A year of work

It's funny how something as natural as the progression of time still catches me by surprise. Nowadays, I frequently catch myself thinking that it was only last year I had freshly graduated from UPenn and left the student life behind me. It also takes me by surprise that it took me over this long before I started working a full-time job at a 'real' company. Living in the Bay Area and working full time has its benefits and downsides below:

+ 💰💰💰

Yes, the cost of living in the Bay Area is high. But tech jobs in the Bay Area pay really well, given my living expenses. More than anything, I feel like I've finally graduated from the student life when I don't flinch at paying for a $15 entree. In the US, money gives you freedom and I feel like I've had more freedom living here than I've ever had before.

+ Learned to contribute meaningfully to a big company 🏢

I never worked at a 'real' company before I joined NVIDIA. Even coding collaboratively was new to me when I joined as all my projects before working at NVIDIA were solo projects under a mentor. As opposed to personal projects where I handled the design and implementation, I've noticed that it's quite different to work on a smaller part of a big project where the scope of new designs is smaller. I've learned a lot about writing better C++ code and even picked up a little bit of CUDA for prototyping parts of our code on the GPU.

My first year of working at NVIDIA can be divided in two distinct phases. In the first phase part I worked from home all the time. And in the current phase, I'm in the office everyday. Working from home felt alienating in the beginning and I frequently questioned myself if this is what I've wanted since forever. With no company-wide events in 2021, it barely even felt like I was working for a major company. FH felt like going to a party where you can only watch others through the door's keyhole.

Things have definitely changed for the better since the campus opened this year. I am much happier to go through the routine of getting ready and commuting compared to spending all day at home. The office is still mostly empty but I've made new lunch buddies and climbing partners along the way, which brings me to my next point about…

+ Climbing 🧗‍♂️

After spending a few hours in a climbing gym, it's easy to see why indoor rock climbing is so popular in the By Area. The climbing routes (called problems) tickle the same parts of my brain as programming does. Problems are graded on a scale by difficulty. Some problems require special moves. And you're constrained by the time you have to solve a problem by how much your fingers and forearms can take before you find yourself getting more familiar with the climbing pad than the top of the wall.

The graded progression in problem difficulty in climbing gives me a lot of motivation to keep at it. I love that it's also a good workout while barely feeling like one. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the indoor rock climbing community is very inclusive. I've found that discussing the beta is one of the best ways to strike up conversation and make friends with complete strangers.

+ More extroverted 🤗

I feel like 2020 really did a number on my social skills. When the world was slowly opening back up again, I felt like I was starting afresh. I was finding my way through learning how to interact with people outside of my COVID buddies group, and suffice to say, there were some cringey moments along the way. Anything more than a cursory 'thank you' at the grocery store felt foreign to me. With inexperience comes opportunity and I felt excited to speak to people in a way I never had before. Social events which I would've avoided in the past were now unmissable for me. Personally, I think this is the biggest change I've seen in myself since I came to the US in 2019. It definitely helps to have something interesting to talk about when meeting someone new, and I feel like accumulating several experiences and stories over the years has helped me a lot in this regard.

+ Settling 🏠

I didn't realize it at the time, but my first year in the Bay Area was a process in getting more settled. I used to hate the term, because I used to conflate settling with slowing down. I found staying at home difficult in the beginning - for it was the last thing I wanted to do after a year of online masters and a WFH job. But settling in is more than just staying at home - I've come to realize that settling is feeling more secure in your lifestyle.

It's about being more sure about where you want to be in this stage of life. Getting settled is a process which I never paid much attention to in Hyderabad, Singapore, or Philadelphia, because I always had it at the back of my mind that I would be moving eventually. It's different now as the habits I form now are going to stick for much longer. To this end, I've been working on scheduling appointments, keeping track of chores, and maintaining a personal kanban board for things I want to accomplish in two week intervals. One of the most effective tricks that's worked for me is to resolve the daily sources of friction I used to put up with at the moment I identify it.

Working from the office has helped bring some balance to life and has restored the home to a place meant for rest. I've made changes to make my room more livable by spending some time in reorganizing the furniture. These small changes don't take much time to implement, but their effect is felt everyday.

- Maintenance 🔧

One thing I've recently learned from personal experience is that I could enjoy a 'high-maintenance' lifestyle on the cheap by trying to become more up to date on chores. It comes with trying to be more settled and aiming for a higher quality of life. Yet, living in the US means that chores are a time-consuming endeavor. I've tried to rotate through a number of maintenance related tasks throughout the week, but it feels never-ending! The worst of it is unexpected maintenance in the middle of the week throwing my schedule off. This happens more often than not with my transportation, e.g., bumper damage on my car or a puncture on one my bikes.

- COVID Rebound 🎢

It took me a year to realize it, but my rebound to life after COVID was not sustainable. I tried to maximize the time I was out of the house on weekends and weekdays after the office opened. It was fun initially, but the routine of spending 12 hours a day on the move caught up with me, which is why I then realized I need to improve the baseline quality of life by settling in a bit more.