Death of the Captain's Log 28-11-2012

For the first five months of the year, I wrote monthly notes on this blog in a series entitled Captain's Log. In these posts, I provided an update as to the progress made in my various projects in the past month and stated my goals for said projects for the upcoming month. It was a decent way to track progress, but the real goal was motivation: as I wrote in the inaugural entry:

I chose to publish this in a "public" setting as an extra motivational factor: the knowledge of its presence in the wild will provide me with a slight boost in incentive to make my best efforts toward accomplishing my goals.

Whether or not this aim was met is somewhat hazy. There were some months where I saw immense progress across all of my various endeavors, and some where I fell flat on my face. I think that there are too few data points to be able to draw conclusions or correlations, but I would argue that none exist anyway. In short, the Captain's Log largely failed to achieve its chief ambition. One could argue that I should have extended the experiment, that I should have continued in publishing my progress for more than a measly five months. But I didn't.


Well, the answer is multi-faceted. It's partially a matter of timing, partially a matter of fatigue, and partially a matter of desire. I suppose it is slightly misleading to state that it all began with my trip to Europe in May--of course it extends back to context which existed beforehand--but, for our intents and purposes, it suffices as an artificial starting point. By the time I departed for London on May 5th, I had worked somewhat intensely for about one year. Getting ramped up at Opower, learning and soaking up as much as possible in my rookie year as a software engineer, while pursuing a number of technical projects on the side, proved exhausting at times. My hope was that the extended break would recharge and rejuvenate.

This turned out to be half true: I came back ready to contribute at a high level at Opower, but I never willed myself to resume my other projects. Partially due to a decrease in spare time, but mostly due to a lack of passion for the majority of my ongoing projects, they mostly decayed into a state of abandon. Evidence for the former can be found in the fact that not only did my technical pursuits decline, but so did my writing: I wrote almost nothing during the Summer and early Autumn. In addition to a somewhat increased workload, I have done an immense amount of traveling since the European journey, and there were multiple times in the Summer where I itched to pursue an idea in prose but simply could not find the time. Evidence for the latter is obvious: reading through the Captain's Logs themselves reveals comments by yours truly claiming that, for some projects, I had trouble motivating myself to drive the work forward. I discovered that many initiatives which seem like awesome ideas at inception can eventually falter for no more complex a reason than that they are simply not as interesting as they once seemed.

So I found myself in a creative funk, unable to self-motivate with many elements in the queue of ongoing projects. But a few things occurred which proved to be fortuitous and unexpectedly reviving. First, I changed teams at work. Though my previous team was fantastic in most every way, I had sort of grown weary of working on the same exact segment of the platform day after day. Switching to a completely separate team with a very different tech stack and even varying goals was motivating in and of itself. It provided a much-needed, brilliant spark of technical enthusiasm.

Second, I began working on Doodle or Die. Similar to the shift at Opower, joining the Doodle or Die team provided a completely new environment with its own set of engineering and product challenges. Learning technology that was so relatively foreign to me beforehand--Node.js, MongoDB, client-side JavaScript--has been exciting! And it itself is essentially a side project for me, which solves the problem of not being motivated to pursue my side projects. Convenient!

Finally, I had a revelation during my trip to the Pacific Northwest: somewhere in the past several months, I had undergone an undetected phase shift. The types of projects that I wanted to pursue had changed. I had spent so much time working within the conventions and constraints of professional software engineering that I had begun to accept it as the only reality. And I had let my desire to help people become nigh all-consuming: all of my projects were written with hypothetical others in mind, with some specific need to fulfill. Creating with noble intentions is important, but it doesn't have to be the only thing that one does. I realized that I have a number of ideas that I feel excited about which are peculiar and trivial and highly personal. I realized that I want to build crazy, off-the-wall creations that scratch my itches and stretch my mind.

During the day with my cohorts at Opower, I want to build high quality products that help protect the environment and help people around the globe. That's what we do. I love it.

But in my own private projects, I want to sling from the hip, to work freely and madly and informally, to create fun and interesting contraptions. That's what will motivate me right now!

So, I declare that the funk is broken and I am busy hacking again! I've got my new work at Opower, the pure awesomeness of Doodle or Die, and a few ideas that I'm very excited to start hacking on. First and foremost, Rube Goldberg-ian programmatic pseudo-art mechanisms! I'm even writing again, finally. The creative juices are flowing once more and it feels great. But, does that mean that I should resume the Captain's Log, now that there are actual projects to track? I don't think so: it would impose unnecessary structure and time constraints on something that I want to be free-flowing and uninhibited. I think that, for now, I will just hack away at my own pace without regard for arbitrary goals and deadlines.

The Captain's Log is dead. I think that it's for the best.