Hi! You and I, we may be friends or family, we might be Twitter buddies (and we should), we could be neighbors across the street or across the cities, we might be passing acquaintances or going way back. It’s really nice for you and me, for us to chat again, even if it’s just with this letter.
Who am I again? Well, aside from the blatantly branded card that you almost definitely used to land here with, there's absolutely no way to know that I am Ryan Rampersad. I might be that annoying advice giver, or that quirky branding guy with long hair and weird red ribbon, or that Twitter-enthusiast or that alleged technical expert. You bet. That's me.
Who is that adorable dog? That's Roxy! Roxy is 10 this year! What kind of dog is Roxy? That's a great question. Here's how the story goes: she comes from my mom's cousin's farm where two dogs went into the barn and puppies came out — allegedly she is terrier and beagle. She's such a good dog. I try taking her places that are new and exciting among our usual daily neighborhood walks. On the card, I describe with the photo legend a little bit about all of the featured activities and adventures.
Card 2019-2020: Roxy featured on the best peg board of 2020
Ok, what’s up with this card? These cards have been delivered to fine folks everywhere since the legendary year of 2016. It's legendary because... the casual-but-appropriate way of describing it is, “I don't know, I think I became an adult.” Many years ago, I felt a great need to share my gratitude and thank you. That’s the collective you, and it’s also the individual you, reading this. No matter if you’re burning the midnight oil with me on the regular, hanging out in the park with Roxy and I, or in another country away making the world a better place. Thank you. You’re incredible. I am so lucky to have you in my life and I think I am allowed to write here; the world is lucky to have you too.
If this is your first card, welcome. If you have been exposed before, then welcome back and thank you for returning once more. I hope to continue into the distant future.
With this letter, I want to share with you my thanks, but also some additional musings from this year.
Let’s chat about coming, going and change.
We’ll chat about the pandemic in the next section, but as with many years, it has been one of change. Projects come and go, team members join and depart, friendships wax and wane, family grows and contracts. That kind of change.
The people in our lives are not static. Each of these people have their own unique threads in life. Sometimes the threads seem as if they are aligned and those threads come together to weave a yarn. Sometimes you pull on those threads, sometimes they pull on you. Sometimes the intersection ends up in a tangle, and sometimes it’s an intentionally crafted pattern.
Let me share a few absurdly vague stories about coming, going and change.
One of my close friends from highschool embarked on a major career move into a more technical field last year. “More technical field,” in air quotes, you say. Well, if you have ever talked to me, you know that is code for learning how to program and becoming a software engineer. Did you know that not everyone shares the same love and passion for technology, coding, tinkering, reading and some form of delusional critical thinking that I do? At the time, I did not fully realize that. With my friend, I opened a rift caused by what I thought was contagious passion and what I found out was misaligned expectations. There was a rift that formed there, and while it’s better now a year later it might not ever be quite as it was.
If you run out of meaningful work and there seems little acknowledgement and movement of the powers that be, would you not go too? You know what they say, “you can change your organization or you can change your organization.” For a colleague and friend, he decided to change his organization. A colleague and friend that performed one of my early interviews, he's on to new things now. We still chat every now and then, and I appreciate his excellent work in getting me started. Nothing is more fun than when he pings me a question. And then we worked on it together. Like those good old days.
One of the best mentors I have ever had took a bold step forward for his future. There’s nothing quite like going from software engineering team manager to fledging startup chief technologist. As I gained more experience over the years, my mentor and I talked less about specific “management” topics, like how the projects are going and what we should focus on in the next review cycle. Instead, we spoke more broadly about the way things were, the way things are, and the way things will be. We spoke about how confidence works, or how to make a good team, how to reassure. Some of the best mentors are those who are people first, and they can understand when their task is complete so you can move onto the next threshold. It’s hard and not everyone can do it, but it’s an incredible skill.
Sometimes it’s easy to take for granted when someone seems a fixture in your community. When they leave, there becomes a palpable void. I experienced that too, when an inspirational icon departed to pursue work elsewhere in pursuit of greater ideals. That same “changing your organization” comes back to haunt once more. That said, as we now pursue those same ideals on our own, we picture ourselves in new ways that we would not have if the responsibility had not shifted from their shoulders to ours.
Even closer to home, well, actually maybe further? Even my very own dad is departing soon. No, no, he’s just fine, he’s as healthy as you can imagine. Instead, he’s starting the next phase of his life, living out the dreams and passions he has had for years. My dad is starting his very own small farm in the fine state of South Carolina. My dad’s been with me every step in my life. I will miss him here, but he’s not that far away, and he’s doing what he has always wanted to do. Two-thousand miles is a small price to pay for that, I think.
Coming, going and change. People are more transient than you expect. But while they are there, be thankful for them. When they go to the next thing, appreciate them as they do what they want and need to do. Change is hard but it is important.
Let’s now turn to 2020 in general.
My latest clearest memory of 2019 was in the office cafeteria lunchroom with my team. Remember the halcyon days of sitting at round tables and enjoying company while eating meals together?
While we sitting there in November, likely just before Thanksgiving, we all wondered what was in store for us. In late 2019, we heard rumblings of what was to come, but it had not arrived yet. 2020, you know, was supposed to be the year of inexhaustible “Hindsight is 20/20” jokes.
2019 December was fine, January felt OK and February was getting grimmer. It’s funny how a few months perspective changes everything you thought was coming ever-so-soon.
Recounting every major event in 2020 that was “unsatisfactory” will exceed the size of
`node_modules` and will drown this letter in negativity. Let’s avoid that at all costs. I knew that this section would be the shortest. In other sections, I provide examples about whatever it is I am discussing. I think it is in poor taste to provide examples in the vein of 2020. Nothing I can write here will do it justice. There’s just too much and it’s just too personal.
You know what has personally affected you.
Recently, someone shared with me the concept of Meliorism.
Meliorism is an idea in metaphysical thinking holding that progress is a real concept leading to an improvement of the world. It holds that humans can, through their interference with processes that would otherwise be natural, produce an outcome which is an improvement over the aforementioned natural one.— Our friends at Wikipedia
the belief that the world can be made better by human effort.— Oxford Languages
It’s easy to get lost in “metaphysical” and “otherwise be natural”. It’s easy to say this focuses too much on the individual and not enough on the systems and the foundations of society. That sentiment is acutely observant too, in my opinion. I think natural does not only mean trees and streams, I think natural can mean the natural chaos that is created through living and existing. My interpretation of the concept ends up somewhere in diligent intentional interference makes progress. Think about your own interpretation.
We make things better.
For our third section, let’s do something different.
Have you been following the news lately? What news? Any news! Have you been reading the infamous Facebook feed or the latest ephemeral Twitter threads? Have you been bombarded with ads today? Checking out Reddit? Maybe even irrationally become addicted to the wildly successful New York Times? Maybe listening to a podcast? Listening to the lofi beats for studying on YouTube? Looking for some DIY inspo from Instagram? Scoping out stories on Snapchat or who knows what with TikTok?
These questions, of course, are rhetorical. Of course you have. It’s good to read, watch and listen to learn. It’s good and important to read, watch and listen because they are fun to do too.
Ads, social media and massive media directly inject ideas, concepts, opinions into your mind and they live there rent free. I don’t think this concept is novel or profound, but I think it is the reality we live in today. People are kinda sus (or “suspicious”) with how the world has changed for better or worse in this regard. Rightfully so I think, but with all things, moderation in moderation, with awareness comes contentedness. Trust me on this too, the irony is not lost that while I simultaneously hold this perspective, here I am providing to you an editorial with unsubstantiated claims in an almost ad-social-massive-media format.
With that said, let’s try an experiment. This experiment is fun, simple and takes about ten minutes. You might have all the supplies you need right now.
Here’s how it goes:
waiting for you to accomplish fake tasks
That was a joke. That is not the experiment at all.
Here’s how it really goes:
waiting for you to accomplish real tasks
Here’s what it means:
Ad-social-massive-media injects directly into your mind. Some people are better and some are worse as having a buffer to incoming input. What this experiment helps convey is the buffer.
In this experiment, the recording is you, and your voice from the distance are the ads, the tweets, the posts, the photos, the headlines. The ad-social-massive-media. When you walked away, what happened to the voice in the recording? Did it grow quiet? Softer? A little harder to follow? Maybe slightly demanding, less immediate? Just less? As the source recedes into the distance of the natural world, something happens: it’s quieter.
So what I want to part with you here is this: it’s OK to let things be quieter. And by “it’s OK to let things be quieter”, I mean I pretty emphatically demand you absolutely take this very moment to resolve yourself to buy my book on this topic for only two easy payments of $31.41 with 15-minute no-money back guarantee.
What I really mean is this: whatever your favorite preferred choice of incoming input is, let there be a buffer. As you hear something you love, imagine hearing it from 15 feet away, as you watch something you hate, imagine hearing it from 15 feet away, as you type words in that tweet or that email, hope (maybe even recommend) that your recipient also keeps their buffer.
Keep you buffer.
This is the bonus section. There are no easter eggs in this section.
I started the drafts for this letter in late October, and much of the letter was written between my 28th birthday in early November and Thanksgiving here in the United States in late November.
Thanksgiving, as its namesake implies, is to share your thanks. One of the reasons for this letter was a personal realization that I feel better about things -- all things -- by realizing that thankfulness.
I think I realized it on a walk home from college one day after I stepped off the train in Saint Paul, at the Fairview station, in the dead cold of winter. At the time, I am pretty sure I started with the dog, that cute, honest, loving dog. Of course, I extended that awareness, appreciation, that realization of thankfulness to my home, my family, my friends, my work and so on. That epoch of persona was definitely not connected to Thanksgiving at the time, but this time of year ever since has always caused me to remember this and here we are many years later.
On the night of my 28th birthday, after our small family only birthday party had ended, I came back downstairs into my office and studio. Then, I performed an arcane and profane ritual: I thought.
I thought back. I reminisced about other times spent in that room.
How many years ago did I begin what I think of as “me” here in the room? Yes, my office and studio was indeed my childhood bedroom, and of course also where I had my computer. It’s where it all started for me back then. In day to day activities now, while in calls or while actually writing code, until that moment, I had not really looked around the room and thought, “huh, well, I’m back in here again.” How many countless nights on IRC, AOL chats and other esoteric places did I spend here? Almost a lot. Foundational though. I thought about what it looked like back then. As a kid, I insisted that my room be painted a deep galactic blue and plastered with those little glow-in-the-dark stars. Because what kid doesn’t love space? The room is now bright with light cream walls, on-brand colors and almost enough sound dampening. There’s no bed, now there’s two desks and five monitors and between two and three computers.
Here’s what I love though. Those little stars? They’re still up there.
I moved to another room in the house for my bedroom so I could have more space, and at some point, I resolved to not have computers where I sleep due to my completely normal and rational behavior of maybe being slightly addicted to them. So that left this little room to become a storage room for many years, until I needed the space again. With the advent of my personal podcasting, I gave the room a refresh, new paint, new flooring, new computers (couldn’t forget those).
Those little stars? They’re still up there.
Even today, if I look up, if I carefully look at the ceiling, I will still see those little stars that I myself placed there as a kid in this very same room, I now use daily as an adult. Sure, they’re painted over (twice actually). The glow is covered, but the outlines are still there.
Those little stars. They’re still up there.
There’s no witty ending here. There’s no quadrilogy of secrets that connect this all together (probably). Maybe you will find a connection, and that's even better.
Since you made it down here, I have to say thank you one more time. I hope it was a enjoyable read. I hope your year has been well and your next year even better.
If you are the adventurous type and you have put your awesome card featuring Roxy the dog somewhere decorative or festive, please snap a photo and share with me.
Thank you, and have a good one.