Published (updated: ) in misc.
2020 has finally come to an end. It was a long, stressful year, but I did my best to keep my head down to keep myself busy and productive. It wasn’t easy, and I wasn’t always able to ignore the insane events going on in the outside world, but I still managed to have a fairly productive year.
Note: You can read my mid-2020 progress update article here if you’d like. I wrote it back in July 2020.
Learning to Code
In August 2019, I came across a program called Launch School that is designed for its students to develop a career in software engineering. After I wrapped up a light coding project that I had been working on, I started doing the prep course for Launch School’s program. In 2020, my learning to code progress was probably about 90% exclusive to Launch School, more so after about July as I decided to narrow my focus to make more progress.
My original goal was to study programming 20 hours each week while working full-time. About halfway through the year, I decided to adjust my goal because I felt I was at a high risk of burnout. Studying about 15 hours a week feels much more realistic given my schedule.
In the end, I managed 694 hours of studying programming in 2020. This is more progress in one single year than I’ve ever achieved before. While I still have a long way to go to finish the Launch School program, and until I’m comfortable applying for full-time software engineering roles, I’m very proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish in only one year.
In 2020, one cool thing I did during Launch School was I built a simple tic tac toe game in Ruby written procedurally. In September, I took my first written exam as part of Launch School, which was incredibly difficult, but amazingly I passed in on my first attempt. Later in December, I started learning OOP principles and can’t wait to develop more projects in the near future in OOP style.
I then learned how to live code in front of others, an entirely new skill for me, and was able to pass my first live coding assessment. In preparation for the live coding assessment, I did so many exercises on Codewars I was able to get my honor to 875 points and my rank to 4 kyu. Since Launch School is based on Mastery-Based Learning, I had to train myself to learn the material to mastery, which is an entirely new way of thinking for me.
I still have a long way to go as a student at Launch School, but I can’t wait to see the progress I’ll make in 2021!
After checking through this blog’s history, it seems that it’s been about five years since I’ve written an article around my journey learning Spanish to fluency. This, mostly because my primary goal right now is learning to code, but I’m still plugging away, quietly learning Spanish in my free time when I can.
Because I’m so focused on learning programming, my secondary goal of learning Spanish is a modest five hours per week. I’m grateful that I was able to study for 206 total hours in 2020.
My biggest accomplishment with Spanish in 2020 was when I realized back in August that, while my reading and speaking abilities were at a decent level, my listening abilities were absolutely atrocious. I could barely understand anything when others attempted to speak to me in Spanish. I realized that had severely underestimated how important the skill of listening is when acquiring a foreign language. In fact, today I would say listening is arguably the single most important skill in language learning.
Upon that eye-opening realization, I then started tracking the time I’m spending specifically improving my listening abilities. From August through the end of the year, I spent 61 hours improving my listening skills. I’m now tracking how much time I’m spending on Spanish in general, and also how much time I’m spending improving my listening skills. The way I’m tracking my progress, the 61 hours of listening is a subset of the 206 total hours of studying Spanish.
I have an endless supply of different tools at my disposal to learn Spanish, including about a dozen physical books on my desk, and another dozen digital books on my iPad. But, my focus now is almost exclusively around improving my listening skills, so the books and other resources are on the back-burner for the moment. The primary resource I’m using to improve my listening ability is Dreaming Spanish, which has incredible videos created by Spanish-speaking natives specifically for Spanish language learners.
In addition to Dreaming Spanish, I have two teachers from Mexico who I use to practice my Spanish conversational skills. One teacher is originally from Torreón, Coahuila and I found her via Italki. The other teacher is through Houston’s World Language Institute and lives in Mexico City. With both teachers, we converse via Skype roughly once per week for an hour each. This has helped me increase my confidence in speaking the language while helping me learn some new slang and phrases that are unique to Mexican Spanish.
Even though it’s not my primary goal at the moment, I look at learning Spanish as a fun hobby I can do in my downtime to relax. I can watch the Dreaming Spanish YouTube videos from my iPad while relaxing on the couch. Hopefully, by the time I can return to Mexico post-pandemic, I’ll be able to understand more conversations!
Due to the amount of time I’m spending learning to code (~15 hours/week) and learning Spanish (~5 hours/week), I didn’t read nearly as many books as I would’ve liked over the past two years.
However, in mid-2020, I also started tracking how much time I’m reading, which will hopefully keep me making progress. From when I started tracking in August through the end of the year, I read for 47 hours. In 2020 as a whole, I read 14 books to completion. Tracking my progress reading seems to have helped me complete more books, as I finished only seven books to completion in 2019. Amazingly, since I started tracking my progress on January 1st, 2014, I’ve read 146 books to completion.
Some of the best books I read in 2020 include:
- “Atomic Habits” by James Clear
- “Bounce” by Matthew Syed
- “Drive” by Daniel Pink
- “Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)” by Carol Tavris
- “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport
Given the well-defined goals I have in other areas of my life, I intentionally don’t have any specific goals around reading that I’d like to hit. I’d just generally like to read more books and continue learning new things in my downtime.
Tracking my progress, even without a specific goal in mind, has helped me mentally stay focused and waste less time on social media and on Reddit. Even the productive subreddits can be a major time sink, and I find I gain a lot more by reading a new book on productivity.
While I have a wide range of topics that I’d like to read more about, lately I’ve intentionally narrowed my reading focus to books around self-improvement, getting disciplined, startups, technology, and other similar topics. This has helped give my mind a constant reminder of how to make progress accomplishing the ambitious goals I have. Once I finish Launch School and aren’t spending so much time outside of work learning programming, I’m sure I’ll switch back to more reading for leisure.
A Stressful Year Is Over
2020 was a year of incredible stress, anxiety, and uncertainty. I wasn’t in the best mindset back in March, April, and May during the first stages of the pandemic while also being overloaded at work after my two teammates quit around the same time. I had already been working from home since 2016, so that in itself wasn’t a change, but before covid I was able to have more of a social life on the weekends, eating out with restaurants and grabbing drinks with friends. Losing those healthy outlets to relieve stress was a tough adjustment, but eventually, I did get used to it.
Not being able to do much outside of the home, 2020 was a constant battle of dealing with cabin fever and the stress of being isolated. None of the previous sections I wrote above about my progress were easy to accomplish. In fact, because I’ve had to deal with so much stress and anxiety due to the pandemic, that I was a lot less consistent with my progress than I would’ve wanted.
In order to lessen my anxiety, I worked hard to reframe my mindset to tune out the negativity of the outside world and to focus on my goals. I started intentionally spending less time on social media and less time reading the news to intentionally reduce the amount of negativity I was bringing into my mind. This is a big reason why I started narrowing my reading-list focus, so to help tune out other topics and to help me stay focused on my goals.
In the end, 2020 was a miserable year in many ways, but I still did my best to keep my head down to stay focused. It sucks tremendously not being able to see family or friends, but I’m trying to make the most out of my social isolation.