December 31, 2020
2020 has been quite an eventful year for me. While my family & friends have been privileged and lucky enough to not really be affected by the COVID pandemic much, the year has brought about a great many life changes and caused me to reevaluate a few ideas I held to be truths beforehand. This post is my attempt at recording some of my feelings about the events of this year for posterity.
The failure of Western democratic institutions & news media.
When news of the virus first broke back in February I remember having discussions with my in-laws (who are very Chinese and currently live in China) about the CCP’s handling of it. My belief at the time was that had the initial super-spreading event occurred in a Western democracy, strong public institutions like the CDC and the transparency inherent in a democracy would have prevented it from becoming a global epidemic.
Given the absolute failure of previously trusted institutions and the western media across the board, it’s safe to say that my faith in the ability of western democracies to deal with global catastrophes has been deeply shaken. The number of failures across the board has been innumerable but I’ll focus on a few of the big ones here
Much has been written about masks in 2020 but the evidence was pretty clear even in early February that they are effective in helping to reduce the spread of the virus. People like Zeynep Tufceki were sounding the alarm on twitter and in articles that widespread mask usage could help reduce the Rt and providing studies showing that even homemade cotton masks are better than not wearing masks.
Email response from my local city councillor, Joe Cressy’s office about the use of masks. Joe Cressy is the Chair of the Board of Health for Toronto. Note the dissonance in the response saying that masks are ineffective while simultaneously required and in short supply for health workers.
From Ottawa’s head of public health, Dr. Vera Etches. This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how superspreading events happen. This article came out in July.
Institutions and authority figures across the US and Canada spend the first half of the year telling everyone that masks were useless while simultaneously saying that they were in short supply and needed by health workers, only to do an about face in the late summer.
Governments failed to maintain supplies meant to keep us pandemic ready, failed to scale up production of PPE in a timely manner, and lied to the public through previously trusted public institutions (destroying hard-earned public trust) in order to cover up their failures on the PPE front. The frequent anti-mask rallies in major cities and high number of people who lack trust in the vaccine are just the most obvious symptoms
The media didn’t fare much better and in fact was largely responsible for spreading a lot of the falsehoods associated with COVID. A few outliers like Zeynep Tufceki and Robyn Urback aside, most of the media establishment spent the first few months of the outbreak downplaying the seriousness of COVID, uncritically parroting lines about mask (in)effectiveness.
There were also countless articles on indoor superspreading events accompanied with clickbait photos of “crowded” beaches taken using telephoto lenses - leading people to the idea that being outdoors is unsafe when the very opposite is true.
Off the top of my head, here’s a list of things you would’ve been wrong about had you exclusively been following public health officials’ advice since the start of COVID.
- Seriousness of COVID
- Risk of COVID becoming pandemic
- Presymptomatic & asymptomatic spread not being possible
- Ineffectiveness of masks as source control
- Efficacy of non-medical masks.
- 2m distance being enough to prevent indoor spread
- Similar risk profiles for indoor vs outdoors
- Fomites being the primary infection pathway
- Aerosolized spread (Related: lack of guidance on ventilation requirements for indoor safety)
There’s something deeply wrong with our public institutions when crypto and anime shitposting accounts on Twitter give you better COVID advice than the WHO or the CDC. Credentialism is dead. Evaluate information critically no matter the source.
On a personal level, 2020 was a year of big changes for my wife and I. We weathered the lockdowns pretty well in terms of mental state - I’m a bit of an introvert and being stuck at home for a few months without the usual offline social interaction didn’t really phase me that much. The big changes for us happened around May and I was heavily inspired by this blog post from Scott Galloway about functional speed. In the words of Scott:
Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice wasn’t that fast, but he had “functional speed,” the instincts to accelerate or decelerate when it mattered most. When I started L2, we used to go to Europe over Thanksgiving, as Europe was open for business on the Thursday/Friday of that week. If I sound like a workaholic, I’m not. I am outstanding at not working and have a passion for it. However, my leisure is possible because I recognize when to come to play — turn on the jets.
…The pandemic has created variance and a meaningful chance to lap the competition…
This really resonated with me and knocked me out of my daily lockdown routine. I used the next month to build and ship a business in record time (Cadence Prints).
Remote and my job search.
The pandemic also brought about a widespread acceptance of permanent remote work within the tech industry, and opened up many doors for those of us not living in Silicon Valley. Pre-pandemic it was possible but still relatively rare to be able to work remotely for a US-based company from Canada. With the pandemic forcing WFH, many US-based tech companies decided to open and expand hiring remotely from Canada on a permanent basis. This meant that almost-SF level tech salaries were now accessible to Canadians without having to relocate or deal with work visas.
My company went all-remote in March as a response to the pandemic, and also cut salaries by 5-25% (depending on pay) due to decreased revenues and to avoid layoffs. Between the salary cut and the reduced social interaction with my coworkers, I felt disconnected from my work and was incentivized to start casually job searching. At this point I had been working at Centro for almost 5 years and was feeling stagnant there, both in terms of advancement opportunities and in terms of the tech stack and product I was working on. Using the same functional speed mindset I focused on prepping myself for interviews and was able to land a few competitive offers.
There’s still a large cloud of ignorance even within tech circles about how much developers are actually making at big companies in SV, and companies love to use that to their advantage to lowball hires. Sites like levels.fyi and Blind help to dispel some of these ideas and make it clear just how much money developers are leaving on the table by not going for a FAANG company or SV based remote job, and are invaluable resources to entering salary negotiations on an even footing.
Longer term I think this will provide some much-needed upwards pressure on Toronto tech salaries and developers who interview well and have desirable skills will be the ones to reap the benefits.
Vancouver (The days are long but the decades are short)
2020 was also the year we made a largely unplanned move to Vancouver, BC. We spent two weeks visiting the west coast in the form of a road trip earlier in the summer, but had never really considered living there long-term. On that trip we fell in love with the mountains, hiking, and being outdoors gained a new appeal after being indoors for most of the year. Facing the idea of spending the whole winter hunkered down in the dark in Ontario, without any interesting outdoor activities available and really crappy skiing, we started looking into how feasible it would be to relocate to Vancouver.
One Wednesday afternoon at the end of August we saw a promising listing on Craigslist and reached out to schedule a viewing. Friday was the viewing and everything looked promising, on Saturday we had rented out our Toronto condo and that same Sunday we’d signed and paid the deposit for our new place in Vancouver.
The timing was perfect - I had handed in my resignation near the end of September and wasn’t scheduled to start my new job til late October, giving me a few weeks of free time to make the road trip across Canada out west. We settled into an Airbnb in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighborhood for a few weeks til we moved into our more permanent place in Kitsilano on November 1st.
The move has been one of the best things I could’ve done for myself. The days are long but the decades are short. It’s way too easy to become complacent and settle into a comfortable lifestyle, following the same routines day in and day out until one day you wake up and realize that a decade has passed in the blink of an eye. As you get older the opportunity to uproot your life becomes harder to come by - mortgages, children, family obligations, health issues - it takes a herculean effort to overcome the inertia of life and do something out of your ordinary.
The five years (2016-2020) after I moved back from San Francisco passed by in the blink of an eye and that scares me. It’s not that I didn’t do anything meaningful in that time, but that a lot of what I did feels like it falls into a template for what a good life should look like. I’m absolutely looking forward to “settling down”, raise some kids, and put down roots in my local neighborhood, but it doesn’t feel like it’s the right time for that just yet.
Since moving to Vancouver we’ve made the most of every day, replacing netflix / passive content consumption with exploring the mountains with pretty much every famous hike we can fit in. On days when we’re not hiking, we’re either biking or going skiing in Whistler or Cypress.
Life is great here, and I’m excited to make the most of every day before biology forces me to settle down.