- Posted by John on December 17, 2021
It's the end of the year! Roll on 2022....
With 2022 fast approaching, and 2021 being a year still dominated by the pandemic, for many of us the new year can't come quickly enough. But in amongst all the challenges there have been many successes—both in personal lives and at work—and we asked our team to share together their stories looking back on what 2021 has meant to them. We hope they bring you some festive cheer 😊
Wishing you happy holidays, and all the best for the new year, from the Overleaf team. Roll on 2022! 😊
Our reflections on 2021
Time has been weirdly compressed and stretched this year, as the pandemic has continued, and I’m glad to be able to focus on doing good in the world both at Overleaf and outside of work.
I am happy to say we welcomed four new members to the support team. All of us on Support not only work the first line queue that your message goes to when you contact us, but we also have other responsibilities within the wider team as well. We’ve made contributions to enhancements and new features, and to a lot of behind the scenes stuff as well. As Overleaf grows, I am more and more eager to meet up in person with colleagues old and new. I’m happy to say we had a small group gathering in the US in early December, and am looking forward to seeing more of the team next year.
On the personal side, I am now the Chair of the Operations Committee on the Wildrock board. Wildrock is a local nonprofit in Crozet, Virginia that promotes nature play, both at a beautiful piece of property in the Blue Ridge foothills, but also at schools and in neighborhoods in the city of Charlottesville. I joined the board in February 2020, and have been so grateful to be able to put energy toward getting people outside during a time when many indoor recreation options have not been available. My own daughter even participated in a summer program at her school run by Wildrock, and sponsored by the school district.
I ended last year anticipating moving to a slightly larger house with a much larger garden with which to indulge my orchid growing hobby. I was expecting to exchange contracts in the first week of January as everything was just about setup to go before the Christmas break. However the seller strung me along until the end of February before deciding that they didn't want to sell after all. I've spent the year keeping my eye out for another suitable property, but with demand outstripping supply, there's been nothing suitable in my price range.
It used to be the case that once a piece of IT infrastructure was commissioned one could reasonably expect it to stay in place for five years or so. However, clouds don't stand still, and I find myself looking to replace much of the work I did a couple of years ago with newer tools which have become available in the interim. At least it keeps me busy! Most of my work underpins the Overleaf website and is therefore invisible, so it was a nice change to contribute a little bit of code to something customer facing, in the form of a TLS Proxy option for the Overleaf Toolkit.
As the pandemic has continued, the usual opportunities to meet colleagues in person have been absent. Overleaf has grown quite a bit in the last couple of years, and it was beginning to feel as if the people I hadn't met face to face were outnumbering those I had! Fortunately some of us were able to gather in London in November, providing an opportunity to renew old acquaintances and make new ones.
My investigations into proof assistants have continued to the point that I've felt able to submit a number of Pull Requests to Mathlib, the community maintained library of mathematics using the Lean theorem prover. Cumulatively my contributions prove that the continuous bounded functions on a topological space form a lattice. There's something about formal proofs which encourages generality - rather than prove this simple result directly, I've introduced the class of lattice ordered groups and demonstrated the more general result that the space of continuous bounded functions from a topological space to a normed lattice ordered group forms a normed lattice ordered group. After undergoing the extensive review process, these Pull Requests have been accepted into Mathlib.
There has been a little more opportunity to travel this year than last. A highlight was a Hardy Orchid Society field trip to a private site in the Chilterns to see the Red Helleborines - one of Britain's rarest flowering plants. The plants are in an exclosure, so the photograph is taken from several meters away through a telephoto lens. Closer to home the parish council has taken a more enlightened approach to managing verges and other green spaces this year, and a colony of 40 bee orchids popped up in the centre of a roundabout. I have also managed to join some Fungus Survey of Oxfordshire surveys, giving me something to photograph when the orchids are not in flower.
Considering work, I'm happy to see the Overleaf team grow quite a lot this year. It brings a lot of changes as the company got much bigger without a chance to meet to assign real people to the text communication and little faces on calls, and so it brings a lot of challenges, and I love challenges. Speaking of meetings, I finally managed to meet a few folks on my team and on other teams too! I also travelled to North America for the first time for this meeting, which was very exciting and I enjoyed both New York City and some parts of Virginia. By the way, this is us having some distantly infinite remotely cool ice-cream together in one of our mixed real-life and online meetings (you shall be able to see ice cream sticks in the hands of at least two of us):
Considering non-work stuff, I'm happy I can carry on my organ studies and church playing, it's very satisfying and frankly, it helps calm down some of the covid-related life difficulties. Similarly the scouting group I'm helping with is helping me back a lot as it's a super-friendly bunch of beautiful young people. On the other hand, I've been the group manager for 5 years now and it might be about time to relay that to someone fresh and possibly take up another role in the Czech scouting organization. Finally and possibly most importantly, I might have some big news in my personal life, but for that you'll have to tune to the next year's reflections because secrets... :-)
After all, I cannot complain about the past year; however, I realize that for many people, this year has been very challenging. So please, everyone who can, look for opportunities to help people in difficult situations. Thanks!
Perhaps surprising given the pandemic, I’ve actually had a wonderful year. The biggest milestone for me was that I graduated with a Master’s of Science in Mathematics from the University of Tennessee and started my first “real” job at Overleaf as a Product Specialist. I am so fortunate that I love my job, my colleagues, and helping our users. Since we work remotely, it was also incredibly exciting getting to meet up with some of my colleagues in person for the first time at our meet up in December.
In my personal life, I enjoy volunteering and being involved with the community. Over the summer, I started a new opportunity with an organization called Volunteer Assisted Transportation. The organization provides rides for seniors and persons with disabilities who need assistance by training volunteers to drive agency owned vehicles. It’s actually very rewarding getting to meet new people and helping them with the grocery shopping or doctor appointments. I’ve also continued volunteering at both the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley where I take animals to visit seniors at nursing homes and with an organization called Free Takeouts From Norwood which provides free home cooked meals in a drive-through format.
Outside of volunteering, I ran my first 10k in January and my first Half Marathon in October this year. Given that my lowest grade in high school was in physical education class, this is quite the accomplishment for me! Although I unfortunately experienced an injury in October that has temporarily sidelined my running, I am looking forward to improving my running fitness in the following year.
This year has been a really positive one for the Product team at Overleaf, which has grown from 2 to 8 people in the space of just 10 months! We have recruited a diverse group of incredibly talented people across three disciplines: analytics, UX and product management. We met for the first time in November and it felt like we’d known each other for a long time! We spent time bowling, eating and workshopping our team values and ways of working.
We have also started learning and practising Product Discovery methods through the great courses run by Teresa Torres at ProductTalk. In brief, this means regularly uncovering user needs through weekly user interviews, mapping and prioritizing them, and then running experiments in quick succession to establish how to best meet these needs. We cannot wait to put what we have learned into action next year!
On a personal level, I have been enjoying the challenge of growing a new team, but I have also spent lots of time in nature to unwind and recharge. The highlight of the summer was staying in a vineyard in Devon, England, to savour their wines (yes, English wines are amazing!), walking on the beach and relaxing in a hot tub outdoors in the evening. Our dog Salina could not get in the hot tub but she loved the sunsets on the farm.
In 2021, I had the honour to join the Overleaf family and meet wonderful people. Every day is a new adventure and an opportunity to make a difference in the world! We are planning exciting initiatives throughout the upcoming year — I will keep them a secret for now, and as you know, we ducks are very good at keeping secrets. :)
On the personal side, I rekindled my enthusiasm in exploring Tolkien's Middle Earth — it's been a while and it's great to be back on the journey, not to mention an excellent leisure activity!
Fubá is now 19 years old — still behaves like a kitty! He loves helping me during work and surely knows TeX way more than I do — he is even a member of the LaTeX Project team! Cats are very good at catcodes! :)
Looking forward to an awesome 2022!
2021, it was nice knowing you.
On the Overleaf side, 2021 has been a year of change, with my role continuing to evolve into Engineering Manager, which has been interesting and challenging. It's been a pleasure to have several new team members join, welcome to Team Aqua 💧 once again Alf and Alex! I'm excited to see the team grow again early next year.
We've had a few sad departures, thanks for your hard work Hugh and Chrystal! Good luck in your next adventures!
With only a few (big) projects left to go in our migration to React, I'm really pleased with the progress we've made. We've also started planning out another big migration, moving the editor to CodeMirror 6. This will hopefully unlock lots of exciting new capabilities in the future!
My work with Code Your Future has continued, although in a new capacity on our Syllabus team, taking a view over the entire course. We've been lucky to have a few in-person meetups, so it's been great to get to know Class 7 and a bit of the new Class 8. Hoping to be able to go along to an in-person class in the new year.
At home, my girlfriend moved in with me along with her cat Jinkx. And we also managed to get away for a bit, visiting Aviemore in Scotland again as well as a birthday trip to Lisbon.
Where did this year go? I blinked and we’re at the end of the year! But it’s been a good year, all things considered. In 2021, my twin boys went away to ECU University. It’s their 3rd year, but due to Covid, this is the first year they’ve been able to live on campus - exciting for them, harder than expected for me and their Dad. But we’re all healthy and doing well - including our extended family, so we feel blessed. Oh! And we were also able to go skiing in Montana, which was amazing!
At Overleaf, the Sales and Marketing teams have had an excellent year filled with new partnerships, fun new projects and lots of internal growth! We added 3 new people in the marketing team, 1 new person in the account management team and 1 new person in sales (with 2 additional new sales people expected to start in early 2022). We’re looking forward to an exciting 2022 - hopefully able to meet in person for Overleaf meetings as well as having a chance to meet our customers and community again at in-person events. I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas and holiday season!!
Moving into the boy's new university apartment!
Go ECU Pirates!!
Skiing in Montana!
See you in 2022!
PS: In case you missed anyone, here's a quick link to each contribution :)