Year review 2019
Last year I did a year review and I really enjoyed reflecting on it. I had decided that I will keep documenting each year's highlights. This year however I decided to do it slightly differently! Instead of waiting till the new year and spending a week or so trying to remember all the information, I wrote things down as they were happening. You can read the month by month highlights or skip to the tl;dr section.
Month by month breakdown
The first exciting event of the year was game night at Luke's place. We played a bunch of board games and it was a ton of fun! Especially when I and Luke played the trading card game Jaipur.
A couple of weeks later my family and I decided to try a traditional Filipino meal. We tried the Fiesta Kamayan at the Villa Manila. The experience was great and the food was good except that it was way saltier than expected.
We finally got our new backend engineer Tim!! The hiring for the role took over a quarter to find the right fit. Funny thing, we hired Tim and literally two days later the whole dev team was leaving for the DevWeek conference. We had to stumble to get him a ticket and asked him to pay for flight and Airbnb! (CourseKey could not afford to cover anything other than the tickets)
The CourseKey development and product teams attended the DevWeek conference in Oakland. We got to meet up with ex CourseKey engineer (Irving). It was a great time as we got to spend time together in addition to learning a few things from the conference. Of course, we cannot forget about all the free dev swag that we got.
The main highlight of the trip for me was at the end of the conference. It was when we learned about an issue in production and the dev team was hotfixing the issue as our PM decided to upgrade our JIRA causing a bit of confusion. Additionally, I got to get a discount for gitKraken software and reported all the bugs and issues to the project managers at Atlassian regarding JIRA and BitBucket. You can learn more about my experience at the conference from my recap post.
On the 25th of February, I learned that our first patent has been granted as of the 19th! We originally started working on the patent back in 2015 and had it filed in 2016. Being a patent holder was one of my life goals to accomplish. Since this goal is already achieved, I replaced it with getting a second patent. Once is not enough for me and I already have the second one already filed and waiting for it to be granted.
Since I was back at SDSU, I decided to be a bit more involved and attend the interesting events. I learned about the Aztec Mentorship Program and attended the talk/networking event. I got to meet a few mentors and I decided to shadow one of them. This was my first step working on a long term goal.
Since we moved offices at CourseKey back in October of last year, our agent got us a reservation to brew our own beer. We brew it in February and bottle it in March. This is becoming kind of a tradition as we move offices, we brew new beer. The first beer we brewed was an IPL. This time we did something different (an American wheat/rye beer) more fruity and lighter so it is easier to drink.
March was even busier! It started with my new website launch! I finally put together a website that includes a blog. Medium was extremely annoying for me so since the beginning of the year, I rebuilt my website from the ground up to allow me to do whatever I want.
A couple of days later, I found the post that changed everything. Soon after I attended the MESA leadership conference. I was hoping the conference would be similar to when I first attended in 2014. Here is the recap of the conference.
My website was not the only website launch that month. We also launched a new and updated CourseKey website. That included moving our website domain to coursekey.com no "the" or "education", just a simple CourseKey. It took us a while to get the domain but we finally got it.
To wrap up March, My family and I went on a trip to Los Angeles. We got to spend two days at Univeral Studios. Followed by a day in the Getty Center and Villa. Although Univeral Studios was great, I enjoyed the Getty museums way more.
April was eventful, literally! The first event, I attended was the Entrepreneurship organization's event for company acquisitions. This event was fun as I got to connect with other founders and learn about the process of selling/buying companies.
The ASU GSV education conference happened in early April. This conference is where I got to see Bill Gates speak back in 2016. I did not attend this year either, due to my busy schedule and everything going on. However, I still got to network with people, thanks to Luke who got me into a few networking after-parties after the conference. I attended Kaplan's, Learn Capital's and Entangled's parties. To summarize the parties, there were a lot of successful people, lots of great stories and free food!
Also, I learned about the Coronado flower show event which was nice. The best part about this event was the adjacent event the Coronado annual book sale! The book sale was amazing you get to grab books in great condition for $1-$5.
Additionally, we cannot forget about giving back. This year was my first time volunteering for the Annual Children's Book Party. It was a great experience, here is the recap.
To wrap up April's events and since my university journey was coming to an end. I was invited to attend the graduation ceremonies for the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) and the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) program.
Since CourseKey won the San Diego Venture Group's Cool Companies award for the third time, we were invited to table our company for investors. This year Luke had a conflict, so I took over and did the tabling. Although I enjoyed it, I confirmed for sure that I don't want to be doing this kind of event that often. My voice literally cracked 4-6 times while I was speaking to people. I talked for what felt like a week's worth in just a few hours. On the plus side, the view was amazing!
As for school, my team and I got to demo the electrical bike that we built. I was in charge of building a companion progressive web app. The app is a mix of google maps in biking mode (shows where bike lanes are) and a weather app. The app is live and accessible here.
Also, May is the graduation season! Since I finally took my last two classes, I officially walked this may. To celebrate graduation my friends and I decided to go for Brazilian BBQ, however since we are always looking for a deal we decided to go to Mr. Pampas in Tijuana, Mexico. Although we crossed the border we, did not get the famous street tacos! This was upsetting for us, so we decided to go back and get tacos two days later. We went to the most famous taco place, Taqueria Franc.
Additionally, I got invited to my friend Nathan's book launch party. He published his book Ecommerce Millionaires. I got to tour Sourcify's office and hang out with friends and made a few new ones.
This year I decided to speak at San Diego Startup Week. After reviewing the agenda, I noticed a lack of technical content. I decided to present on a topic that would have helped CourseKey in the early stages. Here is the full recap of my talk.
As Luke likes to say, your network is your net worth. So I started June by attending a networking event hosted by SDSU alumna. Most attendees were graduates or people who work in the IT (Information Technology) and/or IMS (Information management system) industries.
I got to connect and hang out with some of my engineering friends from SDSU. We got together and did what engineers do... have fun the nerdy way! First, we played HAM Radio fox hunt in the big backyard of my friend's place. Got to see a homemade 3D printer, play around with a Stirling engine, had lots of fun conversations (how to make liquid oxygen, rocket fuel and so on...). Then wrapped it up with a round of homemade/engineered laser tag!
Additionally, June is the start of the first contact for the new students at SDSU. This includes the EOP program's first contact. This year I volunteered for EOP and assisted in the first contact event.
In the middle of the month, I finally received my diploma! Also, I got invited to the Knights of Columbus Mar Toma Council Graduation party hosted by the Chaldean church in El Cajon.
After ten years of being in San Diego, I finally attended the San Diego county fair in Del Mar. I got VIP (employee) access, which means I get in for FREE thanks to my friend who works there. My friends and I got to enjoy the fair along with the food of course. We ended the day with an epic fully loaded FREE ice cream sundae.
The weather in San Diego had not been great! On the last day of the month, we finally got to use our Aquatica tickets. We got to enjoy the sun and water.
Early in the month, I traveled to Minnesota for work. I got to visit the Mall of America and enjoy some VR experiences.
Once I was back from my trip, I continued focusing on my network. I set up my own CRM with HubSpot (Which did not do what I needed so I replaced it with Airtable, which did not work either). Throughout the month, I reached out and got in touch with some people in my network starting with the CEO at CourseKey and followed by
- Software Engineer at Qualcomm
- Communication Engineer at Northrop
- CTO at Sourcify
- Scrum Master at MalwareBytes
- Project Manager at Micro Focus (HP Enterprise)
- VP of Engineering at Sony
- Senior Software Engineer at Twilio (formally worked at Sony)
- Senior Software Architect/ VP of Engineering/ Tech lead at varies companies
- Senior Software Engineer at a Japanese bank
Started the month by having a game night at Luke's new place.
Soon after it was vacation time! Last year my family and I enjoyed our cruise to Ensenada so much that we decided to do it again. However this time we took the rest of the family not just my immediate family.
After the cruise, we went to Los Angeles. First stop there was universal studios, followed by Korean BBQ, a walk Hollywood main street and wrapped it up with the museum of illusions.
Finally, before the month ended, we celebrated CourseKey's fundraising by doing a San Diego Cruise followed by some bar hopping and games.
The month where I got to spend my time with old and new friends. It started with Korean BBQ with Luke, this time a different spot! Those dinners are always great. Because we finally get to catch up and have conversions about things other than work (work is still involved but at least it is not the only thing we talk about).
A couple of days later, by some miracle, a group of my high school friends and I got together for dinner. After finishing our dinner and we were ready to leave we ran into another friend in the parking lot and ended up hanging out for hours!
After four and a half years, Ming, our original CourseKey backend engineer, was finally back with the team! Ming is one of the core members who helped start CourseKey and his name is on the patent.
Another high school/college group of friends decided to get together. This time we went to the famous Grand Ole BQQ. It was featured on Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. The food was good just it was not a good idea for dinner.
The next day I got to go on a boat! Nathan invited me and Luke to join him and his CTO and friend on a private boat. It was a great time! We got to go really really fast, jump into the ocean for a swim, I got to drive the boat for a bit and enjoyed the company. Sadly, most of the pictures we took got lost.
Since some of my friends are doing graduate school or were considering it, so I started to consider it as well. I want to keep learning and getting better, so I started investigating doing an MBA. At the same time, another friend at SDSU invited me to the Graduate Student Association event at Aztec Lanes. I snuck into the event (graduate students only) and asked about the program. I learned that it will not be the path for me, especially after talking to other executives in my network.
Again another high school group got together! This time we did a bonfire at the beach, the weather was perfect for it. We enjoyed great conversations and lots of through backs. From playing high school time music to playing old cartoon intro songs in Arabic!
Before the month ended, I got an invite for the Middle Eastern Student Union @ SDSU bonfire. I attended the event and it was nice to meet new people. However, the weather was not great (it started raining). Additionally, it was bad timing for me so I had to leave earlier than I liked.
It was another busy month for me! It started with a nice catch up with a friend while playing a couple rounds of pool. Then I attended and volunteered for the Aztec Mentor Program (AMP). There I met an ambitious student who has an interesting background with similar passions to mine. I decided to take him in as my mentee and I started working on my career and personal development online course.
While I was at San Diego State University for the AMP event, my friend told me about an event going on in the ZIP Launchpad so I stopped by. There I got to see the new startups going through the program and I realized they needed help and I could help them. So I started talking with the director to set something up.
I attended the Launch scale conference for startup founders. There I learned quite a bit about all sorts of things, you can find the recap here. The main highlight of the trip for me was getting dinner at the battery with an extremely talented and interesting CEO. I got to listen to Luke and the CEO go at it while I enjoyed the beyond burger for the first time.
Soon after I got back from the conference, we learned that CourseKey is one of the top tech employers in San Diego. I judged a ZIP Launchpad pitchfest competition for a business organization. We (Coursekey) ran our first virtual summit all in the same week. Which meant we deserved a nice happy hour celebration after work.
Even though, I kept myself busy with all the things going on I still got to grow my professional network. I met up with a CTO of a very successful company in San Diego at the University Club atop symphony towers. The conversation was great, learned a lot, the food was great and the view was amazing!
Through my increased involvement in the ZIP Launchpad, Luke and I met up with a team that has the potential to become a successful business. We provided them with advice and feedback, gave them lessons we learned and the mistakes we made in hopes that they take the knowledge we give them and apply it to create a successful business.
Although it was a busy month that did not mean I did not get to enjoy it! I attended a beach birthday party where I somehow ended up in charge of barbecuing (for a bit). I spend more time with some friends walking on the beach at night. And to wrap up the month, I got to celebrate Halloween a couple of times. Once with the family in El Cajon where we enjoyed a spooky car show and events. Another, at work where I got to try delicious homemade spooky cupcakes and enjoy the elaborate customs of some coworkers. Finally had to say goodbye to Ming as he is traveling around before going back to Tokoyo to work for CourseKey full time.
I started the month by spending some time with friends from getting food and eating out to just meeting up at Starbucks and complaining about school/homework all over again. I met up with high school/college friends for coffee followed by Mr. Shawarma. The next day was Luke's and I Korean BBQ tradition. The following day was a shopping day with me and another friend at Fry's Electronics and wrapped up that week with a nice dinner with a close friend who I haven't seen in almost a year at Din Tai Fung. Later in the month my friends and I decided to get the all you can eat treatment at a Chinese buffet as well.
This month has been extremely challenging with work! On average I had a minimum 14 hours days very regularly. Although with all that craziness I still managed to do quite a bit of things. I committed to being a technical adviser for the startups at the ZIP Launchpad (officially start in the spring semester).
I still was able to network and attend different events. The first event was sitting down and chatting with the formal CEO of Udemy (one of our CourseKey advisers). Then I had a catch up with the VP of Engineering of Digital Media Solutions (DMS) formally Underground Elephant (UE).
I also attended the friends giving event hosted by the graduate students association (GSA). I made new friends and got to help other friends to detect traffic lights for their autonomous car using a RaspberryPi.
Before the end of the month, I got invited to a meet up for the Chaldean Engineers. I got to learn about microwaves (frequencies, not the kitchen appliances), hang out with some friends, and make some new ones. It was great to talk to different engineers who are in different companies and industries.
Additionally, I started the refinancing process for my house mortgage. After taking the deep dive into understanding money, the best use of my money is to invest it into growing assets. Currently, my house is not a growing asset. Instead, it is a liability and potentially a growing debt. To ensure I don't lose it and I don't lose a lot of money in the process of paying it off, I decided to do the refinancing.
To wrap a crazy month, I had a blast during thanksgiving! We got to host the whole family in our place. We not only got to enjoy the company but also eat a lot of great food and play a bunch of games.
The craziness did not die down, on the contrary things got more intense. The deadline for the massive release grew closer and closer, while we are still working on it. Additionally, I had to plan for the end of the quarter as well as for next year.
The refinancing process was still in progress. However, thanks to my family's help and my research, I was able to take advantage of a reduction of my mortgage from 30 years to only 15 years! Additionally, I lowered the interest rate from 3.99% to 2.5%. Although this process cost me quite a bit (my Japan trip fund 😭), it literally saved me hundreds of thousands. I documented the whole process and the rationale behind it.
Additionally, it is finals season which meant that I get to help people. I enjoy this because it allows to focus on different things and recharge a bit. As well as it helps me remember/relearn things that can be useful and interesting. And to top all of that my PC upgrade went terribly wrong, forcing me to reinstall windows which cost me a couple of days.
Before people start taking time off for the holidays, we had our annual CourseKey holiday party. This year's party was also a combo event that included the celebration of our fundraising. We started with secret santa and white claws in the office. Then we did an escape room. Of course, I had to do the science room which is the most difficult room with a completion rate of 30%. We managed to solve all the puzzles and win with a couple of minutes to spare. Then we got to celebrate with a nice dinner and fun times with the whole team.
It was finally time to push the big update! We celebrated the release before even shipping it because I knew the team has done an amazing job. We enjoyed lunch at Fogo de Chão Brazilian Steakhouse then called it a day. At night, we took the application down and pushed the new one. There were couple hiccups that slowed us a bit but we still managed to have the app back online in half of the time we had planned for the outage. After that, it was time to take a break and relax a bit.
The first thing I did after was go hiking! I have been facing my computer screen for too long, I need to disconnect and go outside! The plan was to do the Cuyamaca Peak, but the trail was closed so we did the Stonewall Peak Trail. One hike was not enough! So the next day we did the Cowles Mountain!
Christmas was fun, spent it with the family, ate a lot of food and got to relax. However, this time instead of working on another project, I decided to enjoy my time by playing a new game. I ended up playing a new Korean MMORPG (Kritika:REBOOT), which brought back memories of me playing games for hours upon hours. I realized that my hand eye coordination has become worse than I expected. The good thing is after a couple hours of practice I improved considerably.
After many years, I have finally learned traditional middle eastern dancing! I have learned Khigga, Shekhani, and Gubbare. I am still not a beginner, but at least I can hold my own and not have people give up dancing next to me. This was in preparation for my cousin's engagement party, which was a blast!
The fun never ends! For new year's eve, I celebrated with the family.
This year has been both challenging and rewarding!
At CourseKey we have built and shipped our biggest releases ever! We had two massive releases that changed how the system works entirely! The first big release was our groundwork that transitioned our system to an Accounting based attendance (record-keeping approach to attendance). The second massive release was the revamp of our adjustment/correction system where we created a wizard for the user to use along with a whole new set of features to solve major pain points they were experiencing.
With all those challenges we experienced major growth. We got awarded our first patent. We were recognized as one of the 2019 Cool Companies by the San Diego Venture Group. Additionally, we were recognized as one of the top tech employers in San Diego by Hired. We have doubled our campus wide adoptions year over year in the last three years. We have raised $5 million series A. We did our first industry focused virtual summit. And most importantly, we have added new great people to the team.
Balancing life, work, and learning! This has been one of the biggest issues that I have faced. The thing about balancing my time is that each section has so many different things that fall under it that figuring out the best approach to handling it all is not an easy feat. For example, in my life, there are so many things going on from family, friends, relationships, health, finances and so on. Work has me pulled into 100 different directions, from different projects, management, development, hiring, scaling, maintaining, security, mentoring and so on. Finally learning... the broadest problem! There is so much to learn that there is not enough time to absorb it all.
I would love to say that I have figured out how to balance everything but the truth is, I still got no clue how to do that. The best thing that has helped me was defining a process for handling things and understanding the value of my time. First, having a process with everything going on. It is extremely easy for things to slip through especially when interacting with a lot of people. That is why I have evolved my workflow process to use the "Getting things done" methodology. I also have cleaned up my Trello board and reorganized it so it is no longer overwhelming. Second, understanding the value of my time. After reading Your Money or Your Life, I have a different perspective not just on money but also on life in general. The book made me reexamine how I spend my time which to me is the most valuable thing I have.
Although things been crazy, I still got to enjoy the majority of my time. I got to travel with family and friends, try new food/places and build amazing technology. Throughout the spring, summer and fall almost every weekend I spent it out with either family or friends which meant when I got a weekend with no action it felt amazing! After taking a vacation with the family during the summer, I literally needed a vocation from the vocation because the exhaustion had caught up to me. Now, whenever I feel tired, I just dial things down a bit and take things a bit slower.
Another major focus of this year for me was figuring out my financials. I did a heavy analysis of my assets and debts that I have accumulated over the last couple of years. Starting with assets, I analyzed the following:
- Crypto assets
- Robinhood shares
- My retirement account
- My health savings account
- Real estate
As for debts, I only have the house mortgage and my car loan. Looking at both my debts and assets, I managed to increase my net worth more than I expected was possible. Starting with the debts, I refinanced my mortgage for a better deal, saving me hundreds of thousands. For my assets, I improved my cash savings returns by using a better bank. I also reallocated my health savings account and retirement account fonds, so I am not being charged a ridiculous amount of fees. That increased the value of my existing assets and as I am paying off my debts my net worth kept on growing.
I did not stop there, I did a lot of reading focused on managing money (see reading materials section) and thanks to that I have a better understanding of my money. I managed to find out my expected vs actual income for the last five years and see the growth. I have also set up a system to monitor my net worth and its growth over time.
Goals achieved this year
Major Life goals
- Become an engineer: This has been one of my goals since I was in the third grade! Over time it got more specific and decided to become a computer engineer. Although, I was working professionally as an engineer I wanted to make it official. I don't quit and I don't run! So for the last year and a half, I buckled up and finally became a computer engineer.
- Earn a patent: Another dream of mine was to be known as an inventor. With all the amazing solutions we are building/inventing at CourseKey, we can claim many inventions. The only restricting part is the amount of legal work and the financial cost. As of right now, we have a patent awarded and another that is currently pending.
- Become a mentor: I enjoy helping and guiding others. This year I took on my first mentee who just started at SDSU. I also helped a couple of startups from the ZIP launchpad. I will be an official mentor/adviser for the tech startups in the program starting in the new year.
- Have a better understanding of my financial situation
- Create budgets and monitor spending
- Educate myself on money, spending, investing and so on...
- Evaluate and track net worth
- Grow professionally
- Grow my technical network (connect with two senior level people)
- Grow my executive network (connect with two executive level people)
- Become a better CTO
- Continue to learn and develop my technical skills
- Keep up with the technical podcasts
- Educate myself
- Work on side projects
- Improve my communication skills
- Become better at confrontations
- Communicate my thoughts better
- Eliminate misunderstandings
Personal Side Projects
Automation testing and releasing of my open source packages
All my "maintained" packages now have an automated continuous integration and deployment built using Github actions including updating. Whenever a dependency changes, I press one button and the process automatically updates, tests, bundles and releases it.
Create a blog using gatsby
After using medium for a while, I disliked it because it could not handle complex long posts. Additionally, with all the new paywalls they are adding I decided I could do it better so this is why I created my blog.
Contacts management system
I used pipedrive, hubspot, airtable then decided to build my own which I postponed for now
Image processing and face detection
When helping my friends with their autonomous car, I got to play a little bit with image processing. That peaked my curiosity and I decided to play a little bit more with it. I just played around with this nice tutorial to detect my face. For those interested, there are already prebuilt cascades (detections models) available online.
Setup automated smart backup using Azure
Having a backup drive at home is good but not good enough for me. There is a lot of risk with having the backup in once place. So to protect it, I set up and automated system that encrypts and backs up all my data not only to the backup drive but also to the cloud.
Create personal and career development course (WIP)
This is something I wanted to do since I was in college. I often run into exceptional people that lack a direction or don't know what they should be doing. Because of that, I got into mentoring. However, mentoring is limited and is not scalable. This is why I started putting together a course to share my knowledge and information with as many people as possible.
Setup automated smart media center using docker
I wanted to play around with multi-services architecture and learn how far I can push it on my computer. Apparently pretty far... The system is set up to track any movie or tv show. When it becomes available it automatically searches the internet and downloads it in the quality I set it to. Once downloaded, it automatically finds both English and Arabic subtitles and it updates the media server. The media server makes it all available for streaming on any smart device in my network.
Reading Materials this year
- F.U. Money 📓 My summary
- Re-read Zero to One 📓 My summary
- Fun reads
- My deep dive reading sources to understand my finances
From last year
- Changelog Master Feed Multiple software development podcasts in one, plus one Brain Science podcast
- Under the Radar Independent iOS development
- The Freelancers' Show Freelance software development
- Entreprogrammers Programmers who are entrepreneurs
- CodePen Radio Software development centered around CodePen
- Software Engineering Daily Interviews with technical people about software
- Soft-Skills Engineering Softskills in software engineering
- Syntax Tips/tricks for web development
- The Bike Shed Software development
- The Meb Faber Show Investment
- The NewsWorthy Quick general news updates
- On Call Nightmares Software development retrospectives
- Techmeme Ride Home Quick tech news updates
- Election Ride Home Quick election news updates
- Naval Intriguing insights life/entrepreneurship/ wealth creation
- Darknet Diaries Amazing secret stories related to technology (cybercrime)
- Today in Digital Marketing Quick marketing news updates
- Hackable? Stories of everything related to hacking (mainly how secure things really are)
- Pessimists Archive Stories of people resisting new things
- Problem Solvers Stories about entrepreneurs solving problems and how they handle them
- Malicious Life Stories about hackers and how they got into hacking
- EconTalk talk show about economics in daily life
- DevelopersHangout No longer producing new episodes
- Late Nights with Trav and Los No longer producing new episodes
- NodeUp No longer producing new episodes
- Sh*t They Don't Tell You Content quality below my standard (had good episodes but since it is a weekly podcast most of the new episodes are just random conversation without much valuable information)