Space shuttles aren't built for rocket scientists, they're built for astronauts. The goal isn't the ship, its the moon.
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About Me
Hands on leader, developer, architect specializing in the design and delivery of distributed systems in lean, agile environments with an emphasis in continuous improvement across people, process and technology. Speaker and published author with 18 years' experience leading the delivery of large and/or complex, high-impact distributed solutions in Retail, Intelligent Transportation, and Gaming & Hospitality.

I'm currently a Principal Engineer at Amazon, within the North America Consumer organization leading our global listings strategy that enable bulk and non-bulk listing experiences for our WW Selling Partners via apps, devices and APIs.

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Note: All postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the views of my employer.

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Friday, January 01, 2021

2020: A Year of Gratitude, Learning and Growth

I’ve never been big on New Year’s celebrations and this year is certainly no exception. 2020 was frankly, an awful year. With the pandemic killing hundreds of thousands both in the US and around the world, civil and social injustice magnified in the US and an overall abysmal failure of leadership to address either, I found it difficult to find optimism in a year fraught with pain, fear and disorder.

IMG_2172I struggled equally to write this post. However, at the risk of falling into the “positive toxicity” category, I find myself ending this tragic, overwhelmingly difficult year with a tremendous sense of gratitude.

One of the practices I started early in the pandemic was a “Good Things” notebook. I know it may sound silly, but amidst so many bad things going on, I wanted to capture those little moments, events that were, well, good. Starting with an old notebook, I created a heading at the beginning of each week i.e. “Week of April 6”. As good things happened, no matter how small, I added an entry. For example, going on a long mountain bike ride with my son, publishing a paper at work that was well received, my family’s COVID tests coming back negative. Surprisingly, each week I racked up at least 5 good things and filled 23 pages with all the little good things that happened. This proved to be a useful little tool not only for taking inventory after a particularly brutal day of headlines, an exhausting day at work or yet another scare that maybe we were infected, but also to simply maintain some semblance of locus of control and focus on positivity amidst a world that literally seemed to be falling apart around me.

As a believer in the power of practicing gratitude, this is a new habit that I will continue in 2021. And while 2020 was nothing short of awful in so many ways, there are so many things that I am grateful for including opportunities that I would not have had under different circumstances. For example:

1. My family stayed safe and healthy amidst the largest pandemic the world has seen in over 100 years (for a fascinating, if not infuriating look at how the handling of COVID-19 mirrors that of the Spanish Influenza of 1918, I highly recommend this book).

Like most, we had our share of scares. But, at the risk of jinxing myself, I can say that the isolation, relentless masking, limiting socialization to very small groups and exercising outdoors has worked. We haven’t dined inside a restaurant or been in a movie theatre in over 300 days. I miss my live music. I miss sitting down for a nice meal at a restaurant. I miss the escape that only a dark, cool movie theatre can provide. But, in the big picture, these are all such miniscule sacrifices compared to what others have had to endure, lives that have been lost and the long-term impact that we will likely not fully understand for years. It’s hard not to feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude, almost to the point where it doesn’t make sense.



2. My parents moved safely from Texas to Phoenix.

After nearly 35 years in Texas, we are so blessed that my parents made the move to Phoenix. Despite all the adversities you can imagine with listing, selling and buying a new home during the initial peak of the pandemic, they are now settled safe and sound in a retirement community that is only 20 minutes away from us. While the pandemic has made visits hard, we’ve found creative ways to spend time together outdoors and are now enjoying the wonderful fall, winter and spring that central Arizona has to offer. We were able to pull off a safe Thanksgiving outdoors and my Dad got his birthday wish to shake his grandson’s hand.



3. I had the luxury to work, and to do so effectively from home.

While I probably would not recommend joining a new organization right before a pandemic, hindsight is always 20/20 (wait, is that a pun?). After 5 years building tools and APIs for 3rd party Selling Partners on Amazon’s Retail Marketplace, I made the leap to a sister organization within the Consumer organization focused on maintaining customer trust and protecting our customers. Learning a new domain, driving impact within the new communication constraints that precluded face to face interaction was extremely difficult but despite these constraints I developed effective new relationships, invested in existing ones and was able to contribute to a new problem domain in a meaningful way that I’m proud of. I reviewed and provided feedback on over 200 documents, held nearly 60 office hours consultations and published what is probably the most exacting paper of my 20 year career to favorable reviews. I even got a trickle of code commits in before leaving for vacation :-)

But, all of this seems so small in the grand scheme of things. So many people have lost their jobs, or don’t have a choice but to put themselves in harms way every day just to make ends meet. They are the real heroes that remind me every day of just how privileged I am to have a job, and a thriving career with the ability work safely from home. I am so grateful for the support system that my employer, manager and management team has provided me and my colleagues and I hope that in some small way, I’ve done the same for others. This year stood out among the last nearly 6 years as one in which I felt a real sense of solidarity –all of us being in this together- and somehow, still making a massive impact in people’s lives while showing each other empathy.


4. I was able to continue to serve the Lord and my church community.

This was my first of a three year commitment to serve on the church council, a board of directors that oversees and advises church business. I’ve learned a lot this first year, and as with the rest of the world, this eclectic group of leaders were able to adapt to a world of Zoom and email as our primary collaboration method. Likewise, our services pivoted from in-person only worship with sermon recordings available for download to live streaming every service on our YouTube channel. We’ve come a long way in just 9 months thanks to a lot of experimentation and the hard work of the church staff. To this end, while I was not comfortable worshipping in person for the most part this year due to increased local community spread, I was able to continue my lector duties by submitting the week’s reading via video.


5. I picked up some new skills I never would have under different circumstances and finally got around to doing some things I’d thought and talked about but never executed because [insert lame excuse about how busy I always am].

As an avid cyclist, from everything from mountain biking (my favorite) to road, commuting and everything in between, I’m commonly in and out of my local bike shop for maintenance, tune ups, etc. But this year, something really cool happened: cycling exploded with everyone looking for some respite from the confines of isolation to the point where bikes were on back order for months and the lead time for any kind of repair or maintenance, no matter how trivial was 14 to 28 days. That’s a long time without a bike! So, with necessity being the mother of invention, in addition to the usual tube replacements, this year I really upped my maintenance game. I replaced the shifter cable and derailleur hanger as well as the rear cassette on my Epic 29er, learned how to bleed my disk brakes.

I replaced the derailleur on my son’s mountain bike which somehow got smashed on a recent ride in Flagstaff and built up a used mountain bike for my best friend that was donated by a widow who wanted to give the bike a new life. BTW, he’s hopelessly hooked, as you can see on his YouTube channel. Please like and subscribe :-)



Speaking of cycling, I finally put the lighting together (including this awesome helmet light) I needed to try out night riding (really the only option for riding in the PHX summer heat) and I absolutely love it! It’s seriously like riding on the moon. Every trail, no matter how familiar or how many times I’ve ridden it is completely new again.


I built a gaming PC with my son which has successfully unlocked the world of awesome that is PC hardware and versatility compared to his console. This was the first time I’ve built a new box in over a decade. Surprisingly, not a ton has changed with the exception of GPUs being much more powerful (and, the most important part of the build these days), super fast M2 drives and much cooler cases. My 13 year old still marvels at the ping (latency) improvement playing Fortnite on the new PC vs. XBOX One!


I also finally put up Italian Wedding Lights outside, learned how to repair a pair of propane heaters that had been hauled out by a neighbor for bulk trash pick up (a $400 value!) and even replaced the reclining motor on my otherwise beautiful leather sofa. I learned that pellet smokers are really nothing more than IoT devices that make delicious smoked meat.


Oh, and we finally took that RV trip I had been wanting to do all of my adult life. While I loved every minute of it (think Clark Griswold), we learned that we are sadly not an RV family (don’t let those smiles deceive you). But hey, now we know. And I will seriously probably do some solo camping or plan a buddy mountain bike trip in 2021. 


Despite 2020 being a rotten year, I think that I learned and grew this year, not in spite of, but directly as a result of all the adversity all around me. Reflecting on the year, writing down and sharing these experiences here have helped me to take inventory of just how lucky and blessed I am and for that, I am incredibly thankful.

As the hopes and dreams of a new year dawn, I resolve to find new ways to pay it forward. And though future strive and struggle will undoubtedly strike again, I hope I can look back on 2020- maybe even this post- as a reminder that there is always good that comes with the bad and so much for which to give thanks.

I wish you and yours a Happy New Year!

posted @ Friday, January 01, 2021 7:10 PM | Feedback (0) |

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