Decade Recap

Kel Piffner

Goodbye 2019

Hello! It's been awhile since I've written anything in the blog, and given it's the end of the decade[1], I thought it a good time for an update, recapping[2] the last 10 years for me and where I want to go for the future.

Goodbye House, Goodbye Car, Goodbye Midwest

In 2013 I moved to Seattle. I sold the house, the car, gave away most of my "stuff", and started again in a new city that I had only visited once.

It was a great idea[3].

I've felt more at home here than I ever did in the Midwest. I don't think I'll ever tire of the view of the Olympic Mountains over the Puget Sound, the cries of the gulls, and the smell of the sea. I love these reminders that I'm no longer in the Midwest ;). It also turns out that I love the rain.

I also gave up driving. Seattle's public transit, while not without problems, is amazingly convenient. I haven't driven in 7 years now! (Though, I still get rides from friends periodically when I want to go places that the bus doesn't.)

Goodbye Job

I worked for nine and a half years for a Healthcare software vendor, first as a general consultant, training and supporting the software, and then as a developer. I came into that job with quite a bit of general IT knowledge (the previous four years had been spent doing support), and some programming.

Those years were very educational! Most of the opinions you read about software development on this blog and on the podcast were formed during my time there. Healthcare technology tends to move very slowly (something of an understatement), so longevity was an important pressure shaping the software. At the same time, the team size at my company was always kept extremely small for a software company (An unfortunate side effect of having very prolific and self sufficient early developers on the team), so there was another pressure to make the code itself maintainable and growable for a small group of people.

In the end I learned to appreciate simplicity and maintainability. I prefer languages (and products) that last, that are easy to understand (and learn!), that have frameworks and tooling that are stable over long periods of time, and that encourage creating stable solutions. (If you want the TLDR on techs: C# and JavaScript + Typescript are my current favorites. Rust if you need something lower level. React for frontend simply due to it's market size. (I have doubts I'll ever find the "perfect" UI framework.))

Like many, I left the job when I stopped growing and when the company moved away from my own ideals as a developer and as a person.

Hello Freelancing, Hello Podcasting, Hello Teaching

So what have I been up to since then? Probably obvious if you read the blog: I've been offering my skills up as a freelancer and as a teacher.

On the Getting Apps Done podcast with Joshua Graham we try to take a different approach than most software development podcasts, talking instead about the concepts that surround software development. From estimation and agile processes to the importance of consent and responsibility when giving feedback, we cover a broad range of topics, all things that I wish I had understood better years before.

I also spent a few months teaching Java at Code Fellows. It was an opportunity to practice my theories on teaching and the importance of safety and confidence when learning and practicing skills. I'm happy to say that my entire class passed and that I learned just as much as them.

I'm still freelancing, but lately I spend more time talking than I do programming. I'm seeing that I can make more of an impact by teaching others.

Goodbye Gender, Hello Pronouns

Arguably the most important event for me in the last 10 years was figuring out that I'm nonbinary. That I am neither "masculine" nor "feminine". That my pronouns are they/them[4].

In a way, it's almost unimportant. This realization didn't change who I am, it simply made me more aware of why I do things.

For most of my life, "confused" was how I saw the world. I never really understood why anyone liked the things they did, or more importantly, why I didn't seem to like those same things. One day I realized that all those differences made sense if I assumed that people around me were experiencing something I wasn't. That's a pretty subtle difference! (How do you describe the absence of a thing?) I don't know why this is different for me, but really, it doesn't matter. Knowing where the difference was helped me look at my own behaviors and suddenly I knew what I liked and what I didn't. I learned that I liked being me.

At the same time, I learned how much of my expression has been shaped by fear. Any kid that has ever stood out as "different" can tell you: People will shame you and pressure you to conform to their "norm". This mindset is everywhere in our society, from the clothes you're told to wear to work, to what words you're supposed to use to respond when someone says "thank you".

More than anything else, my understanding of this fear shapes my views going into the next decade.

Goodbye Fear, Hello Utopia

A large part of what I talk about is how fear constrains us from excelling as individuals, but it also constrains our uniqueness of expression. This pressure from fear forms constraints, boundaries that we try not to cross, and instead we try to find things we like (and dislike) that are 'acceptable' to the people around us.

I want to move into the next decade pushing against those boundaries. I want to see all the uniqueness and creativity we can manage. I want to see utopia.

Because I believe that the only thing keeping us from utopia is lack of trust in the people around us. We cannot trust people to not harm us, to not shame us when we're different, and so we hold so much inside and that keeps us from learning what we really love and expressing that individuality.

I believe utopia is possible today. It looks a lot like the topics on the podcast and this blog: Trust and responsibility; open and honest communication; being able to succeed and fail and experiment in safety.

Thank you for listening, reading, and being. See you in the next decade.


  1. If you count from 0 then 2020 would be the end, but the originators of our dates weren't programmers and they started from 1, so the 'correct' end of the decade is 2021. But! I choose to believe that the first decade was only 9 years, with them taking on that burden for later generations. ↩︎

  2. Did you know "recap" is short for "recapitulation"? I didn't. ↩︎

  3. Results may vary. ↩︎

  4. Using the singular 'they' is honestly a bit of a pain. Most folks have all kinds of learned skills on how they remember to use he/she when referring to people, and intentionally using 'they' instead can take practice. (However, you'll notice many people use it without thinking all the time. I certainly did long before I started using it intentionally.) If you're interested in learning more, my favorite reference is A Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns. Expect an article on this subject at some point in the next decade! ↩︎