Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

12 Jan 2022, 15:00 p.m.

2021: Year in Review

I'd like to get into the habit of writing a yearly review, as I did for 2017, so here's an attempt for 2021. I'm aiming here for speed so I'll probably miss some stuff.


These were pretty limited -- even seeing a friend for a beverage, outdoors, became an adventure, and I saved much of my COVID risk budget for stuff like helping close friends and family (e.g., accompanying them to doctors' appointments). I did a day hike with a friend in the spring and I think sometimes I rode my bike. There were two trips I took for pleasure during the summer:

  • I took a bunch of precautions to visit friends in summer 2021, and particularly treasure memories of visiting a botanical garden and arboretum in Cleveland and the Rivers of Steel mill tour in Pittsburgh. The most precious thing was getting to just have big long in-person conversations with dear friends. Also: If you talk with me sometime, feel free to ask me the story of the strangest or second-strangest intercity bus ride of my life, involving a lost driver and a passenger who suggested vigilante action against another passenger (everyone turned out okay, I think).
  • I did an overnight luxury camping-type ("glamping") trip in a New York City park near the beach. I enjoyed sitting on a blanket on the beach eating slices of bell pepper while reading adrienne maree brown's Emergent Strategy. And I sat around the evening campfire with the other campgoers to eat dinner; I believe it was the only time in 2021 I got to chat with a bunch of strangers in person and share stories and jokes.

Community Service

I created Volunteer Responsibility Amnesty Day, which has gotten some traction. I continued to serve on the board of the Otherwise Award and in working groups and volunteer groups related to Python. I wrote a few blog posts that other people found helpful, like this explanation of the process for getting my first COVID-19 vaccine (I found out that this helped someone realize she was eligible right away because of a health condition, which made me glad I'd written it). I attended a few virtual meetings for my neighborhood and sent a few notes to my elected representatives about stuff, like about increasing COVID testing access.


I wrapped up the pip resolver overhaul project and did some consulting (grantwriting, research, and advice) for other projects, and got plans in place for the maintainer skill workshops that started this week.

Talks and conferences

I spoke at eleven virtual tech events in 2021, sometimes in multiple sessions at the same conference, plus some panels/interviews and a couple scifi conventions. And I attended some other virtual events although I sometimes just dipped into the chat or attended one single session. I am glad I got to share my experiences and teach people at these events, but if I could do it over again I'd perhaps reduce how many times I spoke so I could pour more time into working on the book.

The most interesting of my talks was "What Would Open Source Look Like If It Were Healthy?"

Relatedly, I published "If You Give A Speech You Care About, Post A Transcript" which has spurred at least one person I know to do so!


I invested a lot of book-related time in 2021 writing a book proposal and discussing it with publishers. I also made progress writing the manuscript. I've been wanting to write this book for some time, and I put solid effort into it starting in November 2020. As of November 17, 2020 I had about 16,000 words of the first draft. I released the three-chapter sampler at the turn of the year: if you subscribe to my email newsletter you'll get it for free.

As of March 2, 2021, I had 27,610 words (23,411 of which had been written in November 2020). As of today (January 12, 2022) I've written 48,908 words. In my email newsletter I've shared further bits of the work in progress: on categories of stuckness, training, scope, and positioning, on helping unreliable colleagues, and pitfalls and opportunities for internship programs.

Writing in general

On technology and related topics, I wrote about something Troy Hunt said, the game-changing significance of a way for open source maintainers in the US to get health and retirement benefits, why a lot of software management advice doesn't match the reality of grassroots open source projects, the Free Software Foundation and GNU, and how free-range learners in programming assess our own skill levels and choose what to learn next plus sometimes-stultifying weight of concentrating one's work on infrastructure.

Other interesting things I wrote: my basic assumptions about teaching and learning, an appreciation of Rick Steves, a podcast-related guessing game Leonard and I still play, thinking about what I don't say partly because I'm a weeeeee bit of a public figure, thoughts on the stories I chose to recommend on MetaFilter. I wrote many posts for the front page of, not all of them about scifi/fantasy.

Public notice I received

I got some really nice responses to a few of my essays and talks (such as from Mike Pennisi and Cory Doctorow). Also: Sometimes I get compliments on my professional work that are not necessarily things I will note as endorsements on my business's website, primarily because of profanity or because the endorsement is embedded in criticism of someone or something else. One example came up in November.


Exercising with friends and sometimes Ring Fit Adventure, and coworking with friends via videocalls, really helped me pull through better than I might have. I particularly appreciated Jessica Valant's Pilates videos and Joe Wicks's calisthenics videos for hitting just the right tone (encouraging but not pushy). Special shout-out to my cowriting partner for probably more than a hundred hours in 2021, Jacob Kaplan-Moss; so many of the words I eked out into emacs last year came accompanied by Jacob's face in a little rectangle in the corner of the screen.


I found some podcasts for ambient music to work or chill to: chair house, Slow Radio and Sounds in the Dark. I also found Season 9 of John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme enthralling and sustaining. I watched all of Brooklyn 99 and Leverage: Redemption and was grateful for how they demanded of me only what I could give, and I found Bo Burnham's Inside moving and troubling. And the contemporary TV Babysitters' Club adaptation grabbed me way harder than I foresaw. Leonard and I watched a lot of stuff and I think the standouts for me were Spotlight, Mo' Better Blues, and Ruthless People.


2021 was a year of calls, a lot pre-scheduled as recurring calendar events, many more ad hoc. I saw a tiny handful of friends in person, and I spent some time on social media for ambient updates on friends' lives. And I got closer to the friends that I co-worked with or virtually exercised with. Proximity and consistency and shared activities have a way of doing that. My marriage continues to be a haven, and we are, I think, better each year at taking care with each other.

Things I'm glad I got/bought

The Spikevax COVID-19 vaccine (three shots, including a booster); a hammock that now sits in our living room where one can lounge to read/nap/talk; the updated Cogito, Ergo Sumana website.

This year I shall iterate forward, as we all do.