Precisely a year ago, I went to Hawaii to try and regain some sanity after what was a terrible 2015. It offered little apart from endless pain, suffering, depression, lack of community, and an uncontrollable feeling of helplessness. So much so that the second half of the Hawaii trip was full of panic attacks and attempts to cut the trip short. I was due to start a new job upon returning, and my Master’s thesis was still pending. I had no idea how I was going to deal after getting back, manage personal relationships, and stop feeling that life was pointless every other day1.

2016 for me was a story in two parts – pre-September, and post. The first part was incredibly hard with a few positive blips, while the second was rosy, with renewed hope going into 2017. I’m going to avoid any mention of politics in this post, even though the events of the year deeply affected me on a personal level. Although 2016 was painful to live through, it will be memorable. This is a feeling I had failed to experience for several years now.

Master’s Thesis

A big part of my woes was my Master’s thesis, which had dragged out for too long. After failing to finish it at the end of 2015 and getting on filing fee status2, expecting to get done with it by February. But lack of progress for extended periods (in part due to severe depression), coupled with a full-time job, and spending most of my free time struggling with the thesis was a recipe for disaster. I failed to finish it by the May deadline, had to register for the summer session (and pay nearly $2000 for it). Despite finally managing to make good progress by the end of July and get a draft ready, my committee refused to sign it, and the EECS department showed an immense lack of desire to help me out. This left me looking at a $16000 tuition payment for the Fall semester. I fought the bureaucracy and it was only in mid-November that I managed to get the thesis submitted, in time to extend my immigration status, without which I’d be forced to leave the country. The details of that will be the subject of another post, but if there’s a lesson to be learned, it is that the department is not your friend.

Commencement - Pradeep walked on the same day

Anyhow, after over four years of struggle at UC Berkeley, I’m finally out of that depressing environment and looking at better things, with at least a degree to show. I even got to walk for commencement!

Health

On this front, the year was mostly bad. I’ve mentioned depression a few times already, but 2016 was remarkable because I’m finally ending a year on a reasonably good note. If the first half was about lack of motivation, often to the extent of death ideation, then the second half presented a renewed faith in my own abilities, along with a future that I at least want to consider. Thanks to input from my girlfriend and some close friends, I also got the opportunity to deeply introspect and work on personal flaws that have always caused me great anxiety. Health issues for someone very close to me were also a factor in an utterly disappointing time for the first part of 2016.

Apart from that, I continued to work on my chronic physical injuries, with the hope of one day getting back to endurance running and biking. I have a pretty solid understanding of shoulder and hip anatomy as a result, and have tried literally every rehab technique out there. Hopefully 2017 is the year I get a breakthrough.

Work

I started working at Docker as a software engineer in early 2016. I recovered some of the productivity I lost during grad school, and got several new opportunities and experiences along the way. For one, I learned a lot about working on open-source projects.

My GitHub profile has never looked greener

Second, I got to travel to multiple conferences and give talks. These were among the primary reasons I had joined Docker in the first place.

First conference talk, at ContainerCamp 2016, London

There were slow periods too, but the year was overall a positive change on the work front.

Travel

Despite all problems, 2016 was one of the best years for travel. Traveling was easier since I had more money, opportunities, and time (post September). I did make several trips.

  • Boulder and Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado (May) for a long weekend
  • Seattle and Olympic National Park, Washington (June) for DockerCon, extended the trip by a few days
  • Crater Lake National Park, Oregon (July) for a random weekend
White snow at 12,000ft in Rocky Mountain National Park, and deep blue water at Crater Lake
  • London, UK (September) for ContainerCamp, spent 4 extra days exploring the city
  • St. Louis, Missouri (September) for Strange Loop
  • Bike camping trip to Samuel P Taylor State Park (September)
  • Berlin, Germany (October) for the Docker Distributed Systems Summit, plus 3 extra days to explore the city
  • Mendocino, California (October) for a relaxing weekend getaway
London, start of the bike camping trip in SF, festival of lights at the Berliner Dom, California coastline in Mendocino
  • Portland, Oregon (November) for a friend’s bachelor trip weekend
  • Maui, Hawaii (November) for the Thanksgiving break
  • Tokyo, Japan (December) for vacation, and (finally) a new country for 2016
  • India (December), also for vacation
Hipster Indian food in Portland, stunning ridges in Maui, street market in Tokyo

In summary, this includes 3 international trips, 4 national parks, and several new cities. I also spend a lot of time exploring locally in Oakland and San Francisco. Up until the late May trip to Colorado, the only travel I had done was a weekend trip to Seattle in March, but I’m glad with the way things turned out in the second half of the year3.

Other Highlights

  • I fulfilled a long standing dream of watching Arsenal play at the Emirates stadium. During my trip to London in September, I managed to get a ticket to the Arsenal vs Southampton game and thoroughly enjoyed it. Interestingly, just the month before, I’d watched the team play MLS All-Stars during their US tour but had no idea I’d actually be traveling to London soon after!
Arsenal vs Southampton at the Emirates Stadium in September
  • I wrote a short Docker tutorial for Netmag, a UK magazine. This is the first time I’ve done something like this, and I’m pretty excited! The issue goes on sale in late January 2017.
  • Some close friends got married (and several others got engaged). Wedding season was a lot of fun.
  • After several years of being indifferent, I celebrated my birthday (in difficult circumstances too, following my thesis rejection!).
  • Vasuki, Vaishnavi, and I organized a Bollywood costume themed Diwali party at our apartment, the first such party I’ve been part of organizing!
  • My adventure of the year was jumping into the freezing cold water of Crater Lake, after failing to carry swimming shorts but judging that the opportunity was not to be missed.

  • I made the current version of my website and blog this year. It was a lot of work, but has been a net positive effort because it encouraged me to write more easily and frequently (hopefully more next year).

Looking at 2017

I have a private list of specific goals to pursue to next year, but the most important thing I’m looking forward to is settling down. For too long now, life has felt like someone else in the driver’s seat, and I want to end that. Hopefully, that will free up some time to devote to things I actually care about.


  1. The irony here is that I’m still pretty privileged and “successful”, and that only adds up to a lot of guilt. One of my major goals is to get over this chronic depression. [return]
  2. A special kind of student registration that you can avail when only a thesis is due, and all course requirements are done. The upside is that you’re no longer required to pay tuition and can get a job. [return]
  3. It’s a curious thing how despite being utterly depressed for long periods, my travelogue is pretty elaborate. It was more chance than anything that I managed to cover as much ground as I did, but satisfying that I took the opportunities that came my way. When I tried to reach out to a friend saying I was really sad, he mentioned that’s not at all how my Instagram profile looked like. Now you have another example of the pain hidden behind glittery social media profiles. [return]
- nRT