2017 – My Year in Review

I can’t remember how writing an annual reflection became a tradition, but after writing them for the last two years, it is now a habit. Every time I look back on all that the last year brought into my life, it is surreal. Many things that happened, I could never have expected one or two years ago. And perhaps now, I see that life is defined by the unexpected moments: the things that surprise us, warm our hearts, sadden us, and remind us of our humanity. Thus, I present my year in review of 2017.

Home is a suitcase

I began the third year of my degree and moved for the fifth time in two years when I made it back to Rochester in August. This time, I found somewhere to ideally live longer than only a few months of the year. I moved into a house with a few other roommates with more space than I’ve had before. For the first time in a while, it’s somewhere I’ve made to feel like home.

This move came months after I ended a semester of a study abroad program and lived in a city for an internship. Most of 2017 made my suitcase feel like a home, but it afforded many unique experiences.

Croatia: Study abroad

Saying goodbye to my mom and sister at the airport before flying to Dubrovnik

Saying goodbye to my mom and sister at the airport before flying to Dubrovnik

From January to May 2017, I participated in a study abroad program with my university to Dubrovnik, Croatia. RIT has full campuses in both Zagreb and Dubrovnik. This made planning the semester abroad easy, but also encouraged me to go somewhere I might not have gone otherwise.

My choice to study in Croatia was well-rewarded. On paper, I earned 12 credit hours, but I took away more than what I learned in class. My most important lessons came in the form of midnight bus rides to Albania, photograph exhibits capturing genocide in Sarajevo, and hugs from normally faraway friends in Czechia. My time abroad began a process in finding myself that has continued since my time in Europe.

DevConf 2017 / Fedora Diversity FAD

At the beginning of the year, the Fedora Diversity Team held a “Fedora Activity Day” (FAD) event in Brno, Czechia. If you’re outside of the Fedora community, think of a FAD as a focused, in-person team sprint. Together with our team in-person and remote, we mapped out our goals and plans for 2017 and set out to continue the work we began nearly three years ago.

Diversity Team group photo at our team sprint in Brno, Czechia

In addition to the work we accomplished together, it was fulfilling for me to see my teammates that span three continents. I spent a week with not only my teammates but also my friends. The days we get to spend together are a privileged few in the year, and it was fulfilling and motivating for me to spend some of our time together in a way that wasn’t Pagure tickets or IRC meetings.

Read more about our team sprint in this event report:

Mission to understand: Fedora Diversity FAD 2017

FOSDEM 2017

I didn't get many photos during FOSDEM, but this one seemed fitting enough.

I didn’t get many photos during FOSDEM, but this one seemed fitting enough. Photo: Bhagyashree Padalkar

In February, I attended the Free and Open Source Software Developers European Meeting (FOSDEM) for the first time. FOSDEM is the largest open source conference in Europe, bringing together over 8,000 open source enthusiasts, contributors, and leaders from around the globe.

I had the privilege to attend as a member of the Fedora community, so my time was between the Fedora booth to meet the community and catching interesting talks. I also gave a talk of my own on the main track, What open source and J.K. Rowling have in common! I gave this talk to a smaller audience at DevConf, but the FOSDEM audience was considerably larger.

In retrospect, my original talk topic is relevant but I have ideas on how I could have delivered my message more effectively. Regardless, it was a learning experience for me to present in front of a new audience. Public speaking opportunities filled my youth, both in theater and in presentations, but I had never presented to a technical audience before (let alone on a non-technical topic). The experience at FOSDEM helped build my understanding and I hope to return with a new topic someday in the future.

Exploring the Balkans

Outside of open source and Fedora, my time in Croatia included a lot of time outside of Croatia. When many of my roommates went to explore the wonders of Western Europe, I lost my heart in the shadows of the Balkan mountains. My spring break was a solo trip split between Sarajevo, Bosnia and Hercegovina and Tirana, Albania.

Sarajevo
Taken from the Yellow Bastion in Sarajevo. I could get lost in this view forever.

Taken from the Yellow Bastion in Sarajevo. I could get lost in this view forever.

The three days I spent in Sarajevo were short but significant. I was truly alone on this visit and it was up to me to make the most of it. Originally, I was skeptical to go alone, but I knew that I would never have a better opportunity to go. My fascination with Sarajevo stemmed from a year of studying European history in high school, and knowing the cultural significance of Sarajevo as a meeting point of western and eastern cultures. In the end, I decided to go, and I was rewarded for it.

Inside of the Tunnel of Sarajevo. It was so quiet I could hear myself breathe. This was a grounding experience.

Inside of the Tunnel of Sarajevo. It was so quiet I could hear myself breathe. This was a grounding experience.

Most of my trip in Sarajevo consisted of museums. I visited various museums, ranging from eighteenth to twentieth century history. The most rewarding for me were the Galerija 11/07/95 and the Tunnel of Sarajevo. The gallery documented the Srebrenica genocide in July 1995 by the Serbian armed forces. The exhibit was eye-opening and perspective-shifting. The Tunnel of Sarajevo, sometimes called the Tunnel of Hope, is another perspective-shattering experience. The museum introduces the tunnel used during the siege of Sarajevo during the 1990s, when Serbian forces surrounded the city for an almost four-year siege. The tunnel was the only way for citizens and resistance forces to contact the outside world and keep the resistance alive. A small part of the tunnel is preserved, and the other artifacts make it a gripping experience (not to mention it’s a short drive out of the city, so you also have a chance to mentally prepare and later unpack the experience).

Tirana

I visited Tirana, Albania four times on my trip abroad. In Tirana, my heart was captured by the people there. For years, I read about the Open Labs Hackerspace community based in Tirana and I always imagined an opportunity to see it in person. I actually remember my first encounter with their community was an Ada Lovelace Day event report. And somehow, the circumstances shifted where I was able to meet their community and immerse myself in the culture, if only for a short time.

My visits to Tirana are best defined by the people who impacted my time there.

My visits to Tirana are best defined by the people who impacted my time there.

During my times in Tirana, I participated in the first-ever 48 hour hackathon to support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the first edition of Linux Weekend, and the annual Open Source Conference Albania (OSCAL).

 

Students meet Fedora at Linux Weekend 2017

India

At the end of my study abroad experience in Croatia, a unique opportunity presented itself to me. I did not buy my return airfare back to the US before I left for Croatia. When price-checking for my trip back, I noticed it was a few hundred dollars extra if I decided to spend a week in India before flying back to the US.

I booked the tickets.

Witnessing a tradition on my final day in Mumbai.

Witnessing a tradition on my final day in Mumbai.

The last day of my classes finally came, and the next day, I was traveling further east, to Mumbai (or Bombay, if you prefer). I had the great fortune of having two great friends who invited me to the homes of their families during my trip. I visited Bee in Mumbai and Amita in Pune, all split across a single week!

My trip to India was eye-opening. For years, I’ve had a fascination with Eastern culture and philosophy, but it was something completely different to experience. Bee and her family took me to the Global Vipassana Pagoda, a personally fulfilling experience for me. We visited the Bandra–Worli Sea Link, Shree Mahalakshmi Temple, and several other places in Mumbai. I remember walking through the streets more than anything.

The Bandra–Worli Sea Link. This may have been one of my best photos.

The Bandra–Worli Sea Link. This may have been one of my best photos.

Together at the gurdwara in Pune. Left to right: Prakash Mishra, me, Amita Sharma, Sumantro Mukherjee

Together at the gurdwara in Pune. Left to right: Prakash Mishra, me, Amita Sharma, Sumantro Mukherjee

In Pune, Amita and her family showed me their favorite places. I had a chance to meet many other Fedora friends in Pune too. One of my favorite memories of Pune was a historic gurdwara. Amita took me and the others in our group to visit. For a moment, I finally got to see something I’ve only read about right in front of my eyes. The history and reverence in these places was absorbed into my mind.

Definitely not proper zazen posture. But a cool shot anyways.

Definitely not proper zazen posture. But a cool shot anyways. Photo: Amita Sharma

I never expected an Indian visa stamp in my passport in 2017, yet it happened. I’m equally filled with wonder at how the circumstances unfolded as I am grateful this experience sneaked into my year.

Chicago: Urban experience

After my semester abroad and visiting India, I was whisked back to the United States, only to pack up once again for another new experience. From June to August, I lived in Chicago, Illinois to work an internship at Jump Trading. Chicago had a feeling of nostalgia for me because much of my father’s family has origins tracing back to Chicago. But I would find myself losing more of my heart in Chicago than I realized.

The view from my apartment in Chicago. Could this even be real??

The view from my apartment window in Chicago. Could this even be real??

The internship

I worked with a fantastic team of people on exciting projects. Professionally, my time in Chicago was motivating and empowering. I was provided the opportunity to learn and also contribute. I walked in with a dreadful feeling of imposter syndrome and left feeling more confident in my own learning abilities. Docker, Kubernetes, and time-series data became a part of my daily work life, when I had little to no knowledge before then.

By the time my internship finished, I helped contribute to our team’s goal of standing up Kubernetes and contributing a few patches in Kubernetes projects like Minikube. I have great mentors to thank for not only direct, technical assistance but also motivational mentorship and empowerment too.

Everything else

When old friends come to visit. Hi Matt!

When old friends come to visit. Hi Matt!

There was more to Chicago than only the work too. Before long, I felt like a true Chicagoan, traveling the subways into the Loop, catching free concerts in Millennium Park, and indulging in the Chicago tradition of deep-dish pizza.

Unlike other cities I’ve visited, like New York City, Chicago felt easier to integrate into. The culture was notably “slower” than the fast-pace life of NYC, London, or Washington DC. I discovered Middle Eastern markets that became a regular part of my weekends, made friends with the baristas at a local coffeehouse, and had the privilege of hosting friends from three continents for short stays.

4th of July fireworks on the Navy Pier with Bee

4th of July fireworks on the Navy Pier with Bee

I left Chicago and was offered a new contract for the following summer in 2018. I’m looking forward to be back in June again.

Year of Fedora

2017 was full of time and effort spent in the Fedora community. In addition to the Diversity FAD, I was elected to the Fedora Council (on my third attempt), attended the annual Fedora contributor conference, Flock, and also narrowed my scope for contributions.

When I began contributing to Fedora, I was contributing to many things. Marketing, community operations, Fedora Badges, Fedora Magazine, Ambassadors, Games SIG, Join SIG, the Diversity Team, and maybe a few more things. After a while, I realized my contributions carried great width but poor depth. In 2017, I “reconfigured” my time in Fedora to focus in on the areas where I felt my time yielded the highest impact. This is Fedora CommOps and the Diversity Team.

I resigned as Fedora Magazine editor-in-chief and also formally stepped down from other teams. It made me sad, but I knew it was the right decision for me. I’m happy to spend more time working in fewer projects at a greater depth and focus than I had before.

Flock 2017

Flock, Fedora’s annual contributor conference, was held from Aug. 29 to Sep. 1 in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Every year, Flock is an empowering experience for me because of the face-time I get with the people I spend much of my year working with remotely. This year was no different, and many new faces were mixed in with the old ones.

The highlights for me were in three forms: the CommOps session, the Diversity Team session, and the Fedora Magazine session. Together with Sachin Kamath, we led the CommOps session. You can read more about our session here:

Teaching metrics and contributor docs at Flock 2017

The Diversity Team and Magazine sessions were also valuable for both teams to get feedback from the rest of the community. In the Diversity Team session, we had many active participants outside of our team that reminded us the importance of narrowing our focus for higher impact. I also attended other interesting sessions held by the community, like the future of fedmsg by Jeremy Cline.

CommOps FAD

Towards the end of 2017, I worked together with our team in CommOps to organize our own team sprint, or FAD, in 2018. We successfully planned the event and organized it in Brno, Czechia, similar to last year’s Diversity FAD.

More details on this will be found in its own event report!

ListenBrainz indie study

In my fall semester of 2017, I took on an independent study to further explore the ListenBrainz project. ListenBrainz is an open source social platform to document the music you listen to over time. If you’re familiar with Last.fm or Libre.fm, it’s a similar concept, but the focus is more on the data than the social features. ListenBrainz is supported by the MetaBrainz Foundation, also the guiding body for the more well-known MusicBrainz project.

In my independent study, I had a chance to contribute documentation and community tools (like issue / PR templates), as well as explore how the project gathers and builds metrics. I didn’t make my original milestone of major code contributions to the project, but I better understood the community and tried to help in the areas of low coverage, like documentation.

The experience was insightful for me and provided me an excuse to work on something that I am genuinely passionate about. Music is a powerful part of human culture, and the MetaBrainz Foundation takes a serious approach to documenting music, especially in a technical sense. ListenBrainz represents an opportunity for us to better explore and understand ourselves through our music listening habits. I hope someday that ListenBrainz will be a platform for data journalism and research about music. That’s my dream.

Opensource.com community moderator

At the beginning of 2017, I was brought on board as an Opensource.com community moderator. Together with other community moderators and site staff, I help contribute new content and source new writers to the site. My invitation to the community moderator team came shortly after the announcement that I received the 2017 People’s Choice Award. When Rikki Endsley invited me to the team, it felt like a natural alignment to my passion for storytelling.

All Things Open 2017

Working together with the Opensource.com team to plan out the next year ahead.

Working together with the Opensource.com team to plan out the next year ahead.

I was invited to All Things Open, an annual open source conference in Raleigh, by the Opensource.com team. The day before the conference, I met the rest of the team and other community moderators at the Red Hat HQ in Raleigh. We spent the day locked into a room together to hash out plans and goals for the next year. It was a productive opportunity for the team to work together and also a great opportunity to meet the other members of the community.

Some of my best takeaways from this experience were catching coffee with other community moderators, meeting Jim Whitehurst to talk about Opensource.com, and giving my talk, What open source and J.K. Rowling have in common, for the final time.

I hope I have the opportunity to go again next year to meet the awesome team behind Opensource.com. (If you haven’t considered before, come and write for us too!)

Happiness Packet Challenge

Another unusual milestone for my 2017 was the first rendition of the Happiness Packet Challenge. I was introduced to the Happiness Packets website in 2016. Happiness Packets are an easy way to say thank you to someone who has had a positive impact on you. I came up with a challenge to my friends and network to write one Happiness Packet a day, every day, for a week.

I followed up with the team behind the project to evaluate the impact of this idea, and I was pleasantly surprised. Here’s the number of messages sent for the two weeks prior to the Happiness Packet Challenge, followed by the week of the challenge:

  • Week starting 2017-03-27: 2 sent
  • Week starting 2017-04-03: 35 sent
  • Week starting 2017-04-10 (challenge week): 72 sent

You can read more about the challenge in my original blog post. Keep an eye out for it again in 2018.

Take the #HappinessPacketChallenge!

Living openly

Earlier in this post, I alluded to how I felt like I began to find myself when I was abroad. My study abroad experience was the beginning of a longer process that leads into present day.

In April, I went public with my depression, both to help take a weight off my shoulder and to be a voice for others who are afraid to speak up. I was always concerned of the reaction from publishing something like that, but I was met with nothing but loving-kindness from friends and strangers. It gave me new confidence to live more openly and wear my values in the open.

The story continued in October, when I decided to delete my Facebook and Instagram accounts.

View story at Medium.com

I considered this for a couple of years before, but I pulled the trigger in October. Like many others, it felt almost too much of a task to disconnect myself from this huge network of people and friends. But the negative impacts of it were draining me and trapping me. Since I deleted my accounts, I’ve noticed a positive impact in overall levels of happiness and awareness. However, I don’t think the social media accounts alone are the reason for this.

In the near future, I hope to do a follow-up post to my decision to cut away from the Facebook and Instagram machines. Keep an eye out for more.

2018

It’s already February in 2018 when I finished this post. This year, I thought it would be the year when I get the post out closer to the new year, but somehow I always slip. In either case, it gives me a chance to take in some of the new opportunities and excitement of the new year before reflecting and looking back.

This year, I’m working an internship with UNICEF to help lead on open source community engagement and supporting the non-technical areas of their MagicBox platform. In the one month I’ve been doing this, I feel like I have tens of articles I could write about, but the experience is still maturing for me.

I also have another round in Chicago to look forward to over the summer. I’ll get to work with the same team as last year on similar projects, and I’m looking forward to going back.

As for the rest, who knows what’s to come? So many things that made 2017 what it was were the things I didn’t expect. The surprises in life are the salt to the regiment of daily life, and add flavor and spice in unexpected ways. I have no idea what my 2018 Year in Review will look like, and that’s okay. I’m looking forward to seeing what will make it in.

Thank you

Above all, every year, I think back on the people who positively impacted my life and contributed to the “flavor” of my year. A close friend reminded me recently that we all stand on the shoulders of giants. And isn’t it true? We all have our great mentors, great friends, and unexpected sages that help us find our own footing on this great path of life. We become ourselves from the various pieces impacted on us by others.

I’m thankful for all of the people who have made my year into the experience it was. The list is too long to write and I fear I would leave someone out – even significant impacts were made by people who had a short-term role in this last year.

A long time ago, my open source experience was jump-started by someone who did something kind and exceptional for me. It was a continuing trend since that moment. My only aspiration is to pay forward the good will that so many have bestowed unto me.

Thanks for making it this far down, and I hope to see you in 2018. Or who knows – maybe it will just be me reading this far down for next year, when I go to write my next year in review. Hi future me!

4 Comments

  1. My goodness Justin. So proud of you. Chip and I talk of you often and all the things you have accomplished!….on your own and with the help of friends. So great. Keep on!!!! Love you. xoxoxoxoxox

  2. Oh, the places you’ll go… Much love, Mom

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