Reflection on 2017

written on 19 Dec 2017 by Andrew Dai

Airline travel gets a bad reputation these days. The mystery is gone. The romance of being packed like sardines in an aluminum tube and shooting through the air has been exposed for exactly what it is - just another way to get from point A to point B.

Flying is a chore; airlines are the worst; and the seats in economy are a crime against humanity (or at least my knees). But there are times when flying through the air at incomprehensible speeds in a vessel of our own creation still inspires.

I love flying at night. Do not confuse this with redeyes which are their own special hell. A flight at night removes the pretense of productivity or a busy day upon landing. The day is already over.

At night, under the dimmed lights, the cabin transforms. Gone are the sterile and clearly cramped utiliarian seats. The darkness hides reality and replaces it with dimly lit warmth. The view outside becomes magical. The recognizable landscapes, clouds, mountains, bodies of water, and cities transform into a beautiful abstraction. It is peaceful and wonderful in the truest sense of the word. Mountains and clouds are visible only at the mercy of the moon and stars. The lights in the sky and on the ground take turns twinkling in the silent darkness.

By its very nature, flying embodies transition. One flight can be many different things for many different people but the next stop for every person on each flight is the same. I seem to find myself flying to and from school at nights, leaving lots of time for reflection and time to think.

This blog post was started on the Atlanta to Boston leg of Southwest flight 170 on Monday December 18th.

Transition seems to be the theme of the past six months - moving to and from places old and new - all the while contemplating decisions about my plans after graduation. I sit, writing this blog post, in my childhood bedroom next to the same twin bed I slept in every night from first grade until I left for college. The very passage of time seems strange.

I crave establishing familiarity. This applies to “hard skills” like software engineering as well as expectation that the carpeting in my apartment will flood the next time it rains. It is satisfying to be able to look back at the last couple years and concretely measure progress. The process of learning and discovering is very gratifying, but not always easy.

Sometime at the end of the summer (likely on my flight from San Francisco to Atlanta), I jotted down the following list of thoughts, advice received, and lessons from the summer:

Reflections. In bullet form.

  • Searching for a visual aesthetic
    • Grand landscapes are dead, long live ???
    • California is beautiful
  • Searching for a socially responsible (inward and outward) early/mid-stage startup
  • Interested in studying/doing distributed systems
  • Georgia Tech Masters in Computer Science? - NOPE
  • Life advice received:
    • Early stage career is all about learning - learn learn learn
    • If career/job isn’t interesting/learning new things then…
      • Switch positions
      • Switch jobs

I think I was planning on writing a full blog post reflecting on my time in San Francisco, my first time living on the west coast. It would be entirely for my own benefit, and outline goals or themes I wanted to keep in mind going into my last year at Georgia Tech. That did not happen. These notes were all that came of it.

Looking back at this short list, the first thing that jumps out at me is the almost singular focus on my career that I held/hold. This is not to say that it is the only thing I think about. But it is pretty much the only thing I wrote down. Four of the five points are career or education focused. The perspective is especially evident in the last bullet point. It reads “Life advice received” and continues to outline only career advice.

What do I think this says about my state of mind? Who knows? Insight is left as an exercise for the reader.

I (willingly/intentionally?) lack the introspective skills necessary to analyze this point further.

Change cuts both ways. Starting over in a new city or the beginning of the semester minimizes previous experience. But at the same time, it offers a chance to grow. I have convinced myself emphasize this point whenever possible. My goal is to plan this coming, final semester carefully and so I can enjoy it worry-free. (ha!)

“Ladies and gentlemen, as we make our final descent…”

The cabin lights flicker back on, pulling focus away from the mysterious and abstract darkness outside and back into the sterile, cramped surroundings. The flight attendants walk one last time down the aisle.

“Please close all tray tables and stow away any laptops or large electronic devices.”

The flight attendants finish their sweep of the cabin and the cabin lights dim once more.

All is dark; all is still; save for the syncopated flashing of the lights on the wing.

The night skyline comes into view over the Boston harbor as the plane banks one last time. The city draws closer, unfolding as we descend.

Through the window, individual lights come into focus. Buildings and roads are clearly outlined. A few lone cars are just specks of light floating down dimly lit orange avenues.

More details come into view - windows on houses, wheels on a single car parked on the side of the street, lane markers on the road, a stop sign and a billboard.

Suddenly, the city is replaced with the colored lights of the runway. The plane shudders and touches down.

The pilot comes on over the PA. “Welcome to Boston.”

Home again.