Surendhar Reddy

If you can't travel far, travel deep: My year in review

What an unfamiliar year it has been, once in a lifetime experience.

When I started thinking about this year, my immediate feelings were all about how we got stuck at home with minimal exploration options and all the mental obstacles it provoked in the beginning. But with more reflection, I started realizing how it shaped me into handling unexpected change while still keeping me curious and enthusiastic about the things I relish.

I started this year with a decent plan 1 for work, travel, health, reading and other new areas I wanted to explore, but almost nothing went accordingly.

Here’s what happened instead.

Lockdown travel diaries (almost)

In March, I decided to make a short trip to Taiwan just as the COVID outbreak is developing worldwide. I must say it was a bold but equally exciting move to travel during these times, of course, with all the assurances.

I usually find a lot of inspiration and joy in touring the west side, but the seasons have obliged me to look for a more realistic option this time around, and Taiwan looked like a great place to travel. In the end, it turns out to be one of my best trips; it was my non-solo trip, and it’s filled me with incredible experiences and memories. A friend of mine talks about it in more detail here 2.

What made it worthwhile is that nearly every country went into lockdown, dropping all travel activities right after I came back from the trip. It’s the only significant travel I did this year.

Work, workout … from home

In April (first week), Singapore announced a nationwide partial lockdown (circuit breaker), requiring many of us to work from home and to limit business operations for the next two months. Gyms, food places, and many outdoor activities were closed, which urged me to find alternative possibilities to fill my time with, like many of you. I picked up gaming, cooking and even ran about 100km (20 runs) while doing intermittent fasting in this course.

More love for computers

In April (last week), Grain partnered with KOI 3, a local bubble tea brand, to deliver it across Singapore during the circuit breaker. I have reasonably good memories from this event.

First, this partnership occurred suddenly, that we had limited time to make changes to our systems and infrastructure to support it. To our surprise, we organized and operated within constraints to get it up and running in a couple of days. We had tremendous traffic on the launch day, and our servers crashed. But we managed to get it up as soon as we could, and guess what we topped the app charts on both Singapore’s App Store and Play Store the next day, right along with giants like Zoom and Microsoft teams.

This whole exercise got me deeply curious about infrastructure and site reliability leaving me uncomfortably excited for the rest of the year. So instead of sticking to the plan to learn TypeScript and Haskell, I dug deep into site reliability engineering and went on to help architect our new, more reliable, and highly secure infrastructure on Google Cloud Platform using tools like Docker, Terraform. In this process, I started learning much more about computers, magnifying my fondness for them.

Lost habits

I haven’t read as much as I would like to this year. I failed to carve out sufficient time for reading with so much excitement for site reliability engineering and other frequent digressions.

Few good reads included The Psychology of Money, The Prosperity Paradox, and Thinking in Bets. I additionally enjoyed reading the interviews on The Observer Effect.

I also discovered Mission ISRO with Harsha Bhogle podcast; it’s fantastic, and it led me to read biographies of Vikram Sarabhai and Homi Bhabha.

Back to startup life

Many elements of the businesses we took for granted have proved us wrong this year; we’ve seen unusual things. Companies ran out of capital, people, and business ultimately. It’s even more relevant when you work in an F&B or travel industry where they have to shut the whole thing down or limit the operations for weeks to keep everyone safe. While this eliminated some business and use-cases, it also paved the way for new possibilities.

We’re witnessing an extensive adaptation of digital technologies across industries. Working in the F&B sector, especially using technology, made me and my team realize the limitations for business owners to go digital with the current set of tools.

So, towards the end of this year, we thought deeply about it and decided to take a stab at it and see if we can improve things. I started channeling all my focus and energy to solve this problem; we’re making adequate progress. Hopefully, we can bring some change overtime here.

That’s it; these are some of the unexpected turns I’ve run into this year. If there’s anything, this year has forced me to look within and find opportunities. While it blocked every chance to travel far, it inspired me to travel deep into things that I already know.

Thanks for reading, and happy new year. I’m looking forward to a safer and more pleasant year to come.