentation. I hope I can accomplish significantly more technical writing in 2022.
At the end of the year, I discovered the joy of streaming interactive fiction, with an emphasis on reading aloud. The happiness this has brought me has only intensified since I wrote that post. I have put more time into customizing my YouTube gaming channel, and have announced an intention to stream games—mostly text games—at least once a week for the foreseeable future.
Back in the early summer, IFTF welcomed several new board members, the culmination of a long effort by the board to reorganize the nonprofit into a longer-term mode that requires less intense attention from a more diverse band of core volunteers. It’s worked out quite well!
This year challenges me to address the organization’s long-dangling succession question. I now have a deadline to find my replacement as president: due to new term limits we established, I cannot retain my board seat past March of 2023. I’ll have been president for seven years by then, which is probably around two years too many.
Setting a positive precedent of succession is a crucial hurdle for any nonprofit that intends to outlast its founders’ initial involvement. I feel like I have the resources to do this right; it’s on me to actually apply them.
Amy and I bought an apartment. A first for either of us, let alone both of us.
So, we bought a home. This is a first for either of us. We closed yesterday (after which I took these photos) and we’re moving into it today.— Jason McIntosh (@JmacDotOrg) August 27, 2021
It’s a co-op on the Upper West Side with a real, kitcheney kitchen (@classicaljunkie shown for scale).
I hope we stay here a long time. pic.twitter.com/Rdxd8rzG9w
I deleted 40,000 old tweets, and declared that I’d stop posting freely to Twitter. Against my own expectations at the time, I have actually stuck to this. With rare exceptions, all my tweets in 2021 were replies, retweets, sharing media, or starting conversations with non-rhetorical questions. No more unfiltered top-of-mind babbling of whatever seems funny at the time (and which I might regret for the rest of my life, five years later).
I try to stick to Peter Sagal’s rules of Twitter: share and amplify that which informs or delights, and nothing else. This may work against Twitter’s core design of making people as “engaged” as possible by upsetting and infuriating them, but it’s the only way I intend to use social media from now on.
Did I mention how happy the streaming has made me? Yes? OK. Well, thank you for reading. I’m glad you’re here, and I hope the coming year has good things for us both.
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